Murder Island features eight real-life ‘ordinary people’ seeking to solve a fictional killing on a fictional Scottish island. What follows is so confused and confusing that you can only imagine it was pitched to Channel 4 as ‘Broadchurch meets The Apprentice’ and nodded through as a result, without anybody asking such pesky questions as ‘So how might that work, then?’ Or if they did, that they were silenced by the news that Ian Rankin was signed on as the writer — whatever that might mean, seeing as most of the programme is necessarily unscripted and the investigation itself impossible to plot in advance.
Tuesday’s opening episode began with the ordinary folk meeting Parm Sandhu, a former police chief superintendent who’s clearly retrained as an Alan Sugar impersonator. Alongside her are a pair of male ex-coppers for whom the word ‘burly’ is hard to avoid and whose chief task is to shake their heads at the contestants’ incompetence.
The four teams of two are charged with finding out who stabbed a young woman called Charly Hendricks in her rented manse. The one that does will win an impressive 50 grand, with the weaker teams being fired along the way. Which, at this stage, doesn’t bode well for Dot and Rox, a couple of determinedly bubbly Londoners with a self-confessed tendency ‘to wee at each other’. (Luckily, this turned out to mean that they make each other laugh.) Before long, they’d earned some serious head-shaking by cheerfully strolling through the blood at the crime scene.
Gradually, a storyline emerged — although only for the viewers, who, unlike the contestants, had the benefit of several flashbacks. Charly, it seems, was involved with both a campaign against a proposed tourism centre and the married woman who works in the post office. Somehow she’d also found time to get pregnant. So might the murder be linked to her tangled personal life? Or, more traditionally, might the property developers from the mainland have done away with her so as to build their money-grabbing tourist centre?
Far more baffling than any of this, though, was trying to understand the format. We saw each of the teams interviewing different members of what was inevitably described as ‘a close-knit community’. But given that they’re not working together, can we presume every team must have spoken to everybody? And if so, how much were the interviewees (played by actors) free to improvise not just their dialogue, but also their stories, according to what they were asked? Come to that, was the crime scene set up afresh for each team? On all of this we were left clueless.
But perhaps the biggest puzzler of the lot is what happens if one pair cracks the case quickly. With six episodes scheduled, will the show have to pretend that they didn’t? No wonder that by the end on Tuesday, the person in Murder Island with the most to hide appeared to be the producer.
Fans of what-if questions were faced with a particularly juicy one on Monday night. What if, after Labour’s 1983 election disaster, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown — two of the party’s few new MPs — hadn’t by chance shared a small, windowless office in the Commons? Would New Labour, together with that 1997 landslide and 13 years of government, have ever come to pass? The consensus in Blair & Brown: The New Labour Revolution was a firm ‘no’.
The series is made by the same people who gave us Thatcher: A Very British Revolution — and shows the same ability to make the very different perspectives of the main players all feel wholly understandable.
In an episode centred on the leadership campaign that followed John Smith’s death, the two principals said pretty much what you’d expect. Blair accepted that Brown had had far more political nous and experience — and Brown agreed. Blair added, in the gentlest way possible, that nevertheless he himself had been the right choice — and Brown disagreed.
At times, in fact, it felt as if the episode could have been entitled ‘The Tragedy of Gordon Brown’, as his thrilled certainty that he was about to get the job to which his entire life had been building gave way to horror at the realisation that he’d been beaten to it by his own mentee. According to Peter Mandelson, the most reliably indiscreet of the contributors, ‘Gordon went through immense hurt: at first disbelief, then almost inconsolable.’
Worse still for Brown, none of his former colleagues here thought that the party had made a terrible mistake — not even his old ally Ed Balls. Then again, now that he’s exchanged politics for TV celebrity, Balls seemed so languidly amused by the whole business that all his comments could essentially have been translated as ‘Lord, what fools these mortals be!’
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