From cryogenics to serial killers, Silent Witness has remained true to its roots for years — which is not always a good thing.
The show is the world’s longest-running crime drama, having recently concluded its 24th season on BBC One. Surprisingly, this is the company’s best output to date.
Silent Witness, created by Nigel McCrery in 1996, is typically comprised of two-part stories. In part one, the primary plotline and characters are introduced; often, a cliffhanger ending gives a plot surprise or puts the case in jeopardy; nonetheless, in part two, the story and who committed the murder/s are always revealed.
As a result, Silent Witness had become repetitive and, dare I say it, monotonous in some places.
However, in Series 23, the concluding plot witnessed one of the most significant changes to the show in a long time.
After being subjected to a nerve toxin, one of the series’ central protagonists, Thomas Chamberlain (Richard Lintern), died while attempting to save Jack Hodgson (David Caves), the team’s forensic scientist who had also been exposed to the lethal chemical.
Additionally, in the last episodes, Clarissa Mullery (Liz Carr) announced her departure from The Lyell Centre in order to focus on the living rather than the dead following the death of her ailing mother.
As painful and emotional as the exits were, they were necessary.
Consider the following.
For a long period, the Lyell Centre team consisted of Jack, Clarissa, Thomas, and Nikki. While it benefits the show to have four characters return often, their lives and backstories were rarely explored, which had a significant impact on events.
Consider Death in Paradise, another BBC show that follows the same format each week. The distinction is that the lead detective changes every few years.
The new lead, DI Neville Parker (Ralf Little), is unlike previous detectives, which contributes significantly to what keeps Death in Paradise interesting – change.
Continuity is another aspect that past Silent Witness series neglected.
Consider ‘Awakening,’ the series 20 finale in which Nikki was kidnapped and imprisoned in a box in the blazing Mexican heat.
Such a heinous incident would leave you scarred for life, but for Nikki, the consequences were minimal. The situation was addressed briefly in a handful of episodes, but not again.
Alternatively, ‘Deathmaker’ — a narrative that delves into Jack’s past. Finally, we were learning more about the popular Northern Irish character. However, despite the fact that Jack was the focus of the finale episodes following his poisoning, Silent Witness blew a critical opportunity to go more into Jack’s past while this character’s life was on the line.
So, what makes this year so unique? It’s as straightforward as that — character development and continuity.
Nikki and Jack investigated the death of a prison inmate in episodes one and two. Additionally, it featured prisoner Scott Weston – a character from a 2010 novel in which Nikki and old colleague Harry were imprisoned in a university during a shooting spree.
There were a few features in ‘Redemption’ that instantly indicated this series will be unique. Scott’s reappearance, the reminder of Thomas’s death and Clarissa’s departure, and even a simple reference to Harry demonstrated that the show remembered Nikki’s background.
Then a new character appeared. Working with Jack and Nikki on his first day was undoubtedly difficult for Adam (Jason Wong).
The enthusiastic, occasionally arrogant newcomer got in a few scrapes with his new colleagues, and it was Adam’s final episodes (a shock, given how long Thomas and Clarissa remained regulars) that saw Silent Witness really step up their game.
What is the most endearing aspect of Adam? We learned so much about him in such a short period of time. It was the ideal demonstration of how to create a character effectively. If you compare Thomas and Adam, I’d be able to tell you a lot more about Adam and his life thanks to four detailed episodes than I could about Thomas – a character who was a member of the team for six years but never had a storyline.
Adam’s assassination was a risky move, but it paid off.
To engage us in the process of getting to know a new character and then take his life adds so much more. There was loss and astonishment, but most significantly, it came as a complete surprise. Adam’s demise injected much-needed adrenaline into this show.
To be sure, Silent Witness can deliver cliffhangers, but we always knew they would be resolved in the following episode – but with Adam’s death, there was added intrigue, another new character already? It left us with so many unanswered questions and a want to watch the next episode – it was brilliant.
Simone (Genesis Lynea) is a breath of fresh air.
Simone’s presence altered the atmosphere once more at The Lyell Centre. It was a pleasure to introduce a strange character with a passion for forensic ecology who lived with her gran.
Adam and Simone did not step into Thomas and Clarissa’s shoes, but doesn’t this series demonstrate that four regulars are not necessary? I hope to see Simone again – but having a carousel of fresh faces for the team to meet, each with their own unique job title and personality, opens up so many more exciting possibilities.
The series’ increased emphasis on Jack has resulted in an emotional, fascinating, and nuanced storyline.
The character faced a life-altering dilemma when he was forced to accept the possibility that Cara Connelly is his daughter, not his niece. David Caves is an exceptional actor, and it was wonderful to witness a different side of Jack than the one on display at The Lyell Centre.
Seeing a towering, physically imposing man like Jack cry and be held by his father, Conor (Richard Durden), in the finale episode was one of the most tragic and powerful moments of his career.
Both Jack and Nikki had another issue to deal with this year – their affections for one another.
You know, in prior episodes, Jack and Nikki’s flirting behavior was – of course – entertaining to see. However, as with the most of the pointers mentioned in this post, it was repetitious. Jack would wink at Nikki and make a joke that would drive fans insane, but it never progressed further, so it’s understandable that the crowd would believe nothing would ever happen between them.
As a result, watching Jack and Nikki finally become closer was breathtaking. And how are those concluding scenes? There are no other words to describe them but as flawless.
The show’s reimagining was definitely necessary, but it was also a hazardous step.
Silent Witness has been resurrected in Series 24.
It has provided a perfect opportunity for what was once a stale performance to continue for many more years. I can only hope that the risk-taking and boundary-pushing continues.
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