Review – John Nettles leaves Midsomer Murders

Warning: the following review contains spoilers.

All good things must come to an end. We all know this. Yet when the end arrives we are often shocked. And so it is with John Nettles’ on Midsomer Murders. Nettles, who has walked the beat in the most lethal of the Home Counties since 1997, has decided to retire and hand over to Neil Dudgeon, who plays his cousin John. But Barnaby, a beloved character for millions of people, could not just be written out, and this was his exit, stage right.

The plot itself was well-formed, interesting and actually more psychological than is usual for Midsomer Murders, which is usually more interested in pitchforks and fetes than the inner recesses of the mind. While the episode did not peer in to Barnaby’s subconscious, it did explore interesting ideas around nostalgia, and holding on to the past, both through the subplot involving Barnaby’s father and, of course, the main plot surrounding the two murders that occur on the grounds of a health spa. (There is also an attempted murder which doesn’t quite go to plan, which brings the episode up to the quota of three corpses per episode). One of the murders is mildly surprising, yet it is not up there with the almost comical deaths in some previous episodes.

There are some star turns from the actors and actresses. Geraldine James, in particular, is fantastic as an estranged friend who longs for the past. Ronni Ancona, too, is amusing as the waspish, medicine-addicted first murder victim. John Nettles manages, yet again, to convey the dependable, principled, unimpeachable detective whom we have grown to know and respect over these past thirteen or so years. Jane Wymark now appears to be thoroughly comfortable with what we may call the ‘public perception’ of Joyce – that she is more deadly than the county itself. Barry Jackson and Laura Howard played small parts excellently, as Bullard and Cully, respectively.

The weak link in the character chain is perhaps the most surprising. Jones moved from being the poor man’s Lewis to the poor man’s Hong Kong Phooey. He was tripping up all over the place, missing evidence, harrumphing about like someone had stolen his breakfast. It was not the Jones we had grown to like, and it certainly was not up to the part of Troy. It was disappointing, but it did help to illustrate why Barnaby was replaced by Barnaby the younger, rather than Jones. Jones’ incompetence may have been a specific creation by the writers to ensure that we did not question the lack of progress for the young detective.

This was not one of the greatest episodes. It is not Written in Blood, with Anna Massey as a crazy, homophobic dynast. It is certainly not Judgement Day, with Timothy West as an endlessly loving husband (and pitchfork killings). Yet it is a good and well-written episode, and the send-off of Tom Barnaby is affectionate, warm, and interesting. It conveys the unique nature of Midsomer Murders in a single scene – that, actually, Barnaby is not Poirot, nor Frost, nor Morse. He is middle-class, middle-aged, has integrity streaming out of him and has a solid homelife. He shall be sorely missed.

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