Series / Silent Witness

"Dear Points of View, I watched Silent Witness with the sound off and it didn't make any sense."
Frankie Boyle, Mock the Week

British crime/forensic series, running from 1996 onwards, now in its nineteenth series, making it the fourth oldest currently airing crime drama in the world and the longest that isn't German (Tatort is the winner, the German show having run since 1970).

Starred Amanda Burton for the first eight series, until her character was written out in a plot involving a reunion with her long-lost son and a trip to Northern Ireland.

The series now revolves around the activities of three (later four) Home Office pathologists (Nikki Alexander, Jack Hodgson, Thomas Chamberlain and Clarissa Mullery as of the 2014 series) as they investigate murders in London, though they sometimes help outside the city and at least one story per season will usually feature them going abroad.

Could be considered a UK version of the CSI franchise, but lacks its flashiness (although it has elements of the wider investigating role); it also predates it. Like Waking the Dead (which predates CSI as well), it is done in two-parters, with each story shown over two days in the same week.

Has a character page.

This show contains examples of:

  • The '90s: The first four or so seasons took place then.
  • Adult Fear: Several examples:
    • The Season 18 story "Protection", which revolves around social services and child abuse, is full of this.
    • In "Squaring the Circle", DI Sarah Parks' young daughter has cancer and she is trying desperately to raise enough money to pay for treatment which could save her life.
    • Thomas Chamberlain experiences this when he learns a sniper on a killing spree could be targeting the school his daughter attends.
  • Attempted Rape: Happens to Sam in Series 7.
  • Batman Gambit: In "After the Fall" Lydia's plan to frame Nikki for murder heavily revolves around this. It fails, though only just.
  • Berserk Button:
    • A murder suspect in "In a Lonely Place" finds out the hard way that openly admitting to hitting, and then insulting, a recently murdered woman around Jack is a bad idea.
    • In "Redhill", the usually levelheaded Leo punches a corrupt prison guard in the face for threatening his girlfriend.
  • Better Manhandle the Murder Weapon: Justified. In "Bloodlines", Harry wakes up in Budapest to notice his girlfriend has been stabbed to death in bed next to him. As he finds the murder weapon , a knife, the murderer comes walking in, causing Harry to take the knife to fend him off. The murderer, in a fit of genre-savviness, simply disarms Harry and leaves him behind to be found by the Hungarian cops.
  • British Brevity: Averted with the show being renewed for a 20th season to air in 2017; however, with only 10 episodes per season, each season is much shorter than an equivalent show in the US.
  • BrotherSisterIncest:
    • the Doshi siblings in "Squaring the Circle"
    • Teenage siblings in "Domestic" (though in their defence , they didn't realise they were blood related).
  • Buffy Speak: With regards to their chosen profession, Harry, Nikki and Leo are usually very eloquent and specific. However, explaining things to the detectives they work with (and, by extension, the viewer) sometimes necessitates simpler language. That, and they don't know everything.
    Harry: It's a data thing.
    DC Salch: Yeah. It's a micro SD card; from a phone.
  • Cartwright Curse: At least two of Harry's love interests were murdered by the end of the story.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: There is no explanation ever given for Fred Dale's departure after the third season.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: Played with. Most of the main characters aren't really that bothered by grisly crime scenes and horrific murders, because it's part of their job, though there are occasionally cases that get to them, usually if there's kids involved.
  • Cramming the Coffin: In "Hippocratic Oath", a hearse crashes and two bodies are discovered in the coffin. The team is charged with discovering the identity of the John Doe corpse.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Clarissa Mullery. Harry Cunningham also had his moments, although he also had a tendency to be a Pungeon Master.
  • Derailing Love Interests: Many of Nikki's and Harry's (and later Jack's) temporary love interests go through this in order to restore the status quo of the unresolved UST between Nikki and the guy.
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: Thomas Chamberlain frequently does this.
