To celebrate BBC crime drama Silent Witness returning to our screens for its 25th season, RadioTimes.com sat down with Jack Hodgson star David Caves to chat about what the creators have in store for the milestone anniversary and how the drama has evolved following its debut in 1996.
Silent Witness is celebrating its 25th season, which is a phenomenal achievement. What do you think it is that keeps viewers coming back for more? The secret sauce, so to speak?
"The secret recipe. The Coca Cola, Kellogg's Frosties recipe [laughs]. I think it's good stories, ultimately. Good writing and keeping their finger on the pulse of topical issues. They seem to have this uncanny knack of writing stories that have either just been in the news or are just about to be in the news. It's quite remarkable, really.
And it's also that mysterious alchemy that goes into good telly that lasts. It's hard to put your finger on what exactly it is, but it obviously captures the audience's imagination and has done for 25 years, which is fantastic. And it seems to go from strength to strength. Long may it continue.
Thinking back over the seasons that you've appeared in, are there any particular cases or storylines that have stuck with you?
The first one that I ever did stays with me because that was my first television job, and it was a baptism of fire. I entered the show as a cage fighter, really, not as a forensic scientist. Initially, you didn't know who I was until I rocked up at the crime scene with cuts and scrapes and bruises on my face, so that was cool. I love that introduction.
But it's usually the family stuff. As in life, it's usually the family stuff that stays with you and I love the fact that Jack's family has been fleshed out so brilliantly in the past few years with the father and now Cara his niece, which is a lovely little thread which we keep weaving through the stories. And there's the brother, who's been gone a while. We don't quite know where he is and what he's doing. That is a very tempting little thing to come back up at some point.
More like this
Season 25 has a really great story where I go back to Belfast. Family secrets take me back there. That was so great to play because there's so much richness in that history, and going back to Belfast was great because I haven't been back in ages.
How do you think Jack has changed over the course of the series?
Hopefully he's matured a little bit. Obviously he's become older as I have and people naturally change as they get older; he's changed with me, I suppose, or I've changed with him. He's become a more rounded person and his relationship with Nikki has helped that.
I always hark back to his introduction and I just think that's who he is, and I always try to hold onto that fighter mentality, that he's not a typical forensic scientist by any means. I always loved that he has that ferocity about him. I love his courage and his strength, but he can still be a vulnerable person when it's required. And he has a very close bond with his dad, which rang true for me as well, and they had a quiet relationship with each other where neither one really said how they felt, and that was very true for me. I don't think it's a Northern Irish thing specifically, but maybe it is a little bit. Men don't necessarily talk to each other about the things that they're feeling.
I really like the character, and I've been lucky enough to play him for so long. It's the longest professional job I've ever had, and hardly anyone ever gets to play a character for 10 years. It's unbelievable. I never imagined that would happen.
The show continues to tap into what people love so much about it, but how has Silent Witness remained relevant?
It's a tricky one because it has to reinvent itself. It can't stay the same otherwise it solidifies and dies, in a way, so it has to keep shifting.
I think the age of audience members has rapidly decreased. It seemed like a very adult show when I was young, so it was very surprising and pleasing to me when I found out that actually, young student-type people are watching it and really loving it. And I think again, that's testament to the good writing and keeping the energy quite youthful. Genesis [Lynea, who plays Dr Simone Tyler] coming into the show certainly helped with that because she has a very youthful energy about her. She has that fun charisma and lovely energy.
Looking ahead, what have we got to look forward to in the anniversary season?
There's the reinstatement of Amanda Burton's character Sam Ryan, who was Silent Witness for those years that she did the show. She pioneered it with [creator] Nigel [McCrery]. Both of them collaborated to make the show what it is and we were lucky enough then to take on the mantle.
Amanda coming back is a massive coup and I hope the fans will be delighted to see her again and have that character on their screens because it really was something else having her back, and a bit of a clash of the titans type thing with Nikki Alexander meeting Sam Ryan.
It's not immediately obvious what Sam's motives are, whether she's trustworthy. You would have thought, 'She's definitely one of the good guys.' But a lot has happened to that character in the 17 years she's been away, so she's not going to be the same person entirely. Her entrance is rather ambiguous to begin with, and we're thrust into this world that we're not very familiar with at all. We feel very awkward quite quickly because it involves the UN and Big Pharma, big tech companies, health passports, which is a very topical, controversial subject.
It becomes very clear, very quickly that all is not what it seems and there are other forces at play that will seriously call into question the credibility of DNA and forensic science as a whole.
When you talk about clash of the titans, does that mean we can expect conflict between Nikki and Sam?
Yes, I think it's fair to say that there will be a little bit of that going on, just naturally, with two strong characters coming up against each other, and one with slightly dubious motifs, initially. We feel like we're being handled like puppets and that's not a very nice feeling. We don't feel like we're autonomous in it, and it just gets more complicated as we go deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole.
