Maturity key to mystery
Maturity key to mystery

Craig McLachlan has a great deal riding on the ABC's new 10-part crime series, The Doctor Blake Mysteries. It is his chance to prove to home audiences that he is a serious actor.

Not that McLachlan, 47, has not been very successful: after winning silver and gold Logies for his role as Henry Ramsay, brother of Kylie Minogue's character Charlene, in Neighbours, and another silver as schoolteacher Grant Mitchell on Home and Away he moved to the UK in 1993 and has had a stellar West End musical career, first in Grease and then starring as Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Show, Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Billy Flynn in Chicago, coming to Australia with that musical.

But he has also done a lot of dramatic theatre in the UK and says he would not get asked to do those sorts of shows in Australia.

"Indeed, I had never imagined that I would get an opportunity to do something like the Blake Mysteries here," he said. "I knew immediately that it was something I wanted to throw my hat in the ring for.

"I was in Los Angeles shooting an episode of NCIS and just decided what the hell, you have to be in it to win it. I was aware that I really had an icepick's chance in hell of securing the role because I was too young - I sort of fell between the bouncy boy next door and the age that they were looking at.

"But I had a few days off to get the whiskers right and threw something down on tape. To be honest, I was so intrigued by the project that I really rather hoped that if I didn't get Blake there might be something else I could do.

"(Dr Blake) was an opportunity for me to play someone who is a more mature age and I know that sounds silly but I've have had a career that in 30 years you mainly get approached to play surfie types or rock'n'rollers. Now, I am not complaining, I suppose the day will come when I will look back on that and think how flattering, but it was important for me to play someone of Lucien's age with the layers and complexity of character."

The Doctor Blake series is unusual in these days of crime-novel adaptations as it is an original work created by the series producer George Adams (Bed of Roses) and co-written by executive producer Tony Wright (Immortal).

For the role of Dr Blake, McLachlan has lost weight as well as grown a full beard. Part of the attraction Dr Blake had for him was that he had spent so much time living overseas and struggled to fit back into life here.

The series begins in 1959 and Dr Blake has returned home to Ballarat after 33 years abroad, including time during World War II spent in a POW camp in Thailand.

He is home to take over his dead father's practice and house, which he find himself sharing with housekeeper Jean Beazley (Nadine Garner) and young district nurse Mattie O'Brien (Cate Wolfe).

One of Dr Blake's roles is to act as police surgeon and this brings him into conflict with Chief Superintendent Matthew Lawson (Joel Tobeck) when he refuses to accept superficial answers to unexpected deaths.

In the first episode, he believes a young woman found drowned in Lake Wendouree has been murdered and the trail leads him to a group of young lads who hang out in the main street of town, playing loud rock music and occasionally dealing drugs.

They could have stepped straight out of Grease and there is no doubt the 1950s setting was part of the appeal of the role.

"I do find the 1950s a really fascinating era," he said, "and this has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I have spent so much of my life trapped in that time by Grease. In the 1950s, rock'n'roll was having an impact on society. We had come out of wartime, kids were slicking hair back and causing their parents grief, and we were sailing towards the 1960s."


The West Australian

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