If you know me, you know that I’m a huge Midsomer Murders fan. Since 2015, I’ve been blogging every new episode in the show for this very paper, and I’m always keen to sing its praise. I do admit, however, that the show’s quality is incredibly variable, and that each episode of Midsomer may be a dud just as easily as a classic. This was less so in the series’ classic days, with many favourite episodes coming from the earlier series. And that’s where you’ll find an instalment that, to my mind, is the pinnacle of the show – series four’s ‘Destroying Angel’.
One morning, while foraging for mushrooms in the woods, hotel manager and Punch and Judy man Gregory Chambers (Philip Bowen) is attacked. That same day, it’s time for the funeral of local hotel owner Karl Wainwright (Edward Jewesbury), and Wainwright’s will names Gregory as one of four beneficiaries who would inherit the estate. A severed hand is soon found in the woods, and DCI Barnaby (John Nettles) opens a murder investigation. Soon, a series of deaths strikes the villagers, and Barnaby wonders if the puppet show, now taken over by Clarice Opperman (Madeleine Worrall) and her aunt Evelyn Pope (Rosemary Leach), can provide any clues to the identity of the culprit.
Not a scene is wasted, or fails to add something to the mystery
I’ve left a lot out of the description here – the plot is really layered, and I don’t want to give too much away. ‘Destroying Angel’ is a really busy Midsomer – it’s got one of the series’ highest death tolls, as well as a number of attempted murders, and none of them feel shoehorned in. They aren’t the most elaborate deaths (although the one involving the titular Destroying Angel mushroom is not particularly pleasant), but I like that – this is a grounded episode that still features a level of dark humour. This is, after all, the episode in which one of the character happily proclaims that no-one is trying to murder them, before immediately being murdered.
It also boasts the customary comic subplot involving mushroom expert Colin Slater (Roger Frost) and his unusual relationship with his housekeeper, but it’s well integrated into the plot – Colin is a comic character who contributes a lot. And that’s really the key to what makes ‘Destroying Angel’ work – not a scene is wasted, or fails to add something to the mystery. On a rewatch, I’m impressed with quite how clever it is. Not just in the way the mystery resolves – this is perhaps one of the more involved cases in the show’s history, but still possible to work out and understand – but in the way it subtly introduces key players and clues without making a big deal of them. The show got less good at this over time (the only exception is ‘Murder of Innocence’, featuring one of the best rug-pulls in Midsomer history), but ‘Destroying Angel’ gets it perfect. Kudos to David Hoskins in his first script for the series.
It’s clever and very murderous, it’s tautly-paced, it boasts a great cast, and it’s just a fun watch overall
In my series blogs, I often talk about the two things the show always gets right – its supporting cast and the vibe of the English country. For many of us, the Punch and Judy show on the village green will conjure up memories of our childhood, although it gets the typical Midsomer spin here – it’s also an outlet to reveal secrets that villagers would rather keep hidden. Among those villagers is Samantha Bond as Gregory’s wife Susanna, one of Midsomer’s most unrepentantly nasty characters, and someone you’ll be rooting to get knocked off the moment you see how callous she is at the Wainwright funeral (whether she is killed, though, you’ll have to watch and find out). There’s also a charming dynamic between Leach and Robert Lang as her husband Woody, who share some charming moments as well as a beautiful one that made me cry a little the first time I saw it (which sadly always seems to get cut out in edited versions on TV).
If you want to see Midsomer at its best, check out ‘Destroying Angel’. It’s clever and very murderous, it’s tautly-paced, it boasts a great cast, and it’s just a fun watch overall. It’s vintage Midsomer, and it delivers beautifully. Give it a go, and don’t be surprised if this episode makes you want to return to the blood-soaked greens of a Midsomer village very soon.