There are so many detective dramas on television that creating a series with a new police double-act in a new location could feel a little stale and superfluous.
However, McDonald & Dodds, which first aired in 2020, is not just a remake of other detective dramas. Yes, there are similarities, but they use all the things we love about the genre and still manage to add something new to make it feel fresh and worth watching.
Sometimes we don’t want complicated, ground-breaking new dramas. Although these are good, on a relaxing evening sometimes you want to watch a series where you know what you’re going to get- a good plot, good lead characters that you know and love, interesting guest characters, and a few humourous lines and moments.
McDonald & Dodds ticks all these boxes, which makes it so great to watch. It’s new enough that it’s exciting and keeps you interested, but also sticks to the formula that has worked so many times before so you can guarantee it will be enjoyable.
For me, McDonald & Dodds is even more of a comforting watch, as it doesn’t take itself too seriously and is just pure light-hearted entertainment.
Unusually for detectives, who are often shown as tortured souls, carrying emotional baggage, or experiencing personal issues, neither McDonald nor Dodds have a traumatic backstory or any major problems. In fact, the series barely mentions their personal lives, it’s all about the work. They both seem content in their own way, and it’s nice just to see two people going about their business rather than seeing someone struggle with their inner demons.
I do enjoy detective dramas with these more serious undertones, but it is just as good to watch a series that isn’t too heavy that you can just sit back and enjoy!
The classic detective formula
First, as with all good detective dramas, we have a pair of detectives that seem mis-matched and come from completely different worlds. Their relationship may start off a bit difficult, but, as they solve crime, they find their differing skills and qualities complement each other so they eventually start to gain respect for each other and become almost friends..
In the case of McDonald & Dodds, the senior detective at the heart of the show is DCI Lauren McDonald (Tala Gouveia), recently transferred to Bath from the Metropolitan Police. She is very strong-minded, smart and ambitious and can get frustrated when things don’t go her way!
Her crime-solving partner DS Dodds (Jason Watkins) is more quiet and unassuming, happier to work in the background than take the limelight. He is smart, but in a different way to McDonald! He is quite old-school, more comfortable in the library than using modern technology, and also has some unique quirks that make other characters think him a bit odd.
In the first series we saw McDonald and Dodds didn’t gel immediately. There was some friction between them but, as they learn more about each other and respect each others’ skills and capabilities, they have a kind of friendship going by Series 2. It’s great to see two such different people work together and get results, with their differences making for some comic moments as well!
Every police station has more than two detectives, so the supporting officers are just as important. In this series, the slightly intimidating Chief Superintendent Houseman (James Murray) is always pushing for results, and piles the pressure on McDonald in particular to get cases solved as quickly as possible.
Helping McDonald and Dodds are the junior detectives, DC Craig (Jack Riddiford) and, new to Series 2, DC Paciorkowski (Lily Sacofsky). We don’t see a huge amount of these characters, but they each add value in their own way and I would love to see more of them in the series. Clearly there’s only so much you can see of them as there is a mystery to solve too, but we get tantalising glimpses that I would love to be explored, especially DC Paciorkowski as I think Lily Sacofsky is a great actress (I loved her in the series Summer of Rockets)
Another key component of a classic detective drama is a picturesque location, whether that’s a historic city (Oxford) or beautiful countryside (Northumberland, Shetland). With McDonald and Dodds set in the city of Bath, it certainly carries on this trend! Especially in the sunshine, the golden buildings and the old architecture make the location just as integral to our viewing pleasure as the story.
Now onto the stories!
Of course, at the start of every McDonald and Dodds is a murder, which then gets unravelled over the course of 2 hours. There are a group of suspects, all of whom have something to hide, plenty of red herrings, often some moments of mild, and a final reveal of the murderer to explain all the hows and whys.
Series 2 Episode 1: The Man Who Wasn’t There
This episode started with a hot air balloon ride over Bath.
In the balloon are five friends, or perhaps more accurately, four friends- Mick, Barbara, Jackie and Gordon, and one hanger-on- Frankie Marsh (Vince Leigh). The group of four were big in the 1980s, so fittingly they are played by 80s stars Martin Kemp, Patsy Kensit, Rupert Graves and Cathy Tyson.
After the balloon gets into difficulty, Frankie Marsh disappears and later turns up dead. Did he fall out accidentally? Jump? Or did someone push him?
The rest of the group all seem to be hiding something and the story they give about what happened in the balloon and how Frankie ended up dead just doesn’t add up.
