So, a Victorian-era detective who’s at the bleeding edge of forensic investigation techniques and criminological theories, and who’s raison d’être is pure deductive reasoning – it’s Sherlock, right?
Wrong, actually. This superstar flatfoot is Detective William Murdoch, shining light of Toronto Police Station No. 4. and eponymous hero of Murdoch Mysteries. This is a joint UK/Canadian production that has quietly, over the course of some 65 episodes, garnered quite a following on both sides of the pond – including the incumbent Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper, who had a cameo role in one episode.
Murdoch, played by the impossibly handsome Yannick Bisson, is a strait-laced, profoundly religious Canadian renaissance man (not a phrase one often encounters), who drastically pushes the envelope in crime scene investigation – he’s already invented fingerprinting, and the use of chemicals to reveal blood stains (and not forgetting the wonderful and wacky hand-painted faxed photograph).
He is assisted in his endeavours by: English Inspector Tommy Brackenreid, an old-school copper who is Gene Hunt to Murdoch’s Sam Tyler; Constable George Crabtree (a mildly comic character); and a succession (well two) of gorgeous female pathologists. The first of these, Julia Ogden, provides the obligatory sexual tension — although to be honest it’s about as sexual and tense as a game of ludo in a Christian bookshop.
Given the period setting, the writers have great fun with stories featuring historical luminaries – amongst those getting the treatment are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini, Jack London, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and my personal favourite Nikola Tesla who featured in a bat-shit mental story about a microwave death ray! The series also cleverly presages more modern phenomena such as internet grooming done over the wireless telegraph ( ._.. _ _ _ ._..) and electronic surveillance (done with a tripwire-activated still camera).
There’s also plenty of scope for “what was he in?” games. F’rinstance, Tommy Brackenreid is played by Thomas Craig (latterly seen getting his head caved in by his daughter in Coronation Street) and there have been guest appearances by amongst others, Colin Buchanan (Dalziel’s mate Pascoe), Keeley Hawes (Ashes to Ashes) and Lisa Faulkner (the girl who got deep-fried in Spooks).
Fin-de-siècle Toronto is well imagined and realised; albeit with the aid of some occasionally dodgy mattes, and the stilted, overly-polite relationships between the characters all add to the charm – although I must confess I would have expected a bit more frontiersman rough-and-toughness given the period and the location. Some of the 19th Century vernacular is delightful, such as “dollymop” for hooker. There is, too, almost a complete absence of Mounties, save one episode featuring someone who was clearly Benton Fraser’s great-granddad!
It’s not re-writing the book on cop shows and its gentle pace and wordy dialogue may seem a bit tame to the “Wire/CSI” generation, but if you like intelligent, well-written drama lovingly performed by a fine ensemble cast, check it out. Series 6 is currently in production for an Autumn airing, but re-runs of series 1 – 5 are all over the Alibi schedule. Now, what have you George?