Med­i­cal mar­vel

Craig McLach­lan re­turns to fight crime as Dr Lu­cien Blake

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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.”

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