Actors: John Nettles, Jason Hughes
Format: Box set, Color, DVD, Widescreen, NTSC
Number of discs: 4
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: Acorn Media
DVD Release Date: July 3, 2012
Run Time: 360 minutes
Tom Barnaby retires in the newest installment of Midsomer Murders. In the four episodes of DVD Set 20, just released in the U.S., DCI Barnaby and plucky Sergeant Jones tackle the worlds of music, boxing, homebuilding, and fitness in their trademark no-nonsense fashion.
“Master Class” is the darkest and perhaps most thrilling of the four episodes. Sir Michael Fielding, a famous pianist awards every year the right to learn under him in his master class to four special talents. Gaining the spots is an exercise in endurance for the competitors, and a game of politics for parents and guardians. When competitor Zoe Stock believes she witnesses a drowning, Barnaby is reminded of a twenty-year old case. When an attempt is then made on Zoe’s life, Barnaby and Jones must tackle one of the most mentally disturbing cases of their lives. The episode has an almost Gothic feel to it, with a rising crescendo of action and intrigue that reminds me of Poe. Add to that the possibility of visual effect and the general creepiness of so much of the supporting cast, and viewers can’t help but be revolted by the final reveal. This is undoubtedly one of the best Midsomer Murders episodes in a long time.
In “The Noble Art” local boxer John Kinsella wins an international boxing title. But there are secrets behind this “noble art” and the excellent misdirection work of the writers and the director of this episode make the ending quite a surprise. There is layer upon layer of deceits and lies, sexual, financial, and personal scandals that Barnaby and Jones must navigate in order to find out who murdered the local solicitor and why. I’ve watched this episode several times and I have to say that this is one of the more complex of the past several years. The multitudes of lies and intrigue have to be peeled away by the intrepid coppers. Though this particular episode is lighter on the corpses than most, it does an excellent job of setting up the background and hiding the real culprit in plain sight. Rather than shock the viewer with more and more death, each murder is for a clear purpose and reason that fits many of the suspects. Even Barnaby’s final realization of the truth occurs while several suspects still remain potential killers. Game of Thrones viewers will note the presence of actor Michelle Fairley, who plays Lady Stark in the HBO series.
The Midsomer Conservation Society and a local builder but heads in “Not in My Back Yard.” But when Mrs. Stubbs, one of the society members, is killed on the grounds of the builder’s estate the detectives discover that the murdered woman was engaging in a little eco-terrorism. Wanting to know who else is involved, Barnaby and Jones pursue this line of inquiry with tenacity. But the real question is, is the murder the result of a plot by the developer or was Stubbs killed from within her own ranks? This was not the best episode, but was certainly an enjoyable one. The murders don’t seem to connect, but there is a solution to the case. I do not feel that the writers and director let the viewers have enough clues to figure out the culprit, so the ending was a little less satisfying than it might have been. After all, half the fun of watching these shows is to discover if you can beat Barnaby to the solution.
We say goodbye to DCI Tom Barnaby and hello to DCI John Barnaby in “Fit for Murder.” The final episode in which John Nettles plays the role of Tom Barnaby begins in typical Midsomer Murders fashion with Joyce Barnaby hounding Tom to spend some time at a local spa for his health and to ensure that he can pass the police physical. Tom, nearing his birthday, is haunted by the fact that his own dad died at the same age he is now and begins to wax introspective about his life. But all that takes a backseat when Joyce finds a body in the spa’s flotation chamber and the dead woman’s husband is missing. Jones actually takes lead on this case, allowing the mystery to follow him, while a second storyline follows Tom as he deals with his own mortality. Of course, Jones, while capable, does not yet have the mind of Tom Barnaby and it is Tom’s introspection that discovers the truth behind the murder and disappearance.
As a swan song, the story works. Longtime viewers of the series see the most emotional Tom Barnaby ever. For the first time, Barnaby is not wholly subsumed by the mystery, and the character so ably played by Nettles is humanized to a degree not seen before. It is a good way to end the character because while we always liked the affable and intelligent Barnaby, rarely did the show ever let us see the person inside the copper. By allowing the viewer into his head, the show broke down the wall they had built and also gave clear motivation for the retirement of Tom. It is sad to say goodbye to the character John Nettles had so long played, but it will be good to see what happen with his new replacement, his cousin John Barnaby, played by Neil Dudgeon, to whom we were first introduced in “The Sword of Guillaume.”
Though viewers must say goodbye to John Nettles and Tom Barnaby, I am glad that the show will continue. My hope is that the character the writers build for Dudgeon be a little different from Tom, but also have that same genius mind coupled with affable nature that I loved so much in Tom.
This DVD set contains bonus material including a “Barnaby Through the Years” photo gallery and a “Saying Goodbye to Barnaby” essay.