The biggest surprise at the conclusion of the first series of Broadchurch had been the appearance of the caption after the end titles boldly declaring that “Broadchurch will return”. Why such a surprise? The eight-part story surrounding the death of young Danny Latimer in a small south west coastal resort town had been such a perfect gem of a production that you couldn’t help but wonder just what on earth they could possibly do to extend the show that wouldn’t also end up wrecking the reputaion of the original in the process.
It was with this trepidation in mind that eighteen months later I sat down to watch the first episode of the second season – and happily, any fears or concerns that I had about whether Broadchurch could possibly return as strong as it went out were pretty much swept aside in the first ten minutes. In a ghostly echo of the way that the first series had kicked off, it opened with an overview of our sprawling main cast of characters as they started to converge on one particular destination in town. But there were no cheery nods and waved greetings this time; it was a far more sombre affair as they all headed to the local court to see the murderer of Danny Latimer formally enter his plea. Once this was done then everyone would be able to start to move on, recover and heal from the vicious wounds inflicted on the community by the original killing and the investigation that had followed.
The way the moment was built up, you just knew there was a sting coming. It wasn’t very hard to see what it had to be, either. But even so, the moment when it actually came was still enough to make you gasp and it actually felt like you’d been slapped round the face without warning. Any show that can achieve something of that impact before the first commercial break clearly knows what it’s doing, and there was no question that the showrunner and series creator Chris Chibnall was in assured form as he set about following the implications as they rippled through the community.
There’s certainly a risk to taking this approach if Chibnall were now to try to unpick the solution to the original murder case as presented at the climax of the first series. People won’t take well if he tries to rewrite that ending, especially since what happened had been presented to us back then in the form of an unimpeachable God’s eye view that surely can’t be undone. But even at the time I remember thinking that some of the police handling of the case, especially after the revelation of the murderer’s identity and his arrest, had been was very sloppy and put them in a precarious legal position come trial time. It means that Chibnall doesn’t have to change anything about the factual identity of the killer to get a huge amount of drama over what is now legally provable several months down the line.
To be honest I would have been happy if the show had just followed through on that one theme alone, but Chibnall clearly feels it’s necessary to reassure viewers that there will be another murder-mystery whodunnit on hand to hold our attentions again this year. The shallow way of doing this would have been for another murder in town but then you risk coming up with Midsomer Broadchurch where corpses are dropping out of trees every 20 yards and it all becomes very silly, very quickly. But Chibnall had already hidden the foundation of the next case for detectives Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller in plain sight in the first season: the Sandbrook investigation, the murder case that had pretty much destroyed Hardy’s previous big city career and which had led him to take up the backwater posting in Broadchurch in the first place.
For my taste, we learned far too much about Sandbrook far too quickly in episode one of series 2. Whereas the details had been mysterious and unspoken in the first run, this time they tumbled out of the closet and were data dumped on us quicker than was really comfortable. The show also introduced one of the biggest retrospective contrivances that you can imagine with the revelation that all through the first series Hardy had been hiding a key figure in the Sandbrook case in what is his own personal version of an unofficial witness protection programme. Chibnall somehow just about gets away with this without breaking credibility altogether, but it is a close-run thing and as a result he’s probably now used all the get-out-of-jail-free cards he’s permitted for this run.
This is all necessary construction work on which to base the new series, and it was therefore possible to accept it on this basis in the hope and expectation that now Chibnall has got all the required building blocks and new characters (which include international movie stars Charlotte Rampling and Marianne Jean-Baptiste joining the cast as duelling barristers with a mysterious shared past) he’ll be able to calm down and resume the masterly pace that he used to such outstanding effect in the first series and for the initial ten minutes of this season’s première. In particular I hope that it will include more of a focus on some of our existing favourite characters such as Mark and Beth Latimer (Andrew Buchan and Jodie Whittaker) who felt a little sidelined in this outing. It was noticeable that all the significant close-ups leading into commercial breaks conspicuously tended to land squarely on David Tennant’s shoulders as DCI Hardy.
(By the way, you may remember that Broadchurch always had strong Doctor Who/Torchwood credentials from the very start, what with former Time Lord Tennant and companion Arthur Darvill in the cast along with Chibnall who had been a key writer for both series in the past; even co-lead Olivia Colman had been a recent significant guest star in Doctor Who during Matt Smith’s first outing in the role in “The Eleventh Hour”. The first series had also boasted David Bradley in a key role in between his appearances as a Doctor Who villain in “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” and his stunning turn playing first Doctor actor William Hartnell in An Adventure in Space and Time, and there had been a small cameo for classic Who guest star Simon Rouse as a newspaper editor. Bradley’s not in series 2 – he’s decamped to the US to star in Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain, ironically taking over a role originally intended for newly beknighted War Doctor actor John Hurt – but the new series keeps up its Whovian credentials by adding Torchwood star Eve Miles to the cast as the Sandbrook witness Claire Ripley, while the lack of Rouse this time is more than covered by a cameo from the ever-wonderful Adjoa Andoh who played Martha Jones’ mum Francine in Doctor Who. Oh, and one of the original cast from Broadchurch has used the hiatus to upgrade and obtain bona fide Who credentials of his very own, with Jonathan Bailey – obnoxious local journalist Ollie – having appeared as Psi in “Time Heist” opposite Peter Capaldi in the meantime. It’s a small world!)
Last time around I made the mistake of criticising Chibnall for apparent oversights during the course of series 1 only for him to promptly pull the rug out from under my feet an episode later that totally showed me who was boss and just how good he was as both as a writer and as a showsmith. Although there were rough edges in the first episode of 2015 as required by the pressing need to do a subtle but significant reboot of the show in order to allow it to sustain itself for a new set of eight episodes, there was certainly nothing on display here that shook my confidence in him or left me in any doubt that he and the show’s flawless cast and equally flawless director James Strong are heading anywhere other than the same level of success as they achieved in 2013. I’m certainly strapped in with a firm booking for Monday nights for the next two months, and anyone who isn’t is just plain being silly.
Broadchurch currently airs on Monday nights at 9pm. Series 2 will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on March 23 2015.