Murder Island review – a contest to solve the killing of a young woman? Bad timing

Teams of amateur detectives compete to crack a grisly case and win £50,000. So far, this new hybrid reality show seems half-baked and unpropitious

It’s possible that the timing is not propitious for the launch of a new entertainment series centred on the investigation of a young woman’s murder. The outrage surrounding the conviction of a serving Metropolitan police officer for the rape and killing of Sarah Everard, and the visibility it has given to the endemic violence against women, is a hurdle to overcome. Channel 4’s six-part offering Murder Island also has a further point of connection with the case and the context. One of its participants is former chief superintendent Parm Sandhu, who last week gave an interview to Radio 4’s World at One about her experience in the Met. She discussed female officers’ unwillingness to report sexist and misogynist behaviour for fear that the men will close ranks, and said that “the fear that most women police officers have got is that when you are calling for help, you press that emergency button on your radio, they’re not going to turn up and you’re going to get kicked in the street”.

On the other hand, the vulnerability of women to rapists and murderers is not exactly new information and it hasn’t curbed appetites for its exploitation as entertainment before now. So maybe this is by the by. Plus, Murder Island’s USP is that it is a new genre – a hybrid drama/reality show that keeps the involvement of police proper to a minimum. Instead, four pairs of amateur detectives will compete to solve a murder mystery written by Ian Rankin, about the stabbing of Charly Hendricks in a cottage on a remote Scottish island by a person or persons unknown. One team will be eliminated at each stage of the investigation – the winners get a £50,000 prize.

Put like that, I am even less sure than I was that this counts for rather than against the new venture.

Context aside, how does the new format fare? The reality show element sings its customary siren song, giving us competitors spanning the full range of capability. At one end of the spectrum are Andrew and Nick, ambitious, articulate and with the lean, hungry look of leopards on the prowl. Andrew’s father and grandfather were detectives and he is hoping genetics will out. Although they have to be warned like the rest about making assumptions rather than gathering evidence and seeing what it tells them, they seem to have a basic grasp of procedure and, when it comes to assessing timelines and comparing testimonies, logic. If you had money and cared enough, you would bet on them to win.

At the other end there are Dot and Rox, who have to be told not to stand in the blood pool at the crime scene. They became friends when they worked in the same pub, and reckon they know how to read people. This will be very useful once we move to an all-intuition criminal justice system, but, as things stand, makes them merely extremely fun to watch. Told off by Simon Harding, one of the former detectives who is overseeing and evaluating the teams, for taking more photos of the processed crime scene than he would take on holiday, they wonder aloud how boring his holidays must be.

As we cut between the reality show scenes, “full” drama scenes play out with the fictional characters. As the competitors travel around the village interviewing Charly’s friends, acquaintances and other people of interest played by actors, a story builds of a proposed development on the island that is cleaving the community, Charly’s activism on behalf of those against the scheme and a possible love triangle between her, Jean the shopkeeper and particularly dour local Hamish. There is also a pregnancy, mysterious events in the far-flung land of Glasgow that have yet to be fully uncovered and the pub’s owner Toby looks shifty to us all.

The goal of all hybrid genres is to double the value of watching. On most occasions, however, it simply halves it because neither contribution is fully developed and each undercuts the other’s momentum. Murder Island, judged on the first episode, falls into the latter camp. Things may improve as teams are eliminated, allowing the hour to tighten up. It will help, too, if the interactions between the detectives and the actors become less stagey and awkward as they relax into the situation and its strange demands.

How much context matters, of course, is up to us.


Lucy Mangan

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Gold: The Inside Story review – follow that smelter in the Rolls-Royce!
As a companion to the superb drama, this documentary confirms, and occasionally corrects, the astonishing details of the 1983 Brink’s-Mat robbery. But there are just too many nuggets to fit in

Jack Seale

20, Mar, 2023 @10:00 PM

Article image
The Confession review – you’ll study every gesture in this true-crime documentary
Keith Hall confessed his wife’s murder to an officer wearing a wire – and was found innocent. This programme will leave you scrutinising his every second on screen to make your mind up about him

Jack Seale

25, Nov, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Taken: Hunting the Sex Traffickers review – stomach-turning tales of abuse and exploitation
Stories of women bought and sold ‘like meat’ and the criminal gangs enjoying lavish lifestyles at their expense are under the spotlight in this disturbing documentary

Lucy Mangan

26, Jul, 2021 @9:00 PM

Article image
Jeremy Kyle Show: Death On Daytime review – a shocking exposé of the ITV series
This rigorous documentary brims with quiet fury as it looks at The Jeremy Kyle Show and the death of Steve Dymond, who killed himself in 2019, days after appearing

Rebecca Nicholson

13, Mar, 2022 @10:15 PM

Article image
Vicky Pattison: Alcohol, Dad and Me review – the reality star is an absolute gift of a presenter
The Geordie Shore reality TV star is a commanding, charismatic, honest and articulate presenter, as she tries to make sense of how her father’s drinking affected her upbringing

Lucy Mangan

02, Aug, 2022 @10:05 PM

Article image
TV tonight: a street reveals its dirty secrets in Viewpoint
In ITV’s new nightly thriller, Noel Clarke gets caught up in one road’s interconnected dramas. Plus: the surgeon operating on babies in the womb. Here’s what to watch this evening

Ammar Kalia, Phil Harrison, Ellen E Jones, Hannah Verdier and Simon Wardell

26, Apr, 2021 @5:20 AM

Article image
Endeavour; The Dambusters' Great Escape – TV review

Sam Wollaston: Endeavour is only moderately gritty, and very charming in an English way. More importantly, it is true to the spirit of Morse, and certainly superior to Lewis

Sam Wollaston

31, Mar, 2014 @6:00 AM

Article image
TV tonight: reopening a 54-year-old murder cold case
Emilia Fox and criminologist David Wilson investigate the killing of a teenage member of the RAF. Plus, chasing the drugs in Before We Die. Here’s what to watch this evening

Ammar Kalia, Hannah Verdier, Ali Catterall, Hannah J Davies and Paul Howlett

23, Jun, 2021 @5:10 AM

Article image
Showtrial review – will this schlocky murder drama really grip the nation?
Class tension, sex and politics are laid on thick in this five-parter about a high-profile court case, but the risk of an overbaked, overstuffed dud is high

Rebecca Nicholson

31, Oct, 2021 @10:00 PM

Article image
TV review: Waking the Dead and The Great Estate

Farewell, DS Boyd. After a decade of digging, Waking the Dead has unearthed its final corpse, writes John Crace

John Crace

11, Apr, 2011 @9:01 PM