Shiny Shelf


By Mark Clapham on 24 September 2005

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

Last year, the first series of Jed Mercurio’s ‘Bodies’ ended in a way that seemed to make a follow-up impossible. The series ended with principled doctor Rob Lake’s career in ruins while the incompetent surgeon he had tried to dislodge, Roger Hurley, became Principal Consultant. Having sacrificed his career to try by telling the truth to try and save lives, Rob had found himself in a nightmare position, desperate to find some purpose.

With this surprising second series Mercurio has somehow managed to not only convincingly keep Rob’s story at the hospital going, but to actually place him in a more complex dilemma than before. The new series opens with Rob working his last few weeks as a registrar. The hospital is having difficulty replacing him, while the lack of a reference from Hurley means that Rob can’t get a registrar’s place elsewhere. Rob’s only real option is to leave obstetrics work for general practice, where he won’t be saving lives.

The first two episodes, showing first on BBC3 then a week later on BBC2, chart Rob’s realisation that, as uncomfortable as it is, he may be exactly where he needs to be. Hurley is still a terrifyingly incompetent surgeon, but with careers on the line only a pariah like Rob can minimise the damage – his other colleagues are too savvy to speak up, and in at least one case want to see Hurley slip up so he’ll get his comeuppance. Then there’s the matter of Rob’s affair with ward sister Donna Riggs, which would be over if he left for general practice.

In two short hours, Mercurio turns the unthinkable into the inevitable – Rob staying on as Hurley’s registrar – in a way that preserves the format of the series while pushing the story forward. The decision to find a way to keep ‘Bodies’ going is more than welcome, as it provides an antidote to the stale medical dramas which make up so much of British TV these days. Thanks to some excellent effects work and direction, ‘Bodies’ is as intense, and perhaps even a little more, than it was last year – blood floods on to a white surgery floor during an operation, while the first episode has an incredibly graphic and queasy sequence where an attempt to remove a placenta goes badly wrong.

All this blood and guts wouldn’t sell as real if it weren’t for the cast, who keep ‘Bodies’ real without making it over-earnest. Max Beesley (Rob) continues to mature, becoming ever more impressive as his days as a youthful pretty boy get further behind him, while Patrick Baladi and Keith Allen both impress as feuding surgeons Roger Hurley and Tony Whitman. Neve McIntosh is compelling as the beleagured Sister Riggs, while the presence of both Tamzin Malleson (returning from the first series as Polly) and Vicky Hall (as an NHS Manager with human tendencies) represent something of a ‘Teachers’ reunion (although they’ve yet to be in a scene together).

In a genre that should, by rights, feel tapped out by now, ‘Bodies’ continues feel like the only real drama on TV about the dilemmas at the heart of medicine in the UK. Other medical dramas look like the froth they are by comparison. Watch.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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