NTAs 2014: Meet the contenders for the Radio Times TV Detective Award

Benedict Cumberbatch, Olivia Colman, David Tennant, Suranne Jones, Idris Elba and Bradley Walsh battle to be crowned top TV detective

The National Television Awards has partnered with Radio Times to solve a mystery – who is the best British TV detective of the year?


The inaugural Radio Times TV Detective Award will be presented live on ITV on Wednesday 22 January. But first it’s over to readers to sift through the star-studded shortlist (as chosen by viewers) and decide the winner. And that won’t be easy with Olivia Colman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Idris Elba, Suranne Jones, David Tennant and Bradley Walsh all in the frame.

Run your eye over this line-up of contenders then cast your vote on the NTAs website via the link at the bottom of the page.

Olivia Colman: Broadchurch (ITV)

Name: Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller — a long-serving local officer, resentful that the job she wanted went to an outsider, Alec Hardy. Turns out that’s the least of her problems. By a long way.

Years in service: She’s probably been serving the community all her life…

Distinguishing characteristic: Frequently in tears at the horror she’s uncovering.

Crime scene: Broadchurch, quiet West Country seaside town. Or it was.

Key scene: When she discovers the identity of young Danny Latimer’s killer. Colman was kept in the dark for as long as possible and during the shoot caused genuine pain with a well-aimed kick.

Why you should vote for her: David Tennant says, “She has this ability to be joking between takes and then, when the cameras roll, to be instantly in the heart of the darkness — which is irritatingly perfect from someone as alarmingly down to earth. She’d genuinely be in floods of tears. She kept trying to stop, saying, ‘I shouldn’t be crying, I’m a police officer.’ But it came to represent the part so well.”

RT TV Editor Alison Graham says: “We felt every one of Ellie Miller’s heartbeats because she was the emotional centre of Broadchurch, one of the great TV crime stories.”

David Tennant: Broadchurch (ITV)

Name: Detective Inspector Alec Hardy — bungled a big case and has been shuffled to a small seaside town he hates with colleagues he generally dislikes.

Years in service: Too many, with too little to show for them.

Distinguishing characteristics: Bad-tempered, serious heart condition.

Key scene: Tries to force his colleague (Colman) to use her son for a re-enactment, while rudely ignoring her invitation to dinner.

Why you should vote for him: Doctor Who co-star Catherine Tate says, “David has a lightness of touch that makes even the most complex of ideas or the densest of texts feel effortless and accessible. He combines this mercurial deftness with an unflinching search for the truth in every role he plays, and doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable choices. He is also incredibly funny and not in the least bit fussy about what he eats, which for me is what sets him apart from the others. Unless you offer him a fish pie, in which case he will become embarrassingly like a diva and demand a meat lasagne instead. True story.”

Alison Graham says: “Alec Hardy was a classic tormented cop, haunted by A Terrible Mistake.”

Suranne Jones: Scott & Bailey (ITV)

Name: Detective Constable Rachel Bailey — from Manchester Police’s Major Incident Team, with a personal life more complicated than any case.

Years in service: More than she deserves; she perjured herself in court, missed her sergeant’s exam, and allowed her murderer brother to escape.

Distinguishing characteristic: A complex relationship with alcohol, men and truth.

Crime scene: Manchester.

Crime-solving technique: A little bit messy, but usually effective, when she can find the time.

Key scene: Caught having sex with a colleague while hiding from her husband, then feeling aggrieved that everyone’s so, like, judgemental.

Why you should vote for her: Co-star Amelia Bullmore says, “Scott & Bailey [shows] women who are good at their job but seething with inner doubt. Suranne is central to this. She knows Rachel Bailey inside out and has such brilliant access to all her emotions. Of course, as an actor you’re taking your own pure emotions and amping them up. Suranne has felt all those emotions, but she’s a very different person. Rachel is brilliant but needs constant reassurance. Suranne is brilliant but punctual, together and organised.“

Alison Graham says: “Rachel Bailey can be a silly girl, getting mixed up with unsuitable men and harbouring her killer brother. But maybe that’s what makes her so appealing.”

Benedict Cumberbatch: Sherlock (BBC One)

Name: Sherlock. Technically Sherlock Holmes, but that’s a bit last-century.

