Friday, 30 March 2012

Television reviews: 30 March

Michael Moran investigates the return of a deliciously morbid crime drama

Written by Michael Moran
Michael-Moran1This week sees a veritable television titan returning to our screens. There has long been a popular strand in crime fiction of novels about the grisliest imaginable murders being solved by (mainly) female protagonists. Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell and (I'd say particularly) Val McDermid are considered to be the leaders in that corpsestrewn field.

There are, though, some of us who like to hear of unconscionable crimes being cleared up by nice young ladies, but are too busy or squintyeyed or (frankly) lazy to read actual books.

Handily, since the middle of the 1990s those books have had a televisual counterpart in Silent Witness. Series 15 starts this week with a doublelength episode spread over two nights.

If you're already a regular viewer, you'll need no encouragement from me to tune in. Newcomers might be discombobulated by the show's stylised, almost abstract style. In Silent Witness (Sunday and Monday on BBC One at 9pm) we are rarely offered a clear narrative if an arty montage will do the job. It's CSI as visualised by Terrence Malick.

Emilia Fox returns as worriedlooking Doctor Nikki Alexander. She isn't alone, though. She is just the least impulsive member of a team comprising herself, Harry (henceforth Doctor Dishy) and Leo (Professor Grumpy).

In this first case, he's also helped out by a somewhat impetuous detective played by Shelley Conn. You may be one of the millions who remember Shelley from BBC's Sex And The Cityfl avoured bonkbuster Mistresses, or indeed one of the several who enjoyed her work in Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park flavoured flopperoo Terra Nova. She's great in Silent Witness, and I hope it's not just wishful thinking that leads me to suspect she may be turning up to help the team again before this series is out.

Together they are on the trail of a mysterious female serial killer called The Wraith – part Moriarty, part Hannibal Lecter. The gloriously clean and hightech police incident room features a haunting, wallsized E-FIT of this miscreant to constantly remind you of her sinister presence. In the real world, forensics labs have been slashed to the bone by government spending cuts. In the world of Silent Witness, they have the coolest, swishiest, most Minority Report computers you've ever seen.

In the real world, forensic pathologists spend quite a bit of their time hunched over microscopes. In Silent Witness, they are rarely far from the action, tagging along on arrests and interrogations.

Still, if police procedurals were realistic, they wouldn't be as much fun as this to watch.

Over two episodes we move towards a denouement that, despite my years of watching this stuff, I didn't see coming. If your sofa companion claims that they predicted the outcome from the outset, spill your wine over them. They're fibbing.

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