'Broadchurch': David Tennant plays detective, not 'Doctor'

david-tennant-broadchurch-episodic-bbca-325.jpg
At 3:20 a.m. on a moonlit night, 11-year-old Danny Latimer ( Oskar McNamara) stands shivering at the edge of a sheer cliff high above a beach. As he stares numbly at the pounding surf below, blood drips from the fingers of his right hand.

In just a few minutes, Danny is going to be dead, the victim of a murder that's about to rock his tiny hometown to its very foundations -- a town called Broadchurch, also the title of the electrifying eight-part British mystery series premiering Wednesday, Aug. 7, on BBC America.

Just a few hours before Danny's lifeless body is found lying on the beach, Detective Sgt. Ellie Miller ( Olivia Colman), a Latimer family friend, has returned from a holiday to discover that a promotion she was all but promised has been given instead to an outsider: Detective Inspector Alec Hardy ( David Tennant), a frosty gentleman whose terse style clashes violently with hometown girl Ellie's gentler touch. "Broadchurch" follows this chalk-and-cheese pair as together they try to get at the truth behind Danny's murder.

"I think this is only my second time playing a detective, which strikes me as something quite rare for someone who works a lot in television," Tennant probably best known in the U.S. for his impish and wildly popular portrayal of the Tenth Doctor in "Doctor Who," tells Zap2it, "It's also a change for me to play someone who is a bit more granitelike. When we first meet him, Alec Hardy seems a little flint-hearted, a man with ice in his soul, but of course as the series progresses we come to learn that still waters run deep with Hardy. There's a lot going on, and he has secrets that he tries to keep hidden."

Alec isn't alone in having secrets either. The investigation is scarcely under way before alert viewers will be asking themselves several questions - such as why an 11-year-old boy like Danny would have a thick roll of cash hidden in his room and a second, secret cellphone, or why Tom ( Adam Wilson), Ellie's son and formerly a close friend of Danny's, is feverishly deleting text messages on his phone from Danny after learning of the murder. And of course, why Danny's father, local plumber Mark Latimer ( Andrew Buchan), becomes so evasive when police try to nail down his whereabouts on the night of his son's death.

"In many crime dramas, the sheer impact of what it means to a community or, especially a family, to lose someone often is portrayed in shorthand or skated over so you can get directly to the whodunit," Tennant says. "What 'Broadchurch' does so brilliantly is show this community being fractured, almost destroyed, and you see this family being just torn apart by this horrible event. Then, of course, there's my character who becomes the audience's objectivity, because I'm the outsider, the one who has no emotional connection to this. I'm just kind of a witness to all this crumbling. Finally, it's also a story about many of these people having secrets and what happens behind closed doors."

Given that "Broadchurch" is a seemingly idyllic community where darkness roils beneath the calm surface, it's not surprising that series creator Chris Chibnall was a huge fan of David Lynch's similarly themed "Twin Peaks," as well as Steven Bochco's "Murder One," especially how those shows juggled vivid characters and complex plot developments chock-full of twists. While you're likely to change your suspicions about who the killer is from one week to the next, Chibnall insists that anyone who watches closely will find hints pointing the way to the solution.

"The way to follow 'Broadchurch' isn't just in plot but also in themes and metaphors and emotions and strange images," Chibnall advises. "There actually are clues everywhere in 'Broadchurch.' There are thematic clues and metaphorical images that are clues, and there are lines of dialogues that resonate between different characters that are clues - all deliberately embedded in there, if you're watching very carefully."

The series was such a sensation during its U.K. run this past March that its home network, ITV, immediately ordered a second season. Chibnall, who also helped launch "Law & Order: UK," confirmed he is now hard at work writing those new "Broadchurch" episodes, but details are being kept tightly under wraps, including whether Tennant and/or Colman will return to their roles or even what genre the new season will fall into. After all, the main character of "Broadchurch" is the town itself, so the sky is pretty much the limit in terms of story possibilities.

"It's another story that I am very passionate about telling," Chibnall says. "I can tell you that it's very different, but that's about it. We're keeping it secret, but I promise you that the second series doesn't start with a body on a beach. 'Broadchurch' isn't a 'format' show, so you're right that the new episodes could be about anything, but I can't tell you more than that."

"Personally, I think it would be disappointing if it were to be 'Oh, there's another body on the beach, and here's another list of suspects,' " Tennant says. "After all, this is a very small town. I think the story will come a little more out of left field than that. Who knows? It could be about a local shop and parking rights!"
Photo/Video credit: BBC America