  • Disappeared Dad: Sam's nephew Ricky's dad and Nikki's dad.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: Several of these show up in different episodes. A prominent example is "In a Lonely Place" where a stripper testifies to Jack that the police told her to stop wasting their time when she reported a co-worker missing.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: In "After the Fall", the villain tried to frame Nikki for murder and have her killed because she blamed Nikki for getting her husband convicted of a crime he didn't commit. Nikki herself points out that she was just doing her job by offering expert testimony, that she can't control what the judge and jury decide and that it certainly didn't warrant the murders of three innocent people.
  • Don't Split Us Up: A major plot thread of the episode "Protection" is a teenage boy trying to reunite his siblings who were separated by social services, and prevent the youngest from being adopted.
  • Downer Ending: "Greater Love" ends with Leo sacrificing himself to save everyone from a terrorist bomb explosion in Afghanistan that was set off by a brainwashed British soldier believed to be dead (the discovery of what was believed to be his body was the whole reason the team were in Afghanistan in the first place). No one is brought to justice for any of it, either.
  • Driven to Suicide: Harry's dad suffered from severe, chronic depression and killed himself when Harry was 11. In "Run", a family friend (who had an affair with Harry's mum) also committed suicide in the same way, although in his case it was because he had been diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer. Also one of the many possible reasons for the body-of-the-week.
  • Drop Dead Gorgeous: Averted — naked bodies in the autopsy scenes look like dead murder victims.
  • Dysfunctional Family : The family in "Domestic", very much so.
  • Enfant Terrible: In one story, it is revealed that a spree killer's accomplice is a very mentally disturbed sixteen year old boy.
  • Everybody is Single: Leo was married with a daughter until they were both tragically killed, and he eventually entered a long term relationship with a profiler; Harry and Nikki, though, will usually end up dating either the victim, the killer, or someone who just ends up getting in the way.
  • Faking the Dead: The apparent death of Harry in the Budapest story - to the point where the actor's name was taken off the credits. In reality, Harry killed the attacker and set fire to his body, leaving his own ID with him
    • In "True Love Waits", a woman has faked her death for over a decade (with the help of her friend, a detective) in order to frame her violent husband for her murder. The detective managed to have him jailed despite there being no body. It turns out to be just as well, since the guy is a serial killer, and immediately starts up again once he gets out of jail.
  • Fanservice: Jack gets to take his shirt off on several occasions (often justified in that cage fighters often fight shirtless, but still).
  • Fan Disservice: The majority of the nudity depicted on the show consists of naked corpses in autopsy scenes.
    • Also arguably the strip club scenes in the Season 17 story "In A Lonely Place", seeing as most of the half naked girls performing lap dances and the like are being exploited by sleazy guys, physically attacked by some punters and stalked by a serial killer.
  • Fanservice Pack: Harry grows his hair and Nikki dyes it between seasons 11 and 12.
  • Fingore: "True Love Waits" involved a serial killer who would murder women and cut off their ring fingers as trophies.
  • Fragile Flower: Nikki
  • Freudian Trio: The most common permutation has Harry as the logical Spock, Nikki as the emotional McCoy and Leo as the balancing Kirk, although this can change depending on who gets the most emotionally involved in a particular case.
  • Happily Married: Leo until his wife and child were killed in a car accident.
  • Headbutt of Love: Nikki and Harry had a few.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Leo in "Greater Love", by dragging a suicide bomber away from the crowds to prevent any casualties and getting blown up in the process.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Averted with Harry who, although explicitly an atheist, is not portrayed in a negative light for it.
  • Honor-Related Abuse: One plot strand of "Sins of the Fathers" involved the team investigating a body found inside the wreckage of a Vietnamese restaurant, which was burned down after the man that the owner's daughter was betrothed to found out she wasn't a virgin.
  • Hot Scientist: Nikki Alexander, played by Emilia Fox.
    • Harry Cunningham, played by Tom Ward, and Jack Hodgson, played by David Caves, have plenty of fans swooning over them too (especially in the latter's case, with Jack getting to take his shirt off on numerous occasions).
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: A platonic example with Clarissa and Jack. Clarissa (Liz Carr) is under 5' and looks even shorter at times due to using a wheelchair, whilst Jack (David Caves) is over 6' and quite muscular.
  • Idiot Ball: Frequently taken by the scientists, doing things like confronting suspects on their own... and just as frequently taken by the cops of the week.
