Murdoch Mysteries in its eleventh season remains one the classiest and most enjoyable of the ongoing police procedurals with luscious period production detail, warm and wonderful performances, and some crafty mysteries.
The Production: 4/5
As with Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s “Ol’ Man River,” the CBC’s Murdoch Mysteries “just keeps rolling along.” Now in its eleventh season (with more to come), this engaging mystery series seems to skip and scamper its way through another delightful season of eighteen crime cases, some dramatic and some comedic but all worthy of notice.
Things look ridiculously dire at the beginning of season eleven for the primary employees of Stationhouse 4 in the Toronto Constabulary, all the problems being leftovers from the season ten cliffhanger which found chief detective William Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) arrested for the murder of a showgirl, his medical examiner/wife Dr. Julia Ogden (Hélène Joy) and boss Inspector Thomas Brackenreid (Thomas Craig) missing, and the three primary constables George Crabtree (Jonny Harris), Henry Higgins (Lachlan Murdoch), and Robert Jackson (Kristian Bruun) shot down in an ambush and presumably dead. These intrigues get sorted out by the end of the season premiere episode (the only non-mystery of the season’s eighteen episodes since the guilty parties who have set up the principals in an attempt to close down Stationhouse 4 are clearly identified at the beginning of the episode), leaving the remainder of the season to set up an array of stimulating mysteries and explore in greater-than-ever depth the personal lives of all of the primary characters.
It’s 1905, and love is in the air for the unmarried among the cast as George pursues his relationship with entertainer Nina Bloom (Erin Agostino), and Henry becomes happily entangled with the wealthy if ditzy Ruth Newsome (Siobhan Murphy). Inspector Brackenreid’s oldest son John (Charles Vandervaart) joins the force as a constable against the objections of both his parents, and the wonderfully eccentric Detective Llewellyn Watts (Daniel Maslany) joins the force full-time to assist on cases when Murdoch and Dr. Ogden, who are intent on conceiving a child, are occupied elsewhere. When her assistant in the morgue Rebecca James (Mouna Traoré) marries and moves to another district, Julia hires Violet Hart (Shanice Banton) as her new assistant, a most ambitious young woman who is in a hurry to advance to a position of power and responsibility within the department.
All of these personal stories occur while Stationhouse 4 goes about its business investigating a slew of unusual crimes: death by poison wine, a murder at a gathering of the blind, a serial killer targeting the elderly, the apparent kidnapping of two college students from India, the stabbing death of a painter, death by botulism, a traffic accident fatality that was no accident, a murder with an exploding cricket bat, death by electrocution, and a skewering of a man by a winged knight’s lance, among others. One of the more delightful aspects of the storytelling in Murdoch Mysteries is the ingenious way in which real-life personalities are woven into the fabric of some of the episodes. Such previous luminaries as Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Bat Masterson, Mark Twain, Jack London, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and H.P. Lovecraft have made appearances in Toronto, and this season we’re treated to historical figures such as Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan, Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy, Tom Thomson, President Teddy Roosevelt, and Al Jolson involving themselves into the conundrums affecting the Toronto Constabulary.
The core cast remains delightfully one-of-a-kind. Yannick Bisson is the no nonsense, square-jawed title character using his expertise with “finger marks,” ultraviolet light, and primitive electronic surveillance (including an embryonic model of an earwig this season) to advance the field of criminal investigation. His frustratingly long and involved courtship of Hélène Joy’s smart, assertive Dr. Julia Ogden finally resulted in their marriage a couple of seasons before, and season eleven finds them happy and contented in their matrimonial state hoping to conceive a child. Thomas Craig’s crusty Thomas Brackenreid is as blustery and engaging as ever and embarks again with the returning Peter Stebbings’ oddball inventor James Pendrick on an adventure which might rob him of his life savings. Jonny Harris certainly has his hands full this season not only with his law enforcement career but also enjoying romantic adventures with burlesque entertainer Nina Bloom (Erin Agostino) whom he contemplates marrying. Prickly, occasionally outrageous reporter Louise Cherry (Bea Santos) pops up for several episodes this season, and the show also welcomes back super spy Terrence Meyers (Peter Keleghan) for another covert adventure that involves the U.S. President.
Here are the eighteen episodes contained on four discs that make up Season 11:
1 – Up from Ashes
2 – Merlot Mysteries
3 – 8 Footsteps
4 – The Canadian Patient
5 – Dr. Osler Regrets
6 – 21 Murdoch Street
7 – The Accident
8 – Brackenreid Boudoir
9 – The Talking Dead
10 – F.L.A.S.H!
11 – Biffers and Blockers
12 – Mary Wept
13 – Crabtree a la Carte
14 – The Great White Moose
15 – Murdoch Schmurdoch
16 – Game of Kings
17 – Shadows Are Falling
18 – Free Falling
3D Rating: NA
The widescreen television aspect ratio of 1.78:1 is replicated to perfection in these 1080p transfers using the AVC codec. Sharpness is exceptional throughout all eighteen episodes, and colors are bright and fully saturated without being uncontrolled. Black levels are also first-rate, important in several episodes which take place at night or in the dark confines of basements or enclosed, windowless spaces. Each episode has been divided into 5 chapters.
These DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mixes are surprisingly elaborate for a commercial television series. Dialogue, very important to the show, has been recorded expertly and has been placed in the center channel. Atmospheric effects play a vital role in creating ambiance and suspense in the series, and the sounds have been threaded through the soundfield with much intelligence. Robert Carli’s background score and theme music get wonderful placement in the fronts and rears though one occasionally feels the engineers could be slightly more aggressive with the surrounds.
Special Features: 2/5
Making Murdoch (20:00, HD): a series of eleven very brief vignettes (none lasting even three minutes) tied to a specific episode or involving a fan question and commented on by producer/showrunner Peter Mitchell, the show’s stars, and guest stars.
Murdoch Mysteries remains one the classiest and most enjoyable of the ongoing police procedurals with luscious period production detail, warm and wonderful performances, and some crafty mysteries which, while possibly not offering the complexities of some of the puzzles from shows like Sherlock or Elementary, still manage to tease more than a few little gray cells. Recommended!