Craig McLachlan returns to fight crime as Dr Lucien Blake
For an actor, being in the public eye can be a blessing and a curse. Sure, it’s gratifying to have your work acknowledged and appreciated by the punters. But at the same time, it’d be nice to be able to buy your groceries without too many interruptions.
Craig McLachlan isn’t complaining about this, mind you. He’s thrilled people are enjoying his ABC series The Doctor Blake Mysteries and are invested in the welfare and well- being of its characters.
Still, being approached in the supermarket is becoming a regular occurrence.
Buying yoghurt one night, a gentleman asked if Dr Blake’s landlady and housekeeper Jean, played by Nadine Garner, shouldn’t be the one picking up supplies.
Then there was the time he was grabbing some frozen peas and heard an exasperated voice exclaim: “When are you going to just kiss her?”
People clearly think Dr Blake and Jean are made for each other.
McLachlan: “You have to continue on after your first big hit and we didn’t want to change anything that worked, but at the same time you do have to move forward”
For his part, McLachlan coyly points out “their relationship develops beautifully” in the second season, which is now airing on ABC1. He believes the relationship, both professional and personal, is one of the three major aspects that have attracted viewers to the show.
Of course, there are the murder mysteries plaguing Ballarat in the 1950s – who doesn’t enjoy a good whodunit, after all?
That said, the actor laughs, he had to reassure a couple of backpackers keen to visit the town after seeing it on the show that it wasn’t nearly as dangerous as it appeared on TV.
But there’s also the mystery of Dr Lucien Blake himself.
Tormented by his World War II experiences, including a stint in a prisoner- of- war camp, and the absence of his missing wife and child, he initially found it difficult fitting into his new world.
In the new episodes, however, some questions are answered and some ghosts of the past laid to rest.
“We learned at the end of the first season Lucien’s wife had indeed died,” McLachlan said. “But word had come through that his daughter was alive and he was heading off to be reunited with her.
“He’s now returned to Ballarat after having reconnected with her after so many years, but that’s all I’m going to reveal about that.
“It’s wonderful stuff, though. A lot of old questions are resolved.”
Striking the balance between the show’s mysteries and the human element has
always been a key concern for McLachlan and series creator George Adams.
“George has always stuck to his guns, stuck to his truth of how he envisioned this show,” the actor said.
“He told me this story about pitching it early on to someone who claimed to love it. Then they said, ‘ Why don’t we make him a policeman or a private detective instead of a doctor? Why don’t we set it in the present day rather than the 1950s? And maybe he should have a steamy affair with a married woman’.”
Luckily, none of that came to pass, and the show found an appreciative audience.
Following up such a success story might have proven daunting to some, with McLachlan all too aware of “second- album syndrome”.
“You have to continue on after your first big hit and we didn’t want to change anything that worked, but at the same time you do have to move forward,” he said.
“I know we seem to have packed more of everything into each episode this year. I didn’t think that was possible but it became evident when it came to learning the material.”
To his delight, McLachlan has been able to lose himself a little in his portrayal of Dr Blake, after initially not being considered a serious contender for the role because he was too young.
“But in my screen test, George saw something that matched his vision of the character,” McLachlan said.
“I am knocking on the door of 50, after all, and I know a bit about the peaks and valleys of life, and George saw there were some layers there. And playing this character has allowed me to share some of my satisfying moments as an actor – moments where I’m required to go the extra mile and I’ve even surprised myself with what’s happened.
“When those breakthrough moments come, they’re just divine.”