Murdoch Mysteries: Paul Aitken breaks down “8 Footsteps”

Spoiler alert! Do not read unless you have already watched Monday’s newest episode, “8 Footsteps.”

After 11 seasons on the air, Murdoch Mysteries is still coming up with unique settings for murder. Monday’s newest episode, “8 Footsteps,” involved a particularly interesting one: a pitch-black room. Under suspicion? None other than Helen Keller (played by Amanda Richer), guest of honour at the dinner hosted by Alexander Graham Bell. We’ve seen John Tench in the role of Bell before, but never Keller, the deaf and blind American author, lecturer and political activist.

We spoke to longtime Murdoch producer Paul Aitken, who wrote the episode, about how the storyline came about, what’s happening to the morgue now that Rebecca has left and romance for Henry Higgins!

You had a lot of characters to juggle in this episode, including Alexander Graham Bell, Helen Keller, Ralph Fellows and Ruth Newsome. Did so many guests present a challenge for you?
Paul Aitken: We knew we were going to do a Helen Keller episode and that brings with it certain ideas naturally. She’s deaf and blind and that meant the plot had to turn on that. It had to turn on sound, from our perspective, because we decided to do a blind banquet. Alexander Graham Bell fits in because he was an advocate for the deaf and his wife was deaf and he seemed like a natural to include. And we like him. Of course, you bring back his various inventions, in this case, his version of the graphizer and stereoscopics.

As for Ruth Newsome [Siobhan Murphy], I think she’s great. I love Ruth Newsome as a character and the actress who plays her just drops into that role. It’s quite remarkable to see because if you talk to her, she’s a normal person, but she’s a spot-on Ruth Newsome. And we just devised a way for her to fit and we wanted this to be the episode where Higgins and her would get together. So, at the very end, we wanted Henry Higgins to win the day. Score one for Henry Higgins!

Having Henry bend Ruth back to kiss her was fantastic.
It’s my favourite scene in the episode.

Amanda Richer plays Helen Keller, and she is really deaf. Was it important to have a deaf actress play that role?
I had no prior perception of who should play the role. I thought it would be helpful to have someone who was deaf because they would have an understanding of how to articulate as someone who was deaf. Helen Keller spoke, but she didn’t speak well, and we had to find someone who would find the performance as well as to see that the deaf person didn’t speak well when she spoke. I thought Amanda nailed it.

As a television writer, were there any particular challenges to writing for a character who is deaf and blind?
I needed to get the emotion out. I didn’t want Helen Keller to speak perfectly normally. I wanted it to be difficult to understand, so I didn’t put too many words in her mouth, which is why I had Alexander Graham Bell translate. But when I wanted to punctuate the moment, I had Helen Keller herself speak. Writing for a deaf person is like writing for anyone, but I guess the challenge with that is how do you use the fact that she’s deaf and blind to change the plot? How do I work Helen Keller into the plot in a way that she isn’t just someone who is sitting there while stuff is happening around her? She might not solve the crime but she’s instrumental in solving the crime. That was a challenge, and that’s the fun of writing for this show; finding a way to make things work.

Colin Mochrie was hilarious as Ralph Fellows, hotel detective.
Yeah, it was fun. He’s this hotel detective who wants to be more. [Laughs.] He didn’t max his potential and it bothers him.

Rebecca James left Toronto in the last episode; how long will it be until a replacement is found?
I believe that happens in the next episode and plays out from there. There is a woman that is introduced and it takes a couple of episodes until she actually finds herself in the morgue.

Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.