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McDonald & Dodds: why do we love a Sunday night murder mystery so much?

Joel Golby
·3-min read

For some reason, we have evolved culturally to the point where we associate slow-moving intricate murder mysteries with the sleepy, dwindling hours of a Sunday night. Why is that? Why do we like to end our weekends by watching someone being slain in an interesting way? Why do we pin the rising associated dread of the oncoming rush of a Monday morning with, say, a happily married mum-of-two going missing abruptly and showing up dead in a reservoir with scratches on her hands that couldn’t possibly have been made by the local flora or fauna?

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We snuggle down into the sofa with the heat on a pinch too high and watch as a precocious but tormented teen – he’s turned away from his A-levels and towards a life of hedonism and partying! He took E! – turns up blue and taped to the back of a refrigerated truck manned by a nervous but ultimately innocent driver? Two mismatched detectives turn up and bend down to the ground intriguingly. “You seeing this?” the really green one says, pointing to an unbent paper clip that the other, crapper police officers have somehow missed. “I am,” the other, more grizzled and straightforward one replies. “And I think I know exactly where it takes us.” It’s Sunday night, baby! Let’s watch someone die!

Here, then, is the returning McDonald & Dodds (Sunday, 8pm, ITV), in which a member of a star-studded cast kills someone and our odd couple have to figure out how. You’ve got DCI McDonald (Tala Gouveia, who does a very good line in tight-lipped, knowing looks) and DS Dodds (the always-enjoyable Jason Watkins, doing his best “nerd-in-a-lumpy-jacket-faffs-with-his-glasses-a-lot” shtick), and they are both detectives, but they are different, as people. Also it is in Bath. That’s the whole show. This week Martin Kemp shows up, playing a character who was a very big deal in the 80s and is still smug about it, and you have to say: fair play to the casting department.

I’m not sure McDonald & Dodds is very good, though, which, for a TV show asking an hour and a half plus adverts of your time, is a problem. Yes, someone dies, and, yes, there is a tricksy resolution, so we are definitely in Sunday night territory. But it doesn’t quite itch the scratch that I – and, I’m presuming, everyone alive (there has to be a reason that ITV keeps pumping these things out) – have. I want to be the one on the sofa to spot the plain-sight clue and put together the parts before the detectives onscreen have time to; I want to harbour a suspicion but never actually say it out loud to the people I’m watching it with, and then go: “Knew it! I knew it,” when the prestige is revealed.

Instead, McDonald & Dodds spends an hour and change getting to the truth through a lot of nudgy-nudgy, jolly-jolly office banter, a few “Why-on-earth-are-you-questioning-a-suspect-here-and-not-at-a-station?” scenes, some completely inexplicable behaviour by a character played by Patsy Kensit, and a final resolution that can be quite easily undone by just asking: “All right … why, though?” I know it’s Sunday night and I want to watch someone die. I know my disbelief is suspended. But come on. Come on.