It used to be Halloween had to pass before talk moved around to Christmas. This year Murdoch Mysteries ushered the holidays in early with a collection of their Christmas specials. Murdoch Mysteries (or The Artful Detective, as it sometimes called in the states) is a Canadian crime series about a fictional, 20th century detective who gets credited for inventing gadgets and revolutionary crime-solving techniques. Some familiarity with the characters might be helpful for these specials, but they’re completely accessible, if you’re not up to the current season and the only spoiler is finding out whether Murdoch and Dr. Julia Ogden (Helene Joy) are together in the latest episodes.
Unlike Doctor Who, which usually sells their Christmas specials separately, but also includes them on their series box sets, Murdoch Mysteries has only made its Christmas specials available separately. If you’re a physical media collector, this can get expensive and a little confusing, if you’re trying to remember which aired first (the titles don’t give anything away), but if you haven’t ordered them yet, Acorn’s new limited edition box set makes a welcome alternative.
There may be more specials in the future (the series is ongoing), but for now all three Christmas Cases are included. It’s not the kind of set where you’d have to double dip (there aren’t any additional features) but you can tell a lot of thought went into the packaging and while it’s all aesthetic thrills (the box opens like a present, with a regular DVD case inside to house the three disks, and there’s a Christmas card “signed” by Murdoch star, Yannick Bisson, that’s undoubtedly oversold) it does work to make the whole thing feel extra special (and that’s something you don’t always see with DVD packaging anymore).
All of the specials are standalone but make references to each other, so it’s rewarding for loyal viewers. Inspector Brackenreid (Thomas Craig) abhorred Christmas in the first special but when he comes around to the festivities in the second one, it’s with everyone acknowledging how much of a change of heart he’s had.
“A Very Murdoch Christmas” shows Murdoch solving “Santa’s” murder after he’s found dead at a charity event (he also invents Christmas lights and (in a bigger stretch) incubators for a hospital). One of those episodes where the guest casting gives away whodunit, this isn’t the first time Santa’s fallen victim to a Christmas special (Monk’s killed him, and so has Castle) but there are other influences, as well, like Scrooge, The Grinch, and Scooby Doo, that are easily identified. Brackenreid suspecting Krampus fits the formula of past episodes where Murdoch has had to disprove the existence of Dracula and aliens. It’s not a consequential special but one that’s harmless and enjoyable, like a holiday TV movie.
“Once Upon a Murdoch Christmas” is the special you’ll want to consider adding to your yearly rotation. Constable Crabtree (Jonny Harris) does the inventing in this one, when he tries to sell people on illustrated novels (Crabtree’s invented the first comic book!). His character, Jumping Jack, is a would-be precursor to Inspector Gadget, and there’s at least one fan of his work because a thief has started recreating the devices from Crabtree’s issues and using them to steal from the rich. The perfect gelling of Murdoch and Christmas, you also have Murdoch leaving a trail of present clues for Dr. Ogden that’s as nauseatingly cute as it sounds.
In “Home for the Holidays,” Julia and Murdoch decide to spend Christmas with Mordoch’s brother, Jasper (Dylan Neal), and his family. It’s not a smooth visit and, when an archaeologist is killed, not a vacation from work, either. The murder weapon is believed to belong to one of the indigenous tribes in the area. The case works for a regular episode of Murdoch Mysteries but isn’t very Christmas-y and the focus on money, when Inspector Brackenreid has a run-in with the real, Charles Ponzi, makes a surprisingly dour special (if the ultimate message — don’t be greedy — has a point).
In the end, no two Murdoch Christmas Specials are alike except in their emphasis on helping others. Crime doesn’t pay in Toronto but giving to the less fortunate does, and isn’t that what Christmas is (supposed to be) all about?
Murdoch Mysteries: The Christmas Cases Limited Edition is available now on DVD. All three specials are streaming on Acorn TV.