“It’s not Trumpton, I don’t know everybody,” snaps Olivia Colman’s DS Ellie Miller, the Broadchurch copper (and local mum) in the opening few minutes of series three.

In true Ellie style she cuts through a moment of high tension with aplomb. A woman has been found on the steps of the police station, tearful, catatonic and alleging a rape. Miller's colleague, David Tennant’s slicker outsider Alec Hardy, thinks she may know the victim and her riposte takes us instantly back to their very particular dynamic in this small town world. 

The scenes involving the victim – who turns out to be shop worker Trish Winterman (Julie Hesmondalgh, below) – are played with mesmeric intensity in a gripping episode where the tension never lets up despite the slow pace.

Director Paul Andrew Williams takes his time over these scenes, never losing sight of the dreadful impact of the crime on Trish who can barely remember her attack, having received a blow to the back of her head.

Her memory returns later as she recalls the sound of running water, the fact that she was bound up and had something stuffed in her mouth. Why she took so long to report the incident will perhaps become clearer later, but it seemed highly respectful as well as plausible. For now, it gives the coppers enough information to find the scene of the crime – a 50th birthday party at a country house. 

It also feels right not to have another murder in this sleepy seaside town following the series one killing (and disappointing series two trial of perpetrator Joe Miller). But the legacy of that case is still felt by most of the main characters.

Ellie, who is also Joe's ex wife let's not forget, is now alone after Joe was acquitted of Danny Latimer’s murder and driven out of Broadchurch; little wonder she reacts so furiously when her son is found by his school to have hoarded porn on his phone. (“I will not have you be your father’s son,” she spits when she is hauled into the school to deal with his suspension).

Danny’s Mum Beth Latimer (Jodie Whittaker) is now working at the same Crisis Centre where Trish was taken in the opening scenes. She seems to have found some purpose in life and has separated from husband Mark (Andrew Buchan) who seems much more of a lost soul three years after the death of their son.

Paying a forlorn visit to his family, Beth tells him: “We don’t need you looking after us.” And while she instantly regrets the cutting line, it sees him leave the family supper and return solemnly to his dingy flat.

Of course Mark cannot let go of his grief at the loss of Danny and his failure to protect his family; and helping local newspaper editor Maggie Radcliffe (Carolyn Pickles) with her book (Danny: A Father’s Story) has only filled him with more regrets.

Ellie’s working methods have not changed much. She can’t help herself giving Trish her mobile number, to the disgust of Alec who knows that such close involvement is against the rules and often leads to trouble. Tennant's character is much the same too, barking orders at Pete de Jersey’s scene of crimes officer Brian Young and learning as a result that his nickname among his colleagues (ever since he set foot in the Dorset nick in fact) is "s**t-face".

Hardy has, however, moved form his bijou waterside chalet-style abode to a similarly swanky pad, this time perched on the side of a hill.

This final series feels like a return to the procedural structure of the first series although there seems to be a rather dauntingly large list of potential suspects – there were more than 50 men at the party where the rape took place.

There’s Lenny Henry’s Ed Burnett (below), the owner of the farm shop where Trish works alongside her colleague Cath Atwood (Sarah Parish), whose 50th birthday it was.

We haven’t yet met Fast Show star Charlie Higson who plays Ian, Trish’s ex, and is the father of their daughter Leah.  But the finger of suspicion is already firmly pointed in the direction of Cath’s mechanic husband Jim Atwood (Mark Bazeley) who we notice has a packet of condoms in his glove compartment (we know the rapist used protection).

Whether he is the figure we see right at the end, creepily returning to the scene of the crime to retrieve a bag of blue twine (of the kind used to tie Trish up during the attack), time of course will tell.

Being fingered so early on in the drama is a pretty good reason to rule him out, but you never know with Broadchurch. There are seven episodes to go and already this has the makings of a corker.

 

Broadchurch continues on ITV on Monday nights