Waking The Dead: Maggots, jam and mouldy corpses

Friday 11 March 2011, 12:50

Colin Wratten Colin Wratten Producer

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It's a wet Friday morning at our studios in West London and it's my last day on series nine of Waking The Dead.

We have just delivered 10 hours of primetime drama to BBC One - the final ever series.

It's been a lightning five years since I started on series six and my mind turns to what I'll take away from the experience of working on a forensic crime drama.

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For a start, I could probably kill someone 20 different ways now and have an above average chance of getting away with it. It's good for you to see the different ways your licence fee goes to work, I think.

Oh wait, I've just thought of a downside. With the amount of gruesome script research I've done on my BBC computer, I'm probably on every government, police and Ministry Of Defence watch list, so maybe not a good idea after all.

Danger lurks at every turn. This series we have a scene where a corpse has a distinctive imprint on its skull. Eve works out it's where the head hit a manhole cover after the victim was run over.

After researching this element of the story, I will certainly think twice before putting the word 'manhole' into Google again, I can tell you.

One of my abiding memories from my time on the show is the day we filmed a scene in a mansion that involved a naked decomposing prosthetic corpse suspended upside down from a first floor balustrade.

The victim's silicon skull had been filled with jam to encourage the maggots to stay put (maggots love jam, apparently - who knew?).

In addition, the fly and maggot wrangler (yes, it's a real job) released hundreds of blowflies as the camera manoeuvred its way through the hallway, avoiding the dead taxidermal dog lying on the floor.

Eva Birthistle as Detective Superintendent Sarah Cavendish, Will Johnson as Detective Inspector Spencer Jordan and Trevor Eve as Detective Superintendent Peter Boyd in Waking The Dead.

It was at this point I was told the owners of the house were coming home early in the hope of meeting Trevor Eve.

Now, we are always completely upfront with potential location owners about our intentions. However, I wasn't convinced they'd be prepared for the harsh reality of the situation when they returned home.

So, as I stood by to welcome them back, the crew flew into action (like the last five minutes of an episode of Changing Rooms), using fly spray, vacuum cleaners and dustpans and brushes.

This was one occasion where we weren't able to say that "no animals (flies) have been harmed during the making of this film."

This last series of Waking The Dead certainly provides us with the opportunity to do something special, and hopefully surprising.

There are brief references to Mel Silver, Stella Goodman and Boyd's son Luke, not in a reverential way, but as a way of prompting audience memories.

Do you remember Boyd buying an enormous yellow model aeroplane in series five - Towers of Silence - when Grace's back was turned?

The plane has been knocking around the prop store for five years.

When we see Boyd's home for the first time this series, I suggested the yellow plane should be evident.

It's one of many small details for regular fans of the show. See if you spot it.

It's great working on such a highly regarded show. It's the producer's job to galvanize a film crew of 60 people.

Detective Superintendent Boyd and paramedics at a crime scene.

I try to provide an environment where the writers and the crew feel empowered to create compelling stories with dark locations, great sets, stylish costumes, authentic looking corpses and atmospheric lighting set-ups.

My job has been made so much easier because the quality you see on your television screens, in turn, attracts high calibre actors and crew year after year.

Quite simply, quality stems from quality.

The decision was made to finish and it certainly feels that we're finishing on a high, having not outstayed our welcome. Would you agree?

Boyd is about to come up against the biggest challenge of his life this series. Will he prevail?

You can judge for yourselves if we've got it right. I hope you'll let me know as I'd be very interested to hear.

Colin Wratten is the producer of Waking The Dead.

Waking The Dead is on BBC One and BBC One HD at 9pm on Sunday, 13 March.

For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    To whom it may concern:

    Thank you for the best ever crime series I have seen.
    Fortunately I was wrong in my earlier post and as it happened, all the main characters of WTD remained alive, and even more Boyd will obviosly be cleared of framed charges. Thus, there are no problems and there are enough reasons to continue the production of WTD. Unfortunately I am not a millionare, otherwise I would be very happy to personaly pay for a new season production. It would be well invested money.

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    Comment number 82.

    Thank you for a great show. It is a shame it had ended. Apart from one character (Eva Lockhart), we will have to guess what happens to the rest. However, I have heard a rumour that suggests the show's creator (Barbara Minchin, apologies if the name is slightly incorrect) has suggested that this may not be the end at all, as it is all in the name "Waking the dead" (apparently), and has been "mulling idea's" over the computer. Watch this space. Regards Justin.

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    Comment number 83.

    In case people doubt this (I would understand why), Barbara suggested the above (post) on the local regional BBC news show "Points West" this week regards Justin.

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    Comment number 84.

    I too have just discovered that, after the last episode, Waking the Dead is no more. I am gutted. After another excellent series I can say only this: The BBC is now a poorer place to watch TV as WTD stands way above anything the Beeb has broadcast in recent years. I guess I'll have to go back to watching old seasons of Bones again !!

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    Comment number 85.

    I too am hugely disappointed - because the inclusion of the Zimbabwean back story destroyed my enjoyment of the last episode. I had been pulled in by the first part on Sunday and was hooked and looking forward to the denouement, but the Zimbabwean link jarred - destroying the moment. Why on earth send the psychopath to become a Zimbabwean farmer? From a narrative perspective, this served to allow the psycho to disappear; as Grace Foley said, "Serial killers don't stop - they just move or die" (or words to that effect). But he could have moved anywhere - why choose Zimbabwe? It's a really strange choice given the battering Anglo-African farmers have taken from the Mugabe regime and raises some important questions. When does it become acceptable to portray victims of ethnic atrocities as "baddies"? Using an extreme example: How long after WWII did it become all right to portray Jewish characters as serial killers (in a WWII setting)? The problem here - with the Anglo-African example - is that this group is still being victimised by Mugabe: farmers, for example, are still being violently evicted from the land. It seems like a really cheap shot for the BBC to portray a white farmer as a serial killer. (The production team might try and explain this away by saying that the character was British – but he had been there almost two decades, quite long enough to be considered Anglo-African; just as this is a quite sufficient period of time for an African to be considered British.) And it comes in a vacuum of the portrayal of Anglo-Africans on British tv: where is the dramatisation of the events of the (very dramatic!) last decade? Or even some non-fiction to show where this white African tribe finds itself after a decade of Mugabe’s abuses? The lack of interest in Britain in Anglo-Africa is quite remarkable and one wonders what Grace Foley would have to say about this? But perhaps we need a psychologist who works at a higher order – at the level of society - to try and interpret the root causes. Niall Ferguson’s Civilisation: Is the West History? concluded only a couple of days ago by suggesting Europe has lost faith in itself, but it seems it is the French philosophers who are exploring the Western guilt complex and how destructive – and even self-destructive - this can be. Perhaps it is easier to do nothing to help those crippled Anglo-Africans if we believe they are terrible people, like serial killers?

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    Comment number 86.

    The best was certainly saved until last. Series 9 was outstanding with the quality of writing reaching cinematic standards. Indeed Waterloo had the feel of a movie, with its high production values and Paul McGann doing what he does best, creating a pitch-perfect psychotic (reminded me of Paper Mask).

    Indeed, McGann's character could easily have been Boyd's nemesis - and very nearly was. 'You're good Boyd, but I'm better'. What defeated him was the work of the whole team, the fundamental strength of Waking the Dead.

    Is there a better black actor than Wil Johnson on modern TV? What really sets this series apart is its refusal to deal in stereotypes; Spence is a complex, fully rounded character who is the perfect compliment to Boyd; Eva Birthistle must also get recognition here, no high-flying cardboard cutout 'ballsy' female cop but instead a lady who has been through a lot, with a drink problem, who looks terrible in the morning and has bad judgement but who redeems herself in the end.

    Anchoring everything of course is Sue Johnson, whose best episode by far was also in Series 9 in Solidarity. Like Boyd she is married to the job and is just as lonely in a way having forsaken her chance of happiness.

    It will be interesting to see how Tara Fitzgerald develops in the Body Farm. In the Series 8 episode Substitute she really showed she could put in a heavyweight performance on her own. She really is the 'thinking man's' choice; deep and beautiful in a very old fashioned way. I wish her well in the new series.

    But of course Trevor Eve gave one of the performances of his life in Waterloo. I worked in that part of London for 10 years and know the backdrop to the episode well. All good things come to an end, and while this series will be sorely missed, better to go out on a high and be remembered for the quality. I'm not sure the story is over yet - I predict a special or two in Christmases to come. In the meantime I have all the series on DVD, time to watch all from the start I think!

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    Comment number 87.

    Hugely disappointed that there will be no more Waking the Dead; especially after such a great final two-parter. Trevor Eve never failed to give an amazing performance as Boyd, but last night's was rather special. Thought the ending was very fitting and I loved it. I hope the whole series—the efforts of the cast and crew over the last ten years—gets the recognition it deserves.

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    Comment number 88.

    Does anyone know the name of the church that was used in the first part of Waterloo?

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    Comment number 89.

    I am so sad that the best programme on the bbc has finished for good. Trevor Eve is one of Britains best actors, so believable and passionate with the role he played, such a shame and the final episode surpassed them all, such a shame.
    Sheila Berry.

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    Comment number 90.

    So, so sad Waking the Dead has come to an end. Definitely the best TV programme around on TV. Devastated.

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    Comment number 91.

    Waking the Dead....Finished??? I feel like I've had a vital organ removed :o(. Great drama, again, from the BBC. Loved this last series and was left wondering, till the very last, whether Boyd wwould be successfully stitched up. I can't imagine life without Trevor Eve and his team. Great scripts, superb casting, locations and props making it all such convincing quality. The characters were so well portrayed that it feels like my friends just emigrated. Hope there are plans for an off shoot series, for this team. Come back Boyd....I forgive you everything!!!!

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    Comment number 92.

    Thank you for giving us the right ending to the best TV detective drame series ever!!

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    Comment number 93.

    Love this programme and so sad it has now ended. I would love to know where the costumes are bought for Sue Johnston's character, Grace Foley.
    Hope it comes back again at some point, only really got into it a couple of years ago.

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    Comment number 94.

    Superb series but why leave so many loose ends, it would have been interesting to see how the priest reacted if he had been told about the murders rather than just see it on a newspaper stand.

    It will be missed by all those that watched it

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    Comment number 95.

    One of the best programmes ever, shame the powers that be, cannot produce more with such excellent actors and scripts. It will be missed, and sadly means even less time watching bbc television.

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    Comment number 96.

    absolutely fantastic series and a credit to all the team who work on the programme. The writing is superb and i cannot believe the BBC cancelled the show. It has kept me entertained for 9 years and yes i know all good things must come to an end but waking the dead is so fantastic! It just doesn't make sense to stop it. The final scene was so emotional, i've probably watched it 10 times at least. No-one wants to watch repeats of shows and although this new series called body farm will be on i'm afraid it won't be the same without Trevor, Sue and Wil. Please bring it back!!!

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    Comment number 97.

    I'm not normally 'into' forensic crime drama, but this one was a cut above the rest. The acting especially was always superb.

    Loved the final episode. I hope the team involved get to read the praise on this blog.

    I agree with the idea of ending while on a high. Maybe a feature film next though? Why not? Those involved should think about it. Would be great.

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    Comment number 98.

    I'm joining a long list of people sad that this show is ending, though in hindsight, it would have ended on a high note with about series 5. Way back when "Mel Silver" was killed, it was shocking. Repeating that trope 3+ times (with Boyd and Grace being put in dangerous circumstances) dulled the impact with each repetition, to the point where it was predictable and uninteresting. That said, most of the time the stories are compelling, superb acting, great blend of forensic science, detective work, and bare-fisted action, with a great production value. Shall be missed.

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    Comment number 99.

    Colin and WtD Crew.
    What a scintillating finale!
    I hope you get up for all the drama awards this deserves.
    Yep, it's hairy but amazing drama to get into people's homes.
    Don't let anone tell you the BBC is dumbing down. This was magnificent, breathtaking.
    Fantastic job; congratulations to all the stars. Absolutely brilliant. Thank you one and all!

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    Comment number 100.

    WTD was the best drama on BBC and I am going to really miss it. It's a real crime that the BBC pulled the plug on the only show worth watching. Come on BBC, listen to what the viewers want.

    My congratulations to the whole team who worked on WTD and gave me something to look forward to watching on Sunday and Monday evenings. I feel like I have lost a close friend now it has ended.


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