Netflix’ cross-genre temporal procedural keeps ‘BODIES’ in motion….

Your next binge-watch is an adaptation of Si Spencer's ambitious time-crossed murder mystery...

A body is found in a back-street London alleyway. To be more accurate, three separate bodies are found, their discoveries separated by decades and different investigating police-officers. To be even more accurate, it’s the same body each time. How is that possible?  In 2023 DS Shahara Hasan is about to realise that what seems like a strange event is a forerunner to tragedy and that those events may trigger something far worse. As the death(s) are looked into by each different era’s police and the prejudices they each face, can they piece together the unbelievable truth?

The answer may lie in finding out just how far a man will go to find peace and love in a world that seems to have abandoned him… and how far will people go to stop him if that cost is too high?



Over the last few years we’ve definitely seen an uptick in the kinds of stories and productions that defy straight-forward genre pigeon-holing – instead embracing ideas that may appeal across various styles. BODIES – based on the original graphic novel by the late Si Spencer, is one such beast and in its first episode it sets out its stall, drawing you in to what seems – at the start – to be a conventional procedural, but which soon takes some chronological left-turns.

Opening salvos are important for setting out the premise and narrative landscape and through most of the first episode we’re following three different murder investigations, though whether that’s actually three different murders remains to be seen. The cases are separated not by geography but by time – a naked man, apparently shot in the head is found in the same place, a London back-street in the 1800s, the 1940s and 2023. And, as an audience, we note that – impossibly – it seems to be the same man, in the same position with the same injuries. And so we follow events as 2023’s DS Shahara Hasan (Amaka Okafor), 1941’s DS Karl Whiteman (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd), 1890s’ DI Edmond Hillinghead (Kyle Soller) – and later 2053’s Iris Maplewood (Unorthadox‘s Shira Haas) – use their time-period’s resources to try and find answers…. only to be faced with bizarre questions.

Spencer (who passed away in  February 2021, just short of his 60th birthday) originally wrote the story for DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint and saw him parse the story over eight issues, with a different artist handling the illustrations for each time-frame. In the Netflix show, it’s more down to the impressive production values and set-decorations, with graphics showing the various time-shifts and a subtly different colour-palette for each era. Arguably even more could have been done to distinguish the eras, but it generally works well with impressive set-decoration and post-production adding to the authenticity.

The smart aspect of the early episodes is that the potential sf aspects are largely kept as outlier elements – take away a few exploding light-bulbs and the strange identity of the corpse and if all feels like three parallel procedural period-pieces jammed together – all of which might make decent solitary, if similar parallel stories. Notably, each era carries with it the social problems of the era. In many cases there’s variations of prejudice at work against our main protagonists. Hillinghead is a closeted homosexual, Whiteman is Jewish in an era of conflict where some people actually blame the ‘Jewish situation’ for pulling them into the World War and in 2023 Hasan consistently tries to walk the line between being both Muslim and a police-officer in an era where white supremacists feel free to brazenly hold marches (and worse) and members of the ethnic community may be taking up arms themselves. Maplewood has serious injuries (possibly sustained in the London attack) but has been given a life-altering exo-skeleton/spine implant as an incentive to serve. Some people may complain about the diversity angle, but if so, they may be missing the whole idea that prejudice is a consistent ongoing problem that merely shifts its target to something ‘other’ to maintain itself – particularly noticeable if you’re in the group being held back. That was one element even more prominent in Spencer’s original story.

Such a story needs a suspension of disbelief to work and, certainly, the depictions of the present (and future) sit a little better than the 1940s and 1890s eras. But such dramas also rise on having strong cast to carry the load and the main ensemble are more than up to it. Amaka Okafor is arguably the main character and shoulders a lot of the audience-eye view as she’s drawn deeper and deeper into pivotal events. Jacob Fortune-Lloyd makes a dapper dandy and lightly sticky-fingered East End cop during the war years and yet you can’t help pulling for him to find a way out of his predicament. Soller was seen most recently in another sf endeavour, Andor, and he seems to be cornering the market in troubled everyday characters thrown into dramatic circumstances and doing their best to navigate through them. Stephen Graham is the other main member of the cast and his Mannix/Harker is often played as the villain of the piece, though there’s certainly more nuance as we get to see some of his character’s truer motivations as we progress forward/backward. There’s also lots of great supporting players including Gabriel Howell as the young Elias, George Parker as Victorian journalist Henry Ashe, Amy Manson (The Nevers’ Maladie) as Charlotte, Synnove Karlsen as Polly and an almost unrecognisable Greta Scacchi as the older Polly.

Ultimately, Bodies is undeniably smart television, demanding that you concentrate throughout (time-travel is, by default, prone to inducing headaches, but here there’s potential for some serious migraines), but even its complex chronological and consistently intense-plotting and timeline could easily have benefited from been shorter, sharper (and more understandable) in places. Six episodes would, frankly, have worked better. But we finally get to a climax that works pretty well and though some time-travel buffs will be able to pick apart some of the over-arching logic, it largely holds truth to the spirit of its story in most aspects.  There’s a minor and unnecessary epilogue that leaves the door open just a little for further developments, but it works better as a wry commentary on things not being perfect, even if they are ‘bettered’ or ‘corrected’ rather than an actual plea for more.

'Bodies'  (Netflix review)
'Bodies' (Netflix review)
  • Story
  • Acting
  • Direction
  • Production Design / VFX