A star rating of 5 out of 5.

Let's get one thing straight: there are way too many police dramas on television. I struggle to muster more than an exhausted eye-roll when another one arrives on our screens, as the genre often epitomises just how uninspired and risk-averse many commissioners seem to be these days. Suffice to say, my expectations were low for The Responder, which introduces us to yet another morally compromised cop with a troubled home life. But while the concept might seem familiar, the material is approached from an angle that feels fresh, raw and utterly compelling.


Martin Freeman takes the lead role as Chris Carson, whose mental health has been driven into the ground over many thankless years in the force, which in turn is causing his marriage to deteriorate. What begins as a fascinating character study explodes into a thrilling crime saga when desperate young addict Casey (Emily Fairn) steals a huge stash of cocaine, with the intention of selling it on and using the funds to start over. Torn between two worlds, Chris finds himself constantly questioning what is right, a matter further complicated when he finds himself paired up with idealistic rookie Rachel (Adelayo Adedayo).

Writer Tony Schumacher once worked as a response policeman himself and that life experience is plain to see here, resulting in complex scripts that provide an unflinching look at the limitations of the system. Where Line of Duty has always argued the importance of holding officers to the letter of the law, The Responder hits back with a thought-provoking counterpoint, presenting situations that expose when procedure isn't fit for purpose. Time and again, Schumacher finds unsettling grey areas to send his story, where every decision packs devastating consequences dragging Chris into even deeper water.

These high stakes would lack impact if not for the vividly well-realised characters featured in The Responder and the rich relationships established between them. It would have been all too easy to rely on tired stereotypes in a story like this, but Schumacher's creations are carefully layered and full of surprises. They also feel completely authentic, with the screenwriter displaying a wealth of knowledge from decades spent living and working across Liverpool City Region. As someone with no local connections, I expect his work has yet more subtleties that will be apparent to those more familiar with the area.

Martin Freeman stars in The Responder
Martin Freeman plays Chris in The Responder BBC

By extension, I don't feel entirely qualified to judge the accuracy of the Scouse accents on display here, with Hampshire-born Freeman and on-screen wife MyAnna Buring among the cast members playing Liverpudlian – but to my untrained ear, they're both doing a brilliant job. After a brief adjustment period in the first episode, it never feels distracting to see the Sherlock star in such an off-piste role, as his public persona quickly disappears into the depths of Chris' damaged psyche. The chemistry between himself and Buring is excellent, skilfully depicting the anguish of a marriage in decline.

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This is a phenomenal cast across the board, taking Schumacher's superb scripts and propelling them to even greater heights. Timewasters star Adedayo makes a bold shift into dramatic territory here, tackling a tough storyline that culminates in a knockout scene sure to leave viewers speechless. Emily Fairn and Josh Finan are mesmerising in their first major screen gigs, bringing life to troubled youths Casey and Marco, while Ian Hart (The Last Kingdom), Faye McKeever (Trollied) and Christine Tremarco (Little Boy Blue) excel in juicy roles that are antagonistic yet not clear-cut villains.

Adelayo Adedayo in The Responder
Adelayo Adedayo plays Rachel in The Responder BBC

Praise must also go to The Responder's stellar guest cast, which includes screen legends David Bradley and Rita Tushingham, alongside a slew of lesser known yet equally impressive talent. This strong line-up really shines during Chris' more mundane callouts, where he's faced with resolving some truly tragicomic disputes. It's important to note that while there are funny moments sprinkled into these scenes, the humour never punches down towards the vulnerable characters depicted. On the contrary, there's great sympathy for those who feel that society has left them behind, with this being a central theme brought up throughout the series.

The Responder is a sophisticated look at modern police work, introducing an engrossing character to examine how the system simply isn't working for everyone. This could very well be a career-changing role for Freeman, who rises to the challenge of darker material, as well as having the potential to catapult several new faces to stardom. The Responder cast deserves all the recognition they will inevitably get, as does Schumacher, who immediately establishes himself as a creative voice to watch out for. Indeed, that he could make this genre cynic fall in love with a cop drama suggests that he might even be a miracle worker.


The Responder premieres on BBC One at 9pm on Monday 24th January 2022. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.