Waking the Dead: Series 5, Episodes 5 and 6: Subterraneans
Written by Ed Whitmore; Directed by Michael Offer
“We’ve all had days like that, haven’t we? You make one small mistake, and because of that you make a bigger one. You leave your wallet by the bed. Then you go up to get it. You trip over the rug, you break your leg. Next thing you know, you’re in hospital with a fatal infection. Just because you forgot your wallet.” - Dr. Nick Henderson
After a slightly rocky start, Series 5 finally hits its stride with a solid if not entirely remarkable case which doesn’t have to worry about introducing any new characters or airing the dirty laundry of those that are already established. The story here is that of Michael Sharman (Alexis Conran), a millionaire businessman who simply vanished a year ago. By chance, his body is found locked in the cellar of an old munitions factory, the evidence suggesting that he had been kept alive by his captor for several months, despite no ransom having ever been demanded. A chain of events leads the team to Sharman’s former neighbour, Nick Henderson (Toby Stephens), a celebrated scientist leading a bizarre double life.
Fairly early on in the game, it becomes abundantly clear that Henderson is as guilty as they come, partly because of the evidence against him and partly because we, the audience, are granted intimate access to his daily activities, which include lying to his wife (Nicola Stephenson) about both his whereabouts and his employment status, holing up in a small shed on an allotment overlooking the site of Sharman’s imprisonment, desperately dashing around searching for an alibi for the day of Sharman’s disappearance, and, when the net closes in, going on the run with his wife after hoodwinking her with a sob story about him having discovered an outbreak of SARS in the UK which the government and the police are conspiring to hush up by doing him in. It all borders on farcical, and, particularly in the second part, the increasing absurdity of Henderson’s claims does detract somewhat from what should have been a tense situation (there is a continual undercurrent which suggests that he may end up doing to his wife what he did to Sharman and at least one other victim), but it’s all quite entertaining, and given that it’s sandwiched between two considerably darker episodes, it makes for a welcome change of pace. Not that that flashbacks to Sharman slowly rotting away and going mad in his prison aren’t brutal, however. In fact, the sheer banality of Henderson’s reason for killing him makes the deeply calculated nature of his incarceration all the more shocking.
Ultimately, Subterraneans isn’t a hugely noteworthy or memorable episode, but it works, and the slightly different nature of the case’s progression (i.e. knowing the identity of the villain from a fairly early stage) succeeds in shaking up the formula a little.
Holby connections: Michael Offer has directed several episodes of Holby City over the years, while Kelly Harrison (Tina) played ambulance technician Nikki Marshall in Casualty between Series 16 and 18. Finally, Nicola Stephenson (Julia Henderson) played nurse Julie Fitzjohn in Holby City for its first three series.