CLASSIC BBC TV REVIEW – BODIES (2004 – 2005)
Created by: Jed Mercurio
Writers: Jed Mercurio, Rachel Anthony, Richard Zajdlic
Directors: Jed Mercurio, John Strickland, Richard Laxton, Jon East, Iain B. Macdonald, Douglas Mackinnon,
Cast: Max Beesley. Patrick Baladi, Neve McIntosh, Keith Allen, Susan Lynch, Tamzin Malleson, Preeya Kalidas, Simon Lowe, Hattie Morahan, Vicky Hall, Nicholas Palliser etc.
No. of Episodes – 17 (over two seasons and one-off special)
Original Network: BBC (can now be viewed on BBC IPlayer)
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Creator and writer Mercurio is a bulletproof show-runner; a genre writer with a proven hit rate whose work almost always brings commercial, critical and audience success. Having achieved early TV writing acclaim with dark medical comedy, Cardiac Arrest (1994-1996), Mercurio’s next drama Bodies (2004 – 2005) was another critical hit. Latterly, Bodyguard (2018) and Line of Duty (2012 – present) have also proved highly successful.
Undeniably, Line of Duty is a massive hit for the BBC. It has received awards and nominations from: the Royal TV Society, the Writers’ Guild and BAFTA. Moreover, it was also voted in the top BBC shows of all time. While I tend to avoid medical and police procedural dramas as a mild rule, due to the overly-saturation of such programmes on television, Mercurio’s work always draws me in. Thus, I decided to re-watch Bodies (2004 – 2005) on the BBC IPlayer and I’m both glad I did and didn’t to be honest.
I’m glad I watched it because it contains some of the most tense drama you can ever experience. I wish I hadn’t because it contains some of the most visceral medical operations and birthing situations you could ever witness. In fact, all Peckinpah, Carpenter and Tarantino films combined contain less blood than Bodies. Indeed, the ultra-realism of the gynaecological operations on show should contain a health warning of their own. No surprise the make-up and prosthetic effects team on the programme won many awards.
Based on Mercurio’s book of the same name, the narrative is inspired by his experiences working in the National Health Service. An ensemble cast impresses, but the lead protagonist is specialist registrar, Rob Lake (Max Beesley). He is a skilled Doctor who joins the Obstetrics and Gynaecology ward at fictional South Central Infirmary. Rob isn’t particularly likeable and Beesley is directed to portray him as a serious and surly Northern bloke. While still learning his trade he is an excellent surgeon though, with a keen sense of what is right.
The first series of six episodes is incredibly tightly wound and suspenseful because Lake finds himself in a number of medical and moral dilemmas. This is due to his clashes with his boss, Dr Roger Hurley (Patrick Baladi), who is prone to making severe errors during medical procedures. Consequently, during these pulsating scenes of medical trauma my heart was not so much in my mouth but on the floor. Having scooped and swallowed it back up, the fast pace of first season soon delivers further nerve shredding life and death situations.
Season Two is not quite as brilliant as Season One. While containing more incredibly vivid moments of birthing madness, it is over-stretched by an extended ten episode run. Plot-wise it carries on in a similar vein with Lake, Hurley and the toxic masculinity of Dr Tony Whitman (Keith Allen), all clashing within the hospital wings and operation rooms. Their conflicts endanger patients lives as they continually venture into dangerous games of one-upmanship. Added to the deadly apothecary are the politics on the ward, gender, sexual and class. Moreover, there’s the over-arching bureaucracy and target-led NHS managers poking their statistics in. These budget-scrabbling pen-pushers arguably kill more patients than the warring Doctors, mainly due to their incessant bean-counting, biscuit-eating and public relation drives.
Overall, while I have made this sound like a heavy drama or horror genre programme, it is in fact also darkly funny. Mercurio has a knack of taking the most grim circumstances and injecting doses of sardonic humour throughout. There is also gallons of blood and a lot of sex too; probably too much in the first season. But, I get that the theme of the human body was being explored very thoroughly, in more ways than one. Am I the only person who is not a fan of overt sex scenes in films or on television, even if they are in context?
Be warned, if you are scared of hospitals, or operations or about to have a child — DO NOT EVER WATCH THIS SHOW! It is brilliantly scripted and acted, but it will give you nightmares. I mean the Doctors, Nurses and medical staff of the NHS do an incredible job saving lives, so this show should not be a reflection of actual health care in the United Kingdom. If it is though, the phrase: “Trust me, I’m a Doctor” is never as scary as it is in Bodies.