Acorn Media // 2008 // 368 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // September 22nd, 2010
"Pretty much everyone is a suspect at this point." -- Ben Jones
That, or a corpse, as the body count continues to rise in Midsomer County with Midsomer Murders: Set 16. Cully Barnaby is married and off to the much safer big city, but Laura Howard returns for a cameo in "The Magician's Nephew." Your calculation methods may vary, but I got a total of thirteen corpses of interest to Inspector Barnaby in this collection.
Set 16 features episodes set at Halloween and Christmas, both of which are eerie holidays in Midsomer.
Midsomer Murders: Set 16 features four TV movies, each on its own disc:
* "Midsomer Life"
Actually, the editor of Midsomer's lifestyle magazine has more experience with death, including his own. Other bodies turning up include his ex-wife's new husband, a visitor to his office, and a hotel clerk the editor dissed in print. Joyce Barnaby wants to ask around about the case to help her husband, but Tom fears there may be a serial killer in there somewhere.
* "The Magician's Nephew"
The magician's nephew is stealing books from his uncle's library to pay for his cocaine habit. Pagans believe that library holds a valuable book of ancient magic. At a Halloween magic show for tots, the Chamber of Death proves too well-named. Joyce plans a neighborhood Halloween party, and daughter Cully returns to help with the decorations.
* "Days of Misrule"
'Tis the night before Christmas in Midsomer, so some creatures are no longer stirring. The superintendent wants Barnaby and Jones to wrap the case up, preferably with a bow, before they join the holiday merriment. Tim Pigott-Smith guests.
* "Talking to the Dead"
Barnaby's searching for four missing people when a "psychic adventurer" finds a dead body. It's not one of the people Barnaby is looking for, but a couple of them will turn up dead, too. Jones gets trapped in an iron maiden; he escapes unscratched, but someone else will be less lucky.
Probably the best scene this season is when Joyce Barnaby finds a skull and pieces together the mystery, and then extracts a confession for her husband Tom in a case where he had no tangible evidence. It puts a nice twist on the typical expectation (Joyce in jeopardy), the sort that keeps a long-running detective series fresh. There's also a nicely chilling scene in which Joyce finds an entire body. With the Barnabys' daughter Cully gone, there's a little more attention to the Barnaby marriage in the story, so it's good that Jane Wymark gets more to do than argue with John Nettles about burnt sausages. Not necessarily believable, but good.
As usual, the guest performances are solid, with a touch of ham. My favorite was Selina Cadell from Doc Martin as a tipsy hotel clerk who proves a bit too observant in "Midsomer Life." The writers provide lots of red herrings and misleading scenes to keep viewers off-base.
Production values, particularly the atmospheric score, are excellent, and the transfer looks and sounds good.
This set includes a commentary on "The Magician's Nephew" with John Nettles and Jane Wymark. Some of their stories will be familiar from features on other Midsomer sets, but there's going to be something fresh for all but the most addicted Midsomer fans. Nettles and Wymark deliver their comments with self-deprecating good humor. They discuss the ever-increasing surrealism of the series, which was in its eleventh season when these episodes were shown, along with its famous and still growing body count.
A nice feature on two of these mysteries is "Production Notes" that offer text interviews with guest actors: Simon Williams mentions that his Oxbridge home got a Midsomer role first; Brigit Forsyth says acting in a murder mystery helped her cope with a real-life family death; and Ronald and Rachel Pickup, a father and daughter, discuss acting together for the first time. It would have been nice to hear from more of the guest actors, but it's still a nifty touch.
There are elements of the traditional cozy mystery in Midsomer Murders, but it's not for tots, particularly with incest as a theme in one episode. Things aren't extremely graphic, but you'll see plenty of blood, and some maggots for variety. In the commentary, John Nettles and Jane Wymark note that they do alternate scenes for a mild version of Midsomer, but that's not what's on the DVD sets.
Over the course of four sets of Midsomer Murders, the series has grown on me. It's generally well-done, and the oddball moments help to keep the ritual plot fresh, not to mention popular on DVD. With two excellent stories and the remaining pair solid, I'd say this set is one fans will want to pick up. It wouldn't be a bad starting point for newcomers, either.
Not guilty, and not dead yet, either.
Review content copyright © 2010 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 368 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Text Interviews