(There's a sequel to the main text, involving New Zealand, if you skip on)
It's 8.20pm as I start this post, and it's a cold night in Sussex. It's actually snowing out there, harder than they said it would. A night to settle down in front of the telly, and watch something absorbing. But there's a potential viewing nightmare at 9.00pm tonight. Do I watch the second part of BBC1's police/murder drama Shetland, or the second episode of ITV's police/murder drama Broadchurch? Which one?
The Scandinavian police/murder series The Killing, now sadly gone forever, has clearly made producers keen to capitalise on an unexpected public taste for unusually-located dramas, despite any language or accent problem. So it was no great surprise to see that Broadchurch had a West Country setting, and wasn't in a large city, but a small seaside town - somewhere recognisable, where many might have spent happy holidays in real life. I suppose that's the point: you may actually have been there, and grown fond of the place. Little did you know that as you tucked into your fish and chips, and the children made sandcastles, murder was afoot.
Shetland is set in a much more out of the way spot: in Lerwick, the main town of Shetland, a collection of islands halfway between Scotland and Norway. As much Norse as Scottish. And up there, the wind is strong and cold, the skies are cloudy, and instead of Punch and Judy there is fiddle-music. In fact the first episode of Shetland was shot through with plaintive fiddle laments, that helped to set a sombre tone. But the locations also determine the mood, and are high in the list of characters.
Both programmes stress the fact that 'it couldn't happen here'. But of course it does, even if not with the frequency of London or Manchester. Orkney (that other northern set of islands, a bit south of Shetland, but not much less remote) has had two murders of note in the last twenty years. One was of a waiter in a restaurant in the main town Kirkwall in 1994: a hit-style shooting by a masked killer, for which a local lad-turned-army-hero was eventually convicted, though not without room for appeal - see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-20664094 and http://www.irr.org.uk/news/convictions-in-three-black-murder-cases/ for details. And the other, in 2009, on the Orkney island of Sanday: a love-triangle situation leading to tragedy - see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/north_east/8498109.stm, or, for more lurid versions, http://www.scotsman.com/news/orkney-murder-accused-made-gun-threat-court-hears-1-473796 and http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/sanday-murder-trial-the-orkney-island-1052099.
So small communities well away from the Big Cities do generate real work for the local police to do. That lends an air of plausibility to both programmes. But which to watch?
I could watch Broadchurch, and see Shetland at my leisure on the BBC iPlayer. But if Broadchurch bores the knickers off me, or its characters irritate me, that means I can't just switch over: it would spoil Shetland. So it comes down to the atmosphere of each programme, and the sombre, brooding, secretive feel to Shetland is, for me, more intriguing. Quite apart from the fun of recognising locations in Lerwick. I have, of course, toured the place on Google Street View, and I think I know the town centre, and the main roads in and out, as well as any visitor. The first two murders have both taken place on the offshore island of Bressay (which is basically across the harbour from Lerwick) and I've now 'done' bits of Bressay by Street View also, to keep up to speed. If nothing else, programmes like these turn you into an armchair traveller!
So it's going to be Shetland, and I'll catch up with the lesser-liked Broadchurch from next week. Such big decisions to make all the time!
What a good choice. The livelier-paced but still very atmospheric second part of Shetland brought in a past murder and a death that was allowed to happen, both of them during the Second World War with the 'Shetland Bus' as a background. The surprising identity of the present-day murderer was kept a secret till the last five minutes. It was also a treat to see what sort of spectacular firey things happen in the annual Up Helly Aa viking-style celebrations in Lerwick - see this video report at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-21249579.
We were let into the police inspector's private affairs a bit more, and I reckon all is set for another series later this year. Sadly we heard the police inspector's step-daughter confirm that Lerwick 'has no decent shops' - no Top Shop and no Marks & Spencer, at any rate. But I do know that it has a big Tesco, which I found on Street View.
You know, islands have always fascinated me, and I've had my eyes on Orkney and Shetland as places to visit for a long, long time. I could take Fiona to both, but only Orkney is a practical proposition for the caravan. That makes Orkney the 'cheap' option, Shetland the 'expensive' one. Both would be memorable holidays. Orkney may have a bit more sunshine, but Shetland is a bit more scenic. Maybe not much to choose between Kirkwall and Lerwick. I mean, neither has a Top Shop or Marks and Sparks, but both have a Tesco. So which? Another big decision to make...
These 2010 views on the A99 just south of John O'Groats show Orkney in the distance, the closest I've got so far. That's M--- and my old Honda CR-V car, by the way:
John O'Groats is much less tacky than Land's End, 800-odd miles away down in Cornwall. There's no equivalent to the dreadful Land's End theme park (the top shot is a library picture):
John O'Groats is like this. It's got a nice little harbour, with that Orkney view:
Odd that the mileage indicator mentions Bluff, although it is New Zealand's own Lands End, right down at the south end of South Island, and I suppose the most distant place from John O'Groats in the world. Well, I've been there too. Here are two of my 2007 shots:
There, I wasn't 'bluffing'!