The dark side of Sue Johnston

For over ten years Sue Johnston has been playing psychological profiler Dr Grace Foley in the BBC’s Waking the Dead.

Ahead of the Australian premiere of Series 8 on the UKTV Channel, she told TV Tonight why she had stuck with the role.

“It’s because it’s such a great character and so different from other characters that I get the chance to play. Most roles I play are mothers or appendages of women,” she says. “We usually play wives, daughters, mistresses, grannies.

“What’s great about Grace is you don’t know whether she’s a wife or a mother, a divorcee, whether she’s got kids, and it doesn’t matter. She stands equal with (Det. Sup. Peter) Boyd and the others as a character in her own right. You don’t get many parts like that for women. She’s an intelligent and quite strong-willed woman. I love all that about her.”

The series, which first centered around a Cold Case Unit in 2000, has been a forerunner to other British crime dramas that have followed with dark themes, psychology and policing including Silent Witness and Wire in the Blood.

“Barbara Machin, the woman who originally devised Waking the Dead was interested in bringing all those elements together: the police, the cold cases. She was actually ahead of her time. There wasn’t a cold case team in England or anywhere in the world I don’t think when she started but she knew there was about to be. So she was slightly ahead of the game when she put a team together with the psychologist and the forensic scientist,” she says.

“They were all brought together in one drama, which was very clever. I think that’s why it’s a success because it’s got all those elements. Not just the police, not just forensics, not just cold case. It’s got all those interesting people who you get to know and get attached to. They’re like a little family.”

Johnston says the show has built such a following because it doesn’t patronise an audience.

“It’s intelligent and complex, and yes dark, but some people don’t like it because it’s dark, so you take a risk.”

Indeed it is dark. The first episode features a grisly murder that doesn’t shy away from a mutilated corpse.

“There’s some pretty gory stuff in this one believe you me… it’s hide behind the sofa stuff!” she admits.

But for a woman who admits to love being frightened to death by Doctor Who, British audiences have often had a fondness for dark crime.

“I think we’ve always had a love of detective stories and thrillers. We’ve always loved our police television stories and our Agatha Christies, but I think they’ve got darker and darker as things progressed. I think it’s also because the use of science has become so clever, and the use of psychology,” says Johnston.

Midsomer Murders is very different but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t watch it and enjoy it as well as Waking the Dead –but they’re totally different.  Midsomer Murders is on every afternoon over here because it can be on in an afternoon. It’s slightly silly and slightly bumbly.”

In between filming Waking the Dead, Johnston has enjoyed working on other projects including Jam and Jerusalem, The Royle Family Christmas Special, a documentary for the BBC in China and a two-part drama coming up on the BBC, The Passionate Woman.

“You go back really refreshed. I’m in a really good place for a woman of my age. I feel very happy.”

Waking the Dead season 8 premieres 8:30pm Saturday on UKTV.


  1. Ruth : I think I got the episode name wrong.There was definately a double episode from season 7 that wasn’t shown when it originally aired on UKTV or when they were repeated over recent saturday nights on UKTV.

  2. @ Ruddeger : I just checked Season 7 ‘Duty of Homour’ and I remember originally watching both episodes when UKTV first aired the Series.
    You may have to do a Google search for the reviews.

  3. Does ch9 still have this programme if so why aren’t they showing it?

    Without channels like UKTV, quality programmes such as Waking the Dead will not be shown in this country. As well as Sue Johnston, Trevor Eve and the fellow cast are outstanding and each play an equally important part.

  4. Does anyone know why one of the double episodes from season 7 never got shown on UKTV ?
    I think the episodes were called ‘Duty and Honour’.
    Good to have new episodes back on.

  5. Thanks David !! I have been looking and waiting for Waking the Dead. Series 8 for ages, I’m a big fan so bring on Saturday Night. 🙂

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