How much crime can credibly take place in a single sedate English village? As Midsomer Murders has proved over the 26 years of its leafy, cottagey, insistently fatal run, there are no limits. A body in the library one week; a corpse in the kitchen the next; Colonel Mustard with a candlestick, at it again: once again, we’re watching the detectives. Which bodes well for Beyond Paradise, a new series set in a police station staffed with amiable eccentrics on the picturesque coast of North Devon. All precedents suggest that this new West Country crime wave should last for years.
Beyond Paradise is a spin-off from Death in Paradise, the hugely successful police drama set on the fictional Caribbean island of Saint Marie. Written by Robert Thorogood, Death in Paradise is still going strong in its 12th series, with a regular viewing audience in the UK of between seven and eight million and overseas sales into more than 260 territories. In Australia, it out-rates both Survivor and Australian Idol on Sunday nights; in 2022, it was the fifth rated scripted show on subscription TV. Thorogood is also behind the Devonian spin-off, along with writer Tony Jordan.
Kris Marshall in the Death in Paradise spin-off Beyond Paradise.
And so it begins. Kris Marshall’s Detective Inspector Humphrey Goodman and his fiancee Martha, played by Sally Bretton – whose long flirtation on Saint Marie was finally resolved in 2017 during series six of Death in Paradise, when Humphrey pursued Martha back to London to declare his love for her – have decided to move to her hometown in Devon. Humphrey will run the local policing operation’s efforts to rescue cats from trees, while Martha hopes to open a restaurant. Initially, they will live with her mother, Anne (Barbara Flynn), a source of plenty of comic asides. “Humphrey,” Anne tells a friend on the phone, “is an acquired taste.”
Marshall’s face will be familiar to practically everyone, thanks to his role as sex-god Colin in Love Actually. His Humphrey is bumbling, clumsy and benignly tactless. The other cops in the station – earnest Detective-Sergeant Esther Williams (Zahra Ahmadi), eager young PC Kelby Hartford (Dylan Llewellyn) and the comically bedraggled office manager Margo Martins (Felicity Montagu) – are clearly ready to write him off as an idiot on day one. By the end of the first episode, however, he has used old-fashioned deductive skills to reel in an unlikely culprit for attempted homicide. The Shipton Abbott crime unit is now in full swing.
Life in this jigsaw-ready village is cosy, but not necessarily rosy. Each week’s episode tackles a new crime. In the first episode, a woman is convinced she was pushed from a balcony by a 17th-century witch; in the second, an entire family simply disappears; future episodes include a body discovered in a crop circle and a case of serial arson. No bloody murders, however. “Not yet anyway,” adds Marshall. “Although Anne may end up murdering Humphrey, I don’t know.”
In a subplot that, as the cast testify, had to be handled with sensitivity, Humphrey and Martha are trying – so far without success – to conceive a baby using IVF. Martha is now in the tenuous first trimester of pregnancy, clearly not for the first time. “There is a reality to the relationship they didn’t necessarily have in the previous show, given how it ended,” says Marshall. “It’s what happens after the happy-ever-after, when you undo the chocolate box after it’s been in storage for a bit. We wrapped it up nicely; let’s see what’s in there now.”
Marshall with Sara Martins in Death in Paradise.
Marshall and Bretton agree that it took only moments to slip back into their old roles, albeit in a very different setting. “It was weirdly immediate, actually,” says Marshall. “I actually put on one of my old jackets that I wore in Death in Paradise that had been in some kind of storage for four or five years. There were still some of my original notes in the pocket.” They had worked together again in the interim. “So it was immediate. It was glorious.”
At the same time, as all the cast are keen to emphasise, the new show is not just a warmed-over version of the old one. “Obviously, it has to be a very different show,” says Marshall. “Otherwise it’s just a carbon copy of a show before and I don’t think anyone wanted to do that. It wouldn’t work anyway, because obviously one of the great draws of Death in Paradise was its location, the music and that whole sense of being in the Caribbean. If you take it out of the Caribbean and don’t have that, it stands to reason it’s going to be something different.”
The picturesque coast and rugged inland moors of Devon have their own allure, of course. The sea may be colder than the Caribbean but Kris Marshall, who lives further down the coast, went paddle-boarding or surfing every day after shooting finished. And even without palm trees and rum cocktails, this new incarnation of Paradise works to a surefire hit formula. Audiences worldwide love police shows; why, I wonder, are they so reliably popular?
“I think people love solving a crime,” says Montagu. “Everyone likes to be an armchair detective. You see crimes in the news that are really upsetting and then hear people in cafes trying to solve them, to find answers. There’s a real addiction to it. I’m addicted to it! We want to make our lives better.”
Marshall ponders the question. “I’d say there is a certain vicariousness to it as well. The thing about police dramas, especially, is that there are quite high stakes. Someone’s either died or is going down – or both. And I think you know, police dramas – or good ones, anyway – always have interesting characters with a bit of darkness to them, there’s light and shade. It’s a sort of heightened reality and I think people love that.”
At a simpler level, as Flynn says, people love having a puzzle to solve, seeing if they can work it out ahead of the fictional professionals, along with enjoying the banter of the office. “If it’s done well and entertainingly and it’s not too gruesome,” says Montagu. “But this isn’t gruesome, this drama. It’s very pleasantly done. It’s tasteful.”
Beyond Paradise begins on March 4 on BBC First.
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