Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Doctor Blake Mysteries: “Against All Odds” (Australian ITV/BBC/PBS, 2016)

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

I watched the PBS telecast of “Against the Odds,” an episode of the Australian ITV production The Doctor Blake Mysteries that was actually quite good — a jockey dies of an apparent accident the day after he won a big race that, we find out later, he was supposed to throw — even though the show had a recurring flaw of British Commonwealth mysteries: the characterizations are so deep and well-rounded that by the time writer Stuart Page gets around to telling us who the murderer was (Blake deduces early on that the rider — and his horse — were killed by someone stringing a rope across the track so they would fall, though originally the killer intended the jockey to die but the horse to live) we really don’t care that much. The establishing story of Dr. Lucien Blake was he had served in the British military as a medic in Singapore, and had been so traumatized by that experience that after his discharge he returned to the small town of Ballarat, Australia where he’d grown up. This episode explained why he hadn’t married his partner Jean Beazley even though they were living together in small-town Australia in the 1950’s and as far as anyone knew they were husband and wife.

It turns out he already had a wife, Mei Lin Blake (Ling Cooper Tang), a part-Chinese, part-British woman he’d met in China before the war and who’d been living with him in Singapore when the war broke out, the British fortress in Singapore fell, she was captured and held against her will for several years in Japanese-occupied China during World War II until she managed to escape and find her way back to Ballarat. She comes to live with her husband and her husband’s current girlfriend until she realizes she’ll be a fish out of water — and he sensibly lets her go, allowing her to move into a local hotel. By the time this plot line resolves itself we hardly care anymore who killed the jockey — or later set up the jockey’s principal rival to get killed when he was trampled by a horse while fleeing — and there’s a nice performance by Damien Richardson as local bookie Terrence Noonan, who when he isn’t fixing local races is getting worried because the Australian government is about to institute legal off-track betting and that will, of course, kill his business. Noonan also has his hooks into the local police sergeant, Bill Hobart (David Whiteley), who owes him 350 pounds and tells Noonan he intends to pay off his debt even if he also has to arrest Noonan for murder — only it turns out the real killer is the horse’s trainer, Agnes Clasby (Helen Morse), who had bet against her own horse as part of Noonan’s scheme (as had the jockey riding him, though eventually, like John Garfield at the end of Body and Soul, he recovered enough of his self-respect that he won a contest even though he would have been better off financially if he’d lost) — and there’s also the fascinating character of her stable hand Rose Anderson (Anna McGahan), who makes no particular secret that she likes horses considerably better than people and actually fires a gun in the general direction of Dr. Blake and the principals at the end, which briefly makes her a red herring before Agnes is revealed to be the killer.