Category: Golden Age Article

DVD Review: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 1

The Murdoch Mysteries series is based on characters in novels by Maureen Jennings. The series stars Yannick Bisson as Detective William Murdoch. In early twentieth century Toronto, the detective’s innovative methods solve baffling crimes.
 
The first season featured thirteen episodes. The series features robust mysteries that don’t feature obvious solutions. Instead, the mysteries are complex with plenty of twists along the way. The first season features historical figures from the era. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Geraint Wyn Davies) appears as does Nicola Tesla. (Dmitri Chepovetsky)
 
The strong principal cast gels together in Season 1. Helene Joy plays pathologist Doctor Julie Ogden. Thomas Craig is Inspector Thomas Brackenridge. Finally, Johnny Harris is Constable George Crabtree. The Constable is wet behind the ears but enthusiastic.
 
The series includes many neat historical details that add credibility to the series. The gorgeous design and cinematography bring home the feel of the era.
 
The first season isn’t without its flaws. A couple times, modern sensibilities intrude into an era where they didn’t exist. This takes viewers out of the story. The show should’ve stuck to issues raised in the era. For example, the suffragettes, temperance, and freed American slaves. The series did best when exploring those sort of situations.
 
The series establishes Murdoch as a Catholic in the first episode. In the second, it establishes, at the time, he couldn’t get promoted because of his faith. From there, the series creates many situations to challenge Murdoch’s faith. Doing this once could be interesting and is fair game. Doing this repeatedly during the first season was repetitive. Further, the writers strained to give Murdoch personal stakes his cases. A ridiculous number of cases involve people Murdoch knows or his personal issues.
 
Overall, the Murdoch Mysteries first season got off to a promising start. It has good action, great production values, and well-crafted mysteries. Intrusive modern issues and a couple overdone plot lines did hamper the series. Still, if you can stomach those flaws, and you’re a Victorian-era mysteries fan, it’s worth watching.
 
Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Shilling and Sixpence Investigate

The Morlington Mysteries are a series of murder mysteries that have been produced for many years live onstage in Brighton in the UK. While each mystery stands alone, it also could be enjoyed as a series. Producer/Writer/Sound Designer Nigel Fairs brings the Morlington Mysteries to audio in Shillings and Sixpence Investigates which is part of Big Finish’s new “Originals” range.

The series title characters Miss Lavinia Sixpence (Celia Imrie) and Desmond Shilling (David Warner) are new characters for the audio dramas. Sixpence is in charge of a girls’ school with Shilling being the school’s new English teacher. The series also features Doctor Who alumni Lisa Bowerman, Louise Jameson, and Matthew Waterhouse, along with many members of the stage company.

The stories are set in the small town of Morlington Hills at the start of the Second World War. The first series features four separate stories, each split into two half-hour episodes:

1) The Missing Year/The Dark Shadow: The series opens with a standard plot where the Lord of the Manor is murdered. The story serves to introduce the main characters as well to have them joining forces to investigate a murder for the first time. The characters are fun, if a bit broadly written, and they have some nice bonding moments. The mystery features a solid supply of suspects and a fair enough solution. Overall, the first story is a strong start that left me eager for the next story.

2) In the Silent Dead of Night / A Very Messy Business: Sixpence, Shilling, and several characters from the previous story go to the home of the eccentric Baroness Pippin to visit a medium. Murder follows.

This story has a decent plot, though unoriginal with a big hole at the end where the Baroness misses something that was unbelievably obvious.

The performances were mostly solid with Lisa Bowerman doing a great job as the housekeeper. At the same time, Miss Sixpence comes off as particularly unlikable with a mix of arrogance and coldness. Add to that most of these characters aren’t that likable and you’ve got a so-so story.

3) An Appointment with God/The Dying Room: The story focuses on questions raised in the first story and has Miss Sixpence visiting the first murderer and subsequently being kidnapped. It’s up to Shilling and the police to find her before her disturbed kidnapper has his vengeance.

The story is quite a bit darker than the first two stories as the more disturbing elements of the story press the boundary of the cozy mystery feel the first two episodes generated. Where the episode really succeeds is by putting Miss Sixpence through her paces by putting her in danger and making her deal with a past mistake. This makes her a lot more human and relatable. Overall, this is well-acted and well-paced.

