Waking the Dead: Skin

Directed by Edward Bennett

Written by Craig Bradley and Declan Croghan

Starring Trevor Eve, Sue Johnston, Wil Johnson, Félicité Du Jeu and Tara Fitzgerald : With Philip Whitchurch, Jo Woodcock, Johnny Palmiero, Kelly Hunter, Russell Boulter, Cyril Nri and George Rainsford

An anonymous tip-off leads the cold case team to a partially mummified body in a ventilation shaft on a dismal East London housing estate. Their forensic scientist Dr Eve Lockhart (Tara Fitzgerald) determines that the death occurred about seventeen years previously, probably following a prolonged period of sustained beating and torture. The body is identified as that of George Andrews (Johnny Palmiero), a skinhead member of an extremist gang of neo-Nazis, a group with connections to Martin Armstrong (Russell Boulter), a member of the Democratic Nationalist Party and now involved in a local election campaign.

When it transpires that George Andrews was really Sam Cohen, who was both gay and Jewish, and whose black boyfriend, who was suffering from Aids, had died in an unsolved arson attack for which Armstrong and his cronies were the only suspects, the team is faced with the task of unravelling a tangled web of lies, deceit and ingrained racially hatred.

Along the way we also have some new glimpses of Luke Boyd (George Rainsford), the long-time missing drug-addicted son of the cold case team leader Peter Boyd (Trevor Eve), a theme running through this seventh season. Aspects of each case investigated become a kind of metaphor for Boyd’s relationship with his son and his slowly evolving understanding of his own feelings and attitudes.

Peter Boyd is his usual short tempered, tactless and bull-headed self. Dr Grace Foley (Sue Johnston), the team’s criminal psychologist, takes more of a back seat in this story than is usually the case. There is very little attempt to explain what would motivate a person to become a member of an extremist group like the neo-Nazis – which is a pity, although it does not necessarily take away from the message contained in the story.

Spenser Jordan (Wil Johnson), who we know well from previous stories, is too argumentative, aggressive and arrogant to defend the democratic right of the neo-Nazis to hold and express their views, the very thing he does here in response to Boyd’s antagonistic attitude towards them. It doesn’t ring true.

The reasons behind the violent reaction of Stella Goodman (Félicité Du Jeu) towards one of the neo-Nazis is not explored further in this story, but when considered in relation to other similar incidents in early season seven episodes it does suggest we will discover something more substantial about this character before the season is finished. She has been somewhat sidelined so far, with Tara Fitzgerald’s character taking on a far greater role.

As ever, we do need to suspend our disbelief. Eve Lockhart, who seems to be a specialist in all fields, is able to make far too many exact forensic breakthroughs and far too quickly. As one example, a camcorder tape that has lain undiscovered just below the top surface of a grave for seventeen years would not provide anything remotely approaching the quality of picture and sound suggested here, irrespective of electronic jiggery-pokery.

I liked ‘Skin’ a lot, although I have undoubtedly been influenced because the neo-Nazis are presented to us in very clear-cut terms. The episode leaves no doubt what these people represent (including the “acceptable” political face of the White Power movement – here called the DNP, but very obviously representing the utterly repellent BNP).

It would be very difficult for me to be objective about this two-part story because I have very strong views about racism, neo-Nazis and fascist ideologies. I still have vivid memories of the early 1980s not long prior to the period in which the killing here is set, with misguided movements like “Oi” (enthusiastically championed by the likes of Gary Bushell) and the eventual race riots in places like Southall.

This is not the most action-packed story the series has offered us so far. Most of it takes place back at the cold case team’s headquarters, largely in various interview rooms and offices. There are relatively few characters here and not as many twists and turns as we might usually expect to find. There are few surprises to be had as the team uncover new facts and frankly it is rather surprising it takes them so long to stumble on the truth (so blatantly obvious is it).

The episode does give the impression that the writers used it as a soapbox to air their views on a specific subject and did so it a somewhat simplistic manner, even including a half-hearted ‘Romeo & Juliet’ subplot in the guise of Natalie Rose (Jo Woodcock), the teenage daughter of Jim Rose (Philip Whitchurch), the main neo-Nazi goon, and Selim Said (Sagar Radia), a teenage Muslim boy who is in the early stages of becoming more radicalised and has taken to defacing DNP election posters with aerosol paint spray.

The rather heavy-handed reference to the connection between racial hatred and religious intolerance, here expressed through the religious antipathy towards the Aids disease was not, truthfully, one of the show’s most subtle moments, and the message contained in these two hours is decidedly one sided. However, it is one I certainly have no issue with.

‘Waking the Dead’ is always interesting and most importantly the characters are exceptionally well written. It doesn’t hurt to have such a stellar group of actors. I doubt too many people would argue with my contention that Trevor Eve and Sue Johnston are amongst the very best, if not the best, actors working on British television at the moment.

Co-writer Declan Croghan began writing for the show in season five and wrote one of my favourite ‘Waking the Dead’ stories, ‘The Wren Boys’, which opened season six.

Screencaps taken from waking-the-dead-online

1 comment:

dcrkoster said...

Good article!
Do you know the name of that beautiful song in the beginning? It sounds like a hymn and is played when you see father Ayanike praying.
I would be very grateful if you'd tell me (if you know it ofcourse).
Thanks anyway!