Ballarat keeps Doctor Blake alive as ABC kills off crime series

For the last five winters, vintage cars, old street signs and costumed extras have been a familiar site around the Victorian goldfields city of Ballarat.

Locals and tourists alike crane past barriers to get a glimpse of the filming forĀ ABC TV's The Doctor Blake Mysteries.

But not this year.

The soon-to-be-aired fifth season of the murder mystery drama will be the last after the ABC announced the cancellation of the show earlier in the year.

Set in Ballarat in the 1950s, The Doctor Blake Mysteries follow the travails of a country doctor and his housekeeper who are drawn in to solve crimes that often stump the local police.

The series has been shown in 130 countries, and some of the complaints about the show's axing have come from overseas.

A petition from fans trying to save the program has attracted more than 10,000 signatures so far.

No logic says star

Noel Dempsey, chief executive of tourism body Visit Ballarat, said he supported the production company in its efforts to continue the show.

"We love the program and everything it does for Ballarat," he said.

"No matter what the outcome, we're confident that Doctor Blake's legacy will provide long-term benefits for Ballarat."

Star of the show, Craig McLachlan, who plays police surgeon Dr Lucien Blake, said the decision to end the show was baffling.

"The biggest disappointment was trying to find the logic in it," he said.

"I'm not blowing smoke up the show's derriere when I say that when the numbers are crunched, it is the most popular global drama on Australian television.

"The decision didn't make sense. When you're on a good thing, stick to it.

"The current regime at the ABC, they had their reasons [but] I don't understand them and it's never been articulated to me what their thinking is."

McLachlan's co-star Nadine Garner, who plays Jean, Blake's housekeeper and love interest, said it was hard to fathom why the show was no longer valued by the ABC, particularly as it rated so highly.

"It is a work of art," she said.

"Every frame has to be sourced from somewhere, unlike a contemporary show where you can just point a camera and the background's okay.

"You have to consider that everything in that frame has to be circa 1959."

In a statement, ABC head of scripted production Sally Riley said Doctor Blake has had a sensational run on the ABC and the time was right to go out while it was still on top.

"We have a fantastic final season still to come and we look forward to wrapping the series up with a satisfying movie-length finale, as we bid farewell to an Australian TV icon," Ms Riley said.

Series creator George Adams said the tele-movie, to be broadcast later in the year, after the fifth series ended, would "provide answers to many of the remaining mysteries between Blake and Jean".

Doctor Blake's last stand

Although filming has ceased, the show is not over for Ballarat.

The city's Sovereign Hill theme park is holding an exhibition for the next few months, looking behind the camera at the show's sets and costumes.

It will also highlight local locations and events featured on screen, including Lake Wendouree, the Ballarat Art Gallery, the old Colonist's Club and the Begonia Festival.

The display also recreates Doctor Blake's living room and includes his 1937 'Blakemobile'.

At the exhibition's opening, Garner said it was a nice way to end five years of making television.

"It's really lovely to walk into the town of Ballarat and see the show celebrated and feted and revered," she said.

"It's a real sense of achievement that we've made something that resonates."

McLachlan said the whole city had embraced the cast and crew.

"I hope the people of Ballarat feel a sense of propriety over the show, because they've been so welcoming in allowing us to be here on the street, closing their streets off," he said.

"They've allowed Doctor Blake to be created in situ and to reflect the authenticity of this town."

The Doctor Blake's Ballarat exhibition will run until September 3 at Sovereign Hill's Gold Museum and an "official Doctor Blake Tour" is also being planned.