Good news: the excellent actor Neil Dudgeon, featured in earlier episodes of Midsomer, and The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries, among many other roles, will lead as John Barnaby, a relative of irascible, inimitable Tom Barnaby/John Nettles. He doesn't enter until the last episode, when his visit to Tom's home is interrupted by yet another murder in that particularly dangerous corner of Midsomer, Badger's Drift, when a vicar is found hanging by a bell-rope. And now we all anticipate "Set 21," the wait will be worth it. As always, the intrepid Jason Hughes is a wonderful foil as Detective Sergeant Ben Jones, his wry humor adds another level of complexity to the series. The U.K. boasts so many fine, often underrated actors. Jane Wymark as Joyce Barnaby is perfection (catch this gifted actress in an early, tragic role in the second series of Poldark), as is Laura Howard as their understanding daughter.
Midsomer County is oddly rife with uncanny mysteries, so it's good that John Barnaby is gifted with the same powers of keen observation and memory as his cousin Tom. A "similar-looking" man was a gifted gardener in an early Midsomer mystery; DCI John Barnaby is likely as good with plants as his look-alike. This is a Midsomer family after all, they often feature peculiar, recurring family resemblances (recall the duo in first Midsomer Mystery, "The Killings of Badger's Drift"). Sharp dialogue makes this collection a real treat. Don't assume this is lace doily stuff, no indeed! We even love the weird and unique music. Note the badger emblem on the police cars. The Brits have knack for mixing classic stories with ghoulish humor and sharp observations of the flawed human character. Historically, penny-dreadfuls were published at Christmastime, as in Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickens.
This series is a virtual escape to the beautiful but dangerous environs of Midsomer county. We're happy to fall through the cracks of normal reality, into Midsomer, whose denizens inflict and suffer numerous creative malaises. The cleverness of this series is addictive.
Master Class: Lydia Wilson is superb as Zoe Stock, a gifted pianist, haunted by strange visions. Competition is deadly for positions in Sir Michael Fielding's master class. Long buried secrets are unearthed, several denizens seem to have issues with bright lights, and the dead contact the living. The theme of eugenics is shown in all it's ugliness.
The Noble Art: Who knew that with boxing and gambling, we'd get a chance to see Jackie Tyler again, Rose's mom from Doctor Who?! Camille Coduri does a luscious turn, with one of the best Midsomer lines ever, to an odious prig: "Is that a smile, or your lips just sliding off your teeth?"
Not in My Backyard: Oh, those dratted contemporary designs besmirching our villages. Some of the best, most improbable innovative Midsomer murders take place here, via sliding doors and cement. But what do you expect when Jekyll/Tom Jackman's mama makes a guest appearance.
Fit for Murder: Poor Joyce, she just wants to take her Tom to a retreat, to calm him down. But murder and mayhem ensue, because when Joyce arrives on the scene, Midsomer's citizens meet untimely, gruesome ends. Tom Barnaby finds himself confronting his birthday and visions of his difficult father. Appearances by Cully and DCI John Barnaby enrich this delightful episode. Surprise: guest-star appearance of excellent actor Shaun Dingwall, who perfectly played Pete Tyler, errant husband of Jackie (above, in "The Noble Art"), father of Doctor Who's Rose. Perhaps a few Midsomer occurrences can be attributed to an occasional alignment with Doctor Who: the alien crop-circles, weird murders and unearthly body-count.