Review: BBC3 strike lucky with Thirteen

The number thirteen has been shrouded in superstition for centuries, and after a bit of Wikipedia research, full moons and Jesus Christ’s Last Supper are apparently to blame. In BBC3’s new drama, aptly named Thirteen, I’m sure protagonist Ivy Moxam (Jodie Comer) shares the same sentiment. Aged thirteen, she was kidnapped and locked away in a basement for, you guessed it, thirteen years.

I only decided to watch the drama upon hearing my housemate rave about it, after she had binge-watched the first few episodes in one sitting. Having read about the series before it was shown, I felt slightly dubious about the premise of the programme – a young girl who has escaped after being kidnapped and imprisoned for over ten years. Although the medium of television is often so important in tackling critical issues and causing us to further question the world around us, I was sceptical about how such a delicate subject would be portrayed and appropriately dealt with. Marnie Dickens, the show’s creator, decided to investigate the aftermath, what happens when the captive miraculously manages to escape. In this, she blew away all my initial doubts. Although there were many aspects of the series I didn’t like, the twists and turns throughout kept me thoroughly gripped until the bitter end.

The five-part series was originally only to be aired on the BBC’s online TV platform BBC3, but due to its popularity it was scheduled to be reshown on BBC2. You may recognise a few familiar faces in the programme, such as main character Jodie Comer. Remember the girl we all loved to hate in Doctor Foster, who slapped Suranne Jones in the face over a tense showdown vis-à-vis the cheating husband? Well in Thirteen, she’s completely unrecognisable. Gaunt faced, pale and fragile, it’s incredibly believable that she was hidden from daylight for the majority of thirteen years. Jodie’s performance is captivating and unsettling; the small, slight flinches every time someone comes near her become so natural they go almost unnoticed, and she perfectly embodies a vulnerable and volatile young woman. Other famous faces include Aneurin Barnard, who starred in the BBC adaptation of War & Peace, playing Ivy’s childhood boyfriend Tim, who seems to constantly put his foot in it no matter how hard he tries.

The typical ‘good cop, bad cop’ of TV drama was shown in the relationship between the investigating police officers D.I. Elliot Carne (Richard Rankin) and D.S. Lisa Merchant (Valene Kane). As the series progressed, the sexual tension mounted. Even though we were pitted against the cold and cynical D.S. Lisa, by the end I was hoping for the two coppers to get it on, and eventually they did (sorry for the spoiler, but we all saw it coming). Every episode we followed the police taking one step forward and then three steps backward, and this made the show a frustrating crime to solve, complete with another kidnap and a dead body. One of my major qualms with the series as a whole was the amount of loose ends left hanging after the credits began rolling, leaving me with a fair few questions still unanswered. Although the last in series was the darkest and perhaps the most hard-hitting of the bunch, I was hoping it would have delivered a bit more. Ivy’s liberating moment happened right at the end of the episode, and it felt rushed and in some places jumbled, as if the series was eager to finish.

As the first major drama for the future of BBC3 online, Thirteen has made a promising start. Despite the handful of flaws, the terrific cast and the dramatic suspense that pulsated throughout each episode held the series together, and I don’t think this is the last we’ll see of the wonderful Jodie Comer and gifted Marnie Dickens.


Emma Bowden 


Image courtesy of Radio Times.

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