Review: The Body Farm episode one

How did BBC1's Waking the Dead successor fare in its opening instalment?

Being a spin-off from the late, lamented Waking the Dead, I’d expected The Body Farm to be very shouty. Back in the day Trevor Eve would yell both colleagues and suspects into submission and this new series had Keith Allen in the cast, a man who even at his calmest sounds like his shirt-tail is on fire.

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But what a surprise – in this opening episode there were no interrogations that ended in torture and Dr Eve Lockhart’s squad of forensic specialists all seem remarkably patient with each other. Even Allen (who plays DI Craig Hale) appears to have switched his default setting from spittle-flecked belligerence to pursed-lipped contemplation.

The only things to have transferred over are Tara FitzGerald’s black nail polish and her smoky, 40-a-day tones. “My promise to the murderer is this – I will find you,” Eve states in her rather portentous narration.

She was always the ideal candidate to get a show of her own. Spence was only ever good for kicking down doors, while an hour spent in the company of just Boyd would be like staring into an abyss of despair. They could have got mileage out of doing something different with Sue Johnston, maybe by sending her off to Afghanistan to research the psychology of war criminals. But perhaps I just like the idea of getting some extra mileage out of the title Grace under Fire.

Of course, this being from the WTD stable, there had to be corpses and not of the neat, bloodless kind you find in an Agatha Christie. With Eve’s facility being the only one in the country to use real human donors to chart decomposition, there were a lot of maggots on offer.

It’s certainly doubtful that her tropical biosphere would prove as popular with tourists as the one at the Eden Project, what with the plant life taking root in the Brazilian bloke lying dead on the decking. As for the mystery-of-the-week – well, we weren’t so much dealing with bodies as bomb-blasted viscera, splattered about in the manner of a Jackson Pollock painting but with added flesh flies.

Yet it seems that Eve’s helpers aren’t used to being out in the field. “Since when do we go to crime scenes?” asked Rosa, the boffin from the biosphere. Presumably since you were given your own detective series, would have been the obvious response. But once they got down to business, they were pretty effective.

Rosa was even able to procure a patient’s notes from a nurse at a hospital despite not being on the staff. You don’t usually get to do that kind of thing until you pass level two of your general certificate in sleuthing clichés. I was less sure about Oggy, however, the oddball tech who performs skin contamination tests on himself. Wasn’t he just a younger, kookier version of Brian from New Tricks with the same prescription of antidepressants?

A small part of me dreams that, at some point, some of Eve’s old gang will show up (or would that be too much like the times on Frasier when Sam Malone and Cliff Claven visited Seattle for no reason?), but I’m doing my best to fight these cold case withdrawal symptoms. I’m just hoping that, given time, I’ll embrace this new crew in the same way I did Boyd and his basement-dwellers.

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With its broadbrush team of quirky investigators, The Body Farm doesn’t yet feel as nuanced as Waking the Dead, but thankfully we’ve not descended into the realms of caricature either. Unlike those of the cadavers that surround her, Eve Lockhart’s life signs are looking healthy.