What’s The Show? Broadchurch
What’s It All About, JG? That nice David Tennant and Olivia Coleman off the telly get to have slow-moving crime adventures in a picturesque part of the West Country. There’s been a death in the village – the titular Broadchurch – and lots of famous or soon-to-be-famous character actors are in the frame for it, many of whom fans of Doctor Who will instantly recognise (putting Tennant and Coleman aside, there’s David Bradley, Eve Myles and Arthur Darvill, and naturally we now have to add Jodie Whittaker to that list, as well as the fact that Broadchurch’s creator, Chris Chibnall, is Doctor Who‘s latest showrunner). This means lots of tension, just about every inhabitant of the village having some possible motive and/or secret, and it all leads to a big reveal in the final episode of the first season. Can you guess who did it? (hint: no)
Why Did You Give It A Go? Beyond “because I’m a Doctor Who obsessive”? Aside from the Doctor Who connections, I genuinely like Tennant and Coleman as actors, and the show very quickly gained a reputation as the best thing ITV had broadcast in donkey’s years. It seems like it was worth a punt.
Is It Any Good? Broadly (heh) yes. It’s first season in particular is extremely easy to like. The whodunnit aspect of the show, as in “who was responsible for the death of Danny”, is mostly used as an excuse to explore the lives and personalities of the village residents rather than constructing the mystery of who killed him in a more traditionally Agatha Christie-esque way. That’s a little frustrating for some, but it gives Broadchurch a slightly different angle to most contemporary whodunnits, and it leans in to this in largely very successful ways. The eventual reveal of the killer mostly makes sense – ish, perhaps – but in getting there a bunch of very good actors get to emote against some stunning English scenery while David Tennant mopes about in a beard looking serious. Bradley, in particular, is worthy of praise for portraying someone caught up in what amounts to a witch-hunt, and Whittaker, as Danny’s mum, does a great job of portraying what could be a completely stock part.
And special mention must go to former sitcom star Pauline Quirke who is positively revelatory in a role that very much casts her against type, to great effect. The show’s pacing is slow but there’s a deliberateness and intentionality to it that works very successfully both in terms of the plot and the character reveals, and everything is atmospherically shot and engrossing. The second season is noticeably weaker – not bad, but it strikes a lot of the same notes as the first season, to little additional benefit (stringing out the investment in Danny’s death and his killer is logical from a credibility perspective but it rapidly becomes wearisome, and if you’ve seen one TV courtroom drama you’ve seen ’em all). Season Three is markedly better – tellingly, the Danny storyline is reduced to about the sixth or seventh sub-plot – revolving around the rape of a local woman, and the show reaches a satisfying conclusion that feels well connected to the successes of the first season.
How Many Episodes Did You Watch? All three seasons. Even in the weaker moments of Season Two the show remains very watchable, anchored by Tennant and Cole’s terrific performances. They make a great double-act, and one of the great pleasures of the third season is that the two of them get to spend much more screen-time together, and clearly have a great time doing so. That core relationship carries the show through it’s odd dip, but honestly it’s never less that watchable even if the plotting goes a bit wonky here and there.
Would You Recommend It? If you’re a fan of well-known actors doing great things among nice scenery, characters that actually feel like people rather than typical TV stock archetypes, and thoughtful investigation over action, then unreservedly. This is a well constructed show that bothers to take time to delve into the little nooks and crannies of people and how they interact rather than rushing towards pat solutions or relying on cliché. It’s also a show that favours character over plot, and if you go in looking for a meticulously constructed Christie whodunnit you’re not going to get what you’re after, and the emotional investment in the characters is what drives the heart of the show rather than it being a puzzle-box to unlock. Yes, the plotting could be a bit tidier in places, but this is light years away from the usual shuffle-the-deck-of-cards murder mysteries – neither cookie-cutter ITV fodder nor Scandi Noir knockoff (while clearly owing a debt to both genres), Broadchurch is it’s own thing and thoroughly worth watching.
Scores On The Doors? 8.5/10