It's fair to say Daniel Harrow isn't your average forensic pathologist. For one thing, he has a habit of turning his morgue into an impromptu secret cinema (hang up a sheet on the wall, ready the projector, sit back and try not to get any popcorn on the corpses). He's also pretty much a genius with a Sherlock-like way of making snap deductions, though you might sometimes suspect he's just taking the mick (see his instant analysis of a dead clown's fate: "He died twisting his neck doing yoga in his make-up, wearing it because it brought back tender memories of all those children whose lives he destroyed").
But, while the Aussie-based cleverclogs might seem as sharp and cutting as one of his own scalpels, Harrow has an emotional side. His empathy for murder victims is what gets him going, and there's also his fraught relationship with his daughter, Fern. Throw in an enigmatic secret from his past and his budding "friendship" with cop Soroya Dass, and you have a guy whose story is just as fascinating as the cases he'll help crack. Plus, he's played by Ioan Gruffudd, which is never not a good thing.
Yes, it features murdered convicts, sudden sniper assassinations and a teenage girl who returns from the dead, but don't let that fool you: The Coroner is actually a breezy, feel-good, cosy crime series with an adorable double-act at its heart. Take a bow, Jane Kennedy and Davey Higgins. She's a solicitor who's returned to her native Devon to become a coroner, he's the local copper who also just happens to be her childhood sweetheart. Will they or won't they? That's a question every bit as important as "who killed the Punch and Judy puppeteer?" (yep, that really is one of the cases they deal with).
The relationship between Jane and Davey is completely charming, harkening back to the quippy flirtations of Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey, and the Devon landscape is a star in itself. But what makes The Coroner really stand out is the fact that it's about, well, a coroner. You don't often see those taking a prime spot in crime shows, and we get a real feel for what coroners actually do, and how they're crucial to working out whether an unnatural death is suspicious or not (spoiler alert: in this show, they're usually not not).
Silent Witness has a seriously impressive pedigree, and not just because it's been running since 1996. The show was actually the brainchild of a former homicide detective (the same chap also co-created New Tricks), and started out with the brilliant Amanda Burton as its leading lady. Back then, it was very much the Dr Sam Ryan show, following the fiercely intelligent pathologist as she delved (literally) into the gruesome clues left by murderers.
Since then, the show has remained vital and fresh by evolving into more of an ensemble piece, with characters like Nikki Alexander, Harry Cunningham and Leo Dalton forming a kind of forensics family. Which is really very heart-warming, even while they're up to their elbows in bits of corpses. What really sets the series apart is its sweep and ambition - we'll never forget the heart-pounding fear of seeing Nikki and Harry stalked in a university by a gun-wielding mass-killer. Or how about those international episodes in Zambia and Budapest? And people think forensics is all about nerding out in labs all day long...
THE DOCTOR BLAKE MYSTERIES
A bit of an odd one out, this one, as it's actually a period piece set in the late 50s. So you won't be finding any sleek forensics labs and cutting-edge equipment, a la Silent Witness, here. But what we do have is Australian police surgeon Lucien Blake, a man well ahead of his time when it comes to the fine art of rooting around in cadavers for clues. What adds to it all is Blake's own backstory - the traumatic experiences of war, the family he lost... it all makes him far more than just another eagle-eyed sleuth.
That said, there's plenty of sleuthing (and autopsying) to be done in the old Gold Rush community of Ballarat, with gardeners found dead in greenhouses, bodies bobbing up in lakes, and scary goings-on in the local psychiatric hospital. Somehow, though, it all still feels curiously cosy - probably because of that nostalgic throwback vibe. Ahhh.