Silent Witness

Last updated

Silent Witness
Silent Witness title card.jpg
Title card (2015–2017)
Genre Crime drama
Created by Nigel McCrery
Starring Amanda Burton
William Gaminara
Tom Ward
Emilia Fox
David Caves
Liz Carr
Richard Lintern
Jason Wong
Theme music composer Geoffrey Burgon (s. 1)
John Harle (s. 2–present)
Composers Geoffrey Burgon (s. 1)
John Harle (s. 2–7)
Paul Leonard-Morgan (s. 8)
Sheridan Tongue (s. 9–20)
Andy Price (s. 21-22)
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of series24
No. of episodes212 (list of episodes)
Production
Executive producersCaroline Oulton (s. 1–3)
Patrick Spence (s. 4)
Mike Dormer (s. 5)
Jessica Pope (s. 6–9)
Laura Mackie (s. 6–9)
Hilary Salmon (s. 10–11, 19)
Phillippa Giles (s. 12–18)
Anne Pivcevic (s. 19–20)
ProducersTony Dennis (s. 1)
Alison Lumb (s. 2)
Anne Pivcevic (s. 3)
Lars Macfarlane (s. 4)
Diana Kyle (s. 5)
Nick Pitt (s. 6–8)
Tim Bradley (s. 9–10)
George Ormond (s. 11–12)
Ruth Kenley-Letts (s. 13)
Richard Burrell (s. 14—ep. 15.2)
Mat Chaplin (ep. 15.3)
Lachlan Mackinnon (ep. 15.4–15.6)
Sharon Bloom (s. 16—18)
Madonna Baptiste (s. 19)
Ceri Meyrick (s. 20)
Running time50 minutes (s. 1–5)
60 minutes (s. 6–present)
Distributor BBC Studios
Release
Original network BBC One
Picture format PAL (1996–1998)
DVB-T 576i 16:9 (1999–2006)
HDTV 1080i (2007–present)
Audio format Stereo
Original release21 February 1996 (1996-02-21) 
present
External links
Website

Silent Witness is a British crime drama television series produced by the BBC, which focuses on a team of forensic pathology experts and their investigations into various crimes. First broadcast in 1996, the series was created by Nigel McCrery, a former murder squad detective based in Nottingham. (He later went on to create the series New Tricks , with writer Roy Mitchell.)[ citation needed ] Twenty-four series of Silent Witness have been broadcast since 1996. Amanda Burton starred as primary character Dr. Sam Ryan before leaving the show during the eighth series. Since her departure the series has featured an ensemble cast, which consisted of Emilia Fox, David Caves, Liz Carr and Richard Lintern until the end of series 23, when Carr and Lintern both departed. The programme is broadcast in more than 235 territories, [1] including ABC in Australia, [2] Showcase and the Knowledge Network in Canada, KRO in the Netherlands, TV One [3] and Prime [4] in New Zealand, BBC First in South Africa and BBC America in the United States. Silent Witness continues to achieve good audience ratings in the UK. In 2011, for example, Series 14 attracted an average audience of nine million viewers. [5]

Contents

Background

The main character in the original series was based on Professor Helen Whitwell, a forensic pathologist based in Sheffield, who McCrery had known while serving as a police officer. The programme followed the activities of pathologist Sam Ryan, played by Amanda Burton, until she departed early in the eighth series.

There was a succession of regular supporting characters, changing almost every series, but Dr Leo Dalton (William Gaminara) and Dr Harry Cunningham (Tom Ward), who were introduced in the sixth series, continued as lead characters following Ryan's departure, with Dalton replacing her as professor.

A new character, Dr Nikki Alexander (Emilia Fox), was introduced in mid-series eight. While working as a forensic anthropologist, she appropriates facilities and software in the pathology department to analyse an Iron Age find, with the belated, bemused and begrudging approval of Dalton. Dr Alexander is able to assist in a set of cases being investigated by the team, as it turns out she has "worked in forensic pathology in Johannesburg for six months" and is certified by the Home Office to practise. She eventually overcomes Leo's reluctance and, with Harry's support, is offered and accepts a position on the team.

Before the sixteenth series begins Harry has left to accept a position in New York City. He is succeeded by forensics expert Jack Hodgson (David Caves) and his assistant Clarissa Mullery (Liz Carr). At the climax of the sixteenth series Leo is killed in an explosion. His replacement, Dr Thomas Chamberlain (Richard Lintern), is introduced at the start of the seventeenth series.

