The Tunnel: Sabotage, Sky Atlantic

The Tunnel - Series II

The pressure is on: Karl and Elise

Clémence Poésy and Stephen Dillane are reunited for more cross-border intrigue in Sky Atlantic’s big-action thriller

★★★½ Sky Atlantic, Tuesday, 5 April, 9pm

TUNNEL VISION returns to Sky Atlantic with another punchy, explosive instalment of the series inspired by The Bridge.

The Tunnel 2

Evil-doers: The gang of three

The world has changed a lot for Elise. A year on from the events of the last series, she is now the boss of her unit, and having to do managerial courses to learn how to deal with people in her charge. She also has a boyfriend, the waiter she met in series one.

Meanwhile, Karl has had a tough year, moving on to a new job in the police, struggling to cope with events from the past.

Clémence Poésy and Stephen Dillane

The action – and there’s quite a bit of it – kicks off when a couple are abducted from a Euro Star carriage, leaving their traumatised daughter behind. The wife is a French government cyber security chief, he’s big in software.

French investigator Elise Wassermann (Clémence Poésy) and British detective Karl Roebuck (Stephen Dillane) are reunited to tackle the vicious gang of terrorists responsible. However, before they can even pierce the daughter’s terrified silence, a passenger plane crashes in the Channel.

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Silent Witness series 18, Emilia Fox, Richard Lintern, David Caves PREVIEW

Thomas Chamberlain (RICHARD LINTERN), Nikki Alexander [EMILIA FOX], Jack Hodgson [DAVID CAVES], Clarissa Mullery [LIZ CARR] in Silent Witness
Silent Witness returns with Richard Lintern, Emilia Fox, David Caves and Liz Carr. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★

BBC1: starts Tuesday, 6 January, 9pm

Story: When three people are shot dead at a petrol station, Nikki and Jack strive to track down the sniper at large in London and stem a public crisis.

HOW IRONIC that a drama so obsessed with death refuses to die. Every year since 1996 Silent Witness has got off the slab and come back with fresh traumas, gougings and splatters.

It’s survived the first eight series with po-faced Professor Sam Ryan (Amanda Burton), wonderfully satirised by French and Saunders as Witless Silence and by Dead Ringers – ‘Just by looking I can tell

Jack Hodgson [DAVID CAVES], Nikki Alexander [EMILIA FOX] in BBC1's Silent Witness
Jack and Nikki at a crime scene in Sniper’s Nest

that this was a man aged 35-37 called John, who was having an affair with his secretary.’

It has brushed off controversies over being too gruesome. And it rarely excites the critics or judges at the Baftas or the Crime Thriller Awards.

But there is clearly an audience for it and the BBC are happy to devote 10 episodes to a season. The reason it endures is perhaps that the many modes of death so accurately portrayed are used to glimpse into lives encapsulated by their violent demise.

Certainly, the leading players – forensic pathologists Nikki and Tom, and scientist Jack – play second fiddle to the forensics and victims.

Silent Witness‘s lifeless characters

In this season’s two-part opener, Sniper’s Nest, they are working with DCI Jane De Freitas to work out the motivation and profile of a gun nut on a killing spree. There is an attempt to flesh these character’s out a little by giving De Freitas and Tom relationship bust-ups to contend with, and by hinting at Nikki’s loneliness.

But it’s not long before we return to fingers poking brains or staring down the rifle sight as the killer lines up another unsuspecting victim. All of this is dressed up with baffling dialogue, such as De Freitas saying, ‘It’s our daily routines that govern the ecology of victimisation,’ or Nikki stating the obvious – ‘Here’s blood and brain matter travelling in the same direction as the bullet.’

Sights for gore eyes: Forensic TV shows
Quincy, Waking the Dead, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, 
CSI Miami, CSI NY, Bones, Body of Proof

It’s a show that is more concerned with ensuring that the post-mortems are as lifelike, so to speak, as possible, rather than delving into characters that are believable. When it tries to introduce some drama for the living, such as the press officer turning up and telling De Freitas she’ll lose her job if she doesn’t immediately turn herself into a media darling, it is jarringly implausible.


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Sheridan Smith in Mrs Biggs, Marton Csokas as Falcon

Danny Mays, Charmian and Sheridan Smith. Pic: ITV

Mrs Biggs, ITV1
• Sheridan Smith has been cast as Charmian Biggs in ITV1’s new five-parter Mrs Biggs, about the wife of train robber Ronnie. Danny Mays will play the lad with a criminal record who wooed her – where else! – on a train. The couple struggled to stay together when her family did not like Biggs, and the tough times continued when Ronnie got involved in 1963’s Great Train Robbery. He became a fugitive in Australia with Charmian and their children in tow, before he had to flee to Brazil. Sheridan has been recently been winning awards on the London stage for Legally Blonde and Flare Path, while recently on TV she was in Little Crackers and Gavin and Stacey. She said, ‘When I received the call to say that I’d got this job I burst into tears. Charmian is an incredible woman, and I’m so lucky that she’ll be on hand to support me and give me advice during the shoot. I hope that I can do her story justice.’ An award-winning writer, Jeff Pope (Appropriate Adult, See No Evil: the Moors Murders), has been developing Mrs Biggs for four years.

Falcón, Sky Atlantic
More casting news – Marton Csokas, best known as Elven Lord Celeborn in Lord of the Rings, will play the title role of Javier Falcón in Sky Atlantic’s first two-parter based on Robert Wilson’s bestselling detective novels. Two two-parters about the Seville police inspector are in the pipeline, ‘The Blind Man of Seville’ and ‘The Silent and the Damned’. Emilia Fox, Hayley Atwell and Bernard Hill will all appear in the first one. Perhaps Falcón , who is described as ‘an innately sexual and charismatic character’, can step into the gap left by the sadly axed Zen.

Stephen Mangan and Darren Boyd. Pic: BBC

Dirk Gently, BBC4
Dirk Gently, aka actor Stephen Mangan, will soon return to holistically solved some more crimes on BBC4. Darren Boyd will be at his side as partner Richard Macduff, along with Helen Baxendale as Macduff’s girlfriend Susan. In episode one of this new three-part series, Dirk discovers the connection between two unrelated cases – a client who believes the Pentagon are trying to kill him and another whose horoscopes appear to be coming true.

Silent Witness – A Guilty Mind PREVIEW

Emilia Fox as Dr Nikki Alexander (BBC)

Rating ★★½

BBC1, starts Monday, 3 January, 9pm

Silent Witness has had viewers on a scalpel’s edge for 14 years now. The franchise is one of the longest-running crime dramas produced by UK television – older than Spooks (2002), but not so long in the tooth as Taggart (1983).

It’s been a gruesome ride with the pathologists, right back to Amanda Burton’s residency (1996-2004). The scientist Richard Dawkins says there are vastly more ways of being dead than alive, and it feels as though Silent Witness has given us a close-up of most of them. Bloated, decaying bodies and dissected human organs along with some disturbing crimes have been its lifeblood.

This unflinching gaze and upsetting subject matter are abundantly present in the opening two-part story of the new series, A Guilty Mind. The forensic pathologists – Dr Nikki Alexander (Emilia Fox), Prof Leo Dalton (William Gaminara) and Dr Harry Cunningham (Tom Ward) – investigate the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in tandem with the unexpected deaths of three patients on the same ward of a London hospital.

Professor having a breakdown
The main suspect for the child’s murder is a man called Bodle (a creepy Michael Shaeffer), who was given a life-saving brain operation by Professor Silverlake (Roy Marsden). Meanwhile, Leo and Harry  work out that the ward deaths were no coincidence, and suspicion falls on Silverlake, who apparently attended the patients late at night and was having a breakdown, which results in his brandishing a gun in front of armed officers.

Detectives also suspect a missing nurse, while the dead man’s distressed daughter, Naomi (Sinead Keenan), asks Nikki to see if there are mitigating reasons to explain her father’s behaviour.

We get several close-ups of the child’s caved-in skull, later a scalp being peeled and brain removed, internal organs being squeezed. What is new, however, is the effect the child’s murder is shown to have on Nikki, who does its post-mortem.

So after all the gore, the series is showing that this work can take a seriously unsettling toll on those doing it. Nikki can’t sleep, is distracted and shaky when she has to give evidence in court. She becomes depressed.

Emilia Fox, now in her seventh series here, says, ‘A lot of the real pathologists who we work with choose not to work with or do post-mortems on children because of the effect it has on them, especially if you have a young family yourself. So I very much found that quite instinctive – the horror of what you would feel. This is taken to quite an extreme level of how it affects Nikki.’

It’s no wonder her character is depressed. Many viewers will also feel down after seeing the final moments of a child abducted by a rapist. These opening moments are voyeuristic and gratuitous.

This story isn’t about the child’s murder directly, but we still get to see it dragged into bushes, the man leaning over her. Then her caved-in skull in close-up.

