Enter the Para-verse
With long-running crime drama Death in Paradise now joined in the television schedules by sequel-spin-off Beyond Paradise, executive producers Tim Key and Alex Jones discuss expanding the world of the original series and the ‘franchisation’ of television.
After filming 12 seasons of crime drama Death in Paradise on the sun-soaked island of Guadeloupe, the production team behind Beyond Paradise might have feared the worst when setting up the UK-based sequel spin-off.
But filming in Devon and Cornwall during summer 2022, they found they had brought some of the Caribbean with them.
“There was literally a heatwave, and day one of the shoot was insanely hot,” executive producer Tim Key tells DQ. “But I saw that as a good omen when making a Death in Paradise show. Surely it needs to be unbearably hot in some way.”
Beyond Paradise sees Kris Marshall reprise his Death in Paradise character DI Humphrey Goodman, who spent more than three seasons investigating crimes on the fictional isle of Saint Marie. After falling in love with tourist Martha Lloyd (Sally Bretton), he decided during season six to follow her back to the UK.
Viewers have now been reintroduced to Humphrey in Beyond Paradise, in which the character seeks a new job in his now fiancée Martha’s hometown of Shipton Abbott, a country town with a surprisingly high crime rate.
“We always knew we wanted to do more with Kris because we loved working with him and we always knew his time on the mothership would be finite,” Key says of developing the series. “We worked with him again on Sanditon, which was great, but we just always felt Humphrey had resonated with the audience. There was a lot of love for that character.
“We dipped our toe into it a little bit in Kris’s last episodes, where we came over and shot some material in London. It led to a conversation on the creative side about how we could, and whether we should, see where else that could take us.”
Beyond Paradise also introduces a whole host of new characters to build around Humphrey as it explores his personal and professional lives. Joining Marshall and Bretton on screen are Zahra Ahmadi as DS Esther Williams, Dylan Llewellyn as PC Kelby Hartford, Felicity Montagu as office support Margo Martins and Barbara Flynn as Anne Lloyd.
But Key and the Red Planet Pictures team behind both shows were always clear that Beyond Paradise should never just become Death in Paradise UK.
“You want to attract a new audience who don’t watch Death in Paradise, but you also want to make sure the Death in Paradise audience feel they’re watching something that’s familiar but different,” Key adds.
But with Death in Paradise sold to more than 230 territories around the world by distributor BBC Studios, there was also a compelling commercial case to capitalise on its winning formula. Executive producer and Red Planet joint-MD Alex Jones says international broadcasters regularly asked him if Red Planet could make more episodes, coincidentally at the same time as the creative team were exploring story ideas for a potential spin-off series.
“It felt like it was actually a bit of a no-brainer,” he says of the origins of Beyond Paradise. “It could have been seen as a very cynical thing, and we did ask ourselves, ‘Should we be doing this?’ We didn’t want to damage the mothership, but it was done with a huge amount of care and consideration.
“That is reflected in how it’s performed with the BBC audience and on [co-commissioner] BritBox. It was the biggest ever launch for a new show on BBC First, where it premiered in Australia. It’s worked, and if we can apply the same love, care and attention that goes into Death in Paradise to Beyond Paradise for as long as we have, then there’s no reason that should come to an end either.”
As with any two shows set in the same ‘universe,’ Beyond Paradise is not without a few nods to its older sibling. One example is composer Magnus Fiennes’ score, which echoes the Death in Paradise theme tune on a number of occasions, such as when Humphrey arrives at the police station for the first time in episode one.
Of course, the links are more obvious in the season finale, with Humphrey back in the sunshine of Saint Marie as he takes some time out to consider his future in Shipton Abbott.
“There was a lot of talk about the DNA of Death in Paradise, how we channel it and what the show needed to feel like a Death in Paradise show without just being a rip-off,” says Key, noting that Humphrey’s houseboat honours the “shack” in which he lived on Saint Marie.
“We also wanted an animal companion as a nod to the lizard in Death in Paradise. So the duck that came with the boat became a running joke that ended up being in the show,” he continues. “There are little things like that which are obviously homages and references to Death in Paradise.
“We want to believe that these things all take place in the same world that the potential is there for anyone to turn up in either of the shows and for it to make total sense, and not for the audience to go, ‘Whoa, hang on a minute.’ The longer the shows continue, the more fun we might be able to have with those kinds of treats.”
When it comes to successful shared universes, one need look no further than comic book publisher Marvel, which has successfully brought its Marvel Cinematic Universe to television with shows such as WandaVision, Loki, Moon Knight and Ms Marvel. Meanwhile, the Arrowverse on US network The CW has seen DC Comics superheroes such as Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl cross paths in each other’s series.
Key says he is “all for” story franchisation when those individual series are distinctive and doing something different. “Those Marvel shows all have their own thing going on, and I really like it,” he says. “I enjoy watching a darker version of this and a more cartoonish version of that, but I don’t like it when I feel like I have to have watched everything. These shows should exist in their own right, and then it’s a treat if you know the bigger world. With Death in Paradise, there’s no reason why we couldn’t create other versions of the show that do different things, but all sharing that tone and that spirit. It feels totally possible and fun to me.”
“Beyond Paradise has proven that,” adds Jones, “and that was very much a test for us. We’ll definitely be looking at ways to explore the ‘Para-verse’ but we are very cautious about how we do that. Just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should.”
That gamble has paid off, however, with Beyond Paradise recently being renewed for a second season and a Christmas special. Moreover, Death in Paradise will also be on air into 2025 after it was renewed for two more seasons and two Christmas specials.
Key and Jones are now keen to keep delivering the shows that have won legions of viewers around the world – a formula mixing personal drama and crime mysteries that they have honed on Death in Paradise as first Richard Poole (Ben Miller) and then Humphrey, Jack Mooney (Ardal O’Hanlon) and current incumbent Neville Parker (Ralf Little) became Saint Marie’s resident fish-out-of-water British detective working on the island.
“There are no radical plans,” Key says. “We’re going to keep delivering what we’ve delivered and mixing the formula up as much as we can. The challenge is always to make sure we always deliver what the audience expect, but we’re always trying to make sure it’s evolving.
“Episode one of season 13 [of Death in Paradise] is the 100th episode of the show, which is a real milestone and something we’re very proud of. It’s something that makes you want to just take a little step back, look at the show and make sure we’re doing everything we can do to keep it as relevant, funny, moving and surprising as possible.”