Midsomer Murders: Shot at Dawn


Created by Brian True-May, based on the books by Caroline Graham

Episode directed by Richard Holthouse

Episode written by Michael Aitkens

Starring John Nettles, Jason Hughes, George Cole, Donald Sinden, Brian Capron, Gemma Craven, Samantha Bond, Barry Jackson and Jane Wymark

It’s difficult to know where to start with ‘Midsomer Murders’, which, over the years, has turned into one of the most preposterous of all crime dramas, deliberately so, I’ve long suspected. ‘Shot at Dawn’, the fifty-eighth and most recent episode of the show, was broadcast by ITV on New Year’s Day 2008. The series began in March 1997.

The show is set in Midsomer, a fictional English region of small villages and towns, populated by eccentrics and the sinister. It is also it would seem a hotspot for outlandish murders, which come thick and fast. These crimes are investigated by the sleepy Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby - played by the excellent John Nettles, who was already well-known for the popular 1980s crime drama ‘Bergerac’. He is assisted by his Sergeant, in this case Ben Jones (Jason Hughes, who joined the show in 2005). Nettles has increasingly underplayed the role of Tom Barnaby over the years, to the point where he now often appears to be virtually inert.

There was a time when ‘Midsomer Murders’ could actually be described as a serious crime drama. The pilot episode, ‘The Killings at Badger’s Drift’, based on Caroline Graham’s original 1988 novel, is a good example. That episode also includes the show’s greatest ever line of dialogue, when the effeminate undertaker Dennis Rainbird first encounters the homophobic Detective Sergeant Troy (a predecessor of Ben Jones) and remarks to Barnaby, “You’ve got a right constable there!”

That was a long time ago and gradually the show settled into what is almost a parody of its original premise, something that was subsequently copied by ‘Rosemary and Thyme’, the remarkably silly show about a pair of gardening amateur sleuths that ran for three seasons between 2003 and 2007.

‘Shot at Dawn’ does nothing to deviate from the long established ‘Midsomer Murders’ template. It centres on a feud between two families that dates back to the First World War, a situation that finally comes to a head and results in murder. The apparently permanently exasperated Barnaby solves the case in his usual bumbling manner.

I constantly question why I continue to watch the show, but it is is addictive and no doubt I will be tuning in whenever the next episode is broadcast.



Jim Lan said...

I would have said that the pilot episode with the hilarious blackmailing duo of Dennis Rainbird and his mother is far from serious crime drama! I see it as having a huge dose of parody. (As the "right constable" quote suggests!)


alienlanes said...

I agree that the show has always had its tongue in its cheek, which is one of its many charms, but I think the sense of parody has also increased (sometimes quite dramatically) over the years.