BBC Video // 2008 // 704 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // January 30th, 2013
A second chance to catch the killers.
The detective as we know it is a very recent invention. Prior to the twentieth century (roughly speaking), the police department existed to keep the peace by offering crowd control, rousting drunks, and responding to crimes in progress. Unless there was a smoking gun or somebody got caught holding monogrammed merchandise, there was little the police could do to "solve" crimes. Then came forensics -- fingerprints, medical analysis, etc. -- and detective bureaus sprang up like weeds in all modern police forces. Even then, if a case wasn't solved immediately, it was very unlikely to ever be solved. In the latter decades of the twentieth century, though, advances in genetics and other technologies allowed detectives to revisit crimes and glean new insights. So-called "cold cases" became the order of the day and solving decades-old crimes has increasingly captured our collective imaginations. One of the examples of this is Waking the Dead, a British take on the cold-case genre. Waking the Dead: Season Seven demonstrates the show is running strong, with a straightforward blend of cold cases and contemporary events. Though nothing about the show stands out, it's worth picking up for mystery fans.
Waking the Dead features a multidisciplinary team employed by the police to solve cold cases. The six stories gathered here all have roughly the same structure: a contemporary clue (like blood at a current crime scene) leads the team to investigate a previously unsolved crime. The old crime usually intersects with some new crime, and the mystery is resolved in a pair of hour-long episodes. There are some personal stories of the team, but Waking the Dead largely sticks to the mysteries.
Waking the Dead is a meat-and-potatoes crime show. The focus is almost relentlessly on the investigations, the mysteries are always an effective blend of past crime and current crime, and the solutions are just complex enough to be engaging without ever quite trotting off into the realm of the unbelievable. The stories are also topical without being overly political. We get stories here about white supremacy and returning veterans that nod to the headlines without feeling like they're struggling to be current. The acting is also uniformly excellent. The team has obviously gelled at this point, but it's the guest stars that really impress. Rupert Graves and Philip Whitchurch are especially effective as suspects. Finally, the show's style looks very restrained compared to America's CSI-influenced brethren. There's no quick cutting or thumping music to detract from the pursuit of criminals here. If all you want to do is sit down and watch a two-hour mystery, Waking the Dead is a great option.
This DVD set is a pretty good way to enjoy the mysteries as well. There are two episodes to a disc, so the 1.78:1 anamorphic transfers have a decent amount of room. Some of the darker scenes can get a bit noisy, but overall the transfers maintain the slightly dark, gritty look the show goes for. It's not reference quality, but the show looks good. The stereo audio tracks keep the dialogue well-balanced with music and effects. Subtitles are included for those with difficulty deciphering British accents.
The show's strength is also something of a weakness. Though I haven't seen the previous six seasons of the show, there didn't seem to be much character development going on in this series. As the back cover alludes to, team leader DSI Boyd (played by Trevor Eve, Troy) gets back in touch with his missing son, but even that feels like box-checking rather than character development. In fact, the relentless focus on the mysteries rather than the team leaves Waking the Dead feeling a bit generic. It runs against the tide of other British crime shows in not focusing significantly on the personal lives of the investigators. I'm not sure that's a good thing, as the show seems a bit "take it or leave it" rather than something that sinks its hooks in.
The lack of extras on this DVD set is a bit disappointing as well. The series has obviously been popular, even prompting a spinoff, so I'm sure fans want to know more about the series.
Waking the Dead is a fine police procedural. The mysteries are tight, the presentation restrained, and the production top-notch. It can get a bit generic in places, but mystery fans who like a focus on the solving rather than the solvers will appreciate these stories. Those who've followed the previous six seasons can rest assured that there's no drop in quality here.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 704 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated