'Silent Witness: The Complete Season One'
(Amanda Burton, William Armstrong, Sam Parks, Ruth McCabe, et al / 2-Disc DVD / NR / 2014 / BBC America)
Overview: In this long-running, hit BBC crime thriller, forensic pathologist Dr. Samantha Ryan (Amanda Burton) helps solve murder cases with harrowing evidence that speaks louder than words.
DVD Verdict: I have watched every single episode, of every single season of this wonderful show, and have to say that each and every one was a complete and utter joy to behold. But, like most TV shows that have gone on for 17 seasons, the original cast was always the best. And as much as the group that surrounds Dr. Ryan are good here in Season One, the true A-Team comes into play during the sixth season onwards re: Samantha Ryan (Burton), Professor Leo Dalton (William Gaminara) and Dr. Harry Cunningham (Tom Ward).
But, as that is leading us down the path into Season Six and subsequent seasons for a long time thereafter, let us concentrate on this opening set of episodes. First broadcast in 1996, and still on air today, the series was created by Nigel McCrery, a former murder squad detective based in Nottingham. He later went on to create the hit series 'New Tricks,' with writer Roy Mitchell.
Amanda Burton's Professor Sam Ryan is a clever, highly-intelligent and sometimes intimidating coroner and professor at London University. Her professional qualifications set her apart from other coroners in the area, and so she is regularly called upon to assist the police at homicide crime scenes and in subsequent autopsies.
In the style of a murder-cop show starring someone besides a cop, Professor Ryan manages to solve all of the cases herself, only occasionally calling on the aid of one of the actual police officers! Can you say, CSI-esque? Regardless, this British series is very often intense and graphic during some of the autopsy scenes, but it is consistently well-written and well-acted.
Indeed, very little of Sam Ryan's private life leaks into the series, and the series' primary focus on the murder in question is somewhat unusual to this genre. When a glimpse of Professor Ryan's personal life is revealed to the audience, it leaves them curious for more. Not that we get it, but it does begin to unravel as the years/season go by.
Helping Sam Ryan out along the way is Dr. Trevor Stewart (William Armstrong), who as well as being a pathologist in his own right, is also Sam's business partner; owning half of the morgue and its facilities. Dr. Fred Drake (Sam Parks) is Sam's main assistant during post mortems and on visits to crime scenes, often identifying DNA samples at the scene of the crime, and linking them to those responsible.
Having returned to Cambridge to take up a teaching assignment, Forensic pathologist Dr. Sam Ryan's first case is the death of a six year old girl find floating in a nearby river ('Buried Lies'). In 'Long Days, Short Nights,' when a mans decomposing body is found in an abandoned building, there is every indication that he was part of some occult ritual. An upside down cross was carved on his chest, his wrists were bound with ivy and he was strangled. But not everything is as it seems, of course.
In 'Darkness Visible,' Dr. Ryan investigates the death of a gay man while in police custody. He had been arrested while drunk and was sharing a cell with another drunk, in for the night. The victim died from a blow to the head and was badly beaten post-mortem. DS Farmer is concerned that the assault may have been the work of some of her officers. In the final episode of the first series, 'Sins of the Fathers,' one of Dr. Ryan's students has a problem and seeks some personal advice. She and her family immigrated from Vietnam and her father wants her to enter a marriage he's arranged for her. She's worried that her husband to be will realize she is not a virgin and Sam counsels. But when the family's restaurant is burned out, and the police find a badly burned body, Sam soon realizes she's possibly bitten off more than she can even chew.
'Silent Witness' is a very well-written show and I highly recommend it when you get the chance to invest in this first season. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.