New drama Thirteen is a brilliant way to begin BBC3’s online future

Brace yourself for a mystery as gripping as Broadchurch's "Who killed Danny Latimer?"

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To 26-year-old Ivy Moxam, the idea of watching television online is probably an alien concept. Then again, it would be: because Ivy has spent the past 13 years in captivity.

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The premise for BBC3’s first big online drama release (commissioned before the channel officially announced its move online, mind) is simple: kidnapped girl miraculously escapes her captor after years living in fear. 

But the story that unfolds is much more complicated. 

Jodie Comer, aka “that girl from My Mad Fat Diary who dared to slap Doctor Foster across the face after having an affair with her husband,” leads the cast as the mysterious young woman who makes a break for freedom.

The young actress is more than up to the task at hand, introducing us to a fragile girl with the power to both captivate and unsettle viewers. As Ivy’s tale unfolds, it’s as easy to feel terrified of her as it is to feel terrified for her.

Valene Kane and Richard Rankin explore both sides of Ivy’s psyche as DS Lisa Merchant and DI Elliot Carne, the police officers charged with learning what happened during her incarceration in a cellar. 

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The pair’s personal lives seep through into the professional realm, leaving us constantly wondering just how impartial their investigation will be.

At home things aren’t any less complicated, as Ivy’s mother (Natasha Little) and estranged father (Stuart Graham) come to terms with the idea that she’s actually alive. Is desperation clouding their judgement? Her sister Emma (Katherine Rose Morley) seems to think so.

And then there’s Tim (Aneurin Barnard), Ivy’s teenage crush when she went missing, and harbours a secret that has the potential to shatter her fragile world.

Ivy may have lost 13 years of her life in the cellar, but when she’s reunited with Tim you’d be forgiven for thinking he’d lost those years too. The pair revert to their teenage state, beautifully capturing the awkwardness and anxiety of sitting down on a bed beside the boy or girl you really fancied and not having a clue what to do next.

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Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a boy-meets-girl-who-gets-kidnapped-but-eventually-escapes-and-reunites-with-boy-for-touching-reunion drama, though. Thirteen is far darker than that.

At its heart lies a mystery as gripping as Broadchurch’s “Who Killed Danny Latimer?” And as each episode in the five-part drama unfolds, we feel both one step closer to and ten steps further from the horrifying truth. 

BBC3’s brave new online future probably dictates that I should give you 13 very good reasons to watch Thirteen, but the fact is you only need one: Marnie Dickens’ drama is exceedingly good.

And if you miss it, simply because you’re not willing to flick on iPlayer, then you’re most definitely going to miss out.

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Watch Thirteen episode one now on BBC iPlayer or on BBC2 at 10pm on Sunday March 6th. Subsequent episodes will follow online every Sunday, and air on BBC2 a week after they debut online.