If there’s one sort of drama that does nothing for me it’s the forensic crime series while I will watch the odd CSI from time to time I’ve never really watched Waking the Dead while the spin-off The Body Farm left me cold. It’s also been years since I watched Silent Witness, I certainly haven’t watched an episode since Amanda Burton left, however I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt here. This two-part episode, entitled And Then I Fell in Love, is interesting as it was famously pulled earlier this year as its storyline is almost identical to the news story about nine Asian men grooming teenage girls in Rochdale. The fact that it was initially supposed to be in the middle of the fifteenth series means that it feels fairly disjointed in so much as there is no definitive conclusion because it wasn’t meant to end the series. That’s why there’s no mention of the fact that these are the last episodes that will feature Tom Ward who is exiting the series after ten years of playing Dr Harry Cunningham however his final appearance here is at least highlight of an otherwise unsettling episode.
And Then I Fell in Love begins with Nikki Alexander (Emilia Fox) on the phone with Harry while a girl runs out into the middle of the road and gets hit by a car luckily she’s on the scene delivering mouth to mouth with the girl surviving. However the girl, Shannon Kelly (Amy Wren), is visibly shaken and paranoid as she is frightened by the Asian paramedic and later won’t except Nikki’s offer of help. At the same time Harry, Nikki and Leo Dalton (William Gamirana) are tasked by DI Vickers (Sam Troughton) to perform an autopsy on a man covered by tattoos who was found dead in a similar spot to where Shannon was hit by the car. Though the Silent Witness team and the police struggle to find a connection between the two, which is aided by the fact that similar fibres were found on the body of the tattooed man and on Shannon, we the audience already know that both are related to a group of Asian men who are grooming schoolgirls for sex. We see one of Shannon’s friends Amy Chester (Madeline Duggan) already in deep with the men after falling in love with Umar (Elyes Gabel) who convinces her to take drugs. After she passes out she finds herself locked in a room with a bowl of condoms and learns why Umar wanted her in the first place as the camera blurs to see a progression of men rape her.
At the same time we see how the girls are tricked in the first place as two of the men circle around the unsuspecting Lauren (Georgia Bourke) and her nervous friend Hannah (Chloe Cuthill) with the latter in particular uncomfortable with some of the scenarios that she is placed in once her friend falls in with this gang. Meanwhile we see that the men think their actions are justified as they believe that white girls fit into an empty culture so much so that they feel that they can exploit them for financial gain. The police however are so thick that they believe the Asian man who Shannon is afraid of is in fact her stepfather Abdul Aziz (Sanjeev Bhaskar) who abused her and take him in for questioning something that we the audience know is a mistake. Eventually Shannon confides in Nikki long enough for her to get the truth but will it be too late for Lauren and Hannah to be saved from suffering the same fate as Shannon, Amy and another girl who is discovered in a suitcase?
It is clear to see why this episode was pulled earlier in the year as the story of the Asian men grooming the girls is almost identical to what happens in this episode save they operated out of a kebab shop rather than a minicab office which is the base of the men in Silent Witness. Even though the event occurred several months ago I still found the scenes in which Amy is raped incredibly uncomfortable and I personally thought that this episode should’ve been pulled altogether as there was very little to enjoy. I also had an issue with the plotting of the episode as we learn the connection between the bodies and why Shannon is so afraid ages before the central investigators do. I do like a crime drama however I prefer one that keeps you guessing throughout whereas here that was little reason to invest in a central mystery to which I already knew the outcome. The bulk of the dialogue didn’t ring true while the two police officers, the cold Vickers and the bland DS Masood (Thusitha Jayasundera), were both presented as fairly foolish.
It is a shame then that Tom Ward is leaving as I found Harry the most interesting character of the bunch and the subplot involving him moving into Nikki’s spare room following an explosion at his flat was possibly the most intriguing of the entire episode. Tom and Nikki living together provided some fairly light-hearted scenes, God knows this episode needed it, as she constantly wakes him by voicing her various theories about the case. There is also a believable chemistry between the two that could’ve been built up to something more had Ward stayed on for another series however if I didn’t know he was leaving this episode would’ve done nothing to inform of the fact. In terms of other positives of this episode I found that the young actresses were all great especially Wren and Duggan, the latter of whom was the original Lauren Branning in Eastenders, who were believable as teenagers who realised their first love was actually a violent drug dealer and pimp. There was also one scene which dragged me into the action which involved the very slow Younis (Tony Jayawardena), who is seemingly the muscle of the group as he certainly wasn’t hired for his charm, trying to do something right for once. Though they were incredibly uncomfortable I still thought the visuals employed while Amy was on drugs trying to block out the fact that a procession of men were abusing her were also innovative however by the end of the episode I felt they had been over-used.
Overall my first Silent Witness in years wasn’t a pleasant viewing experience given the subject matter being dealt with which so explicit that I felt shocked rather than particularly entertained. I feel that if the announcement hadn’t been made of Tom Ward’s exit from the series then this double bill may not have aired at all but watching it you’d have no clue that the character had departed. Though there were a couple of decent performances I can’t say I particularly enjoyed much of what I was watching and I feel that the majority of viewers will also turn away from it with perhaps the second instalment seeing a drastic drop in ratings. Over the next couple of days we’ll have to see how right I am but judging from what I saw from And Then I Fell in Love I won’t be randomly watching an episode of Silent Witness that is unless I have to review it again.
Contributed by Matt Donnelly Follow Matt on Twitter