*THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*
The (Doctor Who) stars have aligned as Carey Mulligan, Billie Piper and John Simm team up for new BBC Two series Collateral. But is there more lurking beneath the surface of this political drama than its dream casting?
Much like Jodie Whittaker’s Trust Me last year, Collateral is another four-part series with each episode running for 60 minutes. Written by David Hare and directed by SJ Clarkson, it’s also a lot darker and deeper than anything you’ll have seen these actors doing during their Doctor Who days. If you’re hoping this was going to be a jolly romp starring Sally Sparrow, Rose Tyler and the Master… well, think again. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few revelations that will set fan-fiction writers into a frenzy (John Simm/Billie Piper shippers, anyone?!). But this is very much a real, gritty drama with real, gritty consequences. There are no TARDISes here – just the cold face of reality.
Conveniently then, as if to emphasise just how grounded Collateral really is, Episode 1 starts off with the most mundane event of all: a pizza delivery. The most intense pizza delivery ever, admittedly, but a pizza delivery all the same. Long story short, the driver unceremoniously ends up dead, and Carey Mulligan’s character is called in to solve the crime. It’s a simple premise, and the opening sequences are spectacularly shot. However, due to everything being so purposely pedestrian, the stakes can’t help feeling small. The drama takes a little while to kick in, so we wouldn’t blame you for thinking things get off to a slow start. And while events definitely do pick up later on, there’s no instant gut-punch like Broadchurch‘s ‘boy-on-the-beach’ moment here. But maybe, just maybe, that’s actually the whole point.
So, what about the cast? Let’s be honest, that’s the main reason many Doctor Who fans will be watching in the first place! Rest assured, the actors you know and love all put in good, solid performances. Billie Piper plays Karen Mars, a run-down mum drinking and smoking her way into oblivion. She’s foul, and crass, and very much a standout figure. John Simm, meanwhile, plays David, a low and downtrodden Labour MP. Yes, get your Harold Saxon jokes at the ready – he’s even still sporting the Series 10 Master goatee! His character is perhaps the most interesting – anonymous at first, then very layered by the end. He certainly shares a lot of ties with the people in his constituency, and not just politically speaking, either…
Finally, Carey Mulligan as lead detective Kip Glaspie is impressive, though not quite as instantaneously memorable as we’d hope. There’s nothing wrong with how she plays it – this is Carey Mulligan, after all! – but the episode doesn’t give her all that much to do. There’s a lot of walking, and a lot of talking, but not much thrilling call to action. Naturally, there are clues that there might be more to her character than meets the eye. No doubt we’ll see some of these layers unearthed in the episodes to come, and that might be worth tuning in for alone.
If there’s one word to sum up Episode 1 though, it’s ‘broken’. But don’t be too quick to take that the wrong way. Rather, the show mirrors real life by there being a lot of broken elements at its foundations. Broken laws, broken relationships, broken characters. And yes, arguably, also a bit of broken storytelling. There are very interesting themes at play, but some scenes do start to feel a bit haphazard and disorderly. In fact, at times, it seems Collateral doesn’t quite know what it wants to be, and ends up actually breaking its own rules. Notably, about halfway through, there’s that very cleverly shot sequence in the toilet. The narrow space and tight shots put us right up close to the killer, their identity constantly obscured to keep the audience guessing. However, mere seconds later they spoil the surprise when you see who she is in the mirror. Perhaps it’s all part of a large, grander plan, but on first viewing, contradictory quirks like this come off as a little underwhelming.
In conclusion then, Collateral looks to be an intriguing, if somewhat scattershot new series from the BBC. There’s an awful lot thrown at the screen in the first hour, and it’s fair to say that not all of it sticks. However, we’re interested to see where they take things next. The first episode leaves a lot of threads dangling and a lot of doors open. Clearly, there’s much more going on than we realise at this moment. What exactly that is though, and how exactly it’s pulled off, may ultimately be what makes Collateral rise or fall.