Title card (2015--2017)
|Created by||Nigel McCrery|
|Theme music composer||Geoffrey Burgon (series 1)|
John Harle (series 2 onwards)
|Composer(s)||Geoffrey Burgon (series 1)|
John Harle (series 2--7)
Paul Leonard Morgan (series 8)
Sheridan Tongue (series 9--)
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||23|
|No. of episodes||208|
|Executive||Caroline Oulton (series 1--3)|
Patrick Spence (series 4)
Mike Dormer (series 5)
Jessica Pope (series 6--9)
Laura Mackie (series 6--9)
Hilary Salmon (series 10--11)
Phillipa Giles (series 12--)
|Tony Dennis (series 1)|
Alison Lumb (series 2)
Anne Pivcevic (series 3)
Lars Macfarlane (series 4)
Diana Kyle (series 5)
Nick Pitt (series 6--8)
Tim Bradley (series 9--10)
George Ormond (series 11--)
|Running time||50 minutes (Series 1--5)|
60 minutes (Series 6--present)
|Original network||BBC One|
|Original release||21 February 1996 -|
Silent Witness is a British television crime drama 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.) Twenty-three 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, including ABC in Australia,Showcase and the Knowledge Network in Canada, KRO in the Netherlands, TV One and Prime 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.
The main character in the original series was based on Professor Helen Whitwell, a forensic pathologist based in Sheffield, whom 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.
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. The vocal section is performed by Sarah Leonard.
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. 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.
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". 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."
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."
|Series||Episodes||First airdate||Last airdate||Avg. UK viewers|
|1||8||21 February 1996||3 April 1996||N/A|
|2||8||14 February 1997||11 April 1997||N/A|
|3||8||19 March 1998||24 April 1998||N/A|
|4||6||30 May 1999||16 June 1999||9.27|
|5||6||11 December 2000||20 March 2001||8.78|
|6||8||28 September 2002||27 October 2002||7.79|
|7||8||11 October 2003||2 November 2003||7.79|
|8||8||5 September 2004||26 September 2004||7.43|
|9||8||25 July 2005||16 August 2005||6.89|
|10||10||16 July 2006||14 August 2006||6.87|
|11||10||28 August 2007||25 September 2007||6.49|
|12||12||1 October 2008||6 November 2008||6.32|
|13||10||7 January 2010||5 February 2010||7.46|
|14||10||3 January 2011||1 February 2011||7.97|
|15||12||1 April 2012||20 August 2012||6.59|
|16||10||10 January 2013||8 February 2013||7.24|
|17||10||2 January 2014||31 January 2014||7.38|
|18||10||6 January 2015||3 February 2015||8.82|
|19||10||4 January 2016||2 February 2016||9.09|
|20||10||2 January 2017||31 January 2017||8.92|
|21||10||8 January 2018||7 February 2018||8.75|
|22||10||8 January 2019||5 February 2019||8.61|
|23||10||7 January 2020||4 February 2020||8.47|
|Amanda Burton||Sam Ryan||Main||Does not appear|
|William Gaminara||Leo Dalton||Does not appear||Main||Does not appear||G||Does not appear|
|Tom Ward||Harry Cunningham||Does not appear||Main||Does not appear|
|Emilia Fox||Nikki Alexander||Does not appear||Main|
|David Caves||Jack Hodgson||Does not appear||Main|
|Liz Carr||Clarissa Mullery||Does not appear||Main|
|Richard Lintern||Thomas Chamberlain||Does not appear||Main|
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.
|"A Case for the Defence"||1||9 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"||2||3 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"||3||2 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"||4||3 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"||5||3 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.|