This review contains spoilers.
Welcome to rainy Polesford. Come for the manhunt, stay for the undisclosed past trauma and complicated interpersonal relationships. Well, you certainly don’t holiday in murder-town for the weather.
Polesford, Derbyshire, has been flooded for weeks—a boon to the killer of a teenage girl; a curse to the police on their trail. Floodwater doesn’t only wreck skirting boards and livelihoods, it also plays havoc with forensic evidence, you see. That’s by-the-by for the Polesford police though, as they’ve already charged local man Stephen Bates.
Bates is innocent. At least, Detective Inspector Helen Weeks, back in her hometown to help out an old friend who happens to be married to him, thinks so. Weeks is exactly the sort of no-nonsense TV copper you feel you can trust about these things. From her drab haircut (a necessary disguise to enable magical elf queen MyAnna Buring to walk among us undetected) to her sensible shoes, Weeks is good police and she knows it.
She also knows she’s pregnant, a development about which she’s understandably apprehensive. After building a career on the force, she can’t picture herself wiping bums and breast-feeding in cafes, she says. Well, she actually says ‘arses’ and ‘tits’, but you get the idea. Weeks is doubly apprehensive about the pregnancy, we learn in episode one’s final scenes, because she’s been having an affair. Is her baby’s dad kind, caring, fellow police officer Paul, who’s also in on the investigation, or the mysterious Adam?
The paternity of Weeks’ baby isn’t the only mystery in her life. There’s also the question of what happened to her and ex-best friend Linda at the age of thirteen that left them traumatised for life. “Do you ever think about what happened all them years ago?” she asks Linda. “Every fucking day” Linda replies. We think about it quite a bit too, courtesy of multiple enigmatic flashbacks to the scene.
In The Dark is adapted by Danny Brocklehurst (Ordinary Lies, The Five, Shameless) from a standalone novel by celebrated crime writer Mark Billingham. (Those who recognise him from his stand-up or CBBC role as hapless guard Gary in Maid Marian And Her Merry Men may have spotted Billingham as the court bailiff at Bates’ hearing.)
This four-part series is a jigsaw constructed from familiar pieces – murdered schoolgirl, big city vs small town copper friction, coming home drama, relationship strife. Whether all that coalesces into something with its own identity is down to Weeks, the latest capable, down-to-earth female detective with a mordant wit to duck under the TV police line tape. Think of her as a colleague of Happy Valley’s Catherine Cawood and Broadchurch’s Ellie Miller, smart and sarky coppers all.
The wit and wicked tongue is foremost in Weeks’ attractiveness as a character. She’s not brilliant and inaccessible like so many of them, but grounded in the mundanity of real life and just a little bit mean. She sweats. She swears. She drinks. She makes oven chips. When caught short, she pees in public. You’re more likely to see her complain about getting gum on her shoe than acting the slick Hollywood gumshoe.
We first meet Weeks moaning about being out of breath after giving chase to a drug dealer who punched her in the unmentionables and got away. She tells off a slow-on-the-uptake local officer for putting Linda under suspicion with the facetious, “She knows where the other girl’s body is, they were in on it together, some weird sexual thing. After they killed them they shagged each other’s brains out.” In short, she’s more Malcolm Tucker than Miss Marple.
She’s also quick on the uptake. It won’t take Weeks long to find out that it was (probably) Stephen’s stepson—he of the chips, rice and tomato ketchup signature dish—watching teen porn on his laptop, or whatever it was dodgy Gavin the cab driver was doing in those woods. With any luck, she’ll also find and rescue the still-alive Poppy Johnston from wherever it is she’s being held before the waters rise any further.
Start at that tattoo parlour, is my advice. If In The Dark were a videogame, the place Abigail Toms got her rose tattoo would be next on the mission list. Next, question chef-poet ‘Shelley’ on why he has a different teenage girlfriend for every day of the week. Then find out what the deal is with those stolen piglets. The piglets are bound to be the key to this whole thing.
In The Dark continues next Tuesday the 18th of July at 9pm on BBC One.