Although the show focuses heavily on areas of pathology, the police also have a presence in each case. During later series of the show detectives and investigators tend to differ from episode to episode, with guest artists appearing in these roles. However, during the early years of the show several characters appeared regularly to investigate each case.

The first three series were set in Cambridge. This changed to London from the start of the fourth series, following Sam as she took up an academic position in the Lyell Centre, the Pathology Department of UCL. The programme remained in an academic setting until the end of series 16 when the Lyell appeared to have become separated from the University and operated as a stand alone institution.

Each series is typically made up of a series of two-part stories. The first nine series typically featured eight episodes (four two-part stories), increased to ten episodes (five two-part stories) from the tenth series onwards.

In 1998 the writer John Milne received an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for the second series episode "Blood, Sweat and Tears". In the United States the series airs during 'Mystery Monday' on BBC America.

The theme music from series 2 onwards is entitled Silencium and is performed by John Harle. The arrangement, for chamber orchestra and soprano saxophone solo, was first performed as part of the Canterbury Festival on 22 October 2011. [6] The vocal section is performed by Sarah Leonard. [7]

The incidental music used in the series is written by the BAFTA-nominated composer Sheridan Tongue.

The series has been heavily criticised for its violent and sadistic content. [8] There were 632 complaints made about the fifteenth-series episode Redhill , written by Ed Whitmore, first broadcast in April 2012. Brutal scenes at the end of the first episode depicted a sadistic sexual and murderous attack. The BBC was censured by the editorial committee of the BBC Trust, who said in their report:

When the prison officer emerged from the toilet holding the bloodied stick with a pool of blood on the toilet floor, viewers were left in no doubt that an act of sexual violence was being carried out. ... The committee concluded that the final scenes in the toilet block were in breach of the guidelines on harm and offence as they exceeded audience expectations for this series as they depicted a sadistic method of inflicting pain, injury and death. [8]

The BBC had responded to the initial criticism of the episode by saying that it took its responsibility to its audience "extremely seriously" and always tried to "strike the right balance between compelling drama without being unnecessarily graphic". [9] It said that "The final scene was not an attempt to gratuitously shock the audience; ... We acknowledge that certain scenes may have been challenging, but we filmed and presented them in such a way as to make sure that although as a viewer the implication was there, it was never actually shown." [10]

The show has also been criticised for its general quality. Reviewing the first episode of series 21, Michael Hogan asked in the UK's Daily Telegraph how it had become the world’s longest running crime drama, writing: "In place of convincing dialogue or emotion, they instead exchanged meaningful stares" and "The leading pair were so wooden, they made the bodies on the autopsy slab look lively." [11]

Episodes

SeriesEpisodesFirst airdateLast airdateAvg. UK viewers
(millions)
1 821 February 19963 April 1996N/A
2 814 February 199711 April 1997N/A
3 819 March 199824 April 1998N/A
4 630 May 199916 June 19999.27
5 611 December 200020 March 20018.78
6 828 September 200227 October 20027.79
7 811 October 20032 November 20037.79
8 85 September 200426 September 20047.43
9 825 July 200516 August 20056.89
10 1016 July 200614 August 20066.87
11 1028 August 200725 September 20076.49
12 121 October 20086 November 20086.32
13 107 January 20105 February 20107.46
14 103 January 20111 February 20117.97
15 121 April 201220 August 20126.59
16 1010 January 20138 February 20137.24
17 102 January 201431 January 20147.38
18 106 January 20153 February 20158.82
19 104 January 20162 February 20169.09
20 102 January 201731 January 20178.92
21 108 January 20187 February 2018 [12] 8.75
22 108 January 20195 February 20198.61
23 107 January 20204 February 20208.47
24 106 September 2021TBC

Characters

Overview

ActorCharacterSeries
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24
Amanda Burton Sam Ryan Main Does not appear
William Gaminara Leo DaltonDoes not appear Main Does not appear G Does not appear
Tom Ward Harry CunninghamDoes not appear Main Does not appear
Emilia Fox Nikki AlexanderDoes not appear Main
David Caves Jack HodgsonDoes not appear Main
Liz Carr Clarissa MulleryDoes not appear Main Does not appear
Richard Lintern Thomas ChamberlainDoes not appear Main Does not appear
Jason Wong Adam YuenDoes not appear Main

Main

Recurring

Police

Home Media

In Australia (Region 4), Series 1 through 23 have been released on DVD through Roadshow Entertainment, starting with Series 1 on 7 September 2006 through to Series 21 on 28 May 2018. Universal then took over the releases beginning with Series 22 on 20 November 2019, and have re-released some earlier seasons this time as individual seasons rather than 2 season editions.

