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Silent Witness, BBC One, review: the old dog finds a new trick – death by campus wokery

David Caves and Emilia Fox in Silent Witness
David Caves and Emilia Fox in Silent Witness - Kevin Baker/BBC

Among other things, the third and fourth episodes of the 27th series of Silent Witness (BBC One) marked its 241st and 242nd episodes. That is some achievement, testament both to the fact that British viewers do love an evening at the cadaver carvery, but also to Silent Witness’s powers of regeneration.

Grievance Culture, a two-parter written by Tim Prager, was the perfect example of how to keep an old show on point, without actually changing anything. We began, as you’d hope and expect, with a body on the banks of the Thames. A suicide – or so it seemed, although (as you’d hope and expect) it soon became clear this was merely a B-plot. It did, however, give the props guys a chance to lay out some slices of brain that looked distinctly like soggy rice cakes.

The main meat was Kevin McNally as a university professor of criminology who was passed over for promotion in what looked suspiciously like an outbreak of campus wokery. When each of the panel who blackballed him started getting bumped off one by one, all eyes turned to the angry, resolutely un-PC Prof. He hadn’t been helping himself by spending a good 50 minutes of the first hour railing against trigger warnings (“I want to trigger you!”) and lambasting his students for the crime of having been born in the age of social media, but his blood-vessel bursting fury made it fairly clear that it wasn’t him.

Silent Witness, as most viewers know, runs as a series of extended two-parters, and having that many minutes to fill is a mixed blessing. The bad is a tendency to meander, bringing in some tenuous character development to pad things out. In these two episodes, for example, Gabriel (Aki Omoshaybi) decided he wanted to start boxing, because, he said, he wanted to know “what it felt like”.

Happily the Lyell had a pugilist readily to hand, in the form of Jack (David Caves), who we know from past episodes likes getting punched in the face. And so off we went down a blind alley involving Gabe and Jack’s existential Fight Club. I’m not sure why.

The extended run-time, however, also means that the guest stars get a decent chunk of screen time; this, in turn, means you get a decent calibre of guest star (see John Hannah in the first two episodes of this series). The other guest-star across this two-parter (which is available now on iPlayer) was John Thomson, who made an excellent foil for the Lyell team as a Lestrade-style confounded copper, McNally had a ball as the say-what-I-bloody-well-like academic.

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Even Holby City’s Kaye Wragg got a scene all to herself – albeit one where she burned to death in a chip-pan fire. That’s the thing with 242 episodes of forensic pathology: you do need a lot of bodies.

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