Abracadaver! Pathologist Dr Nikki rescues us from a night of gloom: CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV

Silent witness


Monday night was navel-gazing night across the dial, as programmers held forth on everything that’s going wrong with the world.

Wherever you turned, it was like being stuck in a lift with Ken Barlow from Coronation Street: ‘And I’ll tell you something else …’

Channel 4 was ranting about teachers with guns in U.S. schools, Channel 5 was counting all the mistakes made with the Channel Tunnel, and on BBC4 war photographer Don McCullin was taking an unflinching look at drug addiction in today’s Britain.

Over on ITV in Cold Feet, our old friends Jenny and David are facing tough times: she’s got breast cancer and he’s sleeping on the streets. That’s entertainment, folks.

At least there was no hand-wringing on Silent Witness (BBC1), because pathologist Dr Nikki Alexander had a body on the slab with its chest unzipped down to the groin.  Picture shows,  Dr Thomas Chamberlain (Richard Lintern), Dr Jack Hodgson (David Caves) and Dr Nikki Alexander

At least there was no hand-wringing on Silent Witness (BBC1), because pathologist Dr Nikki Alexander had a body on the slab with its chest unzipped down to the groin. At first glance, I thought she had spread a tartan blanket-rug over the remains, which goes to show I’d be capable of terrible faux pas both in a mortuary and on a picnic.

This was the closest the main terrestrial channels got to escapism. Fortunately, Silent Witness has rediscovered its form this year, and this case — the last in the current series — is shaping up to be the best in a long time.

The show, set around a forensics lab where Dr Nikki (Emilia Fox) and her colleagues solve murders quick as sewing up a cadaver, had lost its way with laboured, pious sermons on immigration and other noble causes.

After a completely doolally excursion to Mexico, to break up a drugs gang, Dr Nikki was more preoccupied with a transatlantic love affair than with cracking cases.

But the writing this year is tauter and not half so self-indulgent. It still strains all credulity: this week’s corpse is a chemist who died when his colleagues injected him with an untested painkiller. After chucking him in a nearby river, they decide to keep testing the drug on themselves . . . and are shocked when it has the same effect.

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That’s a subplot, compared to the main story: a lawyer questions Dr Nikki’s expertise. This is so shocking that it makes front-page media headlines.

While she’s hiding from reporters, Dr Nikki has a minor breakdown, which involves wearing shapeless tracksuit trousers. It’s tragic to see. Her hair, thank heavens, has been treated with formaldehyde and is indestructible, no matter how sorry she feels for herself.

We ended on a mad cliffhanger. Realising that it’s impossible for her to be wrong about anything, our heroine breaks into her own lab to conduct illicit DNA tests and expose a conspiracy that goes right to the heart of the establishment. Call it what you like, that’s real escapism.

 Ten years Of Turmoil 


If you were tempted to return to the woes of the world, Inside Europe: Ten Years Of Turmoil (BBC2) was explaining how the Greek economic crisis of 2010 nearly wrecked the euro.

Most of the major players gave interviews, including former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, Greece’s ultra-Left-wing former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, and ex-Chancellor Alistair Darling.

Pictured, Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commision and Angela Merkel, the Chanellor of Germany. They were both put under the spotlight in Ten Years Of Turmoil

All of them looked, in their jackets and ties, like teachers in the staff room of a provincial comprehensive school — and any staff room could yield a collection of negotiators and politicans at least as competent as this lot.

The producers tried to give the programme the air of a John le Carre thriller, with typewritten captions flashing up to announce: ‘A forest deep in Saxony, Germany.’ No doubt Ken Barlow would have loved it.

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