Midsomer Murders Set 16
Recurring character(s): Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (John Nettles), Detective Sergeant Ben Jones (Jason Hughes), Joyce Barnaby (Jane Wymark), Cully Barnaby (Laura Howard), Dr. Bullard (Barry Jackson), WPC Gail Stephens (Kirsty Dillon)
Original air date(s): 07/13/2008 to 08/05/2008, 12/24/2008
DVD Date: 09/28/2010
Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 400 minutes
Note(s): Episodes in this series are based on characters created by Caroline Graham.
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Review: Midsomer Murders has rapidly become one of my favorite "go to" series, new episodes of which I eagerly look forward to watching. The scripts are typically well plotted and written, the performances by the recurring and guest cast uniformly first rate, and the production values remarkably high. There's always some new evil lurking in the villages of Midsomer County to challenge DCI Tom Barnaby ... and by extension, those who watch.
The four episodes in this set are from Series 11 (episodes 63 through 66) that originally aired in the UK during the summer and fall of 2008. Three are quite good -- the fourth just OK -- and generally representative of the series as a whole.
Somewhat unfortunately, the set begins with a disappointing episode, mostly because the murder mystery plot seems so lazily developed. The episode opens with the dead body of a man found in his Lexus SUV ("Chelsea tractor" Barnaby calls it), but everything about this scene is soon largely forgotten by all involved (and isn't relevant anyway; he wasn't murdered but died of a heart attack). Instead, the focus turns to the real murder victim, the publisher of a magazine titled "Midsomer Life", a man who made his money in The City and runs -- rather, ran -- the magazine more as a hobby than anything else. Oh, he does like to criticize local businesses ... and his latest target seems to be a popular hotel and pub. There are long periods when little of substance happens, and virtually no effort is made by the screenwriter to develop red herrings to keep things interesting. You know it's a weak episode when Barnaby's wife, Joyce, is put in jeopardy in an effort to add a little excitement.
Synopsis (from the studio): Guy Sandys, owner and editor of Midsomer Life magazine, has made a name for himself by publishing unfavorable reviews of local businesses. When his ex-wife’s lover is found dead, the detectives are forced to dig into the editor’s past, where they find a tangled web of affairs, criminal associations, and blackmail. Things turn personal for Barnaby when Joyce gets involved, placing herself in great danger.
"The Magician's Nephew"
This second episode, however, makes up for many of the shortcomings of the first -- maybe because it's set at Halloween and involves witches and black magic, everything a good murder mystery needs -- but more probably because the plot is so intricately developed and played out. A magician's assistant is murdered during a performance for a group of children, killed from the poison of a rare frog. There is no obvious motive nor are there any suspects. Later, a bookseller is murdered, that same poison the cause of death. The only connection between the two is that they participated in an elaborate pagan ritual over 30 years ago, one that a local celebrity admits he orchestrated but now confesses was based on nothing more than a vivid imagination. Yet some continue to believe he wielded an ancient power, one suppressed by the church as being heretical. When another of that original group is killed, Barnaby knows he must stop a ruthless killer before someone else dies.
Synopsis (from the studio): Barnaby and Jones discover that Midsomer County is home to a secret pagan cult after one of its more prominent members is murdered. Suspicion initially falls on the author of a book alleging that the sect’s rituals are merely the product of drink and an overactive imagination. But soon it seems that all of the members of the Magic Circle have something to hide.
"Days of Misrule"
The third episode has a nicely convoluted plot that slowly unfolds, with hints of misadventure presented early ... including a body stuffed into a trunk. There are several intersecting storylines here and it requires a little patience in the beginning to sort out which characters are part of which storyline -- though it is almost inevitable that they will converge in the end. Still, I enjoyed the misdirection offered by the script, though I thought Jones was given too little to do, and seemed overly clueless through much of it. There's a bit of humor here as well, with Barnaby and Jones required to participate in a team-building exercise by their young superintendent.
Synopsis (from the studio): Barnaby and Jones attend an exasperating team-building exercise, run by a young and overly ambitious acting chief superintendent. They’re released from their misery after an explosion at a trucking company operated by one of the most hated men in Midsomer. The detectives soon realize that the intended victim had many enemies among the townswomen, including his own grandmother.
"Talking to the Dead"
The set concludes with another eerie episode, this time largely set in Monks Barton Woods, the scene centuries ago of a massacre of the monks who lived in a nearby priory, now owned by a wealthy landowner. A ghost hunter is claiming to be able to communicate with the dead in the woods, but Barnaby is convinced he's a fraud, and simply wants to pump up sales for his new book. But it's all very suspicious when four tenants on the property vanish, leaving their breakfast meals unfinished on their kitchen tables. When two of them turn up dead, and a third apparently driven mad, Barnaby knows there is a real world killer in the area ... but who? There's a lot of atmosphere here, fog and night shadows and all, and the storyline is far from predictable. Still, the twist at the end wasn't strictly necessary to close out what is otherwise a fine episode.
Synopsis (from the studio): Two couples living on the edge of Barton Woods disappear, leaving the village abuzz with rumors of supernatural causes. According to a local priest, the woods are haunted by the ghosts of monks slaughtered there in the 16th century. As the body count rises, a local psychic offers his services—much to Barnaby’s chagrin.
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