It seems an odd way for the producers of Death in Paradise to celebrate the 100th episode of their steadily successful series, trying to kill off the police commissioner, but it does make for a change. One minute the much-loved character is enjoying a quiet rum on the quayside after a boozy lunch at the yacht club with friends and colleagues, to mark his 50 years as a copper; the next a shot rings out and the man in charge of law enforcement on the Caribbean isle of Saint Marie is fighting for his life. That’s unexpected.
For one thing, it means that dear old Don Warrington, who plays Commissioner Selwyn Patterson, has even less to do than he normally does, as he spends almost the entire episode flat on his back in a hospital bed being no more than a bit grumpy about having had a bullet pumped into his back. Not quite dead in paradise, then, but quite poorly, and laid-back in a more literal manner than usual.
For the earnest and unprepossessing Detective Neville Parker (Ralf Little), the absence of his sometimes intimidating boss is a mixed blessing; he misses the guy, but at least he can get on with the job of solving yet another homicide. Even so, he’s such a nervy type he can almost bully himself. Little portrays Parker with a sort of Columbo-style humanity to him, and just the right side of Clouseau to prevent him from being farcical and pathetic.
Helpfully for DI Parker, the incompetence of the commissioner’s apparent would-be assassin turns the usual whodunnit storyline into a whydunnit, and more about a manhunt. This is because very early in the proceedings, the man suspected of firing the gun is identified. He flees the scene, drunk, only to crash his getaway jalopy, and leave the pistol, his driving licence, mobile phone and an empty of bottle of rum behind. The gun matches the bullet that nearly finished the commissioner off and the ID checks out, so they set about finding him. When they do apprehend him, an intense, confused old chap by the name of Alton Garvey (Mensah Bediako), even confesses to the crime, his only plea being that he doesn’t know why he did it. He seems merely deranged. And very obviously guilty.
Yet it is less straightforward than that, as you might expect. So, as is the way with Death in Paradise, we have an overly complicated and extraordinarily convoluted tale that stretches credulity way beyond breaking point, but the details of the script’s narrative failures are all rather too tedious to go into – and quite pointless too. That’s because the point of watching Death in Paradise is that you’re not really supposed to “watch it” in the sense of paying much attention to what’s going on. If you thought too much about it, you’d get really quite irritated at all the flaws and inconsistencies in the story.
It’s just a pleasant way to pass a cold wintry evening, vicariously enjoying the charming customs and enchanting beauty of the idyllic fictional Saint Marie (it’s filmed in Guadeloupe), and in the company of some familiar two-dimensional characters. The vista is tourist-brochure perfect, and the incidental calypso-inspired music catchy enough not to be dismissed as cliche. It would be nice if one day the St Mariean characters, aside from Patterson, were a bit more central to the detective work. At the moment, they’re treated as part of the scenery, confined to supplying occasional light romantic interludes.
You might even be tempted to treat yourself to a nice drop of rum as you savour it all and reach for the iPad to research booking yourself a week out there. Death in Paradise is thus what you might call “one-eyed TV”, best enjoyed with only partial focus on the leisurely paced “action”.
As a rather less demanding alternative to tackling a Wordle puzzle or a game of Cluedo, an hour spent with the crew on St Marie is nice enough for the casual viewer, but even more for the assorted tourist boards of the Caribbean islands and the local rum industry.