The word right now is that it'll be a whole year before we see the first episode of Peter Capaldi's tenure as the Doctor on Doctor Who. Which I find really frustrating as having watched the first two seasons and three specials of The Thick of It I think this guy stands a chance of being my favourite Doctor since Sylvester McCoy. Last night I watched the 2006 episode of Midsomer Murders he was in and I found him not only impressively playing a character very different from his Malcolm Tucker on The Thick of It but easily playing the most intriguing character in the episode. And it's not all his doing.
This is the second episode I've seen of Midsomer Murders, after the 1997 premiere episode. John Nettles hasn't changed much here in his performance as Detective Barnaby except to have a shorter haircut. His bumbling assistant has been thankfully replaced with a partner who's only occasionally, reasonably awkward. Or maybe it's the same partner just written better, I'm not sure, he actually looks pretty similar.
The show's introduced a new, frequently used sting--that muffled single drum beat often used in suspense and horror nowadays to underline a shot of some piece of evidence or some shadowy figure darting among the trees.
This episode uses it a lot, and along with a couple other elements it feels like a counterbalance of modernity for the traditional setting.
Capaldi in this episode plays the tyrannical master of a neighbourhood church choir. He's a perfectionist, demanding through gruelling practice sessions the best performance from the people who joined the choir from around the neighbourhood, among whom is Barnaby's wife. Then a guy in the choir is murdered.
I wasn't able to guess the identity of the killer this time but, despite introducing a lot of characters with a lot of possible indications of motive, the episode doesn't provide a single clue pointing to the actual killer, basically just dropping the culprit's identity on us at the end.
Capaldi's dialogue has him pushing the people in the choir, like I said, but right away I noticed he was playing the character as distracted and quietly boiling on the inside. Someone dealing with issues and of course I immediately thought he was too obvious to be a suspect. We later learn his wife was having an affair with the murder victim and doesn't really seem to have much sympathy for Capaldi's character.
There's a subplot about Capaldi's choir being in fierce competition with the one at a cathedral, headed by Capaldi's rival, a man he's certain cheated his way into the cathedral. And, indeed, we later see this guy spying on Capaldi's choir and using other underhanded means.
But even when the two of them have a fight in the pub Capaldi seems distracted, on the edge of an unrelated breakdown. Then the episode ends very strangely--Barnaby gives to Ellen, Capaldi's wife, a painting made for her by the murder victim. She tells Barnaby that her husband took his stuff and left her finally, even abandoning his choir without a word. She says he told her he, "didn't really care about it." At this point, Barnaby's face falls and he gets in his car and peels off.
He shows up at the choir competition where the choir's decided to perform without Capaldi and wins. And we never see or hear about Capaldi again. I guess we could explain Barnaby's hurry as suddenly remembering he needed to attend his wife's performance in the choir but the impression I had was that there was a scene where Capaldi's character killed himself that was cut from the episode. And thinking back, I realised there were a lot of details that were introduced in the episode to simply never be brought up again, most prominently a pig's heart that was nailed to the wall in the murder victim's home with a note reading "Your Cheating Heart." It doesn't fit in with the murderer's motive but it fits with Capaldi's storyline. Yet the police never bring it up to him.
The strangest and most fascinating thing of all, though, is Capaldi's performance which kind of dwarfs the episode, especially in retrospect.