Australia (Region 4)
DVD TitleRelease Date
Series One7 September 2006 [15]
Series Two5 September 2007 [16]
Series Three & Four6 May 2010 [17]
Series Five & Six2 September 2010 [18]
Series Seven & Eight5 May 2011 [19]
Series Nine & Ten4 August 2011 [20]
Series Eleven & Twelve1 December 2011 [21]
Series Thirteen & Fourteen7 June 2012 [22]
Series Fifteen & Sixteen5 June 2013 [23]
Series Seventeen & Eighteen6 May 2015 [24]
Series Nineteen & Twenty3 May 2017 [25]
Series Twenty One28 May 2018 [26]

11 December 2019 [27] (Universal)

Series Twenty Two20 November 2019 [28] (Universal)
Series Nineteen11 December 2019 [29] (Universal)
Series Twenty11 December 2019 [30] (Universal)
Series Twenty Three8 April 2020 [31] (Universal)
Series Eighteen6 May 2020 [32] (Universal)
Series Fifteen28 October 2020 [33] (Universal)
Series Sixteen28 October 2020 [34] (Universal)

Novels

During the early years of the show, series creator McCrery wrote and published a number of tie-in novels relating to the series, following Sam Ryan (Amanda Burton) and Trevor Stewart (William Armstrong), as well as former main character Superintendent Tom Adams (John McGlynn), and brand new character DS Stanley Sharman, with Burton generally appearing on the front cover of each novel. The fifth novel, due to be published in 2003, was placed on indefinite hold, and has never been released.

TitleNo.Publication Date
"A Case for the Defence"19 September 1996
Walking home from a night out, Sam stumbles upon the remains of a mutilated body on a footpath in the Northwick graveyard. Evidence suggests that the killing may be linked to a particularly ritualistic form of the black arts, but Sam is unconvinced as the murder bears an uncanny resemblance to another murder committed in the same town many years ago. When a second body is discovered, Sam's evidence is called into question, and is used to create the information that the police need to solve the case, before the killer strikes again. As Sam and Trevor uncover information surrounding the circumstances of the murders, elements that once seemed like coincidences soon appear to belong to a more horrific plan.
"Strange Screams of Death"23 August 1998
Sam is tasked with investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of a woman whose body is discovered in a disused shed at a former American airbase on the outskirts of Cambridge. The post mortem reveals that she had been violently raped, before being tortured, and viciously murdered. When a second body is discovered in similar circumstances, Sam finds herself dealing with a serial killer, who has the hunger to slaughter again. Can her profile of information find the identity of the killer before it is too late? Meanwhile, as Tom Adams closes in on his prime suspect, Sam discovers that he may not be working alone, and a search is launched to find the accomplice of a dangerous criminal.
"The Spider's Web"32 August 1999
Sam is asked to perform a second autopsy on a teenage boy who was killed in a tragic joyriding accident, when despite his parents' protests, the results of the autopsy seem clear—he died of multiple injuries consistent with a high-speed car crash. However, as Trevor performed the post mortem, Sam is reluctant to go up against her friend and colleague, in an attempt to find the answers that the family are looking for. However, reading Trevor's post mortem report prompts Sam to go ahead with the second autopsy, and her findings seem to suggest that the accident may have been no such thing. But neither Trevor nor Superintendent Tom Adams accepts her findings, and believe that she is reading between the lines.
"Faceless Strangers"43 September 2001
When the wife and beau of a local member of parliament is found dead in her own home, Superintendent Tom Adams calls upon Sam and the entire resources of the Cambridge Constabulary, in an attempt to further his career, and solve the case as quickly as possible. However, his investigation is halted by the discovery of the decomposed body of a homeless drug addict in the local underground toilet block. When Adams dismisses the death as an open and shut case, one of his juniors, DS Stanley Sharman, decides to enlist Sam's help, to discover the identity of the dead woman—and discover just who is responsible for her death. Meanwhile, Adams is determined to crack his case.
"In Search of Evil"53 November 2003
When the body of elderly widow Violet Thorpe is discovered beneath the floor of her own cellar, Sam quickly establishes that she had been poisoned, and died more than a year prior to the discovery of her body. Meanwhile, the victim's contact with an old friend living in Brighton, appears to be a vital piece of evdidence in discovering who is responsible for her murder. When Sam and DS Stanley Sharman visit the address of the old friend in Brighton, they find themselves on a bizarre trail of a mentally deranged killer, who appears to be travelling up and down the country in search of lonely old ladies to kill, and Sam finds herself in a race to discover the identity of one of the country's most prolific serial killers.

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