Silent Witness, one of the longest running BBC television series (broadcast in more than 235 countries), focuses on a team of brilliant forensic pathologists who investigate a crime every two episodes. First broadcast in 1996, there now have been twenty-three seasons, making Silent Witness the entertainment industry’s longest running crime drama. The title character is a corpse lying on a slab prepared for a post-mortem analysis–a “silent witness” providing evidence of a crime, suicide, or death by natural causes. Stories untold, things unsaid.
The crimes range from human trafficking to biological weapons, drug cartels, organized crime, corporate skullduggery, mental illness, the Troubles in Northern Ireland and the occasional insurance scam or accident. The most insignificant anatomical anomaly or physical trace of soil or insect can indicate whether a death is a suicide or a homicide, an accident or not. Toxicology reports and DNA to identify a severed limb or family connection are quintessential procedural investigative stages. Post-mortem dissection of body parts is not for the squeamish, as the pathologists, without noticeable reaction, cut open and squeeze contents before plopping them onto a steel basin. For those who flinch at biologically realistic appearing organs, bones and tissue, you might want to skip this series. For those not squeamish you will find the scientific precision extolling conclusions based on research and science to be riveting.
A brilliant, often ignored female pathologist is commonly the key to solving the crime(s). [Each two-episode case also features at least two corpses and two crimes to solve.] The series has had multiple casting changes, including the actors who play the three pathologists.
It is challenging and so much fun to solve the crimes, from the viewer’s perspective. All clues are there, if you pay close attention. However, often an insignificant comment in a conversation at the beginning of an opening scene foreshadows who is the culprit. (Note: It is never the most obvious suspect.)
It is obvious why this series is such a crowd-pleaser. Even with multiple casting changes throughout the twenty-three year history of Silent Witness, the drama keeps pace with social change. Nothing seems dated in any of the narratives, with the exception of some of the cases in South Africa. In addition, not only the mystery and suspense of a whodunit plays to the audience’s interest, but also the backstories of the three key forensic pathologists. Each is flawed with a corresponding family history and drama. The three pathologists’ unstable private lives often underscore the chaotic paths of their dogged, determined hunt for the killer, poking into their own psyches as they probe the “silent witness” to the crime.
Silent Witness is not headed to the morgue anytime soon, and certainly, is not dead on arrival.
Note: A bonus feature to watching Silent Witness is seeing some of Britain’s most talented actors at the very beginning of their careers, mere acolytes learning the trade. For the gimlet-eyed, some of the more notable are Idris Elba as an ambitious young boxer, Benedict Cumberbatch as a callow university student, Jodie Comer as the unfortunate subject of an exorcism, and Daniel Kaluuya, as a teenager trying to eradicate a local gang’s influence on his family.
Availability: Amazon Prime streaming.