Silent Witness

Of all the professions where you can feasibly get away with sloppy customer service, pathology must be among the easiest: after all, the clients are unlikely to ask to see the manager. But you won’t find the forensic boffins of Silent Witness doing half the job, oh no. Half of someone else’s, usually, but never their own.

Take this week’s episode: the curtain-raiser to the 124th series (or does it just feel that way?), it was the usual mix of visceral mayhem (we watched a sniper pick off six victims in unflinching detail) and ponderous criminal psychology: ‘It’s our daily routines that govern the ecology of victimisation,’ noted DCI Jane De Freitas, implausibly, as our heroes discussed ‘high velocity spatter’ while poring over a man lying on a petrol station forecourt in what appeared to be a pool of barbecue sauce.

While I could just about buy the idea of a gunman driving around the M25 dispatching targets from his Volvo (who hasn’t harboured murderous thoughts crawling past Rickmansworth?), where Silent Witness really stretches credibility is in its comically loose definition of what forensic science actually entails: this week, Nikki Alexander (willowy Emilia Fox) took it upon herself to inform a murder victim’s next of kin (surely they have family liaison officers for that sort of thing?), while ace pathologist and part-time cage fighter Jack Hodgson (frowny David Caves) got so involved he even went undercover at one of the deceased’s anger management classes. It’s a bit like your dentist turning up at your house and insisting on squeezing your toothpaste out for you. Then again, I guess an hour of people staring at slides and scraping dirt from the fingernails of cadavers might get old fairly quickly.

While the melodrama is overwrought to the point of parody (‘You’re so good at dressing up control as concern you even fool yourself!’ protested one character in the heat of an argument), the whodunit at the heart of this two-parter is morbidly compelling, in a guilty pleasure sort of way. Quincy with added brain tissue, Silent Witness is solid comfort food for those who like their telly served with a generous helping of blood-soaked slaughter. Happy New Year!


TV extra: 

Count Arthur Strong

If Benidorm is a bit coarse for your taste, you could do worse than check out this agreeably old-skool farce about a faded music hall star, the long-running alter ego of cult comedian Steve Delaney. Co-written by Graham Linehan, it tips a knowing trilby to the classic Britcoms of yesteryear, while its streak of gently surrealist whimsy might appeal to disaffected Reeves and Mortimer fans who’ve given up on House of Fools (guilty). Delaney’s pompous bluster is good value, but it’s Rory Kinnear who steals the show as Arthur’s permanently flustered foil, Michael.


So, how amazing was Broadchurch? I loved the bit where that guy did that thing, and that other guy said that thing to that girl, and when David Tennant regenerated into Matt Smith and… Okay, you got me. I haven’t seen it: the wall of secrecy surrounding ITV’s returning megahit means previews aren’t available to journalists. What we do know is there’s no murder this time, so perhaps DI Hardy and DS Miller will be forced to undertake more regular rural police work – less whodunit, more who dropped that crisp packet on the beach?

Published in Waitrose Weekend, January 8, 2015

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