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TV Review: Silent Witness: Sniper's Nest

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Readers are warned that this review makes details of the plot explicit. 

It’s back! Nikki is back! Dr Nikki Alexander and her merry band of oddball body cutters are back to brighten (or darken) our January nights. This ten-hour eighteenth series (Yes! Eighteenth!) will no doubt offer us plenty of adventures that will test our patience and insult our intelligence whilst still, miraculously, keeping us gripped.

At the start of this two part story Bloody Nikki (I’m not swearing, she’s a pathologist, so naturally she is usually covered in blood) went running on what looked like Hampstead Heath. And because she is a glamorous creation in a major television show and not a real person in real life, Nikki was approached by a traffic-stoppingly handsome man who starts talking to her about origami. But enough of that. Let’s get to the murders.

There is a sniper running around London shooting people. Bodies, blood. Very nasty. And in walks this episode’s complicated-copper-of-the-week, DCI Jane De Freitas (Zoe Telford, pictured below – IMDb her, she’s been in literally everything). She’s been given some really cracking lines to throw out: "It’s our daily routines that govern the ecology of victimisation" she muses aloud as she examines a corpse. God help us.

To assist her are a grumbling DS (Sean Gilder) and a DSC, and former romantic partner (played by Steve Wall), which added a touch of awkward atmosphere. Some terrifically bitchy verbal sparring between the senior coppers about who has been shagging who ensues. It worked out like one of the better written scenes in Waterloo Road, albeit with occasional references to the media’s reaction to petrol station massacres.

As is the usual with Silent Witness, Nikki is interviewing grieving relations of murder victims. The most gaping elephant in the room is the fact that the police know there is an armed sniper at large bumping off random people and wander about crime scenes, minutes after the shooting, without any bullet proof clothing.

When it comes to the police, who are routinely portrayed as stupid cretins in this show, we had a very weird situation. The SIO was respectful of the scientists rather than rude. She was also a trained criminal profiler (not an unusual thing in 2015 policing), yet her team all seemed to be a bit wide-eyed and freaked out by the whole concept of psychology. There are even whisperings of resentment and people making fun of her. To be honest it all felt a bit Life on Mars. For a moment you could have been forgiven for thinking you’d fallen into 1973, and at any second people were about to light cigarettes, make a homophobic jokes or sexually harass our lead female copper and excuse it as ‘all good fun.’

In terms of look and style, so far it’s all remarkably unremarkable. Considering this used to be one of the most daring and beautifully shot series when it came to cinematography (it pioneered rich and arresting digital high definition technology back in the 2000s) it was a bit of a let down. The images presented to us were generally plain and naturalistic, which isn’t bad necessarily, just less interesting. The cinéma vérité has gone too. At least they have turned the bloody lights on this year. The set has been given a fresh new revamp, with probably more of a tilt towards actual pathology departments. Their lab used to look like a Gucci catwalk with added scalpels and sumptuous lighting. Now we have something a bit more simple, though they barely spend any time in there. The police station has an actual whiteboard. Not a smart board. Not an epic TV screen with iPad controlled imagery. A whiteboard with pens and printouts stuck to it. Goodness.

The most preposterous scene of the night included Nikki and Jack befriending, then interviewing, then illegally searching the bedroom of the suspicious teenage boy Craig, son of one of the victims (pictured below). At least Jack mentioned the fact they didn’t have a warrant. As the plot went on, it turns out we had all (when I say all I mean just Jack) been lead up the garden path by this boy. He was a conniving, disturbed and spiteful little creature, well performed by Broadchurch actor Adam Wilson.

All this effort to bring us back into the real world was dashed by the unrealistic actions of the forensic scientists, with Nikki and Jack the real offenders (with the latter doing things that would have him arrested, let alone sacked). The episode also added some Michael Bay-value with an epic explosion that seemed to be there more for effect than plot. However, I must confessed to being shocked (and, in a grisly way, impressed) with the sudden and gory murder of one of the main police officers during a fire evacuation scene. This moment of devastating bloody horror reminded me of what it is like to watch Silent Witness firing on all full power. This opening two parter has been too ridiculous to be anything other than an entertaining piece of silliness. This moment, however, demonstrated it has the potential to be truly superb. Perhaps next week, which promises to be a claustrophobia-inducing story set within the London Underground, we will get more moments that enthral and less that infuriate.

Silent Witness: Sniper's Nest, Parts 1 & 2 are available to watch on BBC iPlayer for a limited time. Watch the trailer below: 

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