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DVD Review: Midsomer Murders – Barnaby’s Top Ten

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John Nettles, who has starred as DCI Tom Barnaby in the British mystery series Midsomer Murders since 1997 has chosen his 10 favorite episodes in this 10-DVD set, Midsomer Murders – Barnaby’s Top Ten. Set in fictional Midsomer County, a collection of quaint and scenic rural villages with an unusually high body count, the shows are all presented in widescreen format, with subtitles and scene selection.

Nettles, who plays Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby, recently left the show (and was replaced by Neil Dudgeon, cast as Barnaby’s cousin John). On each disc he appears in a brief introduction, telling why he thinks each episode is special. Viewers unfamiliar with a particular plot line might want to watch Nettles’s introduction after viewing the episode, however, as he sometimes gives away some plot points. 

Some great actors turn up in supporting roles — Honor Blackman, Celia Imrie, Emily Mortimer, and Phyllis Logan are just some of the notable guest stars. Daniel Casey as Detective Sergeant Troy, Jane Wymark as Barnaby’s wife Joyce, and Laura Howard as his daughter Cully round out the regular cast.

The collection begins with the very first Midsomer Murders episode, “The Killings at Badger’s Drift,” which is based on the novel by Caroline Graham. When schoolteacher Emily Simpson is found dead, a rare orchid may be a clue to her murder. As DS Troy (Daniel Casey) observes, “This must be the first police search organized for a flower.” Barnaby soon discovers that the first death proves to be only the tip of the iceberg, as the bodies start to pile up around them. Suspects include an extremely creepy young undertaker, who is too close for comfort with his even creepier busybody mom, and a brash young painter. Emily Mortimer and Jonathan Firth also appear.

In “Blue Herrings,” Barnaby can’t get a break — he has taken time off to do some home improvement when a series of mysterious occurrences, including a death, start occurring at Lawnside nursing home, where his Aunt Alice (Phyllis Calvert) happens to be staying. Aunt Alice is suspicious, and enlists Barnaby’s help to get to the truth.

Two children help Barnaby unravel the mysterious death of depressed local farmer’s wife Susan Bartlett in “A Worm in the Bud.” Barnaby and Troy must sort out if her death was a suicide or murder, and if there is any connection to a local Midsomer Worthy housing development project. Wendy Craig also stars.

The murder of the local postman leads Barnaby through a trail of multiple adulteries among the villagers of Goodman’s Land in “Dark Autumn.” Celia Imrie and Alan Howard guest star as a husband and wife with an interesting relationship.

In “Dead Man’s Eleven,” Joyce is looking to move from Causton to one of the villages, possibly Fletcher’s Cross, although Barnaby is hesitant to become a resident of one of Midsomer’s murderous little villages, “Every time I go into any Midsomer village, it’s always the same thing — blackmail, sexual deviancy, suicide, and murder.” He is soon proved right, when a game of cricket leads to another local killing. Imelda Staunton guest stars as a resident who wants Barnaby to buy her house.

Joyce is appearing in a small part in the local theater’s production of Amadeus in “Death of a Hollow Man.” Barnaby hoped to only be in the audience on opening night, but finds himself backstage in the middle of another murder investigation when the lead actor (Nicholas Le Prevost) is killed onstage.

In “The Electric Vendetta,” bodies keep turning up in local crop circles – all naked, with burned hands, strange wounds on their backs and horrified expressions. Have UFOs really come to Midsomer? A local author (Kenneth Colley) of the book, “Close Encounters of the Midsomer Kind” certainly wants Barnaby and anyone else who will listen think so. He asks the inspector, “How are you going to arrest an extraterrestrial?” One of the best episodes of the series.

Barnaby tries to take a day off from murder by attending the annual St. Malley’s Day foot race at Devington School. But as a boy runs back from the woods, the crowd at first cheers wildly and then sees that he is bleeding and watches him collapse in “Murder on St. Malley’s Day.” On further investigation, Barnaby discovers that some of the old traditions of Devington School are positively deadly.

In “A Talent for Life,” Honor Blackman plays Isobel — a woman who enjoys life and driving her Jaguar as fast as possible. When she is found beaten to death in the woods, Barnaby must determine if her death had anything to do with her run-ins with members of a local fishing club, or possibly a recent influx of cash from an investment.

When a body of a young woman is found strangled in nearby Ravens Wood in Midsomer Worthy, its similarity to a string of murders a few years back lead Barnaby and Troy to think that they may have a serial strangler on their hands in “Strangler’s Wood.” Phyllis Logan plays Kate Merrill, a wife who immediately suspects her husband (Nicholas Ferrell) — the two obviously share a secret. Trudie Styler guest stars as Kate’s friend Liz.

The theme music of Midsomer Murders is as delightfully eerie as ever. Nettles has a great rapport with his fellow actors, who all help to bring Midsomer and its surrounding villages to life. For such a deadly place, there is something soothing and enjoyable about watching the bodies pile up on Midsomer Murders. Nettles, as Barnaby, is quiet but determined. Although sometimes quite cynical, he remains a positive presence, which also adds to the pleasant viewing experience.

Each episode runs about 90 minutes, so Barnaby’s Top Ten really gives the viewer an opportunity to drop in on Midsomer whenever they want, for some beautiful scenery, some great acting, and many, many, murders.

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