Inspector Lewis: Dark Matter on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – A Recap & Review

Image from Inspector Lewis: Dark Matter © 2010 MASTERPIECE

Stars, planets and murder are investigated in Dark Matter, a new Inspector Lewis episode on Masterpiece Mystery tonight. This is the third installment of Series III and much lighter in tone than last week’s The Dead of Winter.

When a body is found at the university observatory, DI Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whatley) and DS James Hathaway’s (Laurence Fox) inquiry has the prime suspects all pointing the finger at each other. Could it be the revengeful wife, the astrophysics professor with a past, or a doctor supposedly having an affair with the victim? Robert Hardy (Sir John Middleton in Sense and Sensibility) and Sophie Ward guest star in this new episode where the mysterious elements of the dark matter of the universe have also permeated into a group of academics, staff and students. Here is the PBS synopisis:

Oxford professor and amateur stargazer Andrew Crompton emerges from a church confessional, cryptically exclaiming that on Friday at 3:15, he’ll have an “excess of joy.” Later, Crompton is found dead at the foot of the stairs in the Oxford observatory. The investigation draws Detective Inspector Lewis (Kevin Whately) and Detective Sergeant Hathaway (Laurence Fox) into the ethereal writings of a 17th-century astronomer and a modern-day circle of scientists and musicians, and their unexpected connections to the deceased. The cosmos aside, there’s a dark deception at the center of the case, one that Lewis and Hathaway won’t be able to fully comprehend until Friday at 3:15.

A small notebook filled with scientific notes found at the scene of the crime is the only lead that Lewis and Hathaway have to uncover the mysterious death of part-time astronomer Andrew Compton (Christopher Bowen). He was found at the bottom of the stairs, but did he fall or was he pushed? This wife Isobel Crompton (Sophie Ward) is the first to be interviewed, but she knows of no one that would want to harm him, nor does she recognize the writing in the notebook. She directs them to Lady Gwen Raeburn (Diana Quick – Clarissa 1991) a personal friend and senior lecturer in astrophysics who immediately recognizes the handwriting of her student Jez Haydock (Andrew Hawyley – Wuthering Heights 2009). Professor Raeburn coolly offers to return the notebook, but it is evidence in the case. Lewis soon discovers that among the astronomy notes is a bit of prose. “A splendid sight again shall greet our distant children’s eyes.” Is this a clue to why Lady Raeburn wanted the notebook back? Or was there something else inside that would incriminate either her, or her student?

A break in the case has a Catholic priest father Francis (Jonathan Cullen) coming forth as a witness. Andrew Crompton had been at his church for confession two hours before he died. Unfortunately, he is “not at liberty to reveal what the penitent may confess” under the sanctity of the confessional. Since Hathaway was studying for the priesthood before he became a detective he understands the rules, but fears his inspector will not. Through clever questioning Hathaway does discover that he spoke outside the confessional when Father Francis reveals that on Crompton’s hasty departure he exclaimed “On Friday at 3:15 I will have an excess of joy.” More enigmatic riddles for Lewis and Hathaway to sort out.

Meanwhile an orchestra of students, faculty and local musicians conducted by Gwen Raeburn’s husband composer Sir Arnold Raeburn (Robert Hardy) has invited his former protégée Malcolm Finniston (Anthony Calf, Colonel Fitzwilliam – Pride and Prejudice 1995) to guest conduct Gutav Holts The Planets for an upcoming gala charity concert. Among the members is police pathologist Dr. Laura Hobson (Clare Holman) on clarinet and Jez Haydock’s girlfriend Kate Cameron (Ruby Thomas) on bassoon. Rehearsals are going well until the news of Crompton’s death deeply affects the cellist Lady Raeburn. Lewis and Hathaway suspect that her tears are for more than a friend and asks Laura to spy on her and other orchestra members. Hobson fires back with one of the funniest lines in the show. “What do you take me for? Undercover clarinet?” Laura does notice some friction between Malcolm, Gwen and her husband and manages to copy a text off of his cellphone “Revenge is sweet.” Is there some history there that may reveal the motive for murder?

Head porters have a nose for unfortunate secrets” Hathaway tells his boss and Chief Superintendent Innocent (Rebecca Front) when they discuss Roger Temple (Warren Clarke – Bleak House 2005) the head porter of Gresham College. A fount of information on everyone who walks through his gate, he freely offers information on all the suspects in the murder investigation. He and his wife Babs (Annabelle Apsionhave) have worked as staff for the college for years, and his “dear old dad” Ted Temple (Bernard Lloyd) now stricken with Alzheimer’s was head porter before him. Roger thinks his father’s doctor Ella Ransome (Deborah Cornelius) was having an affair with Andrew Crompton. Forgetful Ted who no one takes seriously thinks his son’s wife Babs was the one having an affair with Crompton. It will take the brutal murder in broad daylight of one of the principal suspects to shake the community and change the course of the investigation before Lewis and Hathaway can reveal blackmail and adultery behind the dark matter.

Screenwriter Stephen Chruchett, who also wrote the last Inspector Morse episode Remorseful Day in 2000, had me guessing to the very last. Bravo! What a challenging script. It seemed like every character was either related by blood or lust. It took a second viewing before I could absorb all the subtle hints and clues that made this mystery so satisfying. The multi-layered connections and stargazing theme were fascinating. Sadly, even after Googling dark matter I don’t know what it is. I think that is the point. No one does. It’s just some mysteries nonentity that is only a theory. Its importance in relation to the plot? Maybe the screenwriter only knows, cuz I sure didn’t get it!

The casting was excellent. I have enjoyed Sophie Ward (Isabel Crompton) since my introduction to her in Young Sherlock Holmes in 1985. As she has matured she looks so much like her father actor Simon Ward. Robert Hardy (Sir Arnold Raeburn) is just a national treasure. He can do no wrong by me. One of the pleasures of watching British productions is the face hunt of familiar characters. Warren Clarke (Roger Temple) had me totally stumped. Had to know, so I IMDb’d him. Ha! He was Corporal “Sophie” Dixon in Jewel in the Crown 1984. Hard to forget his attempted seduction of Sergeant Guy Perron (Charles Dance). Did anyone else catch the resemblance of Andrew Hawyley (Jez Haydock) to a young Paul McCartney? They even gave him a Beatle haircut and a Liverpoolean accent! Even though the script was packed with characters heavy on backstory, director Billie Eltingham’s kept the pace rolling, occasionally allowing us to breath with a few comical moments. I especially appreciated Lewis and Hathaway’s banter as they arrive for the concert.

JH: Who’s your date for tonight sir?

RL: My date? Chief Super. You?

JH: No takers.

RL: We know how to live, don’t we?

Next week is Your Sudden Death Question guest staring Edmund Bertram (Nicholas Farrell) and Laurence Fox’s baby brother Jack, the newest Fox family dynasty member to grace the screen! Watch Dark Matter online on the new Masterpiece PBS web site until October 12th, 2010.

Image courtesy © 2010 MASTERPIECE