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The ZONE - genre nonfiction
Soundchecks - music reviews
Rotary Action - helicopter movies
cast: Yannick Bisson, Helene Joy, Thomas Craig, and Jonny Harris
creator: Cal Coons
598 minutes (15) 2009
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
ITV Global DVD Region 2 retail
review by Ian Sales
Murdoch Mysteries - series two
There's nothing ordinary about murder, although those who investigate them are often perfectly ordinary. And yet there's something suited to the
format of a murder-mystery which makes for good episodic television: a fresh crime; and so a fresh story each week - although this can lead to
worryingly high body-counts. And a recurring cast. Except, in television-land, murder investigators need some sort of gimmick, something which
will pull in the viewers and keep them there. It's no longer about watching the detectives, or counting how many friends and relatives of the
lead character get bumped off each week.
And given the way science-fictional ideas are slowly colonising mainstream television, I suppose a series such as
Murdoch Mysteries was more or less inevitable. Admittedly, the series
is based on a series of novels, begun in 1997, by Canadian author Maureen Jennings. These were first adapted as three television movies (which
starred Peter Outerbridge as Murdoch), and then later as the television series Murdoch Mysteries. But the written form of the murder-mystery
genre is awash with 'quirky' detectives, not all of which are easily adaptable to television.
Which makes it something a surprise that Murdoch Mysteries has done so, because it is set in 1895, but having said that, as quirks go,
Murdoch Mysteries' is quite inventive. Despite the Victorian setting, Detective William Murdoch (Yannick Brisson) uses modern policing
techniques - forensics, fingerprints, profiling, etc. to catch villains. It's Sherlock Holmes meets
CSI. (In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if that the pitch to the network
This isn't steam-punk, however; it's good old police-procedural/ murder-mystery. Murdoch's scientific bent is a gimmick, but in many episodes
it's old-fashioned police work which leads to the capture of the villain. Which is not to say that the series doesn't make good use of its central
premise, nor is it afraid to have fun with it. Two episodes stand out in this regard, and are real gems.
In I, Murdoch, the murder of a scientist apparently working on a design for an analytical engine eventually leads Murdoch and company on
the hunt for an escaped steam-powered automaton. And in Murdoch.com, a young female telegraphist is found murdered, and it transpires she
had been seduced over the wires by a Morse-code lothario of the telegraph wires. There are other occasional postmodern touches. In Houdini
Whodunnit, the chief suspect in a bank robbery is a young Harry Houdini.
In series closer, Anything You Can Do, Murdoch finds himself assisting a RCMP officer, who proves to be his half-brother but seems intended
to remind viewers of RCMP Constable Benton Fraser in Due South. It isn't all such entertaining nods to the 21st century, however. Another
episode, Shades Of Grey, deals with abortion. Another, Dinosaur Fever, takes place at a museum as a dinosaur fossil is unveiled and
is careful to show the state of palaeontology at the end of the 19th century.
Snakes And Ladders sees Murdoch investigating a series of murders is initially believed to be the work of Jack the Ripper, but then introduces
the concept of profiling to Victorian Toronto. And Werewolves sees a number of mystifying murders which appear to have been committed by
the eponymous creature. But, of course, they weren't.
Care has been taken to develop the characters, too. Murdoch enters into a relationship with Dr Julia Ogden (Helene Joy), the pathologist. But
they split up after case involving abortion as Murdoch is a Catholic and Ogden admits to having an abortion as a student (because of her career).
Constable Crabtree (Jonny Harris), who often plays the dim-witted foil to Murdoch's insights, proves to be an orphan and advertises in the local
press to find his mother. Even Murdoch's superior, Inspector Brackenreid (Thomas Craig), has a home life - albeit not an entirely happy one. His
wife has joined the Temperance League, and so he's trying to give up drink.
Murdoch Mysteries is an entertaining, albeit light, television series, the sort of modern equivalent of Murder, She Wrote. The cast
are watchable and sympathetic. The writing is generally good, although better in some episodes than others. The series does stay true to its milieu,
but also manages to throw in the odd post-modern reference. It's worth watching...