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TELLYBOX: Line of Duty charges back to the small screen

Vicky McClure and Kelly Macdonald in series six of Line of Duty.
Vicky McClure and Kelly Macdonald in series six of Line of Duty.

With a convoy of armed coppers marauding their way across town to batter down a murder suspect’s door, and a hail of techy-sounding police acronyms more lethal than the bullet which hits one of the luckless armed robbers they stumble across on the way, Line of Duty charged back for its sixth series last Sunday.

Jed Mercurio’s crime drama about the police who investigate the police is known for a relentless avalanche of plot, which leaves it feeling like The Bill on performance-enhancing drugs. But the opening shot in this return following 2019’s fifth series was positively mellow.

The big story this time is the introduction of Scotland’s own Kelly Macdonald as DCI Jo Davidson, the senior officer investigating the murder of journalist Gail Vella.

A dramatic scene from Line of Duty series six.

Davidson’s squad – which includes the transferred DI Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure), now no longer on the AC-12 team – think they have an open and shut case.

Acting on a tip-off from a CHIS (a Covert Human Intelligence Source; an informer, basically) they pick up a man with learning difficulties and an apparent sexual obsession with Vella during the strong-arm bust, which involves much barking code into radios and cops in body armour wielding automatic weapons.

It’s authentic, detailed sequences like this which emphasise the ‘procedural’ part of this police show, and it’s one reason why viewers love Line of Duty above others of its kind.

There’s plenty of intrigue, too; the arrested man gives his name as ‘Ross Turner’, but when questions over his identity and Davidson’s mystifying decision to divert the operation based on a hunch arise, one of her team makes the suggestion to AC-12’s DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) that an investigation into her might be needed.

Martin Compston, Adrian Dunbar, Vicky McClure and Kelly Macdonald.

It’s fair to say the AC-12 team feel a bit jaded this time round, with homespun Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) ostracised by his peers yet still bafflingly in-post after an investigation into his own conduct, while Arnott is apparently so demotivated in his current gig that he can’t even be bothered shaving.

He’s looking for a way out, just like Fleming, who wants to take out the real bad guys while fighting to win the trust of new colleagues who know she could have been investigating them at one point.

Despite the spectacle of the bust, this episode is all set-up, placing the regulars and a bunch of new and returning ensemble characters in place for the inevitable fireworks to come – a taste of which we see at the end, with an unexpected personal revelation which throws the motivation of those at the heart of the murder investigation up in the air.

DCI Davidson keeps us guessing

The main talking point here was the introduction of Macdonald to the LoD universe, with the promotion surrounding the new series and the amount of screen time she receives very much painting her as the central character.

Her critically-acclaimed role in the recent Giri/Haji showed she’s a natural lead for marquee British television drama, and here, as there, she plays against cop drama type.

Appearing pensive and conflicted, rather than hard-as-nails, Davidson remains an enigma to the viewers – and Macdonald’s contained performance is perfectly balanced to keep us guessing whether to root for her or not.

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