Ahead Of Their Time: Murdoch Mysteries And The Pinkertons

They may live in the 19th Century, but the detectives in The Pinkertons and Murdoch Mysteries are far ahead of their time when it comes to scientific and technological ingenuity. Here are some eureka moments from the two shows…

The Science Behind Murdoch Mysteries And The Pinkertons

THE LIE DETECTOR

"It can scientifically measure whether a man is lying," is how Murdoch announced his strange new device. "I've got one of those at home," replied his boss. "It's called a wife."

Unfazed by the doubters, Murdoch strapped himself into the machine and submitted to a series of questions. Telling a lie would cause agitation, which in turn would affect his breathing, which in turn would cause a pressure gauge in the machine to shoot up. The demonstration became considerably more awkward when his beloved Julia Ogden came in and asked if he happened to be in love with anyone...

The Pinkertons' Kate Warne confirmed the presence of blood with the fizz from adding hydrogen peroxide.

The Pinkertons' Kate Warne confirmed the presence of blood with the fizz from adding hydrogen peroxide.

THE BLOOD DETECTION TEST

How can you definitively tell if that rather ominous reddish splatter on a tree trunk is actually blood?

If you're the Pinkertons' resident forensics expert Kate Warne, you simply wield one of the clever chemicals stashed in your bag. Namely, hydrogen peroxide, which Kate dabbed onto to the stain with a swab. The resulting fizz confirmed that haemoglobin - an essential component of red blood cells - was present. To her slightly gob-smacked partner Will Pinkerton, it was basically magic.

THE VICTORIAN FAX MACHINE

Needing to get his hands on a photograph of a missing woman, which happened to be all the way over in France, Detective William Murdoch created the 19th Century equivalent of the fax machine.

He had the French police lay a grid over the picture and assign a different number on the grey colour scale to each respective square. They then sent the numbers over via the telegraph, allowing the Toronto detectives to colour in their own corresponding grid. They eventually ended up with a replica image in greys and whites. (And by "eventually" we mean after hours of painstaking work by Murdoch's hapless underlings.)

The Pinkerons' Kate Warne deduced a killer by the direction of the gashes on the victim.

The Pinkerons' Kate Warne deduced a killer by the direction of the gashes on the victim.

THE INSTANT DEDUCTION

The science in The Pinkertons doesn't always involve chemicals or new technology. Kate has a true pathologist's eye, allowing her to make lightning-quick deductions.

A case in point was the discovery of two corpses - a Native American and a white man. Had they murdered each other? Within moments, Kate was able to rule it out. The defence wounds were on the corpses' right hands, and the gashes in their bodies raked from right to left. Her conclusion: the killer was left-handed and almost certainly white, since left-handedness was almost unheard of in the Native population.

THE PUMPKIN TEST

There are many ways to kill someone, but one of the cleverest has to be rigging a hunting rifle to fire a bullet backwards into the face of the person who happens to be pulling the trigger. That way, it looks like a grisly accident rather than a murder.

On discovering just such a weapon, the Pinkertons had to make to demonstrate the dastardly plan without actually blowing one of their own heads off. Kate's solution was to strap a pumpkin exactly where the hunter's head would be, and then use a piece of string to pull the trigger. One exploding pumpkin later, and the murderer's plot was proven.

Detective William Murdoch - inventor of the first CCTV camera?

Detective William Murdoch - inventor of the first CCTV camera?

THE SCRUTINY CAMERA

A surveillance camera in the 19th Century? Yes indeed, thanks to William Murdoch's sheer ingenuity.

When a case required him to keep constant watch on a busy city street, he rigged up a camera to a clockwork machine which would make it take a snap every four seconds. Then, at the end of the day, they simply ran the reel of film through a light to create moving images of the street. It's too bad he didn't patent his "scrutiny camera" - Murdoch could have become an early movie mogul.

THE BLOOD SPLATTER TEST

When a whisky baron was found stabbed to death in bed, suspicion fell on the prostitute he'd been sleeping with at the time. To get a clearer picture of events, Will and Kate decided to reenact the murder, with Will lying down on a bed to take the role of the prostitute, while a sack of paint was placed next to him in place of the dead man.

With a worrying level of enthusiasm, Kate repeatedly stabbed the bag, and the resulting paint splatter on the bed (and on a disgruntled Will) was compared with the blood splatter at the crime scene, proving the prostitute had indeed been lying next to the man when he died, and couldn't have been the killer.

Perhaps a more useful function for those binoculars you get at the opera. Well done Murdoch!

Perhaps a more useful function for those binoculars you get at the opera. Well done Murdoch!

THE CIRCUMSCOPE

Detective Murdoch has a genius for creating cunning gadgets from unlikely objects. One of these was a portable periscope which Murdoch dubbed the "circumscope".

While it came in very handy on a case, his boss Brackenreid wouldn't have been too impressed, since Murdoch had made the circumscope using the opera glasses which Brackenreid had mysteriously "lost" the previous week. "I'm sure he'll recover them in due time," Murdoch promised, unconvincingly.

Watch The Pinkertons Sundays at 8pm on Drama.