The stars of Silent Witness on screen violence, squeamishness and the new series

David Caves and Richard Lintern reveal all about season 17 and life after Leo Dalton

The forensic crimesolvers from Silent Witness are back this evening, but without boss Leo Dalton (William Gaminara), who was killed off in the shock climax to the previous series. Enter the shrewd and charismatic Thomas Chamberlain (Richard Lintern), the new head of the Lyell Centre and a man who doesn’t think twice about ruffling a few feathers. So how will pathologist Nikki (Emilia Fox) and scientist Jack (David Caves) react to their new superior? The stars of the show tell us more:


So, new boss Thomas seems supremely confident and wastes no time in rubbing Nikki up the wrong way. How much fun were those scenes to film?
Richard: Great fun. Confident is one way to describe him. Arrogant is another. He expects a very high level of rapid response from those around him, but he’s not being sensitive enough about people’s feelings towards Leo. Later in the series though you’ll see that Thomas is as insecure as everyone else.

Do you think that it’s important to have good chemistry between the three lead characters?
David: Absolutely. The show lives or dies on that. People are fascinated with the death side of the stories, but you have to balance that with the repartee. It’s a gift when somebody new comes in because the initial friction is fun to play. But that has to quickly subside – you can’t be holding grudges for five episodes. Richard’s character is a bit of a smoothie and it’s difficult for Nikki because she had such a close relationship with Leo. Jack warms to him faster – he finds Thomas amusing and he respects him.
Richard: As characters we have to rely on each other, but we’re also relying on each other as actors. There’s very little rehearsal, so we have to key in to what’s important in a scene very quickly.

Silent Witness is a hard-hitting show – are you squeamish, Richard?
The audition process was long and one of the questions they repeatedly asked was: “are you going to be able to cope with the squeamish side of things?” And I replied, “yes”. But it’s only when you start doing it, that you realise how stark it is. You have to deal with some pretty graphic stuff. If a scalpel is shown making an incision in close-up, then what you see is a beautifully made but very expensive piece of imitation skin. I felt a tremendous amount of stress the first time I had to make a cut like that because you can’t afford to get it wrong. The attention to detail on the prosthetics – from a placenta, to a neck incision to a fingernail – is amazing.

And David, your character is doing some more cage-fighting this series – did you escape injury?
Well, not everyone pulls their punches as much as I’d like. There’s one guy who’s a former British taekwondo champion and he’s as strong as a bull. He was with us last series as well, so I was more ready for it this time around. But when you get that sucker punch in the gut, you still think: ‘oh my lord, what is going on here?’ But I love that stuff. It’s knackering but great fun to do.

How do you both handle learning all that medical dialogue?
This is my second year on the show and it’s still terrifying!
Richard: It’s like riding a horse – the next fence will always bring you down.
David: Yes, you can’t get too cocky with it, but mercifully I haven’t had too much this season. Emilia and Richard have had much more. Doing the post-mortems, speaking the medical dialogue and trying to make the whole thing look believable is extremely difficult.

Silent Witness has come in for criticism in the past because of its violence – do you think it ever goes too far?
It’s a hard one to answer. I think it’s usually dealt with pretty well, but it’s tricky to get right. I know a lot of time and effort goes into those decisions.
Richard: There is a line and I think that, for the most part, the programme treads along the edge of that line. Because if it’s not near the edge of that line then it’s not exciting. Maybe there have been times in the past when it’s slipped over but I never got the impression that there was anything gratuitous when we were filming series 17.
David: There has to be a degree of it but it does have to be handled delicately. This season has been really good in that respect.
Richard: The gruesome aspect of the show is what people remember, but it’s tiny when you take it as a percentage of the episodes that we shoot. And the reason why people sit down to watch it series after series is because the storylines that are extrapolated from those incisions are fantastic.

And finally – Richard, do you feel a sense of trepidation at taking over from William Gaminara, who played Leo? Do you expect a fan backlash?
I hope that the viewers approach the new character and the new series with an open mind. Having said that, I will fully understand if people miss Leo because he was an extremely strong character. But if they give Thomas a chance, I think they’ll be delighted. Plus the stories we’re telling in this new series are, without exception, fantastic.


The new series of Silent Witness begins tonight at 9.00pm on BBC1