4) The Face of An Angel/The Black Widow: In the final mystery, the man set to play St. Bernard in the town’s festival dies in an apparent accident. At the time, Shilling tries to find the Black Widow whose evil deeds connect the crimes in the first three episodes. The story comes to a resounding if not entirely unexpected solution. The story features a few good character moments, particularly for Lady Penelope and Inspector Cribbage.

Nigel Fairs deserves credit for how he manages to tantalize listeners for another series. He doesn’t leave the key cases unsolved, but he drops hints of many intriguing goings on about the village with hints of other unknown underhanded dealings. Inspector Cribbage states he has a reason for being there and is making an inquiry. Some characters have secret pasts. On top of that, three characters end the series in sticky situations. Thus Series 1 sets the stage for more cases in a future box set.

The production values on this series are pretty high. Fairs is as good, if not better, at the sound design and music as he is the writing and the sound makes the story feel true to the era. Overall, this is as good or better than anything you’re likely to hear on the BBC.

This solid historical mystery combines the mystery with a dash of melodrama to make for an engaging listen.

Rating: 4 out of 5 (8/10 for Countries on the Metric System)

Shilling and Sixpence Investigate is currently exclusively available at BigFinish.com

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TV Episode Review: Magnum, PI: I Saw the Sunrise

Before reviewing this episode, let me get one thing out of the way. In no way is a reboot of Magnum, PI necessary. This is the case with most television and film updates. There are limited cases where it can work. For example, if you have a television show that had some good elements but was hampered by flaws, a new creative team may find an entirely different way to take it. It can also be appropriate to bring an old series forward to a new time, think Star Trek: The Next Generation or the revived Doctor Who. And when you’re dealing with a literary character that originates from books, you can always make another screen interpretation.

The original Magnum, PI is a critically acclaimed, beloved series that’s still on the air in more than one hundred countries. It was both well-written and featured award-winning acting. In short, there’s no reason to remake it. The best a remake will ever achieve is being the second-best version of Magnum, PI.

That said, despite being unnecessary, the end product can vary from being a horrible betrayal of the original series to a pale imitation of the original series, to something that would be fun in its own right.

“I Saw the Sunrise” is the first episode of the new series and introduced the main characters including Magnum (Jay Hernandez), Rick (Zack Knighton)and T.C. (Stephen Hill.) The three were Navy Seals together and Robin Masters was an embedded reporter whose life they saved. He promised to hook them up if he became rich and famous. He wrote a novel series that became a best-seller and acquired a spare mansion in Hawaii and a supply of Ferraris. (Not the typical outcome of a writing career.) Masters has hired Juliett Higgins (Perdita Weeks) as his caretaker.

From a production standpoint, the series manages not to mess up the show. As I was a little boy in the 1980s, I got a nostalgic thrill from seeing the Ferraris and T.C.’s glorious helicopter. The series uses the same theme, although in keeping with modern pacing standards, the opening lasts twenty seconds as opposed to a full minute for the classic series. The location shots are gorgeous. The action scenes are well-shot and exciting.

The acting is solid. Hernandez is no Tom Selleck. Nevertheless, he’s got a good bit of charisma and warmth that made me like his character. Perdita Weeks had a difficult challenge, taking on a role associated with Emmy Winner John Hillerman and managed to make the role her own. Like Hillerman, she could be snarky towards Magnum but never is mean or denigrating to the hero as happens with some attempts to inject “strong female characters” into long-running franchises. Knighton and Hill manage to be almost perfect replacements for their 1980s counterparts.

The plot of the story is straightforward. An old Navy buddy of Magnum’s is killed before Magnum can meet with him and Magnum sets out to find the killers.

The writing of this episode is of variable quality. The best thing about the script is it gives Magnum and friends a good motive to solve the case because the murdered man was their fallen comrade. Magnum has good moments with the victim’s young son, showing a kinder side which contrasts with all the fights involved in the episode.

Other changes are adequate. The case isn’t amazing but in a modern series, its understandable to make the mystery simpler so you can introduce your character. There were some tweaks to the original series. Throughout the original series, there was a bit of a sense of mystery around Robin Masters and Higgins, with hints being dropped that the two men were the same man. This is dispensed within the first episode as we learn that Higgins isn’t Robin right off the bat. It’s one of the few changes that indicate a willingness for the series to do something fresh.

