Even if you didn’t know that BBC’s daytime crime drama The Coroner originated from the same production team as Father Brown, there’s enough similarity in overall tone to bring the one to mind while watching the other. Although set in the modern day, The Coroner has a similar overall feel to the GK Chesterton adaptations in mixing solid crime stories with a light and breezy, often comedic flavour.
Like its priestly counterpart, The Coroner is shot relatively cheaply in high definition on location – in this case, in and around a South Devon coastal resort. It stars former Casualty stars Claire Goose and Matt Bardock as Lighthaven coroner Jane Kennedy and Detective Sergeant Davey Higgins respectively, who get thrown together into investigating a new crime – usually an unlawful killing – in each self-contained 45 minute episode. (It should be noted that the BBC programme created by Sally Abbott from an idea by executive producer Will Trotter is not connected with M R Hall’s best-selling series of books starring coroner Jenny Cooper in the Severn Vale, with the BBC insisting that any similarities are purely coincidental.)
The pair are supported by a cosy cast of characters that include Jane’s mother Judith (Beatie Edney) and her boyfriend, local pub landlord Mick (Ivan Kaye); Jane’s teenage daughter Beth (Grace Hogg-Robinson); and her surf dude office assistant Clint (Oliver Gomm). All those involved are playing their parts if not for outright laughs then certainly for a feel-good smile factor, with the exception of Goose who alone seems to be taking the whole thing consistently seriously – unlike Mark Williams’ largely comic turn as Father Brown in the eponymous sibling series.
While the no-frills low budget production and straightforward scripts work for the period-set Father Brown, The Coroner’s modern setting invites more direct comparisons to prime time evening crime shows which unfortunately tend to make it look somewhat primitive as a result. However in its own context the show is well-made and is boosted by some spectacular scenery filming around Dartmouth, Torquay, Totnes, Cargreen and Paignton. Every episode looks a treat, and the writing is similarly well-constructed although the lack of any through-story means that the whole thing can’t help but feel superficial in neatly wrapping everything up by the time the end credits roll.
Overall though it’s very watchable with a pleasant, light guitar-led musical soundtrack by Debbie Wiseman. It’s certainly much better than you might expect from daytime schedules usually fixated on quiz shows, repeats, property and auction competitions and the odd talk show. Like Father Brown and The Moonstone, it’s another example of the BBC working hard despite tight financial limitations to bring original drama to parts of the schedules never previously bothered by such laudable ambitions, and as such is to be admired and supported for turning out anywhere near as well as it unquestionably has.
The second ten-part season is currently airing on BBC One on weekday afternoons, while the first season (which I have to confess I missed and didn’t see) is available on DVD. Here’s a quick mini-guide of the latest 2016 run:
“The Drop Zone” by Sally Abbott (21 November 2016)
A sky diving instructor plummets to his death and there’s evidence that his parachute had been tampered with. Meanwhile, Beth ignores warnings and gets sucked into danger on a remote beach.
“Perfectly Formed” by Mark Hiser and Bridget Colgan (22 November 2016)
Builders discover the mummified remains of a baby in a derelict cottage leading Jane and Davey to track down three sisters who were in a local school at the time. One of the three, Lisa, has apparently vanished – does that mean that there are more bodies to be found?
“Those in Peril” by David Bowker (23 November 2016)
A fatal accident on a lifeboat during a hoax call-out uncovers deeper rifts among the crew over a rescue that they carried out years before, in which the man who was saved went on to commit murder.
“The Beast of Lighthaven” by Kit Lambert (24 November 2016)
Riffing on long-standing tales of beasts and big cats roaming the Devon moors, this story sees Jane investigate the violent death of a young journalist who was fixated with proving that just such a creature was indeed at large in the countryside around Lighthaven?
“The Captain’s Pipe” by Kit Lambert (25 November 2016)
A rival landlord’s violent death sees Mick arrested on suspicion of murder. Mick knew the man from childhood and they shared the secret of smugglers’ caves including secret access to the cove where the body was found.
“Life” by Jon Sen (28 November 2016)
A more convoluted and melodramatic episode than usual sees Jane investigate the death of a prisoner at the nearby jail. That puts her into contact with the Lecter-like Sidney Sutton (Matthew Marsh) who makes chilling hints that Beth might be at risk when his appeal is successful and he’s released. But what does all this have to do with a missing prison guard (David Schofield) and the disappearance of a young girl some months previously?
“Perfect Pair” by Ann Marie Di Mambro (29 November 2016)
When the body of a window cleaner is discovered alongside an expensive sports car, Jane and Davey first have to work out who the intended victim was which brings them into contact with a shady property developer and a pub bouncer who is a little too handy with his fists.
“The Foxby Affair” by Kit Lambert (30 November 2016)
Clearly inspired by the historical case of Lord Lucan, this story sees Jane look into the notorious case of a 22-year-old disappearance of a peer suspected of killing an escort after a new witness comes forward – only to wind up dead 24 hours later.
“Pieces of Eight” by Matthew Cooke and Vincent Lund (1 December 2016)
A body is washed up on the beach with his face mutilated beyond recognition, making identification of the corpse difficult for Jane culminating in an embarrassing error. In the meantime there’s been a armoured car raid by a group of men dressed up as pirates. Think they shoudl be easy to spot? Unfortunately, most of Lighthaven is also similarly garbed for a special tourist event. Is there a connection between these incidents and a falling out between a local wealthy businessman and his son?
“Crash” by Sally Abbott (2 December 2016)
A fatal car crash leaves a teen girl dead, but it soom becomes clear she wasn’t driving the car in the first place. What follows is more of an intelligent study of the impact of grief on a small interconnected group of family and friends than a whodunnit, and it’s very effective and poignant. The series ends with Jane and Davey finding out something about the way their childhood romance came to such an abrupt end all those years ago.