Things take a darker turn in the final McDonald & Dodds, with a case that hits home for both of our detectives. It’s a nice change in pace, and it lands mostly successfully, capping off series three in style despite a few minor flaws.
On All Soul’s Day, the body of a successful Bath businessman is found in a shallow grave in the shadow of the Glastonbury Tor. There’s no shortage of suspects for the murder. DCI McDonald is particularly suspicious of the man who found the body, Martin Silver (Max Bennett), an IT consultant who also acts as a medium and claims to be able to contact the dead. However, as the team investigate an increasingly cryptic sequence of clues, the name of one unlikely suspect is forced to the forefront – DS Dodds himself. McDonald doesn’t believe her sergeant is responsible but, if that’s the case, what does the killer have in mind for Dodds?
the clues are the different kind of clever they needed to be for this story to work
As in the grand spirit of serial killer stories, this isn’t really one that you can work out. You may piece together what some of the clues are telling you, or figure out the link between victims, but the viewer simply doesn’t have all the pieces and information they need (I will say, though, that I had the murderer literally the moment they appeared on screen). Normally I would grumble about this, but ‘Clouds Across the Moon’ is a different type of episode, and I think the clues are the different kind of clever they needed to be for this story to work. It’s a romping story that doesn’t really let up, with a mix of policework and the kind of deduction you’d find in Morse or one of the other Oxford spin-offs (Endeavour’s ‘Fugue’ came to mind).
Given the focus on Dodds, I’d hoped that this episode would pay off some of the backstory hints that emerged in the series opener ‘Belvedere’. In short, it doesn’t. There is a lot of good character work, with some scenes shifting McDonald and Dodds to a place we haven’t seen before – outright conflict. This gave Claire Skinner a chance to shine (and frankly, something to actually do) as Ormond, and this was the first episode I really believed her as the boss of the station. Frustratingly, and I hadn’t really noticed it until this episode, I still know very little about any of the supporting characters three seasons in – DC Paciorkowski (Lily Sacofsky) is continually presented as a confidante of sorts to Dodds, and that’s about all we know. In the final scenes, the threadbare nature of how the character is written really comes through.
There are some bizarre moments
Let’s talk the final ten minutes – I was really invested in the episode, which had largely avoided many of the pitfalls McDonald & Dodds tends to fall into (the exception being a major character just vanishing halfway through because the script was done with them). But then things get very dramatic, and it doesn’t land that well. There are some bizarre moments, including one character somehow sneaking up on two others despite approaching from their front in an open space, and the world’s least convincing restraint. Given how strong and how dark the rest of the episode was, for it to devolve into something essentially silly was a bit of a let down.
‘Clouds Across the Moon’ brings us to the end of the run, and I think the series ended on its strongest entry – it was perfect, but it was certainly the most interesting of the four episodes. The clues, the atmosphere, and the character development were all particularly engaging, and even the daft ending doesn’t crimp that too much.
I should also reflect a little on this third series as a whole. It was McDonald & Dodds’ longest run yet, and it was generally a successful one, even if the show hasn’t yet dropped some of the irritating habits (killers that are too obvious) that bugged the first two series. Still, I’ve enjoyed the cosiness of Bath, and Watkins and Gouveia have continued to prove an excellent combination, and I’m hoping that a fourth series will come that refines the show even more. There is something special here – it’s a fun watch, and a little more polish would make it essential viewing.