This pilot has a few plot holes and issues. Given it’s a series that’s supposed to be fast-paced, it has one pointless scene where he meets with a client in the middle of the episode that has no connection to the episode and serves no purpose. In addition, Higgins is keeping a major secret which Magnum has found out for reasons that are never justified except with, “Hey, I’m a detective and I can figure out stuff!” Higgins admits to what Magnum says on the basis of the same flimsy argument and gives Magnum access to a satellite to track the villains of the week.

Overall, this wasn’t a bad episode and it doesn’t look like a bad series, but it’s not a great one either. With good action and decent performances, it’s okay for mindless inoffensive entertainment, but it’s a far cry from the original.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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Audio Drama: The Collected Bowdrie Dramatizations: Volume 2 (Dramatized)

The second volume of dramatizations of Louis L’Amour’s Chick Bowdrie stories features six stories featuring L’Amour’s fast-shooting Texas Ranger. The stories are all as strong as in the previous collection. In addition to being Westerns, most are also mysteries as Bowdrie rides into town and has to solve a murder or theft, often as the only legitimate law for hundreds of miles around. The mysteries are bad. If you know L’Amour stories, you often have a very early idea who the guilty party will be.

My favorite story in this collection is the one that isn’t a mystery. “South of Deadwood” found Bowdrie charged with delivering a desperado back to Texas for trial where he faces hanging. A woman insists the criminal can tell the truth that can clear her brother and save him from the gallows. Bowdrie is inclined to believe her, but the criminal refuses to cooperate as he has no motive to do the right thing. At the same time, Bowdrie is being stalked by the criminal’s old gang. As they travel, Bowdrie and the criminal practically become friends or as much of friends as they could be. It’s really properly a complex plot for a short story that works with great characters and a few surprises.

The dramas are all well-acted and fairly well scored. On top of the audio dramas, some of the shorter dramas are proceeded with a few clips from L’Amour himself, sharing his keen insights into the life and times of the old West. Overall, this is a delightful collection of well-written audio dramas by one of the masters of the Western genre and definitely worth a listen.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

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DVD Review: A Bone to Pick


A Bone to Pick is the first of the Aurora Teagarden Hallmark mysteries starring Candace Cameron-Bure. Aurora is a librarian and an active member in a local group for readers of true stories of unsolved crimes that likes to speculate on whodunit. A childless group member dies of old age and names Aurora as her sole heir. While going through her late friend’s effects at her friend’s home, Aurora discovers a hidden human skull. This leads her to try and prove her worth as an amateur detective and solve the case.

This TV movie checks some of the most important genre boxes. Aurora is a likable protagonist and the mystery is well thought-out. The mystery is two-fold as Aurora has to figure out who the victim was as well as who the murderer while refusing to report it to the police while she plays detective. The story is given an added sense of realism by having a best friend (Lexa Doig) who warns Aurora this is not a good idea. When the police do get involved, they don’t at all appreciate the amateur’s interference and threaten to arrest her. To make matters worse for Aurora, the police detective on the case is her ex-boyfriend’s new wife (Miranda Frigon) who is about nine months pregnant.

Several minutes are taken up with Aurora meeting and dating the Episcopal Priest Father Scott Aubrey (Stephen Huszar) The relationship goes nowhere, has nothing to do with the mystery, and he never appears in the series again. I also found the attempt to add peril to the denoument to be a bit silly and over-the-top.

But if I really had a “bone to pick” (ha) with the movies it is that there’s a missing sense of place. I’ve heard the books are set in Georgia. This makes sense. Aurora Teagarden the most Southern Belle name you’ll ever find. However, the movie is set in a generic small town and is filmed in Canada. This works fine most of the time, but a few details of the film would make a lot more sense if this story were set in Georgia, such as Aurora’s name and her mother’s attitude. Devoid of her cultural context, the proper patrician Southern lady becomes plain snooty.

Despite that, this was a fun movie. It’s a family-friendly mystery. with a likable actress playing the amateur detective. It’ll never win an Edgar but if you want to watch a cozy mystery with an amateur sleuth, this will do nicely.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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