Amanda Burton returns to new Silent Witness

Monday: Silent Witness - (BBC1, 9pm)
Dr Nikki Alexander, Dr Simone Tyler , Jack Ryan and Professor Sam RyanDr Nikki Alexander, Dr Simone Tyler , Jack Ryan and Professor Sam Ryan
Dr Nikki Alexander, Dr Simone Tyler , Jack Ryan and Professor Sam Ryan

Can you believe it’s been a quarter of a century since the curtain went up on this crime drama series? While some wonder why it’s still going, the show’s army of devoted fans will be cheering its welcome return.

Silent Witness holds the honour of being the longest-running crime drama currently airing on the box, and has been a springboard to fame and fortune for big names such as Idris Elba, Benedict Cumberbatch, Daisy Ridley, Jodie Comer, Martin Compston and Daniel Kaluuya to name but a few.

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But there was really only one person who simply had to be a part of this six-part 25th anniversary outing: Amanda Burton.

Already a household name thanks to Brookside, she became a national treasure playing pathologist Sam Ryan in 54 gripping episodes, before hanging up her scalpel in 2004.

This opener kicks off in Liverpool, as Sam seeks to usher in democratic health care, but the shooting of the Health Secretary and Sam’s husband pulls Dr Nikki Alexander, Jack Hodgson and Simone Tyler (played by Emilia Fox, David Caves and Genesis Lynea) into a world of duplicity, intrigue and betrayal.

When the credibility of DNA testing is challenged, the bedrock of forensic science is called into question. Now uncertain of who or what they can trust, the Lyell team’s investigation draws them into confrontations with echoes of their personal histories, which threaten to unravel their present.

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Amanda says: “It was genuinely a really lovely thing to step into Sam’s shoes again and to catch up with who she is now and where she is in her life. I loved the fact that she was still very much pioneering and busy and connected – that meant a lot to me. I was very, very happy that she wasn’t being tracked down to some sort of remote corner of a British village where she was judging hen competitions!”

When asked why her alter ego struck such a chord with viewers, Amanda replies: “At the time, it was quite unusual to see a woman playing that depth of seriousness, that depth of soulfulness. Her edges were never really rounded off. She was always quite spicy, quite like a terrier. But Sam was a very truthful character, she upheld a lot of things that were very, very important. There was no double dealing with her, she was just incredibly straightforward.”

She goes on: “Sam was this one woman charged with finding the truth in so many of those awful crimes, and at a huge cost to her life. I wouldn’t say that she was an unhappy character. I wouldn’t like to label her like that at all. It’s just that her devotion to her career was like a calling. I suppose that was quite unusual 25 years ago, it wasn’t exactly the norm.”

But what was it like working with current leading lady, Emilia Fox? “It was extraordinarily special,” Amanda says. “To see these two powerful characters working together was amazing. In the script, they call them the ‘two titans of the medical world’.

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“Emilia is just an incredibly generous actress. There was a really nice sense of trust between us. We fed off each other a lot, and there were just genuinely lovely, warm, empathetic responses from both of us – and you don’t get that every day.”