  • Karma Houdini: Although most of his accomplices are arrested, Strader in River's Edge gets off scot-free for drugging, raping and ordering the murders of at least three women and being complicit in the murder of a family and the attempted murder of at least three other people.
  • Killed Off for Real: Kerry and Leo
  • Leave No Witnesses: In "River's Edge", it turns out that this is the reason the family were murdered. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Later, the killer also murders DCI Guillam and tries to kill Jack and Nikki after they find evidence of the crimes.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: "Fear", in which a Catholic family believes their children have been possessed by demons. There's a rational explanation given for most of it, but certain elements leave the viewer to wonder.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!:
    • Nikki in "Coup de Grace". Her testimony at a trial gets a convicted murderer acquitted...only for more people to turn up murdered in the same way. Played with as it turns out that the man's lawyer was the real killer and he manipulated Nikki into helping him get his client acquitted so he could start killing again. The man Nikki helped acquit really was innocent; it wasn't her fault his lawyer was using him to get away with murder. She also helps identify and catch the real killer.
    • Jack in "Fraternity".
  • Not Quite the Right Thing: Poor Louise Marsh, the social worker in "Protection", seems to suffer from this. As she herself points out, her attempts to protect innocent children from abusive or neglectful parents often unintentionally makes things much worse for everyone involved.
  • Police Are Useless: The forensics team ends up straying from their brief into other law enforcement roles. Typically the police get it wrong and impede the team until the last minute. When either the crim or the pathologist is cornered: here comes The Cavalry! Unlike CSI, these guys are really not cops period, but that doesn't stop anything.
    • They actually do get called out on it sometimes, but again, this doesn't stop them from playing detective.
  • Put on a Bus: Happens to lots of recurring characters. Some major examples would be:
    • Harry Cunningham, who is revealed to have left to accept a new job in New York at the beginning of Season 16.
    • Sam Ryan, who returns to her home country to be with her long lost son at the beginning of Season 8.
    • Janet Mander, who apparently moved away after Leo breaks up with her in Season 15.
    • Victor Alexander, Nikki's father, who turned up in Season 9, then disappeared, before turning up again in Season 11, then going away again. It's implied he kept in contact with Nikki off-screen, before dying off-screen in Season 15. He's one of the few characters in the series to have actually come back once being Put on a Bus.
      • Considering how long its been since most of these characters have been seen or even mentioned (in Sam's case, over ten years), it could be considered a Long Bus Trip.
  • "Reason You Suck" Speech: One of Nikki's ex boyfriends gives her a particularly harsh one in "After the Fall". He later apologizes, only for Nikki to agree with some of what he said, but points out that it's probably too late for her change now.
  • Retirony: In "River's Edge", DCI Malcolm Guillam is murdered a week before he was due to retire.
  • Sadistic Choice: In "Squaring the Circle", Council leader Justine Greenwood gives one to DI Sarah Parks - charge a man she knows is innocent with the murder of Greenwood's daughter and she'll give her the money she desperately needs for her daughter's cancer treatment, or stick to her principles and look for the real killer, potentially dooming her daughter. Sarah chooses the former, but Jack later calls her out on it and she finds the real killer. She is discredited and fired in the process, but she is able to keep the money due to having already moved it to another account - meaning Greenwood can't take it back without implicating herself - so there's still hope for her daughter.
  • Scenery Censor: Averted. While forensic drama, particularly US drama often has strategic bits of lab equipment censoring an autopsy scene, here corpses are completely naked during autopsy scenes, even underage kids.
  • Ship Tease: Harry and Nikki. Dear God, Harry and Nikki.
    • After Harry leaves, Nikki and Jack, though to a lesser extent.
  • "Shut Up" Kiss: While waiting for service in a pub, Dr Nikki Alexander explains at great length to Dr Harry Cunningham how she will end up old and alone. That is until Harry leans over and kisses her, then smiles and says, "Finally she shuts up."
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Sam Ryan and her sister Wyn, who lived together in early seasons.
  • Sliding Scale of Realistic Versus Fantastic: The show has many realistic details, but remains more glamorous and implausibly coincidental than strict realism would allow. Oddly, this has prompted some criticism.
