Doc On The Box – Midsomer Murders 15.4 – “Death And The Divas”

Midsomer MurdersStella Harris was the star of four Hammeresque horror films in the late sixties, but when she went to the USA for her big break, her sister Diana stole the role from under her nose. Stella returned to Midsomer and never acted again. Now a film festival in her village has been held in her honour, coinciding with the return of the now-famous Diana. Oh, and coinciding with a string of murders, all designed to emulate the deaths in the films of Stella Harris – including a vampire bite and mummification!

There’s a lot of crime TV starting at the moment in the UK. Both Lewis and Death In Paradise return next week, and Ripper Street started over the weekend. So, taking a cue from Martin Edwards, this is the first in a series of TV reviews, starting with that ever-present dinosaur of the ITV schedules, Midsomer Murders aka Inspector Barnaby.

Now Midsomer Murders has come in for a lot of stick, based on nonsensical plots, ropey acting and other controversies, most notably the ethnic make-up of Midsomer, but for whatever reason, I keep coming back to it. So, with its various problems in mind, I sat down last night with my analytical brain switched on, both in order to solve the crime and to dissect the plot.

So spoiler-free as ever, how was it?

Well, it was entertaining, I’ll say that, which I imagine is the primary goal of the producers. I find the central cast – Neil Dudgeon (who really has replaced John Nettles very well indeed), Jason Hughes, Fiona Dolman and Tamzin Malleson – deliver the right level of not-quite-serious banter and have some real chemistry between them. The supporting cast were fine, although saddling three of them with American accents may not have been the wisest choice. The direction was interesting at times – the recreations of the horror films were fun and there was one tracking shot that did a nice job of moving the subplots along.

And the plot? Well I had high hopes for a while, based on one particular close-up of something I presumed was a clue – it wasn’t – so I presumed that the writers had something clever planned. Instead they pulled one of the oldest clichés out of their hats and from a certain point, the murderer was inevitable. But…

… up to that point, the murderer could have been anybody. Rather than a mystery, it was more like a game of “Pin The Tail On The Donkey”. I think, from about 90 minutes, I could have given a convincing plot for any of at least five characters being the murderer based on what had gone before.

The thing is, I’ll keep watching it. It’s about the only thing on ITV (apart from Lewis) that I bother to watch and it’s the general weakness of the plot that I sort of enjoy, in a car-crash sort of way, along with the central cast. But it would be nice if, once in a while, the producers remembered that a good mystery needs clues that aren’t only discovered with hindsight – goodness only knows how Barnaby suddenly twigged what was going on, besides a random guess. Oh, and a killer who isn’t revealed to be a closet nutter would be nice.

Oh, and if you can make that much money from one round of delivering… you-know-what-if-you’ve-seen-it, maybe I need a new line of work!


  1. I think that Dudgeon’s detective, through no fault of his own, got off to a slightly shaky start. However, the most recent episodes have been rather good. THE DARK RIDER (the one about the headless horseman) was one of the better recent episodes. This one was also tremendous fun, and I suspect that the appearance of a new producer has had a beneficial effect on the show. It’s still not what one might call a ‘fair play’ detective story, but that goes for most TV detective stuff. I was reading an interview with Chris Boucher, who wrote a lot of stuff for TV in the 70s/80s, and he recalls that his friend and mentor, Robert Holmes, had told him that most script writers were dialogue writers rather than plot writers. Plot was important and appreciated by the viewers, but it was much harder to do and not something that the public was always consciously aware that they liked. A piece of funny dialogue was immediately obvious, but a well plotted story less so. A lot of TV writers are probably not detective story readers, hence the preponderance of procedurals and ‘serious’ crime dramas (although the popularity of MURDER IN PARADISE suggests that this might be changing).

    MIDSOMER MURDERS seems to be a guilty pleasure for a lot of people. It’s amusing to read the comment section on a lot of on-line newpapers whenever MM is mentioned. Loads of viewers complain that the show is rubbish, whilst referencing particular episodes. People don’t like to admit that they watch it.


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