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Midsomer Murders - Set 5 (Pilot and Complete First Season)

Acorn Media // Unrated // March 29, 2005
List Price: $59.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted March 14, 2005 | E-mail the Author
The movie

No, that's not a typo in the title. This is the fifth set of episodes for the British mystery television series Midsomer Murders, and yes, this fifth set contains the episodes from the show's first season. The episode order has been scrambled from the start, as Sets One and Two mixed episodes from Seasons Two and Three, while Set Three included some (but not all) of Season Four. (I'm not sure what's on Set Four, as I didn't review it.) Confused yet? Well, some of the muddle may be explained by the terse comment in Set Five's production notes, which says that these episodes had not been previously released because of rights issues. At any rate, Midsomer Murders: Set Five ends up containing the complete first season of the show, and as such, is a better starting place for viewers than Set One.

So what's this show about? The title pretty much captures the theme of every episode. Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) is responsible for investigating the various crimes that take place in Midsomer County... which, despite its quiet appearance and classic rural English charm, is chock-full of dastardly murderers and horrible crimes. In these little villages, everyone knows everyone else, and what's more, everyone probably has a motive to murder everyone else, so when someone gets bumped off, there's always a superfluity of suspects at hand.

I'll admit that Midsomer Murders has never really hooked me, the way I've been hooked by shows like Foyle's War or the Poirot series. It's a reasonably well done show, and John Nettles does a perfectly fine job as the detective (and he has grown on me to a certain extent, over time), but the main sticking points, for me, are the somewhat formulaic plots and the slight tendency toward caricature in the depiction of the secondary characters. The episodes in Set Five actually do reasonably well in terms of plot; compared to the episodes in Sets One and Two. There's still always the sense that the most logical suspect is sure to be innocent, and sometimes the plot twists seem a bit contrived, but the eventual revelation of "whodunit" is not always predictable. Whether or not you like the slight touches of humor, by way of secondary characters with slightly over-the-top personalities, is really a matter of taste; I didn't care for it much, myself.

Interestingly, the character of Barnaby's assistant, Sergeant Troy (Daniel Casey), seems more vividly drawn in these episodes than in later ones. I'd seen him as rather a bland character in the later seasons, but it seems that he starts out as a rather brash, politically incorrect fellow who offers more of a contrast with the quietly thoughtful Barnaby.

This set starts off with the pilot episode, "The Killings at Badger's Drift." Here, the suspicious death of an elderly teacher opens up a tangled case that may involve a crime from years past as well. It's a good introduction to the series as a whole, since it offers a reasonably interesting mystery along with an introduction to the character of Barnaby and his family, who will appear consistently in later seasons.

The remaining four episodes come from the first season. "Written in Blood" has Barnaby investigating the death of a writer, who seems to have had a largely fictitious life. "Death of a Hollow Man" proves that the back-stabbing and intrigue backstage in a theater production, even an amateur one, can become quite literally deadly. "Faithful Unto Death" mixes financial investigations with disappearances and murder in what was formerly quite a peaceful community, and "Death in Disguise" finishes up the lot with accidents that may be anything but accidental at a New Age commune.

These are reasonably entertaining stories; I'd say that at 100 minute apiece they're a little on the over-long side, but for fans of British mysteries, it's a reasonable offering.


Midsomer Murders: Set Five is a five-DVD set. Each episode is on its own DVD, packaged in an individual keepcase inside a glossy paperboard slipcase.


The episodes in Set 5 appear in their original aspect ratio, which is 1.66:1. Viewers will be excused if they think it looks an awful lot like a 1.33:1 image, though, since the letterboxing is minimal (just a thin black bar at the bottom of the screen), but it's good to know that the episodes do appear in their intended presentation. Overall, these episodes look reasonably good. Colors are bright and lively, and contrast is handled adequately. There's some edge enhancement in the image, and we get the occasional shimmer, along with a scattering of print speckles. Overall, the picture looks a bit on the soft side, but it's acceptable.


The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is adequate, but definitely not lively. The dialogue is acceptably distinct from the rest of the track, but it does tend to sound rather flat.


Along with a brief "production notes" section and a text biography of author Caroline Graham on the first DVD, all the DVDs have the same minimal selection of special features: a map of Midsomer County and cast filmographies.

Final thoughts

Midsomer Murders: Set Five is a reasonably solid choice for viewers who are particularly fond of British mysteries set in the modern day. I'm not completely sold on the series, but this set's episodes offer a decent variety of plots and feels relatively fresh. Since this set actually contains the pilot and complete first season of the show, it's the best spot for interested new viewers to start, and of course fans of the show will want to pick it up for their collections. (Of course, they'll be faced with the sticky question of "where to put it on the shelf"... in numerical order or chronological order? Difficult, difficult.) In any case, I'll give it a mild "recommended."

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