MASTERPIECE and Alibi UK announced today that while Season 5 of Miss Scarlet and The Duke is currently filming, the show is undergoing major changes. Stuart Martin is exiting the role of William “The Duke” Wellington and the show will be renamed to Miss Scarlet. GBH Drama writers Jackie and Amanda-Rae discuss what this means for the series and the fandom at large.

Amanda-Rae: I was definitely shocked reading the announcement this morning. It was the first email in my inbox.

Jackie: Whaaaat, what a way to start the day!

A: I know right, I worked a night shift for my Day Job so I was shocked out of my tiredness!

J: I will say, I wasn’t as surprised as I think I should be? At first, shocked, but then I thought back on the last season and it really does feel like they’ve been thinking about this for a while (which writer Rachael New and Stuart Martin discussed a bit in their latest MASTERPIECE Studio pod episode). The signs are there, I just missed them all! I’m honestly just relieved to have heard about this so soon; we often don’t hear renewal or departure news for quite some time.

A: I know Alibi UK just aired the episode where William officially leaves for New York which is probably why the news was not tied into the announcements MASTERPIECE made earlier this month at the US Television Critics Association. I’ve been a Doctor Who fan since 2007 (and I know some of y’all have been Whovians since before I was born), which has made me really resilient and also excited after the initial shock when actors leave and new ones come in. However, these changes hit differently for fans when they are attached to actors for romantic plot reasons versus the mystery/procedural series where it’s part of the structure for police and related personnel to move up the career ladder.

J: I think the major difference is that we’re just not as used to major characters departing some of the MASTERPIECE dramas. Obviously, we’ve seen priest turnover on Grantchester, but it’s nowhere near as common as a show like Call The Midwife, for example, where people are just leaving every couple of seasons. Also kinda of surprising (and TBH a relief) that Martin’s departure didn’t come by way of them killing the character off.

A: I’m also glad William wasn’t killed off. I’d argue Grantchester is a great example of male leads departing a MASTERPIECE series. James Norton left and now Tom Brittney is leaving too, both for the same reasons as now Stuart Martin is probably leaving: being offered roles in much bigger international productions. In fact, the first signs of a major shift in the series was last season when Ansu Kabia didn’t return as Moses. According to IMDB he’s going to be in Disney’s Snow White live-action film and the Amy Winehouse biopic coming up, which are definitely “too good to pass up” opportunities for a rising actor. It’s clear that MASTERPIECE series are often launchpads for actors to get noticed by the Big Fish in the industry. In that context, it’s less surprising to see that Stuart Martin is also in Netflix’s recent sci-fi film Rebel Moon and now he’s also leaving Miss Scarlet and The Duke to further his career.

J: It also seems like there’s some real character development reasons for this one, which I can respect. I’ll be honest (and we’ve talked about this before so it won’t be a surprise to you, Amanda-Rae): I’ve had major reservations about Duke as a romantic interest for Eliza for the entire run of the show. I think they have amazing chemistry, but it’s always felt to me like the two characters aren’t super compatible long-term. They both love their jobs, and they can’t both be in those jobs if they’re going to be together. Kind of a dealbreaker! So it was nice to see that the team behind the show also shared those concerns and wanted to give Eliza that runway to keep developing on her own.

A: I’ve also had reservations about William and Eliza being together for the long term. I understand why many romance fans were drawn into the will they-won’t they, but I also saw that Eliza’s own desire to beat the misogynist cops was always going to get in the way of a relationship with William. I completely understand why some fans feel like the show isn’t the same anymore.

J: Hot take: Arabella was right! Eliza’s motivation is to be the best at her job AND to prove everyone wrong. There isn’t a lot of space there for her to pursue a romance with someone she will always be trying to beat, and who benefits from the system that is her main impediment to success. But I also really feel for the fans who are watching for this romance. It sucks when your ship doesn’t work out on screen the way you’re hoping, especially when the literal name of the show suggests that your ship is endgame. I also get the folks who are fans of Duke specifically, because he’s been an interesting foil, and has had some real growth over the seasons.

A: I was fascinated by reading tweets from William fans who felt that Eliza was in the way of him being a successful detective. Those folks also have a strong overlap with the Endeavour fandom, who watch because they favor complex male leads, which means this show has brought a lot of different types of people together.

J: Man I love this fandom. It’s really cool to see folks coming to watch for such a wide variety of reasons. Personally I was drawn in by the weirdo Victorian era historical stuff; that was the hook that got me into it.

A: I think Miss Scarlet’s creative team did not expect a fan base that would pull out elements they believed were secondary and tertiary to the character plotlines as primary reasons for watching the series. Moses and the promise of complex BIPOC characters in a Victorian era mystery was my entryway.

J: I was so happy to see how many people got into the show, or stayed into the show, because of Moses. He’s such a great character! And we’ve seen some really unwelcoming, racist reactions from some parts of the drama fandom world over the last few years as more productions start featuring BIPOC characters and actors, so it was a real breath of fresh air. And something that the show has continued to do with secondary characters, like Clarence, even after Moses left. Hopefully we’ll see more BIPOC characters in season 5.

A: I know myself and fans felt that Season 4 was the weakest season due to Moses’ absence but it’s clear now that more episodes can mean that they can find new actors to step in.

J: 100%. I think one of the major strengths of this show is that they’re really willing to pivot and try new things; we’ve seen a LOT of new characters come and go over the years, as well as new big overarching challenges for Eliza and Co each season. So while I’m sad to see William leave, I think it’s somewhat consistent with the fluidity we’ve seen from the show so far.

A: I do hope that disappointment doesn’t turn into toxicity the way it has in other period drama fandoms when actors left. I’m thinking of Bridgerton Season 1 and also Sanditon specifically and some others where fans were very vocally harassing actors for deciding to leave a romantic male lead role. Fandoms don’t own actor’s lives offscreen; romantic wish fulfillment doesn’t pay the rent or mortgage!

J: YES. We’ve seen this before, and it was really hard to watch (and I’m sure much worse for the actors in question). It’s so easy to get really devoted to a show, and I also know how heartbreaking it is when something like this happens, but I really hope that folks can respect all of the human factors that go into decisions like this! I also think some of this comes from a really interesting place where in many of these cases the character who’s leaving has been very objectified by fandom. And look, I’m not going to say it’s wrong to have crushes on characters or actors, but it’s really unfortunate to treat people badly because they aren’t as readily available to objectify.

I’m curious to know what you’re most hoping to see in the next season? I personally would like Eliza to get a friend her own age again (another hole left by Moses’ departure). Also, we’re getting perilously close to the Ripper years in the timeline, which I’m not sure how I feel about.

A: Besides seeing more Londoners of color, I’m excited about seeing how Eliza rebuilds her relationship (or clashes more) with Scotland Yard. No matter what she does, the cops at the end of the day have the power to arrest people. It would also be cool for Eliza to have more female friends as well. I’m also excited to see Ivy, Fitzroy, Phelps, and possibly Nash returning. Nash wasn’t mentioned in the podcast, but you never know. It would also be interesting to see how much of the real cases from the era they pull into the show. I agree with you that there’s a real pitfall if they use Jack the Ripper directly because that has the potential to upend the show’s feminist origins as those stories, until very recently, have been steeped in misogynistic narratives.

J: I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens! Always a gift when a show gets renewed; hard to say goodbye to Duke, but really looking forward to Season 5!

A: Same here! Miss Scarlet is MASTERPIECE’s bridge between period drama, crime/procedurals, and the contemporary dramas that make up the whole.

Catch up on previous seasons of Miss Scarlet and The Duke while we wait for Season 5 here.