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Friday, April 29, 2011

MURDOCH MYSTERIES: SEASON 3 -- DVD review by porfle


A richly imaginative mix of CSI-style forensic police procedurals and Victorian-era detective mysteries, Acorn Media's MURDOCH MYSTERIES: SEASON 3 is rousing good fun in every way.

Toronto of the late 1890s is the setting for the adventures of Inspector William Murdoch (Yannick Bisson), a brilliant young detective whose fascination with the scientific advancements of "The Age of Invention" gives him an invaluable advantage in solving the most baffling homicide cases.  While his crusty boss Inspector Brackenreid (Thomas Craig) is an old-school copper with a more sledgehammer approach to police work, he recognizes and supports the value of Murdoch's modern methods even when he doesn't understand them, giving him a free hand. 

This is an impeccably produced series with outstanding period atmosphere.  The stories, based on the novels of author Maureen Jennings, are well-written and filled with intriguing situations and wry dialogue laced with subtle humor.  A wide range of baffling mysteries include everything from a locked-door murder in which the victim appears to have been cooked from the inside out ("The Tesla Effect") to an apparent haunting in a cursed mansion ("The Curse of Beaton Manor"). 

Unlike the aloof, arrogant, and coldly-methodical Sherlock Holmes, Murdoch (as wonderfully played by Bisson) is an unassuming gentleman of deep moral and spiritual conviction--he crosses himself whenever he discovers a dead body--who is driven by a sense of propriety and compassion.  This sometimes hinders his impartiality and in certain cases causes him to arrive at incorrect conclusions, though he always reasons his way to the truth eventually.  The fact that Murdoch possesses certain fallibilities, along with a tinge of Victorian rigidity that conflicts with his more liberal convictions, makes his master-detective character all the more complex and disarmingly appealing.



In a particularly interesting ongoing storyline, Murdoch's suspicion that eccentric millionaire-inventor James Pendrick (Peter Stebbings) is a criminal mastermind behind a series of high-profile crimes will lead to several scintillating encounters culminating in the exciting season finale.  While Pendrick proves a challenging intellectual match for Murdoch, his beautiful and mysterious wife Sally (Kate Greenhouse) becomes a tempting distraction as her relationship with Murdoch grows almost indecently bold. 

The retro-futuristic concepts and devices which are so cleverly woven into each plotline are consistently intriguing without veering into the improbable or becoming mere gimmicks.  These run the gamut from simple things such as Murdoch's use of "fingermarks" in identifying suspects, to larger concepts like eugenics and a microwave death ray as conceived by Nikola Tesla (Dmitry Chepovetsky).  One of the show's many pleasures is watching Murdoch dazzle the admiring Inspector Brackenreid time and again with his newfangled techniques while leaving their stuffy, skeptical superiors in a state of consternation.

Also on the cutting edge of science as well as the burgeoning women's movement is the precinct's ace medical examiner, Dr. Julia Ogden (a radiant Helene Joy).  Dr. Ogden applies her up-to-date forensic skills to an endless parade of murder victims and comes up with evidence that would've been undetectable using more antiquated methods.  Bisson and Joy have a warm chemistry together during the scenes in which their characters pursue a long and chaste courtship, which reaches a crisis stage in the season cliffhanger with Dr. Ogden making a fateful decision about her medical career.

Additional characters include Jonny Harris as Constable George Crabtree, a bright but callow young officer eager to follow in Murdoch's footsteps, and Lachlan Murdoch as comic-relief bumbler Constable Higgins.  In addition to Nikol Tesla, Murdoch also meets author H.G. Wells (Peter Mikhail) in the eugenics-based episode "Future Imperfect."  Fans of the homespun Canadian comedy series "The Red Green Show" will be pleased to find regulars Patrick McKenna ("Harold Green") as an inept visiting detective in the season opener "The Murdoch Identity" and Peter Keleghan ("Ranger Gord") as a shady government agent in "The Tesla Effect."



Other noteworthy episodes include: "Me, Myself, and Murdoch", a study of multiple personalities with a dazzling performance by guest star Anastasia Phillips as a troubled girl found with a bloody axe in her hands after the murder of her father; "Rich Boy, Poor Boy", in which Inspector Brackenreid's own son Bobby is kidnapped after being mistaken for a millionaire's son; "The Great Wall", a tale of anti-Chinese racism with Murdoch's investigation of a cop killer possibly implicating members of a rival precinct; and "Love and Human Remains", in which the mummified bodies of three people challenge Murdoch and Dr. Ogden to solve a 60-year-old murder mystery.  Season opener "The Murdoch Identity" finds the amnesia-stricken detective in a quest to track down his own past while eluding a gang of unknown men who are out to kill him.

The four-disc, 13-episode DVD set from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital stereo sound and English subtitles.  Extras consist of three brief featurettes (making of, costumes, makeup) and an alternate ending for episode 13 "The Tesla Effect" which wraps up a dangling storyline in the event that the series wasn't picked up for a fourth season (it was).

Nicely blending a hazy atmosphere of Victorian antiquity with intriguing flashes of the modern, MURDOCH MYSTERIES: SEASON 3 is a satisfying, finely-rendered detective series brimming with creativity and imagination.  Best of all, it's stocked with characters that you'll enjoy spending time with.


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2 comments:

farwestie said...

Enjoyed this review very much--thank you!

porfle said...

Thank you for the much-appreciated comment!