It follows the activities of the Metropolitan Police's fictional Cold Case Squad, led by Detective Superintendent Peter Boyd (Trevor Eve), a man who likes to YELL AT PEOPLE.
In each episode an old crime is discovered or rediscovered, sometimes because someone has been killed in the present day (if not, someone usually will be). The Cold Case Squad use modern forensic techniques to solve the unsolved cases. Well, that and Peter Boyd shouting at the suspects.
The show contains dark subject matter and graphic scenes, which is why it is shown after the Watershed. "Contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing" is there for a reason- this show is full of potential Nightmare Fuel.
Each story is 2 hours long (no ads), shown in two parts on consecutive days.
This show provides examples of:
- Action Girl: Stella.
- A Day in the Limelight: The whole main cast tends to be pretty well served in every episode, although Boyd is consistently the main character, but stick around long enough on the Cold Case Squad and you'll get one or two of these. Spence gets this in "Final Cut" and "Cold Fusion", Mel in "Fugue States", Grace in "Straw Dog" and "Solidarity", and Eve in "Pietà" and "Substitute".
- Alone with the Psycho: Grace, a rather old choice for this.
- Bound and Gagged: A female regular is tied up in three of the four stories of Season 8. In the other episode, it's a guest star and the female regular is killed!
- British Brevity: Sure, it lasted nine seasons, but each of them only had eight or ten episodes (and each case covered two episodes!).
- Car Cushion: In season four Mel Silver is pushed over a balcony of a high-rise flat by a deranged killer and lands on the windscreen of Boyd and Grace's car, dying instantly.
- Clear My Name: In "Waterloo" Boyd is framed for team member Sarah Cavendish`s murder.
- Dead Person Impersonation: "Burned Out"
- Deliberately Monochrome: "Skin", with little splashes of red in during some scenes.
- Dead End Job: After Mel Silver dies in season four anyone that replaces her ends up dead, including Stella Goodman and Sarah Cavendish. That job is cursed.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: Or rather her, with Stella Goodman's death by blood clot.
- Downer Ending: Quite a number of the cases end horribly for everyone involved. This sometimes spills over onto the team as well, such as the season 4 finale.
- Everyone Looks Sexier if French: Stella is half-French and raised in that country.
- Fair Cop: DC Stella Goodman. A Frenchwoman whose usual (dyed) hair colour is red, she does look rather good in an armed officer uniform. Not forgetting feisty Mel Silver, Katarina Howard and Sarah Cavendish.
- Fan Disservice: expect any nudity to come with a disturbing context, gory wounds, mutilation or death.
- Damsel in Distress: Mel Silver after failing to be The Bait in the pilot and almost dying.
- Forensic Drama: the entire show revolves around the evidence and what can be proved forensically. Typically an episode starts off with new evidence (or the team looking again at old evidence), which, using state-of-the-art forensic technology and brilliant forensic technician(s), leads to new theories and leads which the team chase down with the aid of psychological profiling, resulting in more evidence which proves their deduction and reasoning.
- The Scapegoat: Sarah Cavendish (unwillingly)
- Flash Back: Sometimes to the point of overuse.
- Freudian Excuse: The killer in the pilot.
- Hollywood Psych: despite being often technically correct when it comes to the characters discussing literal psychological theories, the application of criminal psychology in-story as well as the underlying psychosocial (and psychosexual) pathology of the killers can be anywhere from dramatized to outright incongruous or incorrect.
- To what degree the psychology is correctly used varies widely and seems to be an odd variation of Depending on the Writer (or director). For example, it can be anything from a simple case of the writer making incorrect assumptions about a character's psychology, to warping the underlying psychology to suit the plot.
- Hypocrisy: this show has a knack for portraying the hypocrisy within the system (both justice and governmental) and in individual characters without compromise or apology, making no excuses for someone's actions or playing Laser-Guided Karma. Even the main characters aren't immune to this, despite Boyd getting more leeway than anyone else; although the plot does sometime conspire to justify the main character's opinions/actions or soften them with a just outcome.
- I Was Quite a Looker: Grace.
- Karma Houdini: Boyd. He routinely bullies, harasses, manipulates, blackmails and threatens people during interrogation and he never has to pay for what he does or is punished for his actions (barring a very rare and transient slap on the wrist). He always gets the results he wants at the end of the day. He also never has any significant or long-term problems arise from the times he flaunts the law to get what he wants, or from the people he puts through hell during an investigation (to put this into perspective, Spencer breaking into someone's home without a warrant resulted in severe punishment, while Boyd's methods are viewed as simply "unorthodox").
- Quite a few of the murderers were this as well, though the worst would probably be Adam Duke from the season 4 finale, whose actions directly result in the death of Mel Silver. But he ends up getting off with no punishment of any kind after killing his girlfriend, who was the only witness and evidence in the crime.
- The Lab Rat: Eve Lockhart, with a collection of wonderful analysis tools that puts the CSI-verse to shame. Well, until the New York lot got that hologram corpse thing.
- Manipulative Bastard: Serial-killer Linda Cummings from "Skins" and "Endgame" gets a special mention, although nearly all the serial killers in the show qualify with their devious manipulation of both their victims and the police. That said, not to be outdone, Boyd often retaliates with some manipulative bastardry of his own, most prominently displayed with creative and cunning interrogations (the shouting not withstanding). The longer the members of his team hang around Boyd, the more they pick up on his manipulation skills, and of course they try them out...
- Mood Lighting: not so much in the first season, but as the series progresses more and more mood lighting makes its appearance according to different sets and scenes, accompanied by more shadows and dark contrast. The team's main office hasn't seen sunshine in years.
- The Profiler: Grace.
- Rabid Cop: Boyd by definition, but Goodman gets deliberately used in this role on occasions.
- Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Averted through adlibbing and the style of direction.
- Retcon: In The Pilot, Boyd has a wife/partner and a young child, and Grace mentions having kids of her own. All of this was quickly dropped when the show was picked up for the first series.
- Revisiting the Cold Case: The premise of the series.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: The victim in "Burned Out" was a soldier that came a bit touched from The Falklands War, then became a war reporter and went full over the edge after covering The Yugoslav Wars.
- Western Terrorists: "Missing Persons"
- Wham Episode: The fourth season finale, "Shadowplay", in which we have the sudden, violent, gory death of one of the main characters.
- What Happened to the Mouse??: After season five Felix is never mentioned or appears again, being replaced by Eve. Katarina Howard also disappears after season eight.
- Realistic reasons are present, though. Felix probably left because of the chemical attack, and Katarina likely transferred.
- Viewers Are Goldfish: About half of "Missing Persons" is made of flashbacks.