Midsomer Murders: John Barnaby’s First Cases
Created By: Caroline Graham
Starring: Neil Dudgeon, Jason Hughes, Fiona Dolman
Review by Michael Walls-Kelly
I’m a sucker for British television shows, especially police procedurals and mysteries. Ever since I was a kid, I remember watching shows like Miss Marple or Agatha Christie’s Poirot and loving them, even without necessarily fully “getting” them yet. Midsomer Murders has a solid gimmick that sets it apart from other cop shows: all of the murders take place in quaint, country villages.
Midsomer County is made up of a seemingly endless amount of villages with an even larger number of murder suspects. The brand new Detective Chief Inspector is John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon), cousin of the former DCI Tom Barnaby, who was the main character for the first 13 seasons. His partner is Detective Sergeant Ben Jones (Jason Hughes), who takes some time to warm up to the new Barnaby. Luckily there are plenty of cases for these two to investigate and get used to each other’s style.
John Barnaby brings with him a sort of quiet bemusement. He seems a little less severe than John Nettles’s Tom Barnaby but is equally sharp. It’s fun seeing him settle into his position and his relationship with Jones over the first few episodes of season 14. Dudgeon also works well with Fiona Dolman, who plays his wife, Sarah. They have a nice, easy chemistry that makes Barnaby’s scenes at home feel comforting, even in a series built on comfort being disturbed. But the real standout of the Barnaby family is their dog, Sykes. I mean, he’s just freakin’ adorable.
The mysteries themselves are pretty standard. The added twist of having to involve quaint, country life. Murders happen at car shows and beer festivals and in priories and private schools. Each episode unfolds deliberately over an hour and a half. While none of them particularly stand out as all-time classics, they all make for pleasantly watchable mysteries. And, like most BBC shows, they’re loaded with solid supporting actors.
The quality of the collection itself is good. The audio and visual aspects are what you’d expect from a DVD set. Not exactly Blu-ray or 4K, but absolutely fine enough. It isn’t exactly the kind of series that cries out for a state-of-the-art transfer. There’s an interesting audio commentary for one of the episodes and a couple of interesting behind-the-scenes looks, but not much else. Which is fine as well, considering most of the people who buy this collection won’t be the kind to delve deep into special features.
It’s always tough when a show replaces its main character, especially one so central to the series, not to mention one who has been the lead for 13 seasons. Luckily, Dudgeon was a commendable choice for the second Barnaby and more than lives up to the role. If you have Mums and Grans who are suspicious of anyone replacing the original Barnaby, buy them this collection to set the record straight and introduce them to Sykes.
Midsomer Murders: John Barnaby’s First Cases Special Features
- Midsomer Murders in Conversation
- “The Dark Rider” Audio Commentary with star Neil Dudgeon and director Alex Pillai
- Behind the Scenes of “Death and the Divas”
- Biography of Sykes the Dog
Verdict: Buy it. That is if you’re into Midsomer Murders or quaint British procedurals in general. The set itself is a tidy collection of John Barnaby’s first cases, so it’s an easy point to hop on. The quality is what you’d expect, and while the features are bare-bones, there is a novelty to seeing proper British actors talk about their favourite grisly murders from the series. Overall, Midsomer Murders is perfect weekend television, something to throw on while you enjoy tea, unwind, and discover whose dead body will wind up in the village green.