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The series ran as hour-long episodes from 1989 to 1993, with sets of feature-length specials running in 1994, 1995, 2000-1, 2003-4, 2005-6, 2008-9, and 2010. The final set of stories is to be filmed and released in 2012, just missing David Suchet's original intention to do all of them before his 65th birthday in May 2011. As of November 2011, there are five stories left to film - four novels and a short story collection.
David Suchet portrays the titular Belgian detective, and his performance is generally regarded as the definitive version.
The adaptations have a long Start to Corpse time, sometimes up to half an hour. This is consistent with the original works: Agatha Christie herself rarely began her books or stories with the discovery of a body, and we frequently meet the victims while they are still alive.
The series provides examples of:
- Adaptational Attractiveness: Miss Lemon was described in the books as "ugly" and "hideous." Though not a supermodel, the Miss Lemon of the adaptation was certainly fairly easy on the eyes.
- Adaptation Expansion: The short stories were often fluffed out in the series with additional context. "Yellow Iris", for example, was connected to shady dealings with Argentine military officers aiming for a coup. It provides the the killer's motive in both the original death and the attempted one--he didn't want it to be known that he'd spent his ward's bank account in those dealings, or that they were lost forever when the coup was undone.
- Adaptational Angst Upgrade: In the original novel and most adaptations of the Murder on the Orient Express, Hercule rather cavalierly lets the murderers go free, but in the series version this is shown as a difficult choice for him to make due to his Catholic beliefs.
- The first ten minutes or so of this particular adaptation come across as a Trauma Conga Line; first, the case in Palestine mentioned in the novel is revealed to Poirot giving one heck of a "The Reason You Suck" Speech to a British Army officer that it makes him shoot himself rather than stand trial. Then Poirot and some other characters witness the public stoning of an adultress on the streets of Istanbul.
- Adaptation Decay: In-Universe Ariadne Oliver's detective character undergoes many changes in the process of being adapted to the stage in Mrs McGinty's Dead.
- Always Murder
- Not always. During the first five seasons, there are several instances where the case is something that's been stolen--everything from a royal ruby to plans for a new bomber plane. There are also two kidnappings, The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly and The Kidnapped Prime Minister, as well as one murder that turned out to be a cleverly concealed suicide and another that turned out to be a genuine accident (Unnamed to not reveal spoilers).
- Asshole Victim: The Miss Springer in Cat Among the Pigeons; Mrs. Clapperton in Problem at Sea; Harrington Pace in The Mystery of Hunter's Lodge; Simeon Lee in Hercule Poirot's Christmas; Ratchett in Murder On The Orient Express; Lord Edgware of Lord Edgware Dies; Lady Boynton in Appointment with Death.
- Author Avatar: Ariadne Oliver, whose detective, Sven, is a sort of Expy Poirot himself - of course, it's all very much an Affectionate Parody.
- Boarding School: Meadowbank, the elite girl's school in Cat Among the Pigeons.
- Call Forward: At the end of The Blue Train, one of the characters remarks that she's planning to travel on the Orient Express, and inquires whether Poirot has. Poirot replies that he hasn't yet, but must get around to it one day. Of course, we all know what'll happen when he does...
- Catch Phrase: Poirot's "little gray cells."
- And let's not forget Hastings' constant exclamations of "Good Lord!" and "I say!", to the point where it became a game with the writers to see how many times they could make him say them per episode.
- Celibate Hero: Explained in Double Clue:
Captain Hastings: [referring to marriage] You ever thought about it?
- Cerebus Syndrome: After season IX (filmed 2003-2004), the series became what many fans described as "more dark"; in particular, Japp, Miss Lemon and Hastings, who often were used for comic relief in previous installments, no longer were present in the episodes. Options are divided on whether it was a good, bad, or mixed development.
- Chase Scene: Not a rare occurrence in pre-2003 scripts.
- Clear Their Name: A task which Poirot often has to do, notably Sad Cypress and Mrs Mс Gintу's Dead.
- Composite Character: Bella Duveen in Murder on the Links. In the book original, she corresponds to two twin sisters.
- Connect the Deaths: Cat Among the Pigeons, The ABC Murders.
- Dating Catwoman: Toyed with in Double Clue and again Murder in Mesopotamia in a case of Adaptation Expansion on the part of the writers. Turns out she just wanted Poirot to pay her hotel bill.
- Dead Man's Chest: The Adventure of the Clapham Cook
- Disconnected by Death
- Everyone Is a Suspect: About half the cast generally has a motive for murder.
- Everybody Did It: The former Trope Namer itself, Murder On the Orient Express.
- Exotic Detective: Poirot.
- Gayngst: Later adaptations (for example, Five Little Pigs, Halloween Party) occasionally add quite angsty storylines about gay characters (that weren't necessarily gay in the original). Since Britain of the 30's wasn't a gay-friendly place by all means, the "angst" part is justified.
- Genteel Interbellum Setting: Even more rigidly enforced then in the book canon, with plots originally set post-WWII, like Taken at the Flood, being moved back in time.
- Idiot Ball: Captain Hastings manages to carry one at least once per episode.
- Inspector Lestrade: Inspector Japp.
- The Mole: The Clocks revolves around Poirot trying to determine which of the weirdo denizens of Wilbraham Crescent is, in actuality, a Nazi spy.
- Obfuscating Disability: Double Sin short episode.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Poirot frequently plays the dotty old man to disarm suspects, making them more vulnerable to his questioning. He also uses his accent to this purpose, as he explains in Three-Act Tragedy:
"It is true that I can speak the exact, the idiomatic English. But, my friend, to speak the broken English is an enormous asset. It leads people to despise you. They say - a foreigner - he can't even speak English properly. It is not my policy to terrify people - instead, I invite their gentle ridicule. Also I boast! An Englishman he says often, 'A fellow who thinks as much of himself as that cannot be worth much.' That is the English point of view. It is not at all true. And so, you see, I put people off their guard."
- Orgy of Evidence: Muder on the Orient Express
- Poirot Speak: Poirot, obviously. (Though this is actually something of a subversion — see Obfuscating Stupidity)
- Promotion to Opening Titles: Captain Hastings and Inspector Japp only appear in a few of the original Poirot stories, but feature in the majority of the pre-season IX episodes anyway.
- Red Herring: Agatha Christie made liberal use of this trope.
- Setting Update: Inverted with some stories to avoid the books' use of Comic Book Time--all Poirot's cases are set in the period from World War One to World War Two. This can result in some strangeness, however, such as Third Girl, which was written in The Sixties and uses so many contemporary themes that the book comes off as an Unintentional Period Piece, being re-set in The Thirties.
- Spared by the Adaptation: David Baker in Third Girl, mostly by being melded with the character who is Norma's love interest in the original book. Many other plot points were changed as well.
- The Summation: Just about every episode concludes with one of these.
- To Be Lawful or Good: Poirot at the conclusion of Murder On the Orient Express. At first, he refuses to compromise his principles by allowing the killers to go unpunished. To which their only response is, We tried it your way. The law failed us. With the weight of the entire Armstrong family on his shoulders, Poirot ultimately walks right past the police, letting the perpetrators off the hook.
- The Watson: Captain Hastings.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: One of the suspects in The Clocks, a blind geriatric named Miss Pebmarsh, lived through World War One and was rightly traumatized by the young lives lost in the war. She conspires with the Nazis under a misguided belief that committing treason is preferable to a second war with Germany.