Silent Witness celebrates 20 years on our screens with a heartfelt yet three-dimensional discussion about illegal immigration.
This year, Silent Witness, the BBC’s longest continuous running drama series, reaches its twentieth series on our screens. To mark the milestone, you’d think writers would perhaps take a nostalgic trip to the past (the return of original actress Amanda Burton has long been hoped for), but instead they make the stark decision to keep looking forward. In fact, Silent Witness‘ opening story lands it slap bang in an extremely current issue – illegal immigration.
It’s a harrowing tale, and as per usual, the heroic pathologist-cum-detective-cum-doctor Nikki Alexander (Emilia Fox) is slap bang in the middle of it. Nikki’s constantly angelic stance on the moral issues presented in Silent Witness has always grated with me slightly, with the character’s only flaw her refusal to play by the book to help those in need. This week, she smuggles an illegal immigrant girl into a hospital to get her broken arm seen to, only to hurriedly wheel her out when the police arrive. The show shows surprising balance when it comes to the very contextual problem of illegal immigration; there are textured heroes and villains on both the side of the refugees, and the police taskforce out to get them. At one point, Nikki finds herself at odds with her boss, Thomas (Richard Lintern), heatedly discussing the government’s treatment of the refugee crisis; though both sides of the argument are put across, Silent Witness (quite rightly in my mind) lands down on the side of increased empathy towards those fleeing their war-torn countries.
You must have a heart of stone not to feel something, as harrowing scenes depict some very real images we choose to blind ourselves to in today’s world. From the rundown Calais Jungle-esque camp, to an immigrant’s terror while being smuggled into Britain in the back of a van – the viewpoints of two desperate girls in particular communicate how tragic the situation has become. Silent Witness feels like the perfect show to tell this story, too. It is long-running, trusted, loved by many; last year I described it as ‘a warm blanket to see you through the cold winds of January’. Sure, its opening episode lulls you into somewhat of a false sense of security with its gruesome murder of a businessman in the first five minutes, but it then snatching away that blanket, exposing you to the cold truth of the world we currently live in. It’s a tumultuous moral issue that needs to be talked about more, both in spirited home discussion, and in the halls of parliament.
There are a few niggles; the brilliant Liz Carr is, as always, pushed into the background as supporting character Clarissa Mullery, while David Caves is left to brood in unimportance as Jack, the show’s resident piece of meat. Richard Lintern’s Thomas Chamberlain remains a shoddy impression of the much-loved Leo Dalton (William Gaminara), who is still in our hearts and minds four series after he was brutally killed off.
Though lack of character development is a frustration, perhaps it is the show’s refusal to develop over-complicated, long-running story arcs which has kept it on our screen for so long. Happy 20th Birthday, Silent Witness – keep creating morally complex blinders like ‘Identity’, and we might just have to keep you around for another twenty.
Silent Witness continues its twentieth run next Monday and Tuesday on BBC One.