Warning: this article contains spoilers for the first episode of BBC One’s The Tourist.
When we first meet ‘The Man’, who is played by Bafta-nominated Jamie Dornan, he seems to be embarking on a road trip of sorts.
We’re in the Australian outback so the long, winding roads are dusty, sepia-toned and relatively peaceful. Until a looming lorry appears out of nowhere.
The episode starts as confusingly as it goes on – we’re wholly unaware why the lorry is following him, we don’t know where The Man is going nor do we really see a destination or a place of respite in sight.
There are just two vehicles on the road, so when the lorry starts to blare its horn, it all feels unnecessary. That is until things take a menacing turn. Perhaps it’s the visual juxtaposition between a small car and a large lorry but the edge-of-your-seat chase will leave your palms sweaty and your eyes glued to the screen.
Almost as frantic as Dornan, the viewer is quickly trying to find a way out of this hellish scenario.
Just when we think The Man has the upper hand by managing to manoeuvre his small car through some trees, the ensuing silence lulls you into thinking everything is all right. He cheers to himself, happy that he’s escaped but, weirdly enough, he doesn’t seem all that confused by what’s just happened. Was he expecting it? Is he on the run?
Then, again out of nowhere, the lorry bulldozes into the side of his car, flipping it over in the process. So begins the first episode of The Tourist, a drama where a slow-burning plotline may deter some viewers but the overall mystery is central to its appeal.
As The Man wakes up in hospital, unable to remember a single thing about himself – his name, his age, where he lives – you can’t help but be sympathetic for what he’s going through.
Even as he moves through the hospital and its dimly lit hallways, you realise that he’s truly alone. It is one of the most eerie things about this drama, but paired with close-range, shaky camera shots and lack of natural light within the hospital, you can’t help but start to feel like The Man: claustrophobic, scared and helpless.
As the episode moves on, local people learn about him and stare, and Lucy (Line Of Duty’s Shalom Brune-Franklin), one of the local café’s waitresses, is intrigued by his amnesia.
The close-knit nature of the local Australian community that this drama is set in adds to the unsettling nature of it all. Everyone knows everyone, but nobody knows this man.
Throughout, we’re introduced to a small group of characters: Helen, the bumbling probationary police officer (played by Danielle Macdonald) assigned to the case of The Man, who has joined a WeightWatchers-style diet club with her husband but enjoys eating secret late-night burgers. Sue, the B&B owner who gives The Man a room to stay in and is the only person to offer him a much-needed hug. “You’ll be OK; you’re safe here,” she says as he cries on her shoulder.
But other characters exist in the shadows of this episode too: we see a man trying to escape an enclosed space with nothing more than a lighter and a key. What is his relation to anyone? We also have an enigmatic hospital visitor (played by Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) who’s looking for The Man and seems disappointed to have missed him. “He didn’t say where he’s going?” he asks menacingly to the on-call nurse.
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Small communities are always perfect fodder for a thriller and it seems as though The Tourist has used this well-known trope well. While it seems as though we’ve met everyone we need to within this first episode, we come away not really knowing too much about anyone.
It could be because the elongated silences within the episode make for ideal thinking time but one question persists throughout: can anyone be trusted?
The eyes of suspicion could even be cast over the protagonist himself. After all, it feels almost too easy to feel sorry for someone we know nothing about – and what would a BBC drama from the makers of The Missing be without twists and turns – but the viewer is left with a steady stream of questions.
Everything feels very contained within this first mysterious episode and it’s clear that a lot is bubbling away beneath the surface for an epic showdown to come. As The Man attempts to retrace his steps, weird, nonsensical revelations start to come to light and we’re certain they’re the first of many to come.
The Tourist airs tonight on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.
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