Silent Witness: Death Has No Dominion PREVIEW

Harry (Tom Ward), Nikki (Emilia Fox) and Leo (William Gaminara). Pics BBC

Rating: ★★½

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.

Story: William Gaminara Leo, Emilia Fox Nikki, Tom Ward Harry, Victoria Wicks Lizzie Fraser, Vincent Regan Tom Byrne, Shelley Conn Connie James, Kirsty Bushell Ginny Gray, Jaye Griffiths  Janet


  1. Anonymous says:

    Calling the show bleak is laughable really, if you have a problem with the recreation of brutal murders then don’t watch it. People die all the time and while yes a lot of the time their deaths are uneventful, there are brutal murders that account for some of those deaths. Silent Witness merely tries to show people that at times death can be violent and that the scenes and victims that the police and forensics deal with can be harrowing.

    Furthermore complaining that “the stories are less about the victims who adorn the morgue than the depraved killers and the forensics guys” is ridiculous. The show is mainly focused on the pathologists because in its essence that is the main basis for the show. As a result we obviously see more about the killer as the focus of the show is finding out the Modus Operandi and then catching them.

    You cannot claim people will not tune in for half hearted stories when, last year, the prospect that Harry possibly died led to it trending on Twitter. I for one will still be glued to the screen on Sunday.

  2. Why the heck have they made 15 series of this rubbish and only one of the wonderfully stylish and character-led Zen… ? I don’t get it???

  3. Plus they stole the name Connie James from Spooks. Boo

  4. I watch violence on shows such as Dexter and The Sopranos. I don’t have a problem with violence, so much as with violence depicted with little context. A drama that front-loads its first episode with half-a-dozen deaths, several quite brutal, including that of a child, seems, to me, to lack any dramatic context. It also seems to lack confidence in its leading characters to keep viewers watching.

    My feeling is that if Silent Witness spent as much time developing interesting characters and believable storylines for those characters, as much as it spends on portraying violent murders and postmortems, it would be a more compelling drama.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Oh dear this initial episode seems to indicate a root and branch departure from the slow-paced technical and cerebral drama I have enoyed over the years. I doubt I will mke the effort to watch it again – especially as it is up against the likes of Homeland.

  6. Anonymous says:

    part of the problem for me with any series is the need to have a “respect” or “liking” of the lead characters. none of the leads in silent witness are particularly likeable and not at all enigmatic. without this it all seems very formulaic with lots of dead bodies and a slow methodical plod to the denoument.

  7. Anonymous says:

    * SPOILERS * follow. Having now seen the SW opener I think this review is unduly harsh and simplistic. The episode wasn’t perfect – it was muddled at times and over-complicated – but it was also admirably epic, ambitious and heartfelt and packed a great twist at the end. The thematic fusing of Nikki’s unspent grief, the grizzled DI’s obsession with catching the Wraith and Leo’s bitterness towards the police produced a grim, anxious atmosphere that really complimented the horrific story. And it was interesting and refreshing to see DNA presented as an investigative problem rather than the easy solution it normally is in cop dramas. The nature and execution of the villain’s revenge was at once properly backlaid and creepily unexpected. The review depicted a cynical, empty vessel of a story and that just didn’t marry up with the powerfully cathartic episode I watched. But I agree some of the gore could’ve been scaled down.

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