The first story is a really cracking thriller. It's a very complex episode. There's a lot of stuff going on and the characters are really running on the spot to try and keep up. We're not at home, either. We're not at The Lyell Centre. We've been taken up to Liverpool, so we are not in our safe zone and we feel like we're treading on toes, which is never great, but it's good drama.
Did you get the sense that it was quite emotional for Amanda coming back?
Yeah, I think it was. I think she was thrilled to be back. She was a joy from the word go. And because it was her show initially, you might expect her to be like, 'Who are these people? This is my ship.' But there was never an ounce of that. She was a consummate pro and very twinkly and very funny.
What about Nikki and Jack? Where is their relationship in this season and how does it progress, or not?
There was a little tease of a kiss at the end of season 24. It was fleeting and then it was like it never happened. We are building on that in 25. It's there, but it's not too front and centre because it could start to distract from the main plots that are happening.
You don't want too much too soon. You've got to be very careful when you bring characters together because usually what happens is that they create conflict between the characters because it's boring if they get on, and eventually split them up. We were very aware of that and we were very, very tentative when it came to doing this in the first place because we knew that that could happen. We were very honest about it and said, 'Look, we'd really love if we can try and keep away from that and make it a positive relationship, as much as is possible.' Obviously, there are going to be moments where we disagree and we come apart because they are pretty independent people, and always were. But I think if that core love and respect is there, then it should be fine and everything should make sense.
Do you think it's wise to become romantically involved with someone who you work with – and in a very demanding environment?
Who knows if it's wise but in a way it's kind of inevitable because they are so close and they do experience life and death – literally – so I don't know. I've never been in that situation but I would imagine those kinds of experiences bond you together in a way that most people don't know or haven't experienced.
Is it wise? That's another question. Possibly not, but when are matters of the heart necessarily always wise?
One character who won't be returning is Adam Yuen following his death last season, which a number fans were unhappy about. Do you think bumping him off was the right move?
Tricky one. I sort of understand why they felt they had to do it but at the same time, I don't know if it was the best idea in the long run. I think [Jason Wong] managed very, very skilfully to create a very rich character in a very short space of time. It was so brief and I think everybody underestimated how likeable the character would be. I don't know. I'm just guessing, but maybe there's a slight regret [that it happened].
It happens sometimes, doesn't it? Sometimes you get it wrong. You pick the wrong horse, but I think he did really, really well with very difficult material. He was thrust into the hot seat immediately. It wasn't easy, the stuff he had to do and say, and I think he handled himself admirably.
Do you see yourself sticking around until the very end?
As I said before, I love being in a show long-term. That is not the norm for most actors, I'm very aware of that. And I'm very grateful for it. I love doing the show, hence why I've stuck around. Who knows why they keep inviting me back, but I'll take it. So as long as they want me and as long as there's an appetite to do it, then I'll be there. I love the people and it feels like a home from home. Obviously, there will come a time when that won't be the case and it'll be a very sad day.
How long, realistically, do you think it can run for?
This show could go on for forever. We [the current cast] won't, but I think this show could. I don't see why not. It's timeless stuff. Everybody loves crime mysteries and trying to solve the riddles, so I don't think that'll ever go out of fashion. It could go on for another 25 years but again, it'll change, it'll become something new again as the times change themselves.
What do you think the legacy of the show will be? How do you think people will remember it when it does eventually bow out?
It feels to me like the original crime drama series. A lot of other shows were spawned from it. And I think it'll always have a special place in the fans' hearts. I'm constantly amazed at the love that surrounds the show. It's a lovely thing to witness on social media and from people who come up to you. I'm always very humbled by it. And sometimes you forget about the impact it has on people and just how much they enjoy watching it. During lockdown a lot of people got a lot of pleasure from binge-watching it from the start again.
I haven't done a lot of other television but from what I've heard from people who have, they always seem to really enjoy working on our show, and I think that speaks volumes. And they seem surprised sometimes that a show that has been going on for so long still has a fresh feel about it, and everybody seems to enjoy being there. It helps because it's hard. There are long, long shoots, with lots of dialogue. Hopefully we're decent sorts that people seem to like working with. I hope it can carry on, in whatever guise.
Loved this RT Rewind? Check out these...
- Robert Wilfort on 15 years of Gavin & Stacey, the fishing trip and reunion hopes
- How we made Teachers: "We'd be learning lines for the next day in the pub"
- Steven Moffat looks back on Coupling and reveals why he turned down a fifth season
The latest issue of Radio Times magazine is on sale now – subscribe now and get the next 12 issues for only £1. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to the Radio Times podcast with Jane Garvey.