Interview - Emelia Fox on the return of BBC One's Silent Witness

Made by BBC Studios, the prime time hit Silent Witness returns to BBC One this January. The longest running British crime drama currently airing on TV, the series follows a team of forensic pathologists helping police solve murders using clues found on the bodies of the victims - the silent witnesses.

Emilia Fox, Richard Lintern, David Caves and Liz Carr return as the dynamic Lyell unit, for five new topical thrilling two-part contemporary stories set against the familiar landscapes of London.

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What stories can we expect from this series of Silent Witness?
The series opens with an episode written by Ed Whitmore, which deals with what's happened to the Lyell team in the aftermath of Nikki and Jack’s return from Mexico, where they thought Nikki had been buried alive.

Nikki is desperate to return to work and becomes involved in the case of a missing colleague, where the main suspect, David Cannon [Julian Rhind-Tutt] is invited to work at the Lyell so that the authorities can keep him under surveillance. The episode turns into a cat-and-mouse thriller between Nikki and David: she thinks he is guilty, but can’t be totally certain because she is still affected by paranoia and trauma following her experience in Mexico.

While the Silent Witness stories normally stand alone in a series, we do have some continuity for the regulars to follow (dealing with the events that happened in Mexico). Each crime story still takes the regulars into a different world. The second episode explores an extremely topical subject - the tragic events linked to the hacking of a hospital database and subsequent blackmailing of the patients. The third episode is a whodunnit about the shooting of a US diplomat in London and how the Lyell team have to work with the U.S. Embassy and FBI to overcome jurisdictional hurdles. It is about the special relationship between the UK and the U.S and it also becomes a love story!

Clarissa leads the fourth episode, which starts with a road traffic accident that leads to the team uncovering abuse cases in a home that provides assisted living to those with disabilities and it results in the team fighting for justice  and against prejudice and discrimination. It’s great to have Charlie Creed Miles in the series and it introduces two new actors Rosie Jones and Toby Friedman. This episode is massively important to the series because the audience have long requested to see Clarissa more involved in storylines and Tim Prager, who writes many of our issue-led storylines, has championed this as an important and relevant subject for Silent Witness to explore.

The last episodes complete the arc of where the series began. The episodes are called Family, which is an action-led episode and focuses on the complicated family who the case is about, but also sees the team find their way back to each other. You see each of them independent of each other at Christmas and yet brought together by the mystery and crime they try to solve, which I think is really the heart of Silent Witness.

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How is Nikki recovering after her experience in Mexico?
After thinking she was going to die, Nikki's realised that she's been given a second chance to live and appreciate life  - I thought it was essential to refer to that. She is eager to start work and return to normal, but she is being told to stay away from work and Jack won’t return her calls and is distancing himself from her because of his guilt at not being able to save her. This leaves Nikki feeling purposeless and isolated from the Lyell team family. This series explores Nikki post trauma, feeling very unsettled and alone with this vulnerability. She is paranoid and still having flashbacks from Mexico.

Tell us about Nikki’s new love interest Matt Garcia (played by Michael Landes)
In this series you see Nikki begin a relationship with the U.S. ambassador to London, Matt Garcia, who is played by Michael Landes. It is significant for many reasons, most of all because it is the first proper relationship we have seen her in for many years - particularly since Harry, with their will they/won’t they relationship. You see Nikki want to commit to a relationship at last and it is in the aftermath of looking at life and her relationships post what happened to her in Mexico. It also enables Nikki to move forward from the trauma and to finally find happiness in her personal life. Who knows for how long it will be, but it was lovely to play Nikki having something to smile about again.

Last year was the series' 20th anniversary. Were you happy with the reaction from fans, particularly to the Mexico episodes?
Last year was such an exciting milestone for Silent Witness, and it was an absolute joy to hear about people’s reaction to the series and particularly to the last episode where the audience seemed to care about what happened to Nikki. I care about the series so much and it is the absolute best when you know that the audience are enjoying it too - they are who we make it for. It made it even more of a pleasure to come back for series 21, to see what happens to Nikki and the rest of the Lyell team and to get involved with some more cases that I always find fascinating, both personally and professionally.

Tell us about the guest stars of this series.
One of the joys of Silent Witness is getting to make five two-hour films each series, which means we get to go into five different worlds, where the bodies and cases take us, and it means we get to work with five different guest casts.

This series opens with a fantastic cast including Julian Rhind Tutt and Emma Fielding, both of whom I have worked with on plays; Pippa Bennett Warner, Pete Sullivan, Alex MacQueen, Susannah Fielding, David Bamber, Kelly Hunter and Alan David to name a few! We have Neil Stuke coming back in the last episode to reprise his role as Detective Cooke from a few series ago. We have amazing actors like Michael Landes, Elliot Levy, Sharon D Clarke, Charlie Creed Miles, Nitin Ganatra, Ian Burfield, Natasha Little, Tanya Franks, T’Nia Miller, Alex Price, Simon Bond and Douglas Fielding. We also see new faces like Rosie Jones, Toby Friedman, Kiza Deen, Grace Hogg-Robinson, Dino Kelly and Tom Hanson.

I don’t want to miss anyone out, but we are always so lucky to work with such great casts and it is always such a delight when actors want to come back again.

Is there a particular story from this series you enjoyed bringing to the screen?
I really enjoyed playing the cat-and-mouse scenes with Julian Rhind-Tutt in episode one, and the therapy scenes in the second episode which I found emotionally challenging. There were fun and surprising scenes to play between Nikki and Matt in episode three (and maybe later too - I don’t want to spoil anything!)

The final episodes had some challenging action scenes to play and I worked with an amazing horse - I genuinely sobbed my heart out because the horse was so good at acting! Most of all I love being back with the regulars Liz, David and Richard, and any scenes that we get to play together are probably my favourite.