What to Watch Verdict
The Death In Paradise spin-off maintains the charm and complex cases of its parent show, but the endearing characters, compelling relationships and a nifty new format for the dénouement help it sing on its own terms
Kris Marshall and Sally Bretton's excellent chemistry
Zahra Ahmadi's perfectly-pitched performance as DS Esther Williams
A genuinely moving story arc outside the cases of the week
A few dodgy West Country accents
The Death in Paradise spin-off Beyond Paradise arrives with a lot of expectation resting on it: will it be as enduringly watchable as its predecessor? Will it be different enough to justify its existence? Is the relationship between DI Humphrey Goodman (Kris Marshall) and his fiancée Martha Lloyd (Sally Bretton) engaging enough to sustain a full series? Can Devon hold a candle to the charms of the Caribbean?
The good news is that on the strength of the opening episode, the answer to all of those questions is a resounding yes. The spectacular Devon (and Cornwall — although the series is set in Devon, both counties were used as Beyond Paradise filming locations, and the Cornish seaside town of Looe stands in for Martha's fictional Devon hometown of Shipton Abbott) scenery is an instant winner, and provides just as much of a sense of character as Saint Marie/Guadeloupe did for Death In Paradise.
And within moments of Humphrey and Martha's first appearance (we won't reveal exactly how that scene plays out because we don't want to spoil the surprise, but it's a corker), it's obvious why fans of the parent show were so invested in these two, with Marshall and Bretton sharing an easy, entirely believable chemistry.
It's clear from the start that this series intends to tread a different path from Death In Paradise — for a start, there's no murder in the first episode. Instead, Humphrey ends up starting his new job a few days early when Gwen Tyler (Montserrat Lombard) falls off a balcony while changing a lightbulb in the Grand Designs-worthy house she shares with architect husband Ben (Davood Ghadami), and after regaining consciousness Gwen insists that she knows who pushed her — the ghost of a witch who's the subject of a considerable amount of local folklore.
This might all sound a tad silly, but it's played just seriously enough by everyone involved, and does a fine job of establishing Shipton Abbott as the sort of town where anything can happen — which needs to be true if this series is to stand a chance of running for as long as its parent show has.
Also key to making Shipton Abbott feel lived-in is the cast of characters we meet in episode one, including charismatic local rogue Josh Woods (Chris Jenks) and waspish would-be MP Yvonne Wiley (Samantha Spiro). And attempting to keep all of these characters on the straight and narrow are the members of Humphrey's core team: DS Esther Williams (Zahra Ahmadi), PC Kelby Hartford (Dylan Llewellyn) and office support Margo Martins (Felicity Montagu).
It's Ahmadi who has the toughest job of the three, as her character bears the brunt of Humphrey's eccentricities in the opening episode and spends a lot of time as his foil. The script calls for her to be (understandably) exasperated by this mercurial out-of-towner, and in less capable hands we might find Esther rather unsympathetic when she spends a chunk of the first episode rolling her eyes at a character we already know and love.
But Ahmadi's Esther has depth, patience and compassion — yes, she thinks this guy's a buffoon when she first meets him, but she also goes into their working relationship with an open mind, waiting to see if there's a method to his madness, and by the time Humphrey solves his first case, the two of them already have the kind of effortless back-and-forth patter of the best detective duos. (Plus, there are some intriguing hints about Esther's life outside of work lightly dropped in throughout the episode, which will hopefully give her lots of opportunities to evolve as a character in her own right.)
Speaking of solving cases, that's the point where Beyond Paradise really breaks away from the framing of Death In Paradise and gives itself a distinct voice. Back on Saint Marie, Humphrey (or Richard, or Jack, or Neville...) would solve the case by gathering all the suspects in a room and walking them through the story of what really happened before revealing the killer's identity.
On Beyond Paradise, however, things play out very differently: we get to watch Humphrey solve the crime in real time by going inside his head and viewing a flashback-of-sorts, where he and Esther appear, unseen by the other characters, in the background as the crime takes place, and work out the details as it plays out in front of them. It's a welcome break from the form, and a much more stylish and visually-engaging way of wrapping up the loose ends of the case of the week.
Of course, it's not just the crimes that viewers are here for, but the continuation of Humphrey and Martha's relationship, and that's another area in which Beyond Paradise sets itself apart. There's much more of a through-line of narrative here — while we have the promise of a case to solve each week, there's also the ongoing drama of Humphrey and Martha's new life together, complete with trials and tribulations (again, we won't reveal the specifics here, but suffice to say you may find yourself shedding a tear or two before the credits roll).
The stakes in this corner of the show may not be life-or-death, but they still matter, and both Marshall and Bretton give us ample reason to care about what happens to these two kind-hearted lovebirds who are slowly figuring out what their future holds.
Ultimately, Beyond Paradise ticks all the right boxes: it's comfortable and familiar and beautiful in all the ways that it needed to be, while also having the confidence not to simply try to be an exact transplant of Death In Paradise in a less-sunny location. While it remains to be seen whether this show will develop the staying power of its parent series, this is a whodunnit with heaps of heart, and it definitely deserves an hour of your Friday night.
- Beyond Paradise begins on Friday February 24 at 8pm on BBC1 and iPlayer
Steven Perkins is a Staff Writer for TV & Satellite Week, TV Times, What's On TV and whattowatch.com, who has been writing about TV professionally since 2008. He was previously the TV Editor for Inside Soap before taking up his current role in 2020. He loves everything from gritty dramas to docusoaps about airports and thinks about the Eurovision Song Contest all year round.