In Australia: Fridays, 8.30pm, ABC1
In the UK: Will air on ITV. No air date yet
In the rest of the world: Not yet acquired
Time to pass a judgemental eye over the first three episodes of ABC1’s Doctor Blake Mysteries, in which former Neighbours stalwart Craig McClachlan proves that’s he’s actually now a pretty good actor, while healing the sick and solving murders in a small town in Victoria, Australia, c1959.
The first episode was pretty good, giving us all the elements of the show, including an intriguing and strong lead character, a decent supporting cast, a proper mystery that needed to be solved and some fine period details. Dr Blake was perhaps implausibly liberal, always on the right side of impending historic arguments, and the show really hammered that point home, but that was a minor niggle really.
Episode two was even an improvement, building up all the characters, giving us police beatings in a Life On Mars “things were different back then” style. The background to Blake and his days in military intelligence and Singapore was well handled (a call-out to McClachlan’s Heroes II?), and the final scenes with the Anzacs were actually very moving. We also got a little on the history of Luminol, which was a clever CSI touch that CSI has never brought up.
Which takes up nicely to episode three, which while otherwise excellent, was slightly undermined by a snigger-worthy murder weapon – an Asian pit viper – that our doctor was able to handle perhaps a little too easily and with perhaps a little too silly a directorial choice to indicate he was thinking about snakes.
Nevertheless, we once again had some good period details, ranging from the use of Australian pounds and the ubiquity of the vacuum salesman (the vacuum being an expensive household purchase) to attitudes towards homosexuality at the time. Again, Blake turns out to be on the right liberal side of the argument, but at least the show comes up with an explanation this time. We also again had a moving ending to the piece, this time between Blake and his housekeeper, which is becoming a touching love story of sorts.
As a piece, the show is a mix of the conventional murder mystery and historical commentary. As a murder mystery, it’s surprisingly good, being complex without being complicated, the eventual solution potentially guessable and Blake coming to his own conclusions without mysterious hunches at the last moment. It certainly beats the BBC’s Father Brown.
Not being Australian, I can’t really say just how attentive to period detail the show is, and unlike Mad Men, say, it certainly has that knowing hindsight that enables everyone to come out likable and with modern day-compatible prejudices. But it still feels like the 1950s, from the cars and people’s attitudes to the stories themselves.
All in all, if you do like a historic murder mystery, then this is up there with the top of the current worldwide crop, including The Murdoch Mysteries, Whitechapel and Endeavour. One to seek out.