While there isn’t any tinsel on the palm trees, or snow falling from the sky, nor a Brussel sprout in sight, the Boxing Day feature-length episode of Death in Paradise – the series’ first-ever Christmas special – nonetheless has a yuletide feel as DI Neville Parker (Ralf Little) and his team set about solving the latest murder on the island of Saint Marie.
In the days leading up to Christmas, a down-on-his-luck London cabbie named Colin (Ghosts’ Mathew Baynton) receives a Christmas card with the words ‘Philip Carlton was murdered’ written inside. Meanwhile on Saint Marie, wealthy Mr Carlton has indeed been found dead at his own Christmas party, but a video message on his phone and the discovery of his body with a gun in his hand initially lead Neville and Commissioner Patterson (Don Warrington) to assume he committed suicide, before deducing it could actually be murder.
As usual, there are an assortment of suspects including Carlton’s ex-wife (Juliet Stevenson) and his spoiled daughter, Carlton's new young wife, and his long-serving assistant Bruce (Stanley Townsend), and there is the added mystery of just who sent Colin the murder confession, and why.
With DS Florence Cassell (Joséphine Jobert) heading off on a family holiday, the team are one member down, but retired police officer Dwayne Myers (Danny John-Jules, who left at the end of season seven) comes to the rescue when he arrives on the island as part of his round the world voyage. He teams up with trainee officer Marlon Pyrce (Tahj Miles) and the pair put their heads together to help solve the crime.
Despite the longer running time, the 90-minute special keeps to the usual formula regular viewers know and love: a crime takes place, the team investigate until someone has a revelation, which shifts all of the plot twists and clues magically into place, with the culprit subsequently confronted – complete with enjoyable guest turns from Baynton, Stevenson and Townsend.
While a Caribbean-set murder mystery doesn’t sound particularly festive, there are plenty of little nods to Christmas, from Warrington and Miles dressed as Santa and an elf to entertain the local children (and us), to a Caribbean version of ‘Jingle Bells’ on the soundtrack, and Neville predictably grumbling that sun, sea, sand and lobster don’t feel seasonal to him. Instead, he's dreaming of grey skies, English drizzle and turkey (Neville, if you ever fancy a swap, call us).
The best Christmas present for loyal Death In Paradise fans, however, is John-Jules’ return. He’s got a sparkle in his eye and brings a sparkle to the show as well. And his pairing with relatively new cast member Tahj Miles is the high point of the episode as the characters bicker and bond while trudging around the rain-soaked streets of Guadeloupe.
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They're so much fun in an otherwise likeable but average instalment of the show that you start wishing for a Marlon and Dwayne spin-off series, and almost forget that there’s a murder to solve – and a romantic cliffhanger between Florence and Neville to revisit, too.
Yes, those who have been wondering what happened following the end of season 10 back in February, when Neville dashed to Florence’s house to reveal his feelings for her, do finally get their answer in this episode.
Even though Florence is sadly packed off on her holidays early on, the truth of that encounter is covered in a way that leaves even more questions to be answered for our fish-out-of-water detective inspector when the next series returns in January.
The Death in Paradise Christmas special airs tonight at 7:30pm on BBC One - check out the full Death in Paradise cast here. Find out what else is on with our TV Guide. Visit our Drama hub for all the latest news.