Where would you prefer to spend Christmas – in Devon or the Caribbean? Fortunately for fans of cosy TV crime dramas, the BBC has offered a choice of both: a feature-length episode of their Guadeloupe-filmed Death in Paradise on Boxing Day and a festive special of the DiP spinoff Beyond Paradise on Christmas Eve.
The latter, for those who missed its debut series last February, imagines former Saint Marie detective Humphrey Goodman (Kris Marshall) relocated to the fictional harbour town of Shipton Abbey in Devon (albeit mostly filmed over the border in Cornwall).
He’s there with his fiancée Martha (Not Going Out’s Sally Bretton), for whom he left his Caribbean posting in 2017 and followed back to Devon, where Martha grew up and where Humphrey has now joined the local police force.
Apart from his efficient number two, DS Esther Williams (Zahra Ahmadi), this is manned by the obligatory “lovable” eccentrics, including nice-but-dim PC Kelby Hartford (Dylan Llewellyn from Derry Girls and Big Boys) and motherly office support Margo Martins (I’m Alan Partridge’s Felicity Montagu). The festive storyline saw this small station house threatened with closure unless they could improve their crime clear-up figures. Of course, the outcome was never in doubt.
Kelby is so dim that he seems to have wandered in from The Vicar of Dibley, while the show as a whole is more reminiscent of Doc Martin than Death in Paradise. ITV’s Cornwall-set mega-hit obligingly packed its bags last Christmas and handily left this West Country terrain open for Beyond Paradise – although the bumbling Humphrey isn’t such an original character as Martin Clunes’ socially illiterate GP.
Humphrey’s bumbling can be overdone and you just knew that, while he was waiting in the chief constable’s office and helping himself to a cup of water, the liquid would end up all over his trousers. It also takes some getting used to the fact that such a gentle soul is romantically paired with a character played by Bretton, a comic actor more used to brutal games of verbal tennis with her Not Going Out husband Lee Mack.
The clue to one advantage that Beyond Paradise has over Death in Paradise is in its title. The spin-off, unlike its parent show, doesn’t have to feature a murder. In this seasonal special, Humphrey and the team investigated four baffling burglaries where nothing was stolen, the intruder instead leaving behind such items as a television set, a gold bracelet and a bundle of cash.
The case provided the station with the chance to improve their clear-up rate and avoid closure – although the fact that the force contains one of the few police forces left in Britain willing to investigate shop-lifting ought to have been enough to earn it a reprieve. Kelby detained the 11-year-old thief identifying himself as “Rishi Sunak”. Needless to say, this unhappy lad was connected, in a roundabout way, to the mysterious break-ins.
The redemptive storyline (a dying burglar attempting to make amends by returning items similar to the ones that he stole 50 years previously) was yet another riff on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Time perhaps for writers of Christmas specials (in this case it was former EastEnders scribe Tony Jordan) to lay off the Scrooge business for a while – even if I feel a little Scrooge-like for not liking this episode more.
Beyond Paradise has signs of promise – Bretton is always a pleasingly astringent addition and I liked Martha’s feisty mother Anne (Barbara Flynn). And while the show itself is formulaic, it’s a proven winning formula. Enough with the spin-offs, though.