Traces Episode One Review

By Will Barber Taylor

When Emma Hedges (Molly Windsor) returns to Dundee to start her new job as a lab technician, she’s encouraged to take part in an online course teaching the principles of forensic science. Given a fictitious murder case, her task is to identify the victim and establish how they died. But having completed the first module, Emma knows exactly who the victim is: her mum! Marie Monroe (Carly Anderson) was murdered when Emma was seven, her body discovered on Law Hill and no-one has ever been convicted. But why are Sarah Gordon (Laura Fraser), professor of chemistry, and Kathy Torrence (Jennifer Spence), professor of forensic anthropology, using her mother’s case for their course?

Intertwining with Emma’s discovery of her mother’s murder as a case study is the mysterious fire at the night club Secrets which appear to have claimed the lives of two people. The fire appears to have been tied into the suicide of a young man that prevented her from arriving on time at work – could these occurrences be linked to her mother’s murder? Emma is determined to find out.

Created by Amelia Bullmore and Val MacDermid, Traces is an engaging and realistic crime drama that puts forensics at the heart of drama. By focussing on the work of the forensic scientists who work with the police, Traces is in some ways going over similar ground to Silent Witness or Waking the Dead – however its use of forensic science differs from the above-mentioned programmes. The emphasis on the drama is on the minute traces left by perpetrators, the smallest pieces of evidence that can help reveal exactly what happened to the victims.

This gives the drama not only a feeling of genuine authenticity but also of immediacy, the focus on the detail left by criminals makes it seem like everything is important which in turn makes the viewer focus even more than they otherwise would.

Bullmore’s writing is full of personality and demonstrates an ability to mix witty dialogue with strong characterisation. She doesn’t neglect the plot either, effortlessly delivering vital information to the audience in a casual and natural way, never making it feel forced or indeed unrealistic. The work of forensic scientists in dramas is sometimes distorted but Traces focuses on the detailed process that forensic scientists must take, not just when investigating a scene of crime but also during the process of examining the dynamics of a crime scene. Bullmore takes this in her stride and never gets too bogged down by over analysing or contextualising what her characters are doing, allowing the dialogue to flow naturally and therefore allowing the viewer to become immersed in the world she has constructed for her characters.

The programme is believable and engaging with the lead performance by Molly Windsor being particularly engaging. She is fully at one with her character and the expression of shock at finding out she is effectively doing a course in her mother’s own murder is realistically rendered by Windsor. Her charismatic portrayal of Emma not only ensures the audience’s investment in her as a character but also her mission to solve her mother’s murder which helps make the drama more watchable.

Traces is a terrific forensic drama that utilises an unusual situation to ask some fundamental questions about the ethics related to the teaching of forensic crime and its practical application. It is a series that is sure to keep viewers guessing until the very end and one that will certainly be remembered for a long time to come.

Traces airs on BBC One on Monday nights from the 4th of January. 

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