The producers will no doubt say these moments show us how Nikki’s depression is triggered, but to depict the crime like this is not necessary. The child is not a character here. We only see her in her final moments before she is a corpse on the slab. She is a plot device, and child rape and murder are too harrowing to be dropped into a drama like this.

Fox, Ward and Gaminara make a good cast
While Silent Witness takes huge of trouble over the realistic recreation of the pathologist’s gory job – ‘The bodies just get better and better,’ says Emilia Fox – the show’s designer, moodily-lit lab and Nikki teetering around it in killer heels are reminders that this is entertainment, a simple whodunnit.

But although Fox is an expressive actress and her co-stars, Ward and Gaminara, complete an appealing cast, this mystery is ludicrous and unconvincing.

Without giving too much away, one character engineers their own death for reasons so unbelievable it immediately exposes how artificial the drama is. Because this death is a piece of misdirection to stop viewers guessing the real killer in the first episode.

And there are a load of other red-herrings, such as some drawn-out business about anti-depressants (plus a mystery man who warns Prof Dalton off investigating this drug, which is never resolved).

Having been through the entrails of both instalments of A Guilty Mind, I still have no clear idea why the killer commits so many fiendishly contrived murders in the first place.

More effort spent on producing believable stories and less on the pathology money shots – when does showing a head being cracked open advance the plot? – would help to bring Silent Witness back from the dead, and its morbid fascination with their insides.

• Crime Zapper – DCI Banks, Garrow’s Law, Silent Witness •

• OK, I admit it. I wasn’t a fan of DCI Banks: Aftermath on ITV1. It didn’t do Peter Robinson’s book justice, and its lead player, Mr Everyman Stephen Tompkinson, was too manic and just plain wrong in the part. Banks is pretty hot with the ladies in the novel, whereas on screen Tompkinson was forever ranting and looking psychotic. He seems to be in the Robson Green-Martin Clunes knee-jerk favourite zone at ITV – every part that comes along, no matter how unsuitable, being put his way. The newspaper reviews were also lukewarm, many saying it was a bit too routine a procedural. The great British viewership, however, switched on to it. Banks got higher ratings (5.6m) on its opening night than Spooks, which is impressive bearing in mind the latter’s huge fanbase and eight-year headstart. And now Left Bank Pictures has announced that there will be three new further Banks adaptations in 2011 – Playing with Fire, Friend of the Devil and Cold as the Grave (six hour-long episodes, two per story). 

• The ludicrously brief series of Garrow’s Law – just four episodes – was short but compelling, and ended with a terrific finale on Sunday. Andrew Buchan wrung tears and snot in a highly charged story as Garrow faced ruin and disgrace along with the woman he loves, Lady Sarah (Lyndsey Marshal). Apart from the central drama and Garrow’s brilliant performances in the old Old Bailey, the series has reflected on the grotesque legal system of the late 18th century – with a 12-year-old boy being hung for theft in this episode. Alun Armstrong as Garrow’s solicitor and mentor, Southouse, gave a grandstanding speech at Garrow’s trial for Criminal Conversation (adultery to us), and Sir Arthur (made very loathsome by Rupert Graves) got his humiliating comeuppance. Anyone intrigued by these stories, based on the records of the Old Bailey, may be interested in knowing more about the real cases behind the series’ dramas from its legal consultant on historical matter, Mark Pallis, who has a blog. And the Beeb has a round-up of all the buzz created by Garrow’s Law here.

Emilia Fox in Silent Witness (BBC)

• In addition to Zen with Rufus Sewell coming along on BBC1 in the first week of January, a new series of Hustle and the 14th of Silent Witness are also lined up (though no dates and times have been announced yet). Silent Witness opens with a two part story called A Guilty Mind, in which three patients die unexpectedly in the same ward of a London hospital. Emilia Fox, who plays Dr Nikki Alexander, says, ‘The case affects Nikki deeply and personally and looks at the less tangible part of pathology, which is the mind. We are used to the team finding things out through the organs and the body, but of course when it comes to the mind it’s a lot harder to deal with.’ Previews will follow on crimetimepreview.

• The Beeb has also announced another new thriller series for 2011, Stolen starring Damian Lewis (Band of Brothers, The Forsyte Saga, Life). He plays Detective Inspector Anthony Carter, who’s trying to rescue some children from child slavery. It’s to be directed by Justin Chadwick, whose credits include The Other Boleyn Girl and Bleak House.

Foyle’s War is thrashing all-comers in crimetimepreview‘s poll of 2010’s top crime series. Only Sherlock is putting up a fight, with the likes of Spooks and Poirot taking a pasting. Just 13 days of voting to go…

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