Silent Witness: Only Good For Scaring Us Witless

Bursting back into TV schedules with all the vigour of a crazed knifeman pouncing from under a bed, Silent Witness returned for its 15th series last Sunday night. Almost seven million bums perched on the edges of seats to watch as po-faced pathologist Nikki Alexander (Emilia Fox) wandered about feeling angsty and prodding corpses.

In episode one, a crispy 27-year-old was found reclining in the burnt out shell of a bedroom, while a small boy was discovered frozen in asphyxiated hell and an old man slowly rotted on the stairs. The models and makeup are seriously impressive and put many of its peers’ efforts to replicate gruesome deaths to shame. The “new Silent Witness shows Luther and Whitechapel how to do grislyâ€?, trumpeted The Mirror’s Jim Shelley. Evidently the show has been exempted from BBC cuts to “Disfigured Dead Blondes.

But cremated corpses and blood-soaked stairwells have become the show’s strongest suit by far more than a festering finger’s width.

Within five minutes, the death count was within reach of Japan’s tsunami toll and there were enough bewildering plot threads to have you questioning whether it was all just a bad dream. Pinch me, Nikki Alexander. PINCH ME.

So death-obsessed has the show become, that the writers appear to have allowed the assembled team of investigators/ pathologists become just as lifeless as the slab-bound victims. “If only a remotely believable plot twist could render Emilia Fox headless and pumping blood from an exposed artery for the rest of the seriesâ€?, we suspect an insider heard BBC bosses grumbling. Viewers might all be hiding behind cushions – and the grisly murders might be spectacular – but the show’s central characters have been reduced to little more than unfathomably angst-ridden plot propellants.

A muted grey colour scheme and oppressive dundering soundtrack both appear to have been lifted from an American cousin of the CSI variety. And the show is beginning to bear more than just a passing resemblance to the transatlantic murder melodrama in content as well as style. Last week’s plotline practically promoted forensic pathologists’ do-goodery to the celestial climes of martyrdom, despite the best efforts of beastly blame-shifting police (who turned out to be the perps). It is perhaps no surprise to hear that Silent Witness has amassed a huge American fanbase.

He's just cracked a joke - seriously

And the eternally furrowed brows of each and every investigator provide little relief from the sombre styling and befuddling plots. Even a brief scripted attempt at some firey flirting was extinguished by the po-faced delivery of a “thorough debriefingâ€? euphemism by Harry (Tom Ward).

It is a surely a grim state of affairs when the arrival of another battered corpse lifts the mood of a drama.

But for all its flaws, there is little arguing with an audience of seven million on the debut night of its umpteenth run and a further five million dragged in on its Monday night climax. Perhaps rather symbolically, the second part of the first Silent Witness instalment of the year brought ITV1’s comparatively mumsy cop drama, Scott and Bailey, to its Next-clad knees.

This show is great at scaring the bejesus out of unsuspecting viewers, that is not in question. But it is certainly not the rich character study offered by some delving cop dramas of yesteryear…*nostalgically Googles images of Robbie Coltrane*.