Silent Witness has been going for 16 years now which, in this day and age of brutal axing of shows which don’t ‘find their audience’, is a mark of the series’ enduring popularity. Some people can’t stomach it, for a variety of reasons. It’s often unflinchingly gory in its scenes of bloody autopsies and violent murders. Others — particularly those who have knowledge as to how police or forensic pathologists work in the real world — find it too preposterous to watch.
But some people (and I am one of them) welcome a new series of Silent Witness. I love its utterly bonkers approach to forensic science. I revel in the heart-pumping race-against-time moments in which someone works out that a tiny obscure detail is actually the key to the whole bizarre case. I enjoy seeing our pathologists, Nikki (Emilia Fox), Harry (Tom Ward) and Leo (William Gaminara), suddenly realise that the murderer they’ve been hunting is about to decapitate his own mother (or something like that) if they don’t hop to another end of London in the space of a few minutes.
The first two-part story this series was particularly gruesome. It showed the devastating aftermath of the murder of a women and young boy on a farm. The boy died from asphyxia, and she was raped then set alight. As I said, not very nice.
As the episode opened, we were greeted by two of our team of body cutters going through a crisis. A friend of Leo’s, a fellow forensic scientist, has killed herself after she was blamed for the breakdown of an investigation. Sexy and stylish Nikki is coming to terms with the death of her father. Harry, the dashing young pathologist who occupies the daydreams of many middle-aged women across the country, was uncharacteristically happy and jokey. Usually he’s sat in a corner brooding away, wondering why the whole world won’t let him work to his own rules; but in this two-parter his attention was focused on flirting with the attractive Detective Inspector James (Mistresses’ Shelley Conn).
The story eventually turns into the hunt for a serial killer dubbed The Wraith — a multiple murderess whose DNA has turned up at a series of crime scenes across Britain. There are, in true Silent Witness style, some clashes between the forensics and the police, with a gruff turn from Vincent Regan as a detective who has given the best part of his career to hunting down this elusive killer.
The whole thing is shot beautifully, with the care and attention to photography one would expect to see in a piece of high-brow cinema rather than a TV crime drama. There are moments of slow motion and stylised camera work that may test the patience of some viewers, but I found the beguiling look the production team bring to the drama rather compelling.
Compared to other episodes, this story, entitled ‘Death Has No Dominion’ (a Dylan Thomas quote, by the way), was plotted rather well up until the last ten minutes. Things did, sadly, start to get too ridiculous even for me when, after one rather neat twist, further revelations started to surface.
Apparently, due to its similarity with a high profile court case about sex with children under the age of 16, the second story of the series was removed by the BBC from the schedule this week. Instead we got a rather less hysterical and sombre case involving a domestic murder of a mother and daughter. It’s grim, with hardly any moments of warmth or reassurance, but thankfully it’s far more believable than some of the other ludicrous stories this series often asks us to get involved in.
Silent Witness airs on Sunday and Monday nights on BBC One & BBC One HD. Previous episodes are available to watch now on BBC iPlayer.