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Case Number 27216: Small Claims Court

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The Bletchley Circle: Season 2

PBS // 2013 // 180 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // April 18th, 2014

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All Rise...

Judge Gordon Sullivan is waiting for the Bletchey Dodecahedron spinoff.

Editor's Note

Our review of The Bletchley Circle: Season 1, published May 14th, 2013, is also available.

The Charge

Two new code-breaking thrillers.

The Case

On December 24th, 2013, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth officially pardoned Alan Turing of the crime of "gross indecency." It was an odd pardon, coming decades after Turing's death and in spite of the fact that he was unequivocally, unapologetically homosexual, which was, in his day, a crime in England. Still, in a world where computers are increasingly taking center stage, and the whole world must continually come to grips with the legacy of World War II (which Turing helped the Allies win), it made no sense to have the stain of criminality on his record when few people would consider his behavior a crime today. Some, however, objected to Turing's pardon on the grounds that he was being pardoned for his fame and legacy, rather than because Her Majesty's government made a huge mistake in persecuting homosexuals; according to these folks, all should be pardoned, or none. Whichever side you fall down on, the situation demonstrates that even if the war was won seventy years ago, we're still struggling with the legacy of World War II. Part of that struggle is dramatized in The Bletchley Circle, whose second series brings us two mysteries while our heroines survive their own pasts during the war effort.

The Bletchley Circle: Season 2 offers us two mysteries featuring the women of Bletchley Circle (Britain's secret code-breaking office during WWII). After the harrowing events of Season 1—which saw the friends reunited to catch a serial killer—the women just want to get back to a normal life. That doesn't happen. In the first episode, a former colleague stands trial for a murder she didn't commit, while a second story finds one of their number disappearing and needing rescued. Unlike the first series, which gave us one mystery over three episodes, this series has two stories that run two episodes each. Each story gets its own disc with this release.

The first series of The Bletchley Circle was a solid historical mystery that offered a compelling engagement with Britain's code-breaking legacy. It felt, however, very self-contained and I admit to some surprise that it went to a second series.

The second series maintains some of the show's previous strengths. As mysteries, these four episodes are pretty solid. There's a bit of intrigue in both stories, and the show does a decent job tying the present situations back to the days of the Bletchley Circle. Though neither story will be completely new to mystery fans, the way they're solved—by a wonderfully non-professional team of sleuths—makes them stand out.

The show also brings back all the actresses who made the first film excellent. The core cast have returned, and this time they're augmented by several other excellent actors. We get Paul McGann (Doctor Who) as the murdered scientist in the first story, along with Hattie Morahan as the woman accused of his murder. These excellent performances ground the show, helping to sell both the drama of the stories and their historical reality.

The show also gets another decent DVD release. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfers are generally strong. Detail is fine, colors a little desaturated (to help sell the period), and black levels fairly deep. Blacks can turn a bit blue, and the show can look a bit "plastic," though, which might have something to do with a PAL-to-NTSC conversion. Still, it's very watchable. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo tracks are similarly fine, offering clear dialogue and a hint of separation. Subtitles are included for those who have difficulty with the accents.

The set's lone extra is 27 minutes of interviews with the creative team. The sole exception to this is a brief opening bit with Audrey Wind, an actual graduate of Bletchley. More from her would have been great, but what's here is pretty nice. The rest of the interviews cover the usual terrain, from period details to character inspiration.

Though I enjoyed The Bletchley Circle: Season 2, I'm left with the feeling that it's somehow unsatisfying. Part of the problem is that the first series felt so self-contained, and this series feels more like an add-on. The other problem is that if the show is to continue, it needs more space to really grow these characters and their situation. A show like Call the Midwife gets twice as many episodes per series to follow the lives of roughly the same number of characters. If The Bletchley Circle is to continue, it's going to have to find a better way to balance the need for mystery with the development of its characters.

The Bletchley Circle continues to be a compelling blend of history and mystery. Though it's going through some growing pains trying to figure out how to balance all its characters within a "whodunit" framework, these four episodes offering fun riddles to solve and interesting historical details. Fans of the first series will almost certainly enjoy this release as well.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 84

Perp Profile

Studio: PBS
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 180 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Drama
• Foreign
• Television
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Distinguishing Marks

• Interview


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