To an outsider, Murdoch Mysteries is a strange cultural phenomenon. I’ve never seen an episode of the show nor do I know anyone who watches it, but it keeps cropping up in conversations in ways that make it abundantly clear that it has a loyal and dedicated following. I’m not one to dismiss the appeal of a good police procedural, so I’m glad that other people enjoy Murdoch Mysteries even though I’ve never had much interest in the show myself.
However, I do have a better appreciation for the show now that I’ve had the chance to experience it first hand. I was immersed in the world of Murdoch Mysteries thanks to The Secret of Station House No. 4, the first in the Murdoch Mysteries Escape Series that opens today in Toronto. Presented by Shaftesbury Films and designed by Secret City Adventures (the company responsible for the Casa Loma Escape Series), The Secret of Station House No. 4 takes place in the historic George Brown House and it makes the most of the locale. The Victorian trappings provide a perfect setting for Murdoch Mysteries’ particular brand of old-timey Canadian pulp.
Beyond that, The Secret of Station House No. 4 has everything you’d expect from a traditional Escape Room. You have to rifle through cabinets and desk drawers to find artifacts that correspond to puzzles scattered about the room. The room has enough material to keep twelve people occupied for the full hour, which flew by in the way that time always seems to fly by when you’re on a deadline (I couldn’t tell you a damn thing about half of the puzzles simply because I was busy solving the other half). The puzzles are well designed, and while there are a few Easter Eggs, you don’t need to be familiar with Murdoch Mysteries in order to contribute.
When the show does creep into the room, it does so in the margins. The room itself is Station House No. 4, and serves as William Murdoch’s base of operations. The only problem is that William Murdoch isn’t anywhere to be found. A serial killer has captured the detective and imprisoned him somewhere in Toronto, and you have one hour to uncover the secret location. Though the killer has in turn been captured (he’s tied up in a prison cell when you first enter the room), he refuses to talk, so you have to help the Constable piece together the mystery using clues left over from the killer’s crime spree.
The plot is a little more benign than the average Escape Room – you’re not trapped or in danger, you’re simply racing against the clock to save someone else – but that also makes The Secret of Station House No. 4 a good Escape Room for beginners. The Constable is in the room throughout the evening, and provides hints if someone seems to be struggling with a puzzle. Escape Room purists may scoff at the assist, but the actor plays the part well. The hints are shared only when it seems as if the players are truly stuck and are always vague enough that it still feels rewarding when you finally crack the answer.
In any case, it would muck up the show’s continuity if Murdoch died because you failed to discover his location, so a positive outcome is probably for the best. Unlike other Escape Rooms, which can range from difficult to unfair, Secret City Adventures wants people to solve The Secret of Station House No. 4. The designers don’t make it too easy – even with the tips, we solved the mystery with less than a minute to spare – but an Escape Room weighted towards the players feels appropriate when that Escape Room is based on Murdoch Mysteries. As with any great detective, Murdoch’s fans want to see him solve the crime. The Secret of Station House No. 4 gives them a chance to participate in one of those cases, and the thrill of success is an essential part of the appeal.
With that in mind, I’d argue that it’s important for a branded Escape Room to remain true to the original property. The Secret of Station House No. 4 is a fine example of that in practice, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more officially licensed Escape Rooms that follow a similar fan-friendly template. The Secret of Station House No. 4 will delight longtime fans of Murdoch Mysteries without alienating any friends and family members that were dragged along for moral support, and that makes it a thrilling way to spend an evening in Toronto.
The Secret of Station House No. 4 takes place at the George Brown House (186 Beverley Street) in Toronto. Games run from Thursday to Sunday. Tickets can be purchased at secretcityadventures.com.