Crime on the Box
A look at the Sleuths on British TV
Silent Witness is an eight-part drama series starring Amanda Burton. The role of tough pathologist, Dr Samantha (Sam) Ryan is a far cry from Amanda Burton's previous TV roles as a GP in Peak Practice and before that in long-running soap Brookside where she played a glamorous twice-married accountant. Although in both her previous ventures she has sometimes come across as a hard-hitting lady with a definite mind of her own, the overall image of her characters has been one of sweet femininity.
In Silent Witness we are in a different world from the idyllic village in the Yorkshire Dales and the fairly cosy, suburban Brookside Close of some years ago. Amanda Burton will face the challenge of portraying a dedicated-to-her-job forensic pathologist who is determined to find the truth through the jig-saw of the post-mortem in spite of facing accusations of "meddling" by the police. The first episode sees Dr Sam Ryan, single, 37 years old, living and working in Cambridge. A seven year old girl is found drowned in a local river and Dr Ryan's investigations lead her to suspect a case of child abuse by her stepfather.
A Touch of Frost
DI Frost (David Jason)
Based on the books by R.D.Wingfield and third in the present series, this one revolves around the professional escort business but in this case it's the ladies of the small town who are doing the hiring and paying for sex. The opening, dramatic scenes show a nasty suicide which Frost is sent to investigate. And so he enters the milieu of the more affluent in this part of suburbia with their parties and their pastimes and intrigues, and more than one dead body before the end of the story.
David Jason seems to have grown more and more, over the three feature length programmes, into his role of the bluff, down to earth, dedicated, but with-romance-in-his soul detective. In each of them he has been accompanied by a different partner. In this story he is accompanied by Detective Sergeant Prentice, (Russell Hunter), a dour, calvinistic Scot whose qualities and characteristics make a perfect foil for those of his superior officer.
Hetty Wainthropp Investigates
Hetty Wainthropp (Patricia Routledge)
Hetty Wainthropp first made an appearance in a novel by David Cook. Patricia Routledge achieved the transformation from her previous TV role as the amazing Hyacinth Bucket to that of Hetty Wainthropp with ease and up to now the 60 year old lady detective from Lancashire has held her own with the other sleuths presently appearing on TV. Last night's episode was somewhat disappointing though. The red herrings were hardly credible and Hetty herself resorted sometimes to shouting in a manner which detracted from, not emphasised, her stock in trade forceful and determined personality.
The opening scenes in the village made you wonder if you were in for a Miss Marple kind of roses-round-the-door treat but Readsby was in fact no idyllic English country hamlet. It firmly reflects life today in Lancashire and other rural areas where the countryside may be pretty but the village shop is low on provisions, transport if you don't own a car is almost non-existent, cottages may be run down and elderly people living alone and trying to hang on to their independence are as vulnerable as they are in any housing estate or city high-rise. Hetty and Geoffrey, her teenage sidekick, are investigating the death of her husband's old uncle and find themselves in the midst of a community apparently caught up in witchcraft, true to the traditions of the area. Walpurgis Night in the wood has the duo in a sticky situation. Hetty's often useful habit of jumping to conclusions has this time misfired. In the end, though, they triumphtntly solve the mystery as always.
The Ruth Rendell Mysteries
Inspector Wexford (George Baker)
The reappearance of a Ruth Rendell mystery, after an interval of three years, can only be a treat for Friday nights on the box. Adapted for TV by Alan Plater, this is the first of three episodes. Inspector Wexford (George Baker) is back in top form in the country town of Kingsmarkham. On a visit to his GP, he is asked to find the man's 22 year old daughter who has not been seen since she last paid a visit to the local Job Centre. The doctor and his wife are of Nigerian origin and racism looks likely to become an issue in this quiet English town for the first time.
When Wexford's assistant, Inspector Burden (Christopher Ravenscroft) is sent to question the employee who was dealing with the missing girl and who was the last to see her alive, he finds her dead, a clear case of murder. Wexford is asked to speak at a public meeting where police officers are giving a demonstration of techniques of self defence. He criticises press coverage of crimes of this kind and is consequently on the receiving end of some unfair reporting himself. Jane Lapotaire, in the role of a glamorous politician, originally from the Lebanon - Anou Khoori, chairs the meeting and Wexford is asked to answer a startling, anonymous question concerning rape. Wexford's family life continues as always, with his sympathetic wife, Dora, and his time an out of work son-in-law looking for employment, plus two grandsons who come to stay while their parents try to find an answer to their problems.
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