Years in service: Between 4 and 132, depending on whether John Watson returned from Afghanistan and met him in a laboratory in St Bartholomew’s Hospital in 1881 or 2010.

Distinguishing characteristics: Long coat, blue scarf, nicotine patches.

Crime scene: 187 North Gower Street, disguised as 221b Baker Street.

Crime-solving technique: Observing everything. Eliminating the impossible. Proving that whatever’s left must be the truth. Irritating everybody.

Key scene: Either revealing (if you believe him) how he jumped off the roof to his death but actually survived, or that one with Irene Adler naked.

Why you should vote for him: Co-creator and co-star Mark Gatiss says, “Surely there can be no other winner? The original Sherlock Holmes — as created by Arthur Conan Doyle — set the template for all other detectives. Everyone that followed was created in relation to Sherlock — from Hercule Poirot to Hugh Laurie’s House.

“What Benedict does is perfectly inhabit Sherlock in a 21st-century form. That’s why he was the only actor we ever considered for the role. He’s as abrasive, unpleasant, worldly and unworldly as Conan Doyle’s books — my favourite scenes are the ones where we think he shows human frailty but it turns out he hasn’t at all. But Benedict adds this Byronic element — he’s a brooding man in a long dark coat who is explicitly unobtainable. Certainly the female fans seem to agree.”

Alison Graham says: ”He’s a true Sherlock for the 21st century — tech-savvy, witty and outrageously abrasive. The perfect re-imagining of one of literature’s greatest heroes.”

Idris Elba: Luther (BBC1)

Name: Detective Chief Inspector John Luther — super-smart but troubled philosopher cop who worked for the Met’s Serious Crime Unit, then the Serious and Serial Crime Unit. Promotion to the Incredibly Serious and Very Nasty Serial Crime Unit no doubt beckons.

Years in service: Claims to have been a police officer “since God was a boy”.

Crime scene: Hard to be sure, as most viewers cover their eyes during the actual crimes.

Distinguishing characteristic: Possesses more demons than Lucifer conducting roll call on a busy day.

Crime-solving technique: Blends the deductive reasoning of Sherlock Holmes with the interviewing tactics of Dirty Harry.

Key scene: The return of Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) in the series three finale, charging in with smoke bombs, gas mask and preposterous stories of husband-slaying in Berlin.

Why you should vote for him: Co-star Ruth Wilson says, “Idris is a tall, imposing man but you barely notice that after day one — he’s so playful and mischievous and you trust him instantly. He’s an inspiration — he worked so hard and the big hits didn’t come until he was in his 30s, so he’s not arrogant.

He’s still always working — if he’s not acting, he’s DJ-ing or producing or working on a script. He deserves all the acclaim he’s receiving. Oh, and he’s great fun on a night out…”

Alison Graham says: “Luther is the manliest man’s man, a bear-sized cop who lopes through the mean streets looking tough and cool.”

Bradley Walsh: Law & Order UK (ITV)

Name: Detective Sergeant Ronnie Brooks — a salt-of-the-earth East End copper and recovering alcoholic with two ex-wives, two estranged daughters and a string of dead ex-colleagues.

Years in service: 35. Or at least, that’s how long he’s had the salary to afford his West Ham season ticket.

Distinguishing characteristic: Guilt, bad jokes and constant eating.

Crime scene: East London. Or “Lahndan”, as Brooks describes it.

Crime-solving technique: Good old policing the way it used to be, coupled with the uncanny ability to see major crimes as a symbolic critique of his life to date.

Key scene: When a colleague is killed. Or raped. Or wrongfully accused. It’s not necessarily the best unit for the ambitious copper, to be honest…

Why you should vote for him: Co-star Paterson Joseph says, “Bradley is so understated — he’s the unsung hero of detective drama. He personally knows lots of coppers so he’s giving you the closest thing you’ll see on TV today to the way real detectives are. He likes us to play things a little loose — improvise a bit. He knows that after extracting a confession, cops talk about getting McDonalds or the healthy option while discussing severed limbs. They have a real gallows humour and he loves to draw that out. We’re not as funny as the real ’tecs are — although you should see the stuff on the cutting-room floor…”

Alison Graham says: ”Brooks is the best thing about Law & Order: UK. He’s an old-fashioned copper, empathetic with a native wit and nous, who always gets his man.”

So who gets your vote? See the full shortlist for all categories and voting details here