McDonald and Dodds are called to investigate, with the assistance of an aviation accident investigator, Roy Gilbert, played by Rob Brydon. He bears more than a passing resemblance to Dodds, with the way he dresses and his odd little quirks, but he often gets in the way of the investigation and McDonald in particular finds him very inconvenient! He has his own theories about what happened, but does he have something to hide as well?
The roots of this story stretch back to the 1980s, with a dark secret at the heart of it all. As the episode unfurls, you may start to guess some of what happened, but it is not predictable enough that you can confidently say exactly how things played out.
When everything is revealed at the end, you see the four friends’ loyalties tested. Up until this point they had stood together, but they start turning on each other as the net closes in. This was a great end to a great episode and made for a very satisfying conclusion.
Overall it is a very satisfying plot with enough twists and turns to make things interesting but without getting too complex or over-complicated. This episode has a great guest cast, with the actors playing the four friends perfectly capturing their selfishness and self-entitlement- which makes them fun to watch but you certainly wouldn’t want to know them!
Series 2 Episode 2: We Need to Talk About Doreen
Remember when nights out were a thing? This new episode opened with a group of friends in Bath on a girl’s night out. The group have travelled down from Glasgow to celebrate Angela’s birthday, and Angela (Joy McAvoy) is looking forward to having a good time away from her husband. Joining her are her sister Cath (Kat Ronney), sister-in-law Melissa (Maya Coates), step-mum Hilary (Shelley Conn), and Angela’s best friend Doreen (Sharon Rooney).
Going to a club, having some drinks, meeting up with some rugby guys, so far so standard, in pre-COVID times anyway!
Later that night the women join the men at a party at a posh mansion owned by Jimmy Daly (John Thomson)- the manager of the rugby club. The house is near Boxhill Tunnel, and the next morning one of the rugby players- Dominique Aubert (Tomos Gwynfryn)- is found dead on the tracks at the opening of the tunnel, seemingly after drinking a kind of date-rape drug.
A bunch of hungover people who were drunk all evening don’t make the best witnesses, so McDonald and Dodds had their work cut out to figure out what really happened that night!
We soon discover that a number of people have something to hide, including Dominique’s agent Deborah Winwick (Natalie Gumede), but are they connected to the murder? There seemed to be a few people who had motives to kill Dominique, but he may not have even been the intended victim!
Eventually, McDonald and (mainly) Dodds untangle what went on that night, revealing a clever plan and manipulation of events that ended with murder.
This was a completely fresh story from McDonald & Dodds and it felt quite different. Some parts of it felt quite mystical and ethereal, which was partly down to the directing and partly because of the script and the story. At first I was unsure about it but, although it wasn’t my favourite episode, I enjoyed it and definitely got more into the story as it went on!
Again, it wasn’t a complete shock when you find out what happened, but the conclusion and explanation was very satisfying and answered a lot of questions. The story was clever and kept you guessing throughout, and even when McDonald & Dodds figure out what happened, the matter of proving it is far from easy or straight-forward!
As part of the story, there was mention of Track and Trace and some characters needing to self-isolate after coming into contact with a positive COVID case. I thought mentioning the pandemic and having it as a plot point was an interesting decision, especially as they didn’t know what the situation would be when the episode aired.
At this time it felt a bit weird seeing fairly crowded clubs in a world where coronavirus and contact tracing still exists, so I’m glad it didn’t dominate the episode as it would have seemed so far removed from reality! Deciding whether to ignore the pandemic or reference it in a series is bound to be quite difficult, but I think McDonald & Dodds just about struck the right tone.
Filming in a pandemic
I was interested to see what the series would be like as it was filmed in the summer of 2020 during the pandemic. The series certainly mentions and references the pandemic, but it is not to the forefront so you don’t see everybody wearing masks etc which is a relief! It’s nice to watch something set in what feels like normality, we get to see mask-wearing in our everyday lives so it’s good to escape from it in our entertainment.
As I understand it, groups of the cast formed bubbles so they could have close contact, but there were times that you saw social distancing on screen. This didn’t affect the story or the enjoyment of the series so whatever they did worked!
I also noticed that, in this episode anyway, a lot of the scenes were outside and that the cast was actually fairly limited, which may be because of the extra restrictions. In my opinion this was actually a positive outcome as you got to know the characters a bit better than you might otherwise have done if there were more people involved.
Whatever changes and sacrifices they had to make, I think we can agree that it was worth it! It was great to have another series of McDonald & Dodds and I believe that it has come back stronger than before. Series 2 got off to a great start so hopefully the next episodes will be just as entertaining!