06 February 2015

TV: Death in Paradise IV.5

Ian Kershaw returns to Death in Paradise after contributing a strong episode last series. This episode shows that his first wasn't a fluke. The fifth instalment of Series 4 is once again all about change, and the presence or lack of it.

This is shown in both divisions of the storyline - the police and the suspects - on both subtle levels and otherwise. The guest cast this week, featuring the excellent Neil Morrissey, are all related to a faded British rock band almost akin to Oasis. The group have come to record their second album on Saint Marie twenty years after their first was produced in the same location, and their manager/closet superfan has come too. The other man in the frame is the studio owner, who is accused of still being bitter after the victim, the band's front man, burned the building down on his last visit.

The physical changes in the characters are apparent, and the script does well in contrasting these with the varying degrees to which the characters themselves have changed. With the addition of new junior JP (Tobi Bakare), the same could be said of regulars. I was a little disappointed we didn't get at least an episode of just Humphrey, Dwayne and Florence, but Kershaw introduces the officer very well and really fleshes out the character nicely. I like the mix of personalities we get by setting this series somewhere like the fictitious Saint Marie; it creates a completely different dynamic to its UK-based counterparts which feature much the same kind of characters week after week.

I was pleased that Florence managed to step out of the shadows here, but so far she does still kind of seem like Camille-lite. However, the character hasn't been handled so well since Rob Thorogood's striking opener, and it's nice to see the beginnings of her relationship with Humphrey. Given JP also seems like a substitute Fidel at this point, the setup hasn't changed substantially across the last five episodes, but I hope that our two new regulars manage to establish their own niches and carve their own characters. Whilst we're on the subject of recurring characters, I was glad to see Harry back this week.

The actual plot is fulfilling and fun, but not always original. Not that that matters; there are far more interesting things to focus on thanks to the alternative way Kershaw writes. With some writers, it feels like they're trying to evoke the 'house style' established by Thorogood's distinctive structure rather than tell their story their way. There's none of that with Kershaw, and while I'd still argue that nobody does it better than the series' creator, it's certainly refreshing to have an individual alternative. The way suspicion and facts build is pleasing, and a motive seems to emerge for each of the guest cast. I thought the way Francis Magee's diva front man was bumped off was very well conceived, but I liked less how some of the ends unravelled over the course of this episode were left loose.

The direction was a marked step up from the previous few episodes too, thanks to Paul Murphy. The helicopter shots of the island and the studios really add a filmic feel to proceedings and although it may seem a waste of money to shoot so much, at such great expense, for just a few seconds of footage, it pays off in the final product. Murphy, who helmed two of last year's most stylish Doctor Who episodes (Robot of Sherwood and The Caretaker, fact fans) hits his goal and delivers a pacey, intriguing mystery from the off. There are very well-chosen shots scattered throughout this episode, but the overall impression the viewer gets even without consciously considering it is one of quality and substance, thanks to the immediate visual aspect as well as the script.

Overall, then, a thoroughly enjoyable episode. JP is so far amiable enough and Florence appears interesting, but neither are yet to establish a real spark that marks them out as leading characters. I hope Mr Thorogood has at least one more contribution to this series, since I think possibly only he could do these characters, who he has no doubt helped create, the full justice they need to be truly memorable. Despite what I said last week, perhaps a return for Camille would not be advisable; it could be detrimental and undermine the newbies' position. I do have a couple of issues with the things this series takes for granted now, but they're small fry. The point is that this was a good, strong episode.

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