Appellate Judge James A. Stewart sees that the dead in Midsomer County have a second life. Zombies, anyone?
Our reviews of Midsomer Murders: Barnaby's Top 10 (published September 24th, 2011), Midsomer Murders: Series 10 (published October 9th, 2014), Midsomer Murders: Series 11 (published October 23rd, 2014), Midsomer Murders: Set 13 (published September 10th, 2009), Midsomer Murders: Set 14 (published February 10th, 2010), Midsomer Murders: Set 15 (published May 19th, 2010), Midsomer Murders: Set 16 (published September 22nd, 2010), Midsomer Murders: Set 17 (published January 27th, 2011), Midsomer Murders: Set 18 (published September 24th, 2011), Midsomer Murders: Set 19 (Blu-ray) (published February 20th, 2012), Midsomer Murders: Set 20 (published May 31st, 2012), Midsomer Murders: Set 21 (published December 26th, 2012), Midsomer Murders: Set 22 (published August 4th, 2013), Midsomer Murders: Set 23 (published February 27th, 2014), and Midsomer Murders: Set 24 (published October 9th, 2014) are also available.
"If someone doesn't get murdered, you'll only get tetchy."—Joyce Barnaby, to husband Tom
Way back in 1997, when Inspector Tom Barnaby cracked the case of "The Killings at Badger's Drift," British viewers wouldn't have dreamed of streaming video, digital television, and DVD box sets; even the width of the screen was narrower. They did have VCRs, but most of them probably caught the opening TV movie of Midsomer Murders in real time—with commercials—on ITV. Two of the unknown actors they saw—Emily Mortimer and Colin Farrell—later became movie stars.
Enough viewers watched Midsomer Murders in real time back in 1997 for the series to last to the present day, with Inspector John Barnaby recently stepping in to keep the investigations at Causton CID in the family. Anyway, Tom Barnaby had little time to get tetchy over the years. That also means that a lot of viewers might not be familiar with Inspector Tom Barnaby's early cases. Thus, Midsomer Murders: Series 1 presents the first five TV movies anew. The stories are drawn from Caroline Graham's novels.
Facts of the Case
• "Written in Blood"—The pen may be mightier than the sword, but a candlestick can render anyone—even a writer—"not quite recognizable." David Troughton (New Tricks) guests.
• "Faithful Unto Death"—At the fair, Barnaby wins a coconut and breaks up a fight, while Cully meets a well-known actress. Soon, a missing person investigation turns up a buried shepherd's pie.
If you're a Midsomer fan, and you came in late, you'll want to see "The Killings at Badger's Drift." It's a typical case for Inspector Tom Barnaby, with a death toll that hits seven, guest stars hamming it up, and a preoccupation with sex. "Death of a Hollow Man" also provides a series first, as Joyce Barnaby is on hand for her first murder; Barnaby knows some of the suspects in "Faithful Unto Death" and "Death in Disguise."
The initial stories are all strong, with barbed dialogue ("No, but don't worry, I'll get over it," is how a suspect denies committing a murder) and offbeat touches (writers' words in voiceover as they're introduced). There's a tendency for filler gags, such as Barnaby catsitting without realizing he's allergic, though.
John Nettles' style as an investigator is tougher. Barnaby seems to make suspects sweat more than in later episodes. He's also very visibly observant, slyly looking for clues as he helps a suspect make tea. Barnaby's partner in the early cases is Gavin Troy (Daniel Casey, The Wingless Bird), a youthful detective with knacks for bad driving and jumping to conclusions.
According to Acorn, these TV movies had previously been released as part of Set 5. "The Killings at Badger's Drift" and "Death of a Hollow Man" are also included the Midsomer Murders: Barnaby's Top 10 collection (and turn out to be the best cases in the first series). They also might turn up on Acorn's streaming service. So you might have seen some or all of these early mysteries; be careful to avoid unintended double dips. Librarians might consider it an essential for their TV-on-DVD shelf. As usual, expect quite a bit of sexuality, including incest, often as motive for murder.
Presented in 1.33:1 full frame, the picture quality on Acorn's transfers is good but not spectacular. Given these were filmed in the pre-digital era, I can't say I'm surprised. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo track complements the visuals just fine. In terms of bonus features, there's not much here. A Midsomer map appears in two sizes, both a little difficult to read. Production notes tackle the theremin theme, show's budget, and their filming schedule.
Somehow, I doubt Tom Barnaby had a chance to get tetchy. Somewhere, his wife is still getting involved in the community—and running into murders. If you haven't run into all of his cases, you might want to look back on Midsomer Murders: Series 1.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
• Production Notes
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