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New century, new network, new season for historical drama 'Murdoch Mysteries'

TORONTO – The dawn of a new century brings fresh turmoil for Canada’s steampunk detective and his longtime love on “Murdoch Mysteries.” A new season sees the beleaguered William Murdoch encountering astonishing feats in aviation, intrigue at a nudist community and a troubled Winston Churchill.

Last season wrapped with Murdoch and Dr. Julia Ogden finally expressing their love for each other. But with Julia still married, there are big hurdles to overcome in the couple’s long-running pursuit of romantic bliss, notes actress Helene Joy.

“Again, we’re up against some hardship and it may be hard for us to get together,” Joy notes wryly of the will-they-or-won’t-they saga.

“Yeah, the universe wants it to be tough for William and Julia,” sighs star Yannick Bisson, nevertheless hinting that there will be a payoff — eventually.

“We’re hanging in there and I think fans should, too. It’s going to be a great year.”

For one thing, Julia is no longer the coroner, says Joy.

After gleaning revolutionary insights from one of history’s great minds, the already brilliant Julia becomes even more astute at crime-solving and begins to work alongside Murdoch as a criminal profiler.

“I went to study with (Sigmund) Freud and now I know everything,” Joy jokes.

“And so I’m breaking new ground in the areas of psychoanalysis and the beginnings of psychology in the world of detective (work).”

That’s among several new-fangled ideas that unfold as the historical crime drama enters the 20th century, with the season 6 debut featuring an impressive flying machine that rivals the more famous one developed by the Wright brothers.

And it wouldn’t be “Murdoch Mysteries” without some famous historical cameos.

This time, Murdoch is called upon to clear the name of a young Winston Churchill, played here by Thomas Howes, who was the doomed footman-turned-soldier William on “Downton Abbey.” Meanwhile, mystery writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle turns up when his supposedly fictional creation, detective Sherlock Holmes, is entangled in a violent robbery.

Season 6 marks the first batch of episodes produced for the CBC following the show’s sometimes erratic Citytv run.

“It’s a huge payoff to finally get a great timeslot, national penetration and a lot of media exposure that we didn’t get before,” says Bisson, whose show will faceoff Monday against ratings grabbers “The Bachelor” on ABC and “2 Broke Girls” on CBS and Citytv.

Bisson praised the public broadcaster for making the show feel welcomed and championed.

“Morale’s been great, feeling wanted, feeling like we know where we are, what’s expected of us,” he says.

He notes the CBC expanded the show’s outdoor sets, allowing for easier access to bricklined scenes that otherwise would have required location shoots.

“I know (from) directing that it’s given us a lot of flexibility in terms of how we shoot the show and how we’re able to incorporate some outdoor stuff on days that were meant to be inside,” says Bisson, who takes the director’s chair this season for an episode titled “Cloud of Doom.”

Joy says she was pleasantly surprised by solid ratings for season 5 repeats that kicked off the show’s run on the CBC, but notes they were first-time airings for a large swath of the country without Citytv stations.

“It was kind of amazing that it was consistent numbers from (who)was watching before and then improved,” she says.

“So it’s either the same people watching all over again or a whole bunch of new people, or a mix of those. We’ll certainly find out when we move into season 6.”

The new season of “Murdoch Mysteries” debuts Monday on CBC-TV.