Sunday, December 25, 2016

Doctor Blake Mysteries: “By the Southern Cross” (December Media, Australian Broadcasting Company, ITV, 2015)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

After that KPBS showed a rerun of a Doctor Blake Mysteries episode from March 5, 2015 called “By the Southern Cross,” a quirky but not especially interesting show (some of the Doctor Blake episodes have actually been quite good, but not this one) in which the local police in the Australian outback town of Ballarat, where the show takes place (in 1959, by the way — the cars are old and ugly and the fashions are dowdy, though people watching the show have guessed everything from early 1950’s to early 1960’s) shut down a political protest at the Eureka Stockade site where an important battle in Australia’s fight for freedom against Britain occurred in the 19th century. The protest was led by a local branch of the Australian Communist Party, and later the branch’s leader, Des Somerville (Hayden Hawkins), is found dead at the Eureka Stockade site. The show features a lot of predictable tensions between the local police and Dr. Lucien Blake (Craig McLachlan), who grew up in Ballarat, left to study medicine, fought in World War II but returned with what would then have been called “shell-shock” and is now known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), went back to Ballarat, took over his late father’s local practice and took a job as the coroner for the local police — who are always upbraiding him for “trying to be a cop” and who want him to let them alone and just give them medical reports on how their murder victims died. What’s most surprising about this show is how little it uses the protest theme — a show set in the 1960’s would no doubt have a lot more tension over the protests — and the script turns into what I’ve called in the past “less a whodunit than a whocareswhodunit” as the finger of suspicion turns on Joe Beville (Carter Doyle). It seems that his real name is Bevilacqua and he was Italian, but didn’t want any of his “comrades” in the ACP to know that because his dad was a big-time supporter of Mussolini. He’s the obvious suspect the police arrest but Dr. Blake proves innocent, ultimately establishing that the real killer is the son of a prominent and wealthy landowner in the area — for some reason the son became a Communist (well, it happens; the late Fidel Castro came from a well-off family — though they weren’t part of Cuba’s 1 percent — and, like the character here, he learned about Communism while attending college and decided he was one) — who got into a fight with the victim and killed him accidentally, then borrowed a wheelbarrow and pushed his body from the grounds where the murder took place to the front of the stockade where it was ultimately found. I’ve generally liked the Doctor Blake episodes I’ve seen, but this one was pretty much a dud.