'McDonald & Dobbs' Season 4 is Witty & Entertaining

Picture shows: Police officers DS Dodds (Jason Watkins), and DCI Lauren McDonald (Tala Gouveia) pose in front of Bath Abbey.

DS Dodds (Jason Watkins), and DCI Lauren McDonald (Tala Gouveia).


BritBox’s intelligent, playful series McDonald & Dobbs challenges and intrigues, thanks to its two titular characters, DCI Lauren McDonald (Tala Gouveia) and DS Dodds (Jason Watkins), and Season 4 debuts on BritBox on May 22, with the first of three feature-length episodes written by Robert Murphy. But before we examine the complex and red-herring-littered storylines, it’s worth looking at the ongoing relationship between the two officers, particularly if you haven’t watched the first three seasons. 

On her arrival, McDonald, ambitious and fresh from the mean streets of south London, didn’t expect much to happen in her new position; she saw Bath as a sort of living history museum with many wealthy inhabitants. To her, it’s a career step; she expected to go back to London relatively soon, along with her gas fitter boyfriend (whose name we still don’t know). So she wasn’t too pleased to find that she’s been partnered with shy, dithering DS Dodds (whose first name we still don’t know either), a low-performing cop who’d been stuck on an undemanding desk job for the past decade. Not only that, but their overbearing boss of the first three seasons was anxious for Dodds to retire early. He figured if boredom didn’t do it, then having to take orders from an outspoken Black woman surely would. He was wrong.

To everyone’s surprise, including their own, McDonald and Dodds form a working relationship that tips over into friendship. Despite his unprepossessing appearance – the anorak, sliding eyeglasses, and local accent –Dodds’ intelligence and vast knowledge complement McDonald’s outgoing and efficient leadership. (One of McDonald’s first actions was to provide Dodds with a lanyard to secure his eyeglasses.) With Season 4, the department has transformed its culture under the new leadership of Chief Superintendent Mary Ormond (Claire Skinner), who relaxes by singing in the Bath Abbey choir. New team members Detective Constables Goldie (Charlie Chambers) and Lee (Bhavik C Pankhania). Dodds is still annoying and fussy, and McDonald is overbearing and impulsive. Still, somehow, the partnership works, particularly on a practical level. 

Picture shows: Chief Superintendent Mary Ormond (Claire Skinner)

Chief Superintendent Mary Ormond (Claire Skinner).

© BritBox

The third character of note in the series is the city of Bath itself, with its famed Georgian architecture and Roman origins, made familiar to us from Bridgerton and Austen adaptations. The title art suggests the tricksy nature of eighteenth-century town planning (walk along an unprepossessing street, and suddenly, a breathtaking crescent of identical, elegant houses pops up in front of you). It’s no wonder Bath’s famed Royal Crescent appears so often in the series, complementing the two main players: McDonald presents the flash, and Dodds the subtlety. Most cases focus on well-heeled inhabitants, some of whom live outside the city on the surrounding hills and enjoy spectacular views of the photogenic city.

The opening of Episode 1 certainly tricks us, “Jinxy Sings The Blues,” directed by Samantha Harrie, takes us to the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta in 1932. A young guitarist who will become famous as bluesman Robert Johnson has a life-changing encounter at a crossroads. Allegedly, he met the devil there, who taught him the secret of the blues. And then it’s back to present-day Bath, where a passenger, Ian Andrews (Jared Garfield), is found dead on his daily bus, strangled. We don’t know why Ian had $20,000 (yes, dollars, not pounds) in a bag in his apartment, but we do know he attended a talk by Professor Clarence Adderly (Hugh Quarshie, Pete in MaryLand) on the blues at a local arts festival. The Professor lies about being on the same bus and then seeks help from the US ambassador. 

The net widens to include a young, sophisticated musician, Nicolas Olayinka (Rilwan Abiola Owokoniran), who challenges the Professor to differentiate AI recordings from Robert Johnson’s originals. The case becomes personal for Dodds when the body of Jinxy Jones (Robert Goodman) is discovered, someone he’s known since they were children, giving us a rare sighting of his life outside work when he meets with his friends in the pub. We also meet a couple of antique dealers, Geraldine Bridget DeVere (Sophia Myles) and Greg DeVere (Will Young), who are sitting on a treasure that will save their struggling business. What links these people is the history of the blues and their secrets and greed. Justice is done, and Jinxy is honored with a New Orleans-inspired funeral.

