In "The Dark Rider," a family feud dating dating back to a civil war in the 1600's leads to an annual re-enactment of a battle during that war between the two families. On one side are the DeQuettevilles; the hosts of the re-enactment, the losers of the battle, but the winners of each replay since. On the other side are the Fleetwoods, the royal-loyalists who generally find the DeQuetteville family annoying, but considering the closeness of the two family's lands - impossible to ignore.
Causton CID is called in when a member of the DeQuettevilles appears to have fallen off of the top of their home in the middle of the night. The family member that found him, Toby (James Callis, Battlestar Galactica), insists that he saw a headless horseman leaving at the time of death and this brings up old memories of a supposed haunting by an ancestor of theirs. Barnaby and Jones soon meet the rest of the family, including Toby's 10-minute older twin Julian (also played by Callis), their father Ludo (William Gaunt), Mother Izzy (Eleanor Baron), Julian's wife Diana (Raquel Cassidy), Toby's wife Betty (Kerry Fox) and Toby's son Simon (James Clay).
It quickly becomes apparent that this family has a few secrets, including some kind of trauma that took Toby's first wife and silenced Simon some five years prior, and the detectives will have to uncover those secrets to figure out exactly what is going on. At first, the obvious suspects seem to be the rival family, Sasha (Natalie Mendoza) and Harry (Paul Ritter) Fleetwood, because of a bet over some land hinging over the upcoming re-enactment, but when Julian is killed and Toby ends up next in the line of succession (after his father's death), suspecision turns towards Toby's wife over the meek younger twin.
This episode also has an audio commentary track with Dudgeon and Director Alex Pillai. It should be interesting for any long-time follower of the series.
In the set's second episode, "Murder of Innocence," one of Jones' old cases from his constable days comes back to haunt him. A man Jones caught and arrested for murder, Grady Felton, returns to the village where he committed his crime just in time for people on his supposed "hit list" to start dropping dead. Of course, the obvious suspect is Felton himself, but it seems he has an airtight alibi for each murder. First, the family he wronged as a teenager is at the bus station to torment him just when the murder is taking place. After that, he is under police watch during the second murder, and after an attempt to burn down Felton's place, the man is hospitalized while the hit list keeps getting shorter.
Jones, who spent a lot of time with the family after the trial, is trying to keep those who sent Felton to jail from dying, but he too is on the list and narrowly misses getting killed himself. Barnaby starts to question everything they know, not only about the timing of the events, but also about the original case back in 1994 in order to figure out exactly what is going on.
In "Death and the Divas," we learn that Barnaby is a fan of 1960's horror films, and when the Midsomer Langly Film Society shows some classics to honor a local star, Stella Harris (Sinead Cusack), John and Sarah join in the viewing. The event doesn't quite go as planned though. Just when Stella is going to give her speech, her estranged sister, Diana Davenport (Harriet Walter), and Hollywood star, appears after 40 years away from the area to steal Stella's spotlight. What no one at the event realizes is that at about that time and just down the street, a writer named Eve Lomax is killed in such a way as to mimic one of Stella's old vampire films.
Since deaths seem to run in threes in Midsomer, you can expect at least a couple more murders as Barnaby works to put the pieces together. He soon realizes that the deaths mimic other films from Stella's past and it seems the people dying are on the verge of uncovering some secret family history only a few members of the movie stars' family knows.
One interesting aspect of this episode is the fact that pieces of these 1960's horror films were created and are seen several times in the episode, and quite frankly, a lot of attention to detail was obviously done to get the Hammer Film style right - complete with flashy green lights, close-ups on mouths and eyes for dramatic effect and somewhat cheesy acting.
This episode also features a 15 minute behind-the-scenes documentary that talks about putting the show together and the extra effort that went into filming the 1960's style films and how the showrunners worked to recreate that feel.
While Midsomer Murders: Set 23 only has three mysteries, I found them all to be great mysteries and I found many of my guesses and thoughts to be wrong. In only one episode did I feel a little cheated in the final reveal as it felt a little cheap, but that's fine, and I won't say which episode for fear of ruining the episode for viewers. I especially enjoyed Callis in his twin roles, as well as the attempts to reproduce the Hammer Films style horror movie in "Death and the Divas."