Once again my busy schedule has struck and I have had to reach for a piece I had penned about a mystery television series. For those whose interests lie solely in the printed page rest assured that book reviews are coming!
Colonel March of Scotland Yard was a television series from the mid-50s based on John Dickson Carr’s short stories set in the Department of Queer Events within Scotland Yard. The premise is not dissimilar from Roy Vickers’ Department of Dead Ends in that it exists to investigate offbeat, odd and otherwise inexplicable cases.
I should say up front that I haven’t read the short stories. Part of the reason that this post has been on the shelf was that I had hoped to track down an affordable copy but having spent months trying I am having to give up. As keen as I am to read it, I can’t justify spending close to $200 on a copy right now, particularly as people whose opinions I trust say it’s not Carr’s best work. Someday I will hope to rectify that.
The star of the show was Boris Karloff who was, of course, most famous for his roles in monster movies several decades earlier. This is a significantly different type of role and he plays his part with a sort of wry, good humor, often needling his colleague Inspector Ames (Ewan Roberts) who appears in most of the episodes and Inspector Goron of the French Surete (Eric Pohlmann) who is a semi-regular guest.
The stories themselves are quite uneven in quality and they do suffer from the limitations of the filming styles and constraints of the period as well as the short running time. As a result of the latter plots can sometimes feel a little flimsy or key elements stand out a little too much but even the episodes that don’t work brilliantly as mysteries will usually be quite entertaining in terms of the performances or broader concepts.
Some stories do stand out as being strong however such as the first episode, The Sorcerer, which features a simple idea but a clever and effective one. Fans of Carr’s gothic elements will likely enjoy The Talking Head which I think stands up best of the series as a whole and has a very clever explanation. Death and the Other Monkey and The Stolen Crime are also each excellent, particularly the latter which I consider one of the strongest episodes of the show.
I will say that this series does require a little patience with and tolerance for 1950s television. The viewer will often notice the limitations of the studio space (Passage at Arms struck me as somewhat ludicrous), slightly misplayed lines and, of course, somewhat static RP performances. Fortunately the latter is nowhere near as bad as you might expect given the era and fans of British films and television from the era may enjoy some of the before-they-were-famous guest appearances. Of these the Christopher Lee appearance in At Night All Cats Are Gray stands out for his attempts at an extremely questionable French accent.
Though it can be a little rough around the edges, Colonel March of Scotland Yard is frequently imaginative and fun. Episodes zip by and while I sometimes wanted an extra plot element to sink my teeth into, the content is usually good. If you have never sought it out before I would suggest that it is certainly worth a look.
The broadcast order of these episodes differs by territory so I am going by the sequence they are in on Amazon Instant Video. Summaries and comments on every single episode follow after the cut.