Nancy J. Cohen

Are you watching the British crime drama, Broadchurch, on BBC Wednesday nights? It’s a limited episode series that started last week, so you’re not missing much if you pop in tonight. As a mystery writer, I can’t help analyzing the story structure.

Episode one presents the scene of the crime. A young boy is found murdered on the beach. The time and method of death are established. We meet his family, some of whom are keeping secrets. The boy may have been killed between 10:00 pm and 2:00 am last night. Where was the father? Supposedly out on an emergency plumbing call. Oh, really? How lame is that alibi?

Yet not once does the lead detective suggest verifying the plumbing job. This handsome bloke, by the way, is David Tennant of Dr. Who fame. I like him with his scruffy beard. But someone needs to clue him in on finding the facts. Will it be the ambitious reporter? Or did he have a hand in this horrible event to create a story for himself?

David Tennant

And where was the victim’s father the night of the murder? Is he having an affair? Involved in a smuggling scheme? The rugged coastline may have been the site for smugglers in historic times. Perhaps there’s a new gang at work and the boy became a liability.

And how was the boy involved? His best friend isn’t so innocent. The kid erases all his computer and cell phone files after his mum, a detective on the force who’s been passed over for promotion, tells him he’ll be questioned about what he knows. What’s the kid hiding? Could he and the victim have been involved in a shady scheme with the victim’s father?

Then again, the father seems too easy a mark. Maybe he’s the red herring.

As the show progresses, we’ll see more townspeople guarding secrets. Eventually the detective will unravel them until he exposes the killer. And what about his own past? He was sent to this little hamlet after something scandalous occurred in his career. He couldn’t have created a murder to boost his own reputation, could he?


Everyone in this village is a potential suspect. It’s a juicy story in that respect, and I’m eager to see how it plays out. This is why I like whodunit mysteries. We are guessing along with the detective. The small town atmosphere becomes a character in its own right as we learn that not all of the inhabitants are as innocuous as they seem.

So are you going to watch the show tonight?

38 thoughts on “Broadchurch

  1. I hadn’t even heard of it, Nancy, but it sounds intriguing. I also love a good mystery! And yes, I also find myself analyzing mysteries on TV (and movies) as they go along. Always learning, right?

    Thanks for the heads up, although I didn’t need the extra temptation to park myself in front of the TV. 🙂

  2. I saw the debut last week and thought it was pretty good. It is, unlike “The Killing” et al much more traditional in its structure, rather like a good Brit-mystery a la P.D. James. Its pacing is tortoise-like and deliberate, characters are being slowly peeled back with, as you say Nancy, some well-placed herrings. These aren’t criticisms imo. At times, I get whiplash watching The Killing and Homeland et al.

    It’s interesting to contrast Broadchurch with a second BBC series I am now hooked on “Luther.” Luther is a rogue London cop and every episode wraps up one case (more or less) with some spill-over. It is hyper-violent and borderline unbelievable in its plots twists, playing fast and loose with cop protocol. There’s also a fabulous villainess Alice who may — or may not — be nuts and serves as Luther’s Greek Chorus or Hannibal Lecter. (“I’ll help you catch him Clarisse…”) Luther won an Edgar couple years back for TV episode.

    Watching and comparing the two shows is an interesting exercise in structure and tone for writers.

    • I haven’t heard of Luther. I watch Elementary and like the emphasis on detecting skills in that one too. These shows don’t focus on blood and gore or explosions or car chases. Nice for a change of pace.

    • Masterpiece has been showing British detective mysteries, like ENDEAVOR and another one I can’t recall the name of the detective. They are very slow paced but I find them charming. I record whatever they show. It seems they switch to a new series every three or so. I love whodunnit mysteries.

  3. I saw last week’s episode, Nancy and am definitely going to be back tonight to watch more. I had to get over my visceral reaction regarding a child’s death but thought the story was unfolding well – though I agree the dad’s ‘plumbing’ alibi was laughable and it seemed strange no one really questioned him on where he was. I’m assuming this gets dealt with. I think an interesting comparison is with the recent British/Northern Irish series The Falls. That was chilling, slow moving and yet intriguing too. I’m hoping Broadchurch lives up to my expectations! Though I don’t like David Tennant with the scruffy beard – he needs to either grow it properly or shave IMHO…

    • Now, I like David Tennant looking scruffy. I miss him in Dr. Who, although I’ve liked Matt as the Doctor. Haven’t heard of the Falls either. I, too, hope someone questions the father’s alibi.

  4. I watched it last week and enjoyed it though it was really DARK — I will watch again tonight, and decide about further episodes one by one. I hate to be depressed late at night!!

  5. Have you ever seen RIPPER STREET? It’s on the BBC channel and is a turn of the century crime show featuring a British detective around the time when Jack the Ripper was killing and crime solving techniques were just becoming a science. Great stuff.

  6. Hrm…The Doctor does Hot Fuzz?

    Actually it seems like an interesting show, I might have to watch it. David Tennant is a pretty good actor in general, but it may take work to not imagine him taking off in a call box. Unlike some actors who make their name in very specific roles, Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker for instance, Tennant stands a good chance of making it post-Who.

    Speaking of Dr. Who, Google maps actually caught the Tardis on Earl’s Court Rd in London. Click this link to see it on the map then click the little ‘A’ arrow thingy or click this link here to go directly to the Tardis’s Google+ page to see pics of the inside of the Tardis and read some of the pretty funny comments…including one by your’s truly.

  7. I watched it last week and agree with you there are a lot of unanswered questions. That being said I can see why, lead the reader/viewer deeper into the mystery. In my suspense books I never let the reader know everything at once, especially in regards to the bad guy, but will/might feed them a little at a time.

  8. Thanks for telling us about Broadchurch, Nancy. I love British mystery series. My favorite (among shows on both sides of the pond) is Inspector Lewis, a long-running series that just ended. Suffering major withdrawal…so I’m glad to have a new British mystery to check out!

    • From the comments above, it appears there are quite a few British detective/mystery shows. I’ll have to pay more attention to the BBC channel aside from Broadchurch and Dr. Who.

  9. Nancy-
    I’m with you, I like the scruffy David Tennant. I watched last week but dvr this week I’m in the middle of moving so will catch up on Sunday.
    If you want more of British mysteries you can find Inspector Lewis on Net Flix and also check out Acorn Midsummer Murders is another favorite.

  10. I’m not a Who fan, so Tennant looks fine to me to me, but I don’t understand the belief that it isn’t PD Jamesy. Angst coming out of every pore.
    But it is a traditional, British mystery on BBC America, what more can we ask. Well, they could bring Mystery Monday back and get rid of that car thing.

  11. Nancy, I am watching “Broadchurch” and love it. ( I like that a former Dr. Who is in the show.) I watch all the BBC shows, especially the mysteries. The English have a way with them. I have also taken out many BBC mysteries series (DVDs) from the library. One I love is older, and a bit more gritty, called “A touch of Frost” about a detective named Jack Frost.

    I also love the “Masterpiece Mystery” series about the detectives who solve crimes in Oxford, where so many professor’s seem to be depraved killers, or they wind up getting killed. Detective Lewis and Endeavor. What I love is that these detectives/police never carry guns. They are brave enough to walk into a situation unarmed.

    I am also watching “Copper,” but that is a real gritty drama about NYC at the turn of the century. The five points area, right after the civil war. Sometimes I wonder who are the police and who are the bad guys. It’s not for those who are squeamish. Very graphic scenes. Also watching “Motive” a Canadian TV show. I will read your analysis.

    Bye, Rita Cohl

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