Murdoch Mysteries: Both shows follow the exploits of a team of crime-solvers. But, as its title implies, Murdoch Mysteries is chiefly focused on one detective: William Murdoch. A strapping, square-jawed hero with the soul of an eccentric geek, he's a charismatic presence who dominates proceedings and drives the cases forward. Yes, Dr Julia Ogden is also a big player, but it's Murdoch who steals every scene. Not that we mind, because he's just so darn charming.
The Pinkertons: In contrast to Murdoch Mysteries, The Pinkertons shares out the hero duties between three people: agency boss Allan Pinkerton, his son Will Pinkerton, and top agent Kate Warne. While Allan isn't always present thanks to his various entanglements elsewhere, he's still a powerful presence who can swoop in at any moment to show the others how it's done (and give Will a stern telling off). When he's not around, Kate and Will are 50/50 protagonists, and make a great duo.
Murdoch Mysteries: Set in 1890s Toronto, Murdoch Mysteries has the sleek, cosmopolitan, dynamic air you'd expect from its setting. This is a world of gala balls, swanky restaurants, science experiments, and general excitement about the new century on the horizon. Many of the cases are bound up in all of this - one involved a corpse found in the jaws of a major dinosaur exhibit, while another saw a woman electrocuted while demonstrating a new kind of electrical system. It's a setting perfectly suited to William Murdoch, a man ahead of his time.
The Pinkertons: It takes place a few decades earlier in the 19th Century, but that's not the only reason The Pinkertons feels so far removed from Murdoch Mysteries. The latter is essentially urban, while The Pinkertons is set in the sticks and has a rugged, frontier atmosphere. It's a place of hard drinking outdoorsmen, gun-toting sheriffs and grizzled Civil War veterans, and the only person with any interest in science, technology and the modern world is Kate Warne.
Murdoch Mysteries: Early forensics is a [major theme of both shows, although Murdoch Mysteries takes things much further with gadgets and gizmos, from a portable UV light device to makeshift sonars and lie detectors. There are also many nods to the 21st Century - an episode called "Murdoch.com" features a killer stalking women using the telegraph lines, and there's even a moment where Murdoch predicts the popularity of crime dramas ("Perhaps someday, everybody will be as fascinated with pathologists and police detectives").
The Pinkertons: While science is a big part of The Pinkertons, it keeps things far more grounded. Instead of Victorian versions of 20th Century devices, Kate Warne relies on humble test tubes and swabs to find evidence the local police always miss. While Murdoch Mysteries skirts close to sci-fi and gives us many a nudge and a wink about the future of technology, The Pinkertons plays it straight, showing the first tentative steps towards the discipline which will one day be known as forensics.
Murdoch Mysteries: It may be a police drama, but Murdoch Mysteries doesn't beat about the bush when it comes to its central love story. It's clear that William Murdoch and Julia Ogden are into each other, and over the course of the show they flirt, back away, flirt some more, succumb to passion, and generally have us on tenterhooks wondering if they'll hurry up and get married or if something will thwart their love. Bottom line: this is a major romance, and we're never in any doubt about that.
The Pinkertons: Will Pinkerton and Kate Warne: will they or won't they? Usually that question implies there's an unspoken mutual attraction, but in their case we really can't tell. They certainly look good together, and their fond bickering could possibly pass for flirtation. But it's all very subtle and downplayed. And even if something does happen, it's likely stay in the background - The Pinkertons is far more about the cases than the characters' personal lives.