Thirteen is the first drama commissioned for BBC3 as an online-only channel, yet like all of its new programmes they’re clearly contractually obliged to air on normal TV as well, so basically they’re getting a one-week advance screening online before being shown on the main two channels, with this one being broadcast on BBC2 on Sunday evenings.
Jodie Comer (Doctor Foster) gives a stand-out performance from as Ivy Moxam, a young woman who was kidnapped at the age of 13, and now has escaped a further thirteen years later. Naturally, she’s not a streetwise 26-year-old, but time has taken its toll and caused the retardation of her life to the point where she still talks like a frightened schoolgirl, even a bit giggly as Stockholm Syndrome kicks in and she tells how she had to eat fish straight from the can without a spoon, adding “You have to earn the right to have a spoon… I never did”.
You hear about cases like this from time to time where children are kidnapped and only found many years later, if they’re found alive. This story particularly reminded me of the Ariel Castro kidnappings, where three young women – Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Georgina “Gina” DeJesus – were kidnapped by Ariel Castro between 2002 and 2004, in Cleveland, Ohio, and Ms Berry managed to escape and alert the police. Castro’s story was more cut-and-dried in that he was swiftly arrested and, thankfully, topped himself after a month in prison.
The plot moved along quite briskly for an hour-long episode, processing Ivy, identifying her through DNA, tracking down the house in which she was kept, investigating the cellar where she spent the entire time – only for the kidnapper to have bleached the place clean, turning the place over – revealing a passport photo, meaning she did get out at some point, yet didn’t want to go into detail about why she didn’t sound the alarm then. Will we find out why in a later episode? It could’ve been an element of Stockholm Syndrome, as she found a way to bond with her captor, or simply she could’ve been scared what might’ve happened if she’d blown the whistle. After all, in the bedroom, they found suspected signs of sexual abuse.
It also showed how the family adjusted to her return, especially her younger sister, Emma (Katherine Rose Morley), who was initially convinced it’s wasn’t the real Ivy, since the year after she went missing, two girls came forward claiming to be her. The situation regarding press intrusion was also touched upon.
This first episode had superb pacing, even including a touching scene where she met up with her boyfriend from 2003, Tim (The Scandalous Lady W‘s Aneurin Barnard) – him not wanting to disappoint her by deftly hiding his wedding ring as he could see how distraught she was, as well as her inviting him up to her bedroom. Her parents disapproved, but Ivy retorted, “It’s okay.. I’m 26.” Well, that’s true, but you could see why they had concerns.
In her police interviews, she mentions being snatched while listening to her MiniDisc player, and if I’m going to moan, I’d say that while those were still around to use at that time, they were more of a ’90s thing. Also, they were too expensive for most children, and by then, MP3 players were getting a foothold in the personal stereo department, so that would be more likely.
Ivy also experienced the trappings of freedom, feeling hemmed in and having to escape, as she bolted out of the bathroom window; and the episode also threw in DI Carne’s partner, DS Lisa Merchant (Valene Kane), being able to see Ivy’s getting attached to Carne (Richard Rankin). However, I’m not convinced about where the story might be heading in that it hints at Ivy leading the police a merry dance with a hidden agenda. Sure, there would be some aspects of her thirteen years of captivity which she would want to keep to herself, but trying to portray her character as a ‘bad guy’? I don’t buy it.
By the end of the end of the episode they’d found the name of the name, and what he looked like via old CCTV footage, but with the perpetrator having done a bunk, presumably going to ground for some considerable time, the closing cliffhanger was rather daft, stating that he’s kidnapped again. With this Hollywoodisation thrown in for dramatic effect, you could just imagine the picture freezing and then hearing this... . This and the ‘bad guy’ aspect, mentioned in the previous paragraph, were the only downsides to a great first episode, so I’m hoping the rest of the series doesn’t throw the story down the ‘daft path’, but even if it did, Jodie Comer has proved her star is shining incredibly brightly.
As I mentioned earlier, BBC iPlayer are making this series available, episode by episode, one week ahead of its BBC2 screening, which means the second episode is available now, but given that that’s the case, I think I’ll just watch episodes 2-4 on TV when they’re broadcast, and then the finale on the iPlayer. In this age of streaming and expecting to being able to watch every episode of a series instantly, I think the BBC have missed a trick by not releasing all five episodes online simultaneously.
Thirteen is available to pre-order on DVD, ahead of its release on April 18th, and the drama continues next Sunday on BBC2 at 10pm. If you missed it, you can watch the first episode on BBC iPlayer, up until August 27th. Also, click on the packshot for the full-size version.
Episode 1 Score: 8/10
Director: Vanessa Caswill
Producer: Hugh Warren
Screenplay: Marnie Dickens
Music: Jon Opstad
Ivy Moxam: Jodie Comer
DI Elliott Carne: Richard Rankin
DS Lisa Merchant: Valene Kane
Tim Hobson: Aneurin Barnard
Christina Moxam: Natasha Little
Angus Moxam: Stuart Graham
Henry Stone: Nicholas Farrell
Craig Watts: Joe Layton
Emma Moxam: Katherine Rose Morley
Eloise Wye: Eleanor Wyld
Yazz Hobson: Kemi-Bo Jacobs
Police Constable: Samuel Burton
Alia Symes: Chipo Chung
Harold Winters: Colin Mace
Sofia Marin: Melina Matthews
Corbin Thomas: Ceri Murphy
SOCO: Andrea Hall
DS Jim Conroy: Mark Flitton
Angela Hill: Suzette Llewellyn
Technician: Nicola Stuart-Hill
Mark White: Peter McDonald
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.