You could argue it wasn’t until the second series of Line Of Duty that people started to talk of the genius of writer Jed Mercurio. By the third series, which ended with Vicky Mclure’s Kate Flemming firing a gun from a moving lorry, people were truly under Mercurio’s spell. The BBC’s decision to move the series to BBC One was a smart calculated move and has led to the massive viewing figures the fifth series is currently achieving. I love Line of Duty, It’s incredibly clever, unpredictable and engrossing, but in my opinion, it’s not Mercurio’s best work.
Caught your breath? His best work didn’t draw big viewers the BBC could boast about, but it was clear from the off that Mercurio was a master storyteller. I’m referring to Bodies, an intense and gory medical drama adapted from Mercurio’s novel. The series started under the radar on BBC Three before getting an airing on BBC Two. Graphic, bloody and showing perhaps an all true portrayal of the pressures of the NHS, the series follows new registrar Rob Lake (Max Beesley) as he realises that his consultant Roger Hurley (Patrick Baladi) is a dangerously incompetent surgeon with a high patient-mortality rate who is retained only because his research brings money into the hospital.
Hurley is such a fascinating character because he’s a man who talks the talk, hailed as the saviour of the hospital and the new ward, but when he gets his gown on, he’s immediately out of depth. His patients suffer horrific and life-altering injuries or die on his table as his registrar looks on. Baladi plays the part perfectly. You hate Hurley for his pompous and self-assured nature on the wards but Baladi is able to make you empathise with him when things start horribly wrong in theatre.
As Rob Lake, Max Beesley has a lot on the shoulders. He’s constantly under stress, getting to grips with hospital politics and working out who is on whose side. Doctor Maria Orten (Susan Lynch) has known for a long time of Hurley’s incompetence and is keen for Rob to join her in her fight to have him struck off. Nurse Sister Rix (Neve McIntosh) knows of Hurley’s ways but has chosen to keep quiet for the sake of her job. Rix soon becomes romanticly involved with Lake, who as the series progresses becomes more and more concerned by Hurley’s belief in his abilities as the surgeon who can save the hospital.
A lot of people love about Line Of Duty is on display in Bodies, with Mercurio pitting people against each other and delving into the hypocrisies of hospital politics. People at the high level of the hospital, who work on getting star ratings, and funding for new wings see Hurley as the perfect poster boy. They’re willing to pay off or discredit those who threaten to out their golden boy.
There’s also a lot of humour weaved throughout down to Keith Allen as senior surgeon Tony Whitman who wants to do the bare minimum is always flirting with the female members of the team and is happy for Hurley to do whatever he wants until it impinges him. Over the course of the seventeen episodes (six episodes in series one, ten in series 2 and a finale that aired in 2007) Rob Lake buts heads with Hurley and Whitman as he tries to rise up on the ranks of the hospital whilst not having Hurley’s practices rub off on him. It’s layered and compulsive viewing and one of my all-time favourites. Mercurio is as his best setting up the conflict here and you’ll find yourself sucked in.
The scenes within the various operating theatres, birth, deaths, and inverted uteruses (that’s something you’ll never forget once you’ve seen it) are bloody and not for the fainthearted. This is a medical drama that pulls no punches when it comes to the gory realities of gynaecology. It’s a show that is unapologetically graphic and it’s all the better for it. It puts the viewer front and centre and you come out of a lot of scenes a nervous wreck as Lake wrestles to save patients who have been neglected by staff or damaged by an overzealous Roger Hurley.
A critical darling but woefully under-watched and underappreciated when it first aired, the BBC are capitalising on the huge successes of Bodyguard and Line Of Duty, and have put Jed’s original masterpiece on the iPlayer in its entirety for you to gorge on. I have the DVDs, and they are well worn. The show is pretty perfect if you can look perhaps the initial gore, it’s an engrossing and important drama that I’m praying will finally find the audience it deserved all those years ago.
Bodies is available in full on the BBC iPlayer now!