Silent Witness is a long-running British television thriller series made by the BBC's in-house Drama Serials production department, and screened on the BBC One channel. First broadcast in 1996, it is still running; the twelfth series began broadcasting on 1 October 2008. The series was created by Nigel McCrery a former murder squad detective in Nottingham. He later went on to create the hit series 'New Tricks' with Roy Mitchell. The series was based on Prof. Helen Witwell a forensic pathologist based in Sheffield. McCrery had known Helen while serving as a police officer. The drama itself gets very good viewing figures, as on the tenth series (2006), it normally attracted around six million viewers in the UK (from MediaGuardian.co.uk's overnight report). BARB later revealed the final figures, proving the drama's higher successes as they received around seven million viewers each episode. In the United States, the show airs during "Mystery Monday" on BBC America.
The programme originally followed the activities of a female pathologist, Dr Sam Ryan (who was promoted to professor part way through the series), played by Amanda Burton. However, Ryan's character departed early in the eighth series in 2004. There had been a succession of regular supporting characters, changing almost every series, but Dr Leo Dalton (William Gaminara) and Dr Harry Cunningham (Tom Ward), who were introduced in the sixth series in 2002, remained in the series and continued as lead characters following Ryan's departure, with Dalton replacing her as professor. A new character, Dr Nikki Alexander (Emilia Fox), was introduced to the team in the eighth series in 2004. She began as a palaeontologist, not a pathologist, and was originally enlisted by the team to help analyse bones. Alexander was later represented as having the necessary qualifications to fill the vacancy for a pathologist left by Professor Ryan, although she was initially stated to have a PhD in anthropology and not a medical qualification. She has, however, since been represented as medically-qualified.
The programme is typically made up of a series of two-part stories, usually with six to eight episodes per series. 2006 saw five two-part stories, making ten episodes in total.
The series is often criticised for apparently showing the pathologist actively investigating the crime. This characteristic of pathologist as urban hero follows on earlier similar series such as Quincy, M.E. on US TV (itself based on an earlier Canadian TV series Wojeck) and is also shared by the continuing CBS series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
The theme music for Silent Witness is a song called "Silencium" by John Harle. In 1998, writer John Milne received an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for the Series 2 episode "Blood, Sweat, and Tears". The music for Silent Witness (Series 9 - present) is written by BAFTA nominated TV & film music composer Sheridan Tongue
Dead Ringers also parodied Silent Witness, with Sam Ryan as an overconfident pathologist who makes incredibly specific guesses about the body; for example, 'Just by looking I can tell that this was a man aged 35-37 called John, having an affair with his secretary', only to be proved wrong by one of her assistants ('no that's an onion bagel I got for your lunch'). She then refuses to accept her mistake claiming 'wrong? Oh I'm never wrong. I'm forensics professor Sam Ryan PhD'.
Dr Sam Ryan, whilst looking into an apparently accidental death of a child who drowned, finds injuries on the child that show that is had been shaken viciously. But the police want to close this case.
A young woman is found strangled and her husband becomes the main suspect, but Peter Ross thinks that this case may be linked to an unsolved murder. It appears that the murderer may have killed again, but Sam and Peter are in disagreement about the case.
Sam is enjoying her relationship with Peter, when a random and vicious murder claims their attention. Then Sam sees two boys re-enacting a murder, she becomes certain that the team are going after the wrong suspect