“Forensics for the Faint-Hearted”: Silent Witness

You don't have to have a strong stomach to enjoy this cosy crime drama, set in an autopsy lab

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I’ve never had much of a stomach for blood and guts. I love thrillers but where others see latex, I see lumps of real human flesh.

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And as most audiences like their crime drama hard-boiled, à la CSI, for lily-livered viewers like me, all that’s on offer are bloodless but – let’s face it – geriatric alternatives like Midsomer Murders and Murder, She Wrote. That’s why Silent Witness has been so transforming. It’s forensics for the faint-hearted.

The meat of the show – so to speak – is only briefly on screen. No mouldering buckets of blood or bits of entrails stuck to the skirting. Vertical or horizontal, its spotless, glassy surfaces glow in voguish rectangles of coloured light. After hours plodding around period properties with Morse and Poirot, now I can hang out at the lab that looks like a cocktail bar.

And when Harry and the gang do get down to dismembering a corpse, it’s done in a jiffy, with the focus on interpretation of evidence, not on the sad but necessary invasion of the victim’s body.

The team are really likeable as well. There are so many grim-faced, messed-up investigators on TV but proving you can flirt just about anywhere, Harry, Nikki and Leo can have their arms elbow deep in someone’s innards one moment and be trading sharp one-liners the next. They are well-adjusted, charismatic people with a sense of fun.

Have I made it sound a bit twee? It’s true Silent Witness sometimes gets close to being a more modish Miss Marple, especially with Nikki (Emilia Fox) dashing about, trying to prevent miscarriages of justice in her slightly school-ma’amish way.

But this series – a particularly strong one – confidently confronts this with Harry accusing Nikki of being a latter-day Jane Eyre and so pointing this up as a believable facet of her character.

In fact, the show comfortably fills its two hours screen time with dense, intriguing plots and plenty of surprises. A recent story about a scriptwriter accused of murdering his wife played about with a lot of the usual TV clichés about loveable rogues and really kept you guessing about the suspect’s guilt.

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Intelligent plotting, suspense, unexpected twists and appealing leads. This is what many people like me want of a weeknight. Not another distressing, charmless tale of young women being stalked and slashed. And you don’t have to be retired to say that.
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