The Cadfael Chronicles, a BBC production also shown in the U.S. on Mystery!, features Derek Jacobi as Brother Cadfael, a monk in the twelfth-century British abbey of Shrewsbury. Life in medieval times was far from simple, and human nature was no different then than it is now; the sharp-witted and wise Cadfael finds himself untangling many a twisted tale involving love, hate, vengeance, and murder. Cadfael Set 3 offers three seventy-five-minute episodes from the series' third year, originally aired in 1997.
Each of the episodes is based on one of the Cadfael novels written by Ellis Peters; they're fairly similar in tone, and feature a recurring supporting cast around Derek Jacobi in the title role. Viewers who have enjoyed earlier Cadfael seasons will certainly find this set to their liking; for those who are unfamiliar with the series, I'll give a quick evaluation of each of the three discs in the set.
A Morbid Taste for Bones, based on Ellis Peters' first Cadfael novel (originally published in 1977) is the best of the three. Prompted by the visions of one of the monks, Cadfael and his holy brothers set off to Wales to "rescue" the bones of a Welsh saint, for the greater glory of their monastery. But as it turns out, the Welsh people are far from eager to give up their saint to a bunch of English strangers, and when recriminations turn to murder, Cadfael must view even his own fellow monks as potential killers. I found A Morbid Taste for Bones to be my favorite of the Cadfael episodes I've seen; it has a more engaging story than some of the others, maybe because it is a little different in storyline, or because it is set in a different location. Some of the events in this episode give an entirely new and ironic light on later events that take place in other, later episodes, though it's perfectly possible to enjoy those episodes without having seen this one.
The Rose Rent, based on Peters' 1986 novel, takes viewers back to home territory at Shrewsbury Abbey. A tangled plot of love and greed develops around a young widow and her gift to the abbey of the house she once shared with her late husband. She requires only a "rose rent" of one rose from the house's garden each year, but as it turns out, someone is willing to kill to stop the rose rent and with it, her connection to the past. It's reasonably entertaining, though I do wish that Cadfael would stumble across a mystery that didn't involve a murder once in a while.
The Raven in the Foregate is also based on a novel written in 1986. This time, when a body turns up, it strikes at the heart of the abbey itself: the victim is the new parish priest, admittedly a rather unlikeable fellow who managed to alienate the townspeople by scorning an unwed mother and her child. The Raven in the Foregate is more dependent than most episodes on the viewer having a familiarity with the series, as the recurring characters from the abbey have a larger role than usual in the story.
Overall, the image quality on these DVDs is good, considering that they were originally done for television. It looks like some care was taken in handling the prints for transfer, as the image in all cases is fairly clean, with no print flaws in evidence and hardly any noise. Colors are handled nicely in all three DVDs, with the predominant grays, browns, and blacks of some scenes well-balanced by natural skin tones, and with other scenes showing robust colors. The episodes are presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which is the original.
The Cadfael episodes are largely dialogue-based, as most mysteries are, and the audio quality of the DVDs holds up nicely for the program's needs. The Dolby 2.0 track is clean and clear, with the music and dialogue portions of the track maintained in correct balance.
Each of the DVDs has a similar small selection of extras. Common to all three discs is a text selection on author Ellis Peters, and a list of her Cadfael books. Each DVD also includes a scrapbook of still photos from the production and a brief audio-only interview with Derek Jacobi. He speaks on a different topic on each of the discs, and always has something interesting to say; though brief, it's definitely worth hearing.
If you're a Cadfael fan to begin with, Set 3 is something you'll certainly want to add to your collection; the three episodes are fairly characteristic of the series, and the DVD quality is good. Coming to the series for the first time in DVD, I found the episodes entertaining to watch but not quite grabbing enough to merit repeated viewings, and for that reason I'd generally recommend either renting some of the episodes first, or buying a single episode, before committing to a whole set. Of the three episodes included here, the best one to start with would probably be A Morbid Taste for Bones, though the others stand independently as well.