I’ve recently been rewatching Silent Witness from the start (Series 1 began airing in 1996) and while going through the show and watching it transform itself into what we know it to be today, one key difference has struck me. The series was initially based around the character of Professor Sam Ryan, a Northern Irish forensic pathologist who loved interfering with issues that didn’t come under her job description. But – and this is key – her meddling was portrayed as a nuisance to police and a very unusual thing for a forensic pathologist to do. Everyone kept asking why she was getting herself involved when all she should be doing was establishing a time of and cause of death in the bodies that appeared in front of her. Fast forward to 2014 and this kind of behaviour is portrayed as the norm. Forensic pathologists apparently interrogate suspects, sit in on police interviews, get involved with witnesses and moonlight as unofficial psychological profilers and amateur detectives.
This week we had a lot of this, with Nikki and The Cage Fighter (a.k.a. Jack) practically running an investigation into the death of a woman who had been murdered and stuffed into a luggage case. Rather sickeningly, a child had been removed from her either just before or after death via a makeshift caesarean.
Because police offers are routinely portrayed as The Enemy in this series, this week we have a thoroughly nasty piece of work in the form of ex-Coronation Street actor Sean Gallagher. He is so desperate to avenge the death of his work partner he make overlook the laws that he is paid to enforce. It’s yet to become clear exactly what side of the fence he sits on.
There are some drastic changes afoot in this week’s story. The cinéma vérité, the deep, dark colours and the allergy to decent lighting have all disappeared. In their place we have bright, if not exactly vibrant, colours, adequate lighting and a camera with a tripod. It altered the feel of the episode quite noticeably and while perhaps it lacked the same tangible atmosphere the previous stories have gained from their filming-aesthetics, it’s nice to see a bit of variety creeping in.
Silent Witness: Undertone is available to view on BBC iPlayer for a limited time. Images: iPlayer.