I quite enjoyed the first season of this Australian mystery series, aired in early 2013 on ABC TV. My Mum, Aunt and Grandma have all become big fans of Doctor Blake – the handsome, brooding hero of the show, played by Craig McLachlan – and while it’s no Sherlock Holmes, The Doctor Blake Mysteries does have a lot of charm.
Set in Ballarat – a Victorian gold rush town – in 1959, The Doctor Blake Mysteries is a sort of Australian version of the British detective drama Midsomer Murders. Doctor Lucien Blake has returned to Ballarat to take over his father’s medical practice, as well as to take up the job of police surgeon. It is revealed early on that Blake was a POW in the Second World War, a history that gives him a kind of haunted-maverick quality. Blake is assisted in his mystery-solving by his housekeeper, Jean (Nadine Garner), Constable Daniel Parks (Rick Donald) and district nurse Mattie O’Brien (Cate Wolfe). Each episode begins with a murder, and the next fifty-seven minutes are spent trying to decide ‘whodunit’.
The appeal of shows like this, for me, is guessing who the killer is. Midsomer Murders episodes run at just over an hour and a half each, allowing plenty of time to set up the suspects. Doctor Blake episodes, however, are less than an hour long, resulting in climaxes that feel a bit abrupt and that are not quite as satisfying as those in Midsomer. Some of the scene endings in Doctor Blake also feel a little quick, and the dialogue is too expository at times. Blake’s dark past (and resulting alcoholism) is a bit clichéd and overdone, but the details are good – I especially liked the drawings Blake has done of the horrors of war.
In general, The Doctor Blake Mysteries looks really good. 1940s Ballarat comes to life – there are beautiful shots of old buildings, cobbled laneways, and spindly dead trees in Lake Wendouree. The show has a grey, gloomy, Wuthering Heights sort of feel; an old tea-coloured-photograph atmosphere. And even though – yet again – the lead character is male, it is nice to see two very strong female characters in Jean and Mattie. I particularly like Mattie – she is tough, intelligent, beautiful, and has a great sense of humour.
The Doctor Blake Mysteries is entertaining and fun. I will be on the lookout for a second season.