Waking the Dead


Created by Barbara Machin

Starring Trevor Eve, Sue Johnston, Wil Johnson, Claire Goose (2000-2004), Holly Aird (2000-2004), Esther Hall (2005), Félicité du Jeu (2005-present), Tara Fitzgerald (2007)

The BBC crime drama series ‘Waking the Dead’ follows the investigations of an autonomous “cold case” unit, working under the umbrella of Scotland Yard. The original pilot episode was broadcast over two nights in September 2000 and there have been six seasons of the show since then, each one comprising four or six two-part stories.

The show shares some obvious similarities with the American procedural series ‘CSI: Crime Scene Investigations’, which premiered on the CBS network in October 2000, and ‘Cold Case’, which premiered on CBS in September 2003, although it is far less glossy than the former and doesn’t promote the moral certainty of the latter.

Like most crime dramas, it is somewhat implausible, although, unlike many of its American equivalents, it does at least suggest that some actual mundane police work takes place. The stories told are often graphic – for example ‘In Sight of the Lord’ from season four, in which old soldiers are killed by having their heads nailed to the floor.

Its real strength is the characters. The team is led by Detective Superintendent Peter Boyd (superbly played by Trevor Eve), who is authoritarian and often extremely bad tempered, which brings him into conflict with the rest of the team and the wider Police establishment. Dr Grace Foley (the excellent Sue Johnston) is the team’s psychological profiler. The complex working relationship of these two characters is brilliantly portrayed and Eve and Johnston.

Initially, the team was completed by two more detectives, Spencer ‘Spence’ Jordan (Wil Johnson) and Amelia ‘Mel’ Silver (Claire Goose), and a forensic pathologist and scientist, Frankie Wharton (Holly Aird). The casting in each case was inspired. The characters were very believable and worked extremely well together. The perpetually borderline grumpy Frankie Wharton, for example, an employee of the Home Office rather than the Police Authority, was always far less prone to provocation by Peter Boyd than were Mel Silver and Spence Jordan, his direct subordinates.

There was never any attempt to “glam up” the characters (for example Claire Goose, excellent in the role of Mel Silver), something that is often seen in American shows – the wonderful ‘Cagney & Lacey’ being a very notable exception.

Goose and Aird left in 2004 after four seasons and were replaced by Esther Hall and the French actress Félicité du Jeu (very likeable in the role of Detective Sergeant Stella Goodman). Hall was replaced by Tara Fitzgerald in season six.

That sixth season has a somewhat more baroque and fanciful feel to it than had previously been the case. This is possibly due to the absence of earlier key writers like John Milne, Stephen Davis, Simon Mirren and Ed Whitmore, but it does include one of the shows strongest and most memorable stories, ‘Wren Boys’, with Félicité du Jeu in particularly good form and a guest appearance by the tremendous Carey Mulligan as an other-worldly young novice nun who displays signs of stigmata.


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