  • "Strangers on a Train"-Plot Murder: The premise of "Supernova".
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Jack Hodgson for Harry.
  • Straw Nihilist: The villains of "Lost"
  • Tall, Dark and Handsome (and Snarky): Harry.
  • The Bad Guys Win: Several times. Examples include:
    • "Safe": The team fails to get a gang leader convicted for murder, or even for breaking dangerous dogs laws (since he illegally owned a dog that savaged one of his victims to death). The evidence finally gets him jailed for raping an underage girl, but he'll still be out sooner than he would have been with a murder conviction - and his gang is still active and grooming young boys to join them.
    • "Commodity": Terrorists got away with over two million pounds' worth of blackmail money, ended an innocent man's career by shooting him in the leg (he was a professional footballer), and will probably continue to attack Jewish/Israeli targets.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Nikki. First her father abandoned her as a kid and never acknowledges the emotional pain he caused her. Then her mother died when she was a teenager. She finally gets a surrogate family in the form of her co-workers, only for her best friend (and possible love interest) to run off to the US for a better job and her father figure is blown up in front of her trying to save her life. And then she gets framed for murder.
  • Traumatic C-Section: In "Undertone", it is revealed that a murdered woman was heavily pregnant when she died and the killer performed a crude C-section with a kitchen knife to remove the baby (she was already dead or at least unconscious at the time, but everyone is still horrified). Much of the story revolves around the team trying to find the missing baby as well as locate the killer.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behaviour: Comes up occasionally, often overlapping with Harmfulto Minors.
    • In the very first episode, "Buried Lies", a young boy repeatedly stabs his abusive stepfather.
    • In "Protection", a sixteen year old boy threatens his social worker and his stepfather with a knife whilst trying to reunite his siblings. This is somewhat justified in the latter case, as he had been lead to believe his stepfather had abused his younger sister. He's later suspected of murdering his stepfather and grandfather. In the same episode, it is revealed that the real killer of a dead paedophile found at the beginning of the episode was the little girl he'd been abusing, who stabbed and inadvertently killed him trying to get away from him.
    • In "Falling Angels", a detective discovered he repressed his memories of fatally stabbing his abusive father to protect his mother, who then took the blame to protect him. He is devastated and ridden with guilt when he realises this.
    • "Double Dare" features a young woman recently released from jail for participating in the brutal murder of a woman when she was a teenager, alongside her boyfriend; it later turns out she herself didn't take part in the actual killing, but even so...
    • Craig Cross from "Sniper's Nest", even before The Reveal that he was the sniper's accomplice.
    • Miranda, Hannah, and Kelly in '"Supernova", young schoolgirls who murder multiple people. One of their victims also counts as this trope: at 14 she was sexually active and a drug abuser.
  • True Companions: Leo, Nikki and Harry in the later series. Leo implies to Nikki and Harry that they are as important to him as his (dead) wife and child.
    • Jack and Clarissa, to the point where Jack's condition for coming to work at the Lyell Centre was that they hire her too.
  • Unnaturally Blue Lighting is used regularly, particularly in pathology scenes. Partially this is an exercise in fashion and style: many contemporary British dramas were also using the technique. In the pathology scenes, the lighting increases the cold, clinical and confronting atmosphere.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Again between Harry and Nikki. Also between Harry and any female, and Nikki and anyone.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: In "True Love Waits", Kate Warren is under intense pressure from her father (a very respected retired senior officer) to secure a murder conviction in order to save her own career and uphold the family name. This becomes her motivation for tampering with evidence.
  • You Didn't Ask: In "Coup de Grace", a murder suspect who is living in his father's old house finds his father's gun stashed there, and agrees to give it to his lawyer to hand over to the police; but ends up taking Nikki and the lawyer hostage when Nikki finds the gun first and panics. Later, when the investigating DI asks the lawyer why he didn't tell the police about the gun first, he just says that no one ever asked.

Alternative Title(s): Silent W Itness