Review: Silent Witness | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Review: Silent Witness

News Editor Erin Santillo dissects BBC's Silent Witness, as the long-running forensic crime drama returns to our screens for its 21st series

The Christmas season is not truly over until the festive programming is on the slab and prepped for post mortem, making room for the blood, bodies and ballistics reports that come with BBC1’s Silent Witness. Returning for its 21st series in 2018, the forensic pathology programme is now the longest running crime drama in the world – and rightly so. Following the life of pathologist Dr Nikki Alexander (Emilia Fox) and her colleagues at the Lyell Centre, a prestigious forensic laboratory in London, each Silent Witness case is split over two hour-long episodes broadcast on Monday and Tuesday nights. Each week, the team encounter a horrific crime scene, incompetent police detectives and, you guessed it, a tantalising mystery to solve.

The forensic pathology programme is now the longest running crime drama in the world
With Jack Hodgson (David Caves) plucking torn items of clothing from fences for forensic analysis, Clarissa Mullery (Liz Carr) searching databases to identify traces of an unknown powder found near the victim, and Dr Thomas Chamberlain (Richard Lintern) dissecting countless organs and delicately prodding even more, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the programme was the same as ever. However, haunted by her harrowing experiences in Mexico, Nikki is now on compassionate leave from work as she tries to forget being buried alive in the middle of a desert by a malicious crime cartel at the end of series 20. Which, perhaps unsurprisingly, is not going well.

In a bid to escape her heavily tattooed demons, Nikki seeks emotional support from old friend and fellow pathologist Sally Vaughan (Emma Fielding), but when her companion disappears days later Dr Alexander decides that returning to the Lyell and working the case is the best course of action. Recruited on the side by a fantastically dry DCI Guy Bernhardt (Alex Macqueen) to spy on the prime suspect, pathologist David Cannon (Julian Rhind-Tutt), Nikki is almost immediately plunged into the heart of a deeply personal mystery.

This series takes the team everywhere, from the swanky corridors of the US embassy to the bland rooftop of a multi-story car park
This series takes the team everywhere, from the swanky corridors of the US embassy to the bland rooftop of a multi-story car park, all without losing the pace and thrill that is integral to the drama. The high class of the acting combined with the realistic staging of the post-mortems is what makes Silent Witness so believable, and so watchable. In each week’s 23 hour wait between the airing of part one and part two, the murderer is not only at large on the screen, but might as well be stalking the streets of London in reality too. Thankfully, the BBC only uploads each episode to iPlayer after broadcast, making the series, in this respect, gratifyingly unbingeable.

However, Silent Witness does ask its viewers for some level of dramatic licence. As the pathologists quiz suspects, lecture the FBI and chase criminals down alleyways, the question you must avoid posing is: ‘but is that really in their job description?’. Admittedly, the answer to that is probably in the negative, but where would the fun be in a drama completely revolving around test tubes and beaten up cadavers? The most controversy this year has seemingly stemmed from the slight alteration to the title music for this series, modernising John Harles’ ‘Silencium’ to give it more of an eerie quality. According to the Daily Mail, viewers were ‘up in arms’ regarding the change; a notion I somehow doubt, and most certainly disagree with.

Silent Witness never fails to speak to the times we live in
Additionally, the programme has never been averse to commentary outside of the forensic bubble, and this series is no different, featuring a case exploring tense UK-US relations with the line, ‘the old [political] battle lines, they don’t really exist anymore . . . it’s now the current [Trump] administration and then everybody else’. Previous cases have tackled themes such as child abuse and terrorism, and a key protagonist, Professor Leo Dalton, was even killed in a Taliban raid on an Afghan village in series 16. Silent Witness never fails to speak to the times we live in, and for that reason it could, and should, continue on our screens indefinitely.

The show airs every Monday and Tuesday night on BBC1, and the whole series so far is available to watch on iPlayer. Each two-part case works as a standalone drama, so don’t feel like you have to watch the previous 182 episodes to catch the drift.

 

2nd Year BA English Language and Literature & Redbrick News Editor (@ErinSantillo)



Published

8th February 2018 at 9:00 am



Images from

BBC and BBC First Australia



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