Picture shows: Lucy Colgate (Lydia Leonard).

Lucy Colgate (Lydia Leonard).

© BritBox

Episode 2, “The Rule of Three,” directed by Khurrum M. Sulta, opens with a characteristically unrelated scene to the main story. At her engagement party, a woman (Suzi Green) is killed when she uses lipstick tainted with nut oil, and her daughter Lola is arrested on evidence given by a tree surgeon, Nevis McLintock (John Gordon Sinclair). As the two detectives leave the crime scene, McDonald comments that the successful solution to a case never feels as good as she thinks it will. 

But not to worry, there is far more to this case and its links to the murder of an unknown woman whose body is found in a short-term apartment rental. Her DNA identifies her as Ann, the twin sister of Mark Colgate (Toby Stephens). She has not been seen since her disappearance 38 years ago. Now a powerful businessman, Mark lives in the Royal Crescent with his meek, downtrodden wife, Lucy (Lydia Leonard). CS Ormond warns McDonald that Colgate’s boutique investment firm is a cover for money laundering and border criminal enterprises, and other law agencies will intervene. In other words, as Dodds puts it, they will be “cops posing as non-undercover cops.”

Dodds is distracted by the loss of his office chair and unable to alter the position of the one left in its place. He seems likely to be distracted from his actual work, while he also annoys his colleagues. McDonald and Dodds continue the investigation into Suzi Green’s death when, on a routine visit to obtain a signature, tree surgeon Nevis starts talking. As unreliable as he seems, they have to look at new evidence. In addition, Suzi, a top investigative journalist, was researching Gate’s activities, suggesting the deaths are linked. Meanwhile, the only clue to Ann’s killer is a sticky label found under her body with the number 3 on it. But the details will be the undoing of both.

And, since we were all wondering, the mystery of the chair gets solved, too.

Picture shows: DS Dodds (Jason Watkins) and Dora Lang (Victoria Hamilton).

DS Dodds (Jason Watkins) and Dora Lang (Victoria Hamilton).

© BritBox

The final episode, “Wedding Fever,” is co-written by Robert Murphy and Rob Drummond and directed by Khurrum M. Sulta. It’s a beautiful day in Bath, and an annoying radio announcer has decided to base his show around the 22 marriages scheduled for that day. He also finds that he’s announcing three murders, and, once again, they are all linked. Guest star Victoria Hamilton (COBRA) plays Dora Lang, a photographer who is a suspect initially and then bonds romantically with Dodds. As he puts it to McDonald, they were both overwhelmed by “the first three months of a relationship in three minutes,” culminating in a kiss in her darkroom and a rather intimate fingerprint recording session. 

McDonald, returning home on an arduous journey after a holiday in New Zealand, believes that she is reliving a dream in which she seems to be marrying a sinister bearded man with a snake tattoo. Dodds (with a mustache) is at the ceremony (I have no idea about the significance of the mustache). As for the murders, first, it’s a vicar, then a bride, and finally a best man (three weddings total, after which the city cancels all further weddings for the day). After confessing that her boyfriend proposed on holiday, and she didn’t give him an answer, McDonald snaps, “I’m not a collie!” when Dodds pats her shoulder.

Clues, most of which are to distract us, are flung around with abandon. While we believe the presence of the man with the tattoos to be genuine (confirmed by Dora’s photography), McDonald’s jet lag and emotional state, and not any paranormal influence, is to blame for her reaction. Of the three, the answer to this riddle is too much distraction and insufficient substance. Even so, a weak episode of McDonald & Dobbs is still great television. With the fantastic chemistry between Gouveia and Watkins, witty (if overcomplicated) plot lines, and the city of Bath taking a starring role, this is British TV at its best.

McDonald & Dobbs Season 4 streams weekly on BritBox on Thursdays through June 6, 2024. Seasons 1–3 are also available on BritBox.

Janet Mullany

Writer Janet Mullany is from England, drinks a lot of tea, and likes Jane Austen, reading, and gasping in shock at costumes in historical TV dramas. Her household near Washington DC includes two badly-behaved cats about whom she frequently boasts on Facebook.

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