The Tourist review: mystery and memory loss in the Aussie outback

Review at a glance

Things are ominous from the off in this new BBC six-parter. The music is brooding; the landscape, arid and Australian, is bleak; the protagonist, played by Jamie Dornan, is stony-faced and irritable. And within minutes, our man is hurtling through the outback in a rickety old coupé, locked in a Jeepers Creepers-style chase with an 18-wheeler trying to ram him off the road.

Whatever could he have done to get in such a predicament? We’re none the wiser — and, as it turns out, neither is he. The truck eventually catches up, slams into the side of the car, and leaves Dornan’s character in hospital, waking up with total amnesia.

Without a clue as to his name (we’ll call him The Man), what led him to this point, or what to do next, a tantalising plot seemingly lies ahead. Amnesia storylines always feel like a sure-fire way to gather intrigue from the get-go — if even the protagonist doesn’t have a scooby, then we’re naturally taken along for the ride as well — but they do demand some narrative gymnastics further down the line for whole thing not to end up in an anti-climax. In the first two episodes, we’re drip-fed details — shady motives begin to unveil themselves, and demons from the past reappear — but the who, what, where, when, why are still largely unanswered. Whatever went down before, it’s clear The Man has had a bit of a shocker.

With the dusty, desolate expanse of the Australian bush and the cat-and-mouse tension that steadily builds, there’s more than a whiff of No Country for Old Men. One character, Billy (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), a looming menace of a man dressed in dark cowboy garb, feels like he’s been pitched somewhere between a cliché and an homage to Westerns, and the lighthearted comedy of Helen Chambers (Danielle Macdonald), a nervy probationary officer assigned to question The Man after his crash, does feel slightly at odds with the moody austerity elsewhere. The other side of her character — a nascent determination to overcome her own self-doubt, thoroughly unaided by her inconsiderate fiancé, and to dig into The Man’s mystery — is compelling, though.

Dornan’s performance is a slow-burner. Confusion — and a lack of mobility, hobbling around on crutches — grows into a sullen resolve to chase down any scrap of a clue about his past, but does occasionally break down under the overwhelming emotion of it all. He’s aided in his quest by a local, Luci (Shalom Brune-Franklin), who carts him around in her battered 4×4, apparently eager to banish the boredom of life in small-town Australia, but unable to fully escape The Man’s suspicions.

The introduction of Detective Inspector Lachlan Rogers (Damon Herriman) hints at some almighty coming together of The Man, his pursuers, and the law. How will it pan out? We’ll all find out together.

The Tourist comes to BBC One and iPlayer on January 1. It continues on BBC One on January 2, with all episodes on iPlayer.

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