With the latest thrilling season of Line of Duty out to buy on DVD this week, CultBox caught up with the show’s creator Jed Mercurio for an exclusive chat.
The third season of BBC Two’s police corruption thriller sees Mrs Biggs star Daniel Mays join the cast as Sergeant Danny Waldron, alongside returning cast members Martin Compston as Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott, Vicky McClure as Detective Constable Kate Fleming and Adrian Dunbar as Superintendent Ted Hastings.
Although the interview is mostly spoiler-free, we’d advise not reading it until you’ve finished watching Season 3…
What can you tell us about the writing process for Season 3?
“It’s been the same as previous series. There’s an overall idea that’s not detailed by any means and then the series is written episode by episode.
“When we’re happy with an episode we move on to the next in sequence so it’s not that all the episodes are storylined and written in parallel with multiple writers. I’m the only writer and I write them one by one.”
What did you set out to achieve?
“I think the audience has come to expect that there’ll be thrills and questions and cliffhangers and I think we have to respond to that expectation. It’s first and foremost a thriller so we have to deliver on that.
“I suppose that it’s unique in terms of TV cop shows in that it’s cops versus cops so the criminal, if you want to call them that, is a police officer who knows the rules of the game and has the tools of the trade and we want to see those characters using those assets to try and make the investigators job as difficult as possible.”
Did you always intend to finish Lindsay’s storyline?
“No, I didn’t always intend to. There was a process of discussion about whether we would approach Keeley to bring her back, then we had to discuss it with Keeley, then it was a case of how the story would unfold and then it just became something that was inevitable that we would take that approach to it.”
Considering the end of Season 3, has it always been the plan for Dot to end up here?
“No, again it wasn’t always the plan. It was something that developed during the process of working on the script.”
Following Dot’s actions in Episode 5, how would his story have developed had Keeley been unavailable?
“I don’t know. If Keeley hadn’t been available then it would have developed very differently but there wasn’t a plan for that. We were successful in our approach to Keeley and she was very keen to do it and fortunately our shooting dates worked with her schedule so we were very lucky and very pleased all round.”
Where did you want to Steve, Kate and Hastings to be by the end of the season?
“Again that wasn’t something that was preordained. It was more a case of where we felt the position of the show needed to be going into a fourth series and I think it became apparent to us that they’re very important to the identity of the series so that they should all at least start the fourth series.
“Certainly because the kind of format of the show is that we bring in a new character who is kind of centre of attention, it feels like it’s really important that there’s recognisable framework around that which is our three investigators as a team.”
Line of Duty has attracted a number of well-known faces. Who would be your dream lead and guest stars for future seasons?
“*Laughs* Well, it’s not really a matter of dreaming these things they actually work in telly so it’s a case of approaching agents and getting them to commit to the dates if they’re available. So, I can’t really speculate on that.”
There’s been a huge buzz around Season 3. Does this affect how you’ll approach Season 4?
“It does. I think that it brings a pressure to deliver on expectations but then it’s a much better situation to be in than if Series 3 had done very badly. That would be something that would make us have to scratch our heads about whether we’re getting fundamental things wrong with the series.
“It’s actually a very fortunate and privileged position to be in to have a successful show.”
What can we expect from the next season?
“Yeah, you can expect a police officer to be accused of some crime or misconduct and for AC-12 to investigate him or her in a serialised story over six episodes!”
Have you had an endgame in mind since Season 1 or has that developed over time?
“No, not at all. The first series we kind of put everything into that and all you want to do is be successful in the hope that you’ll get a second series. I think it was only with the second series that people understood the format of the show.
“That we bring in this guest character who dominates each season and so, now that appears to be something that’s better understood than it was, I think people are beginning to see it as potentially a long-running series whereas maybe when it first started people hadn’t quite got their heads around the fact that Line of Duty could come back for four seasons and, if we’re very lucky, five or six.
“That’s certainly been one of the achievements of the success of the show.”
One of my favourite things about Line of Duty is how well it manages to subvert our expectations. How important is it to keep certain developments a surprise for the audience?
“I think it’s very important. I think there are things we need to hold back, questions that we want the audience to be asking and we don’t give an immediate answer to. So some of the mysteries in the show take the whole season to examine and others are dealt with quickly but lead to new questions.
“It’s very much a show where I think we understand the audience have to be watching very closely, that there are clues that maybe they can pick up on and fit things together but then there are also things we think are going to be quite enigmatic and that allows us then to deliver surprises down the line.”
What attracted you to writing about anti-corruption?
“I wanted to do a cop show but something that had a distinct identity. So the idea of cops versus cops felt like the way to go. It’s something that has been done in the past but there isn’t a current British cop show which deals with police misconduct and that gives you, I think, a different kind of arsenal of weaponry in terms of telling the story.
“Because there isn’t a criminal as such there’s another police officer who’s an antagonist you then end up with the investigators confronting a character who has the tools of the trade and knows all the rules of the game and that makes them a much more challenging person to bring to justice. I think it’s very important when you’ve got a crowded genre such as the police/crime thriller to have something that sets it apart.”
Aside from Line of Duty Season 4 is there anything else you’re currently working on?
“I’ve got various things in development but there’s nothing that’s yet ready to go into production so the rest of the year is Line of Duty.
“I’m writing the scripts and then we shoot the series in the autumn.”
Are there any other TV series you’d like to contribute to either here or across the pond?
“No, what I really like doing is creating my own series and working on those.”
Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to the viewers and fans of Line of Duty?
“Thank you. As a writer it’s great to be able to have a platform to put your work out and for people to respond to it and to talk about it. I’m really grateful to the fans for supporting the show and I also really grateful to the license payers who fund the show.”
What was your favourite moment in Season 3? Let us know below…