|Harry (Tom Ward), Nikki (Emilia Fox) and Leo (William Gaminara). Pics BBC|
BBC1, Sunday, 1 April, Monday, 2 April, 9pm
Story: Leo is in turmoil when old friend Professor Lizzie Fraser commits suicide. It’s a double tragedy as Lizzie’s sister, a forensic scientist, was stabbed to death at a crime scene 10 years before. After Nikki attends her father’s memorial, she joins the team at the scene of a violent triple murder at a farmhouse.
A corpse at a crime scene. One of the forensic scientists, a woman, is repeatedly stabbed by a man hiding under a bed at the scene. Another woman then slashes her wrists in the bath. Nikki attends her dad’s memorial, before a madman burns, shoots and asphyxiates yet another woman, her dad and her young son.
|Harry and new detective DI James (Shelley Conn) hunt The Wraith|
That’s the first 10 minutes of this series opener. It’s impossible to work out what’s going on during this conveyor belt of death and horror, but in drama terms seven immediate deaths is a definite case of overkill.
Stab wounds, stun-gun burns
We’re then quickly treated to the farm victims on the slab, as their stab wounds, stun-gun burns, scorched genitals and the boot imprints on their skin are itemised.
This isn’t so much a drama as the TV version of the London Dungeon, a vicarious peek at murder and body parts. The problem is that it is hard to care about the victims when there is so much gore and so little context about those being brutalised.
The stories are less about the victims who adorn the morgue than the depraved killers and the forensics guys. And even then the lead characters’ storylines feel half-hearted. So, Leo is upset that his friend Professor Lizzie Fraser committed suicide, feeling she became a scapegoat of the police after one case.
|Nikki and Ginny Gray (Kirsty Bushell)|
Shelley Conn joins as DI Connie James
He is tetchy with Harry and defensive with the new detective on the block, DI Connie James, offering broad, safe conclusions about the bodies that cannot be thrown back at him later.
It emerges that the farmhouse killings are connected to those of a mass serial killer, a woman nicknamed The Wraith, who inveigles easily led ‘low-lifes’ into doing her murders and rapes.
As one of the forensics says, it’s a vile case.
This is the 15th series of Silent Witness, and it amazing that it’s still alive and kicking. The Beeb describes it as ‘sexy, cerebral and suspense-filled’. It’s only cerebral in as far as it might occasionally show victims’ brains, and as for sexy – it’s the least sexy show on TV since Training Dogs the Woodhouse Way.
Gore and corpses
It is a show in which the gore and corpses take precedence over credible, interesting characters, who are ciphers for the plot, mouthing lines such as, ‘So if the pipe made contact with the killer, there’s chance of DNA?’ Duh!
Finally, the show is so bleak. Silent Witness cannot resist recreating brutal murders. Here the forensic scientist so shockingly stabbed in the episode’s opening minutes is a crime that took place 10 years before the events in this story, yet we still get the full flashback.
It’s unlikely many viewers are glued to the half-hearted stories of Nikki, Harry and Leo when so much emphasis is placed on murders and prosthetics.
Which misses the point, that the best crime dramas have unforgettable characters – Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect, Sarah Lund in The Killing or Walter White in the superb Breaking Bad. A little less death and gore, and a little more life in our heroes wouldn’t go amiss here.