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Monday, March 4, 2013

MURDOCH MYSTERIES: SEASON 5 -- DVD review by porfle

Still on the cutting edge of scientific evolution, Detective William Murdoch continues to fight crime in turn-of-the-century Toronto (that's the previous century, not this one) using the latest weapons in Acorn Media's 4-disc, 13-episode DVD set MURDOCH MYSTERIES: SEASON 5

The series is just as much fun as ever, with Yannick Bisson playing the title role to perfection every moment he's on the screen.  A strict Catholic who solemnly crosses himself at every murder scene, the brilliant young Murdoch is straight-laced and earnest almost to a fault, and always the very picture of studious propriety.  For someone who sees the underbelly of human behavior on a daily basis, he somehow retains a most endearing innocence, a childlike inquisitiveness and a gentle, kindly nature combined with a dogged sense of justice and, when need be, a rigid and uncompromising edge. 

But what really sets Murdoch apart is his fascination with the new technology at his disposal during the "Age of Invention" as the 19th century comes to a close.  To the delight of his hamfisted but endlessly supportive boss, Inspector Brackenreid (Thomas Craig), Murdoch employs the latest crimefighting techniques such as "fingermarks", a "truth detector", a primitive identi-kit, and various other devices, several of which he has invented himself. 

In this way, "Murdoch Mysteries" boasts much of the same steampunk appeal of "The Wild, Wild West"--albeit on a much more believable level--along with all the rich atmosphere of a period detective story along the lines of Sherlock Holmes but with its own unique appeal.  New advances in forensics also add an exciting element to the stories, as the wise Dr. Julia Ogden (Helene Joy, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful women on television) and her eager young protege Dr. Emily Grace (the radiant Georgina Reilly) supply vital post-mortem data for Murdoch to evaluate.

Production values are impeccable, with lots of nicely-rendered CGI shots of 1899-era Toronto mixed with lovingly detailed sets and costumes.  The stories deftly shift from subtle whimsy to intense, straight-faced drama while exploring the most outlandish concepts in a way that rarely strains credulity. 

Much of the show's comedy is provided by Officer George Crabtree (Jonny Harris), a promising but sometimes bumbling student of Murdoch's techniques.  Season five continues the dramatic complications between Murdoch and Dr. Ogden, who retain an unrequited love for one another despite her marriage to another man, and explores her growing concern for the rights of women in an oppressive society.

The current set opens with a follow-up to last season's cliffhanger, which finds Murdoch panning for gold in the Yukon after resigning from the police force due to unfortunate circumstances.  "Murdoch of the Klondike" is a fine example of the series' frequent deviations from the norm as our hero discovers that, when a woman is charged with a murder she claims not to have committed, he can't run away from who or what he is quite so easily. 

"Back and To the Left" draws intriguing parallels to the Kennedy assasination as an attempt on the mayor's life is captured on the brand new medium of motion picture film.  "Evil Eye of Egypt" is the usual stuff about a mummy's curse during a museum exhibition, with Constable Crabtree's unexpectedly popular novel on the subject turning him into a local celebrity.  A marketplace bombing gives "War on Terror" its own similarities to current political events, with "The Red Green Show" alumnus Peter Keleghan returning as special agent Terrance Meyers.

"Murdoch at the Opera" guest stars Canadian opera diva Measha Brueggergosman in a twisted murder mystery directed by Yannick Bisson, which gives Thomas Craig a chance to shine as we discover Inspector Brackenreid's hidden obsession with opera.  Murdoch meets fellow inventor Henry Ford in "Who Killed the Electric Carriage?", which pits Ford's combustion engine against a primitive electric car whose inventor is suspected of murder.  A two-part episode, "Stroll on the Wild Side", reunites Murdoch with a lady friend from a previous episode who is being hunted by shadowy organized crime figures.

The essence of the show is wonderfully captured in "Invention Convention", in which a gathering of inventors--one of whom is mysteriously shot by an invisible assassin--finds a dazzled Murdoch in his element.  "Staircase to Heaven" features a murder amongst a group of "flatliners" seeking to experience the world beyond by dying and being revived, with one of them being a close colleague of Murdoch. 

This is followed by one of the series' finest episodes, "Murdoch in Toyland", a deliriously bizarre mystery that pits our hero against his own equivalent of Professor Moriarty as Dr. Ogden's life depends on Murdoch's ability to solve the most baffling puzzle (with the help of Alexander Graham Bell) in time to rescue her from a horrible fate.  This episode, reminiscent of the BBC "Sherlock" episode "The Great Game", could easily be expanded into a feature film.

"Murdoch Night in Canada" is about the suspicious death of a hockey player on the eve of the big play-off game, in a story that touches upon the early controversy of whether or not athletes should be paid (up to ten dollars!) simply to "play a game."  Wrapping up the season in fine style is "Twentieth Century Murdoch", which features the most outlandish invention of all--a time machine--in such a way that even Murdoch is convinced of its veracity.  For once, the season ends not with a cliffhanger, but with the satisfying resolution of a long-dangling plot thread.

The 4-disc DVD set (also available as a 3-disc Blu-Ray) from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby stereo and English subtitles.  Extras consist of a photo gallery and six entertaining featurettes including a season overview, behind-the-scenes peeks at episodes 1, 5, and 6, costume design, and sound bites from the cast. 

With MURDOCH MYSTERIES: SEASON 5, this delightful and at times enchanting series continues to take us along on some of the most inventive, thoughtful, and downright fun period detective adventures television has to offer.  I can't wait to see what's in store for Murdoch at the dawn of a brand new century. 

Buy it at
DVD (4-disc)
Blu-Ray (3-disc)

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