A word of salute to third series of BBC2’s police-procedural drama series Line Of Duty – first created and written by Jed Mercurio in 2012 – which finished on Thursday evening with an epic 90-minute episode. Having recorded the entire series, I watched said finale for the second time in two days last night without any difficulty at all – in fact (as you do) finding it even more compelling because of the inevitable little touches and details that I had missed the first time around.
Well-crafted police procedural dramas have long been a familiar genre albeit that I personally don’t watch a great many of them. As proof of this, although I came to the Nordic Noir Danish-produced The Killing late in series 1 and then becoming totally hooked, I have never set eyes upon others in a similar vein such as The Bridge and Borgen.
It may therefore be unsurprising that the first series of Line Of Duty completely passed me by even though – as Wikipedia informs me – it was BBC2’s best performing drama series in a decade, boasting a consolidated audience of 4.1 million viewers. I first saw Line Of Duty when it returned in 2014 for series 2 – absolutely brilliant – and was effectively stalking series 3 (with series 4 announced but still to come) from the moment they were launched later that summer.
What sets Line of Duty apart from the pack is that, for all its artifice and ‘wouldn’t happen in real life’ inconsistencies, Mercurio’s blend of the detailed minutae of police procedure, superbly-believable sympathetic but flawed characters, plot twists, apparent authenticity (including references to other ‘publicly-known’ situations) and – above all – his gritty, tight, realistic, matter-of-fact, everyday-style dialogue, sets an exceptional and demanding standard.
Where the project scores heavily is that from top to bottom its production values match Mercurio’s own – and here I would like to name-check executive producers Stephen Wright (BBC) and Simon Heath (World Productions); producer Peter Norris; directors David Caffrey, Doulgas Mackinnon, David Nettheim, Michael Keillor and John Strickland; and the lead actors – Martin Compston as Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott, Vicky McClure as Detective Constable Kate Fleming, Adrian Dunbar as Superintendent Ted Hastings, Craig Parkinson as Detective Inspector Matthew ‘Dot’ Cottan and Keeley Hawes as Detective Inspector Lindsay Denton.
The two things that most impressed me most about series 3 was its consistent quality and the manner in which the lead characters keep developing, not just from series to series but often – as in this latest one – from episode to episode. The more we see of them – whether they be ‘goodies’ or ‘baddies’ or begin seemingly as one and then switch to the other and the sometimes back again, or even sometimes become a bit of both – the more we want to keep watching in order to find out what happens to them.
What series 3 also did brilliantly was to keep the audience guessing, ably assisted by whomever in the BBC or elsewhere organised the advance publicity – or indeed lack of it. To have managed to keep some of the most shocking developments out of the press and social media was a triumph and must have required enormous degrees of security from the moment the scripts first arrived.
I promised myself before beginning this piece that I would mention no spoilers or plot-giveaways, but I will now break that imposition simply to make my point.
Series 3’s first episode featured a bravura performance by actor Daniel Mays as Sergeant Danny Waldron [more of whom in a moment].
Before the series began transmission all the talk and rumour in the press and social media had about the return, or indeed not, of Detective Inspector Lindsay Denton (played by Keeley Hawes). A blunt ‘no comment’ was put out by all and sundry connected with Line Of Duty, including Hawes herself, who by now was in the strange position of doing radio and television publicity for projects in which she had taken part since the filming of series 2 and 3.
Meanwhile the highly-regarded Daniel Mays was sent out to be ‘face’ of the advance publicity for series 3 of Line Of Duty: in this guise I saw him do an impressive appearance on BBC1’s The One Show in which he deftly skirted around the Lindsay Denton issues and majored on how his character Danny Waldron would be introduced in episode 1 of the new series.
Not long afterwards the series transmission began. Danny Waldron (Daniel Mays) certainly hit the ground running in an all-action opening. The domineering leader of an elite firearms unit ordered to detain a key suspect, he orders a risky ‘hard stop’ of the latter’s getaway car, chases the suspect onto a housing estate ahead of his unit and then – when the confronted suspect lays his hand gun down as ordered – proceeds to deliberately shoot him dead. When his colleagues arrive on the scene, he forces them to adopt an implausible version of events in which the deceased man fired first and was then shot to prevent loss of life, which involves them also firing their own guns at the scene.
The rest of the episode details how each member of the unit reacts differently to their enforced ‘collusion’ and Waldron himself is subsequently grilled at length by the anti-corruption A12 team. He appears to be a near-psychopath and so one of the A12 team is attached to his unit as an undercover officer to find out more.
Later, as the episode draws to a conclusion, said unit (now including the undercover officer) attends another ‘rapid response’ incident. Waldron orders her to mount guard at the bottom of the stairs in the suspect’s house as he and the others charge upstairs. A short while later, she hears a shot ring out upstairs and rushes upstairs herself, to find Waldron bleeding profusely from a gun-wound to the head, presumably fired by one of his own unit.
And so episode 1 ends.
Episode 2 then opens with Waldron dying in the ambulance …
And that’s the end of him – and indeed Daniel Mays whose acting in the first episode had been outstanding, forceful and [all the viewers including yours truly had imagined] about to become a feature of the entire series to follow.
Put me down for Series 4 now – that’s all I need to add.