Saturday, April 16, 2016

Murdoch's Mysteries: we live in a new and incredible age

For about a decade, CBC has been broadcasting an interesting murder mystery series set in Edwardian Canada, or rather, Edwardian Toronto. I have been watching reruns of the show over the last two or three weeks and like most series television, it is much more enjoyable when seen that way.

It would be easy enough to call the show "steampunk" except that the technology that sets the pace in the show is electricity. Murdoch, the lead character, is a Toronto detective who is enthusiastic about modern technology -- x-ray machines, electrical automobiles, movie cameras -- and uses it very effectively to solve crimes. In the course of his adventures he also runs into many leading figures of the time – Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, Tesla, Marconi, Andrew Carnegie, Winston Churchill. He does not run into Sherlock Holmes, but he does run across somebody who thinks he is Sherlock Holmes.

I am also impressed by the depiction of the city of Toronto. Toronto circa 1899 is shown as being multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, wrestling with a variety of political, racial, and social conflicts, which are reasonably realistically portrayed. One of the main characters, for instance, gets in trouble for promoting contraception, which is illegal at the time. Other characters are properly shocked by this and there is a bit of a riot.

I think there may be more in-jokes in the series than I'm picking up. Two days ago I saw an episode where I was pretty sure two characters were modelled after Toronto's Ford brothers. The characters were not politicians, but they looked like the Fords and their personal interactions with each other matched what I know of the Fords.

All too often we think that people in the past were old-fashioned fuddy-duddies. In some places in some areas that is undoubtably true. But in other times people -- or many of them – are seized by an awareness of modernity. One of the great virtues of Murdoch's Mysteries is that it reminds us of that fact. "We live in a new and incredible age," says one character, and she is quite right.

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