The chilling notion that “What’s between doctors stays between doctors” powers this slow-moving yet absorbing BBC limited series, whose six-episode first season (a second flight just aired in the U.K.) is enough to make any thinking person yearn to stay the hell out of hospitals. If “ER” amassed a vast audience by portraying doctors as “heroes, with personal issues,” “Bodies” tilts more toward “incompetents, with office politics.” Soapy and occasionally disjointed, this ob-gyn department-set skein still delivers, mostly through uneasy moments filled with quiet tension.
Rob Lake (Max Beesley) is the new bloke on the ward, and he quickly discovers that his surgical boss Roger (Patrick Baladi) is an outwardly charming guy with a bad habit of endangering patients. When a procedure goes wrong, anesthesiologist Maria (Susan Lynch) pulls Rob aside to explain that Roger got the job due to his research connections and that he’s “not that good a doctor.”
In part to offset these pressures, Rob begins a semi-torrid affair with married nurse Donna (Neve McIntosh) while continuing to wrestle with whether to join Maria in blowing the whistle after Roger’s attempted delivery of a premature baby goes woefully awry.
In adapting his book, writer-producer Jed Mercurio really captures how small miscommunications and a breakneck pace can conspire to yield terrible consequences, from the near-sterilization of a woman who desperately wants to have a baby to prescribing an elderly patient the wrong medicine. The doctors, moreover, are more concerned about their stats than their charges, so issues involving a colleague’s case are frequently met with a dismissive “Not my problem.”
Gloomily shot and set to an equally melancholy score, the action at times unfolds in a kind of slow motion, making the audience privy to a mistake that’s about to occur, then leaving them to watch helplessly as one staffer after another allows it to drift up (or down) the food chain.
Mercurio and director John Strickland also extract nicely natural performances from their convincing cast. Beesley, in particular, conveys all the conflicting emotions of the not-all-that-heroic protagonist, while “The Office’s” Baladi becomes the sheer embodiment of a career-climbing fop who refuses to acknowledge his shortcomings.
Somewhat difficult to follow, “Bodies” nevertheless proves engrossing through its first three episodes, which are punctuated not only by Rob and Donna’s steamy trysts but by escalating political stakes, with the well-being of patients hanging in the balance.
For a generation weaned on medical dramas, it’s a long way back to doctor demigods with names like Kildare and Marcus Welby who treated patients with a nigh-magical touch. Indeed, after “Bodies,” a physician who simply follows Hippocrates’ rule to “First, do no harm” would more than suffice.