At first glance, Waking the Dead looks like a greatest hits compilation of detective shows, a kind of Now That’s What I Call a Crime Drama. There’s the Cracker-esque psychology, forensics that are a scalpel-cut away from Silent Witness, the door-to-door policing of Prime Suspect and the same light bulb budget as CSI.
But Waking the Dead has carved out its own niche in the harrowing gloomiverse that is the two-part psychological thriller. It’s mainly down to head detective Peter Boyd (Trevor Eve), who, despite looking like Noel Edmonds’s thuggish older brother, has a temper that would make The Shield’s Michael Chiklis soil himself. Eve doesn’t so much chew scenery as swallow it whole. In fact, he seems to have eaten the office whiteboard but his squad must be too scared to ask him for another because they’ve started writing on the glass partitions with highlighter pens instead.
There are other people in the team apart from Peter Boyd, although sometimes you wouldn’t know it from the way he tramples over their lines, cuts them off midsentence and storms off in a sulk. You get the impression the show would have been called All about Eve if the title hadn’t already been taken.
Tara FitzGerald tried to redress the balance as new pathologist Dr Eve Lockhart, who has broken the tradition of being a woman but having a man’s name (yes, Frankie and Felix, I mean you) and who does more than just yell “It’s a match!” at least once an episode. Her husky, 40-a-day-sounding objections have silenced her boss in a way that Holly Aird’s withering looks never did. Good to see too that Dr Lockhart, like her predecessors, doesn’t bother with such minor irritations as tying her hair back during autopsies: “Oh look, the killer, judging by the hair follicles clogging up his internal organs, would seem to be me.”
But first prize in Boyd-baiting goes to psychologist Grace Foley, played with lovely, mumsy charm by Sue Johnston, who goes through the investigations affecting a tut-tutting air of disapproval, while making cups of tea for those who’ve been arrested. She also has an old-married-couple (or should that be mother-son) relationship with Trevor Eve’s character, which has become increasingly quirky – and explosive – as the series has gone on.
When the pair started tearing chunks out of each other, it reminded us why Waking the Dead is such an antidote to the photogenic casts of CSI. Here is crime-solving stripped of its prettiness: meaty, gruesome and not afraid to send you off to bed with nightmares. Its plots have become increasingly ambitious (Nazi breeding programmes and horrific care-home abuse) and the fissures within the team more damaging.
True, only one in three stories really makes sense and there’s the nagging feeling that the show lost its way a bit around the time Boyd grew the beard. But by the time you’ve spent 120 minutes at Trevor Eve’s house of horrors, you’ll have stopped believing in happy endings and traditional narrative structures and be too concerned with making sure all the doors are locked to care.