3 Body Problem review: Liam Cunningham plays ruthless spook in slow burner from Game of Thrones creators

Television: Some other familiar faces pop up - John Bradley is a nerdy scientist and Benedict Wong plays a cop who stumbles upon a vast conspiracy

It is fair to say Netflix’s sci-fi epic, 3 Body Problem (Netflix from Thursday), arrives with less than stellar expectations. The series is the first big new project from the producer team of David Benioff and DB Weiss, the duo who brought Game of Thrones to the screen and then oversaw its disastrous final two seasons.

The end of Thrones was among the most deafening whimpers in the history of television. Four years later, however, the seemingly unbowed Benioff and Weiss return to tackle another chunky publishing sensation, Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem (restyled as 3 Body Problem).

It certainly has potential. Cixin’s saga is a dazzling tale of alien contact and back-stabbing plots within plots that had as large an impact on science fiction as Game Of Thrones on fantasy. The big difference is Cixin has completed his planned trilogy of novels – collectively known as Remembrance of Earth’s Past. That is in contrast to the gentler pace of Game of Thrones author George RR Martin, who hasn’t published a new volume since 2011, the year the show arrived on television.

Having a full story to work from will no doubt stand to Benioff and Weiss across the span of the project. Ultimately, the problem with Game of Thrones was that they simply ran out of books to adapt. There are no such issues here, and they get stuck in with confidence and gusto.


They’ve made some significant changes. The original Three-Body Problem is set largely in contemporary China. Benioff and Weiss swap out that fascinating backdrop for the much stodgier setting of modern London.

To reveal much more would be to venture into spoiler territory. But it is a sprawling story. It spirals from a present-day epidemic of leading scientists taking their own lives back to Mao’s bloody Cultural Revolution in 1960s China, where a young girl witnesses her father, a prominent astrophysicist, denounced and killed in public. This early scene of Ye Wenjie watching her dad accused by a baying mob echoes the pivotal Game of Thrones sequence in which – 13-year-old spoiler alert – Arya Stark looks on helplessly as her father, noble Ned Stark, is beheaded.

That is as close to Westeros as we get. Rather than courtly intrigue and gratuitous nudity, 3 Body Problem weaves a compelling tale of corporate skulduggery, psychological manipulation and advanced virtual reality. There are some stunning set pieces, including one in which millions of warriors raise and lower flags to recreate a binary computer’s yes/no thought process. It can be gory, too – an ambush on a ship in episode five is shockingly bloody.

Some familiar faces pop up. Dublin actor Liam Cunningham – Ser Davos from Game of Thrones – plays a ruthless spook named Wade, John Bradley – the former Samwell Tarly – is a nerdy scientist and Benedict Wong, a cop who stumbles upon a vast conspiracy. But in general, the ensemble is dominated by newcomers. They include Eiza González as a tech boffin with a trendy haircut, and Marlo Kelly playing a mysterious woman with friends in high (very high) places.

Cast, new and old, acquit themselves well. However, 3 Body Problem lacks the compelling characters that help make Thrones a sensation. Here, the protagonists serve largely as mouthpieces for the plot, which is fine as the plot is extraordinary. Nonetheless this tale of avaricious aliens could still do with a little more humanity.

Game of Thrones’s first episode featured ice zombies, royal intrigue, a frisky prince and princess and a 10-year-old shoved to his apparent death. 3 Body Problem is more of a slow burn. It’s worth the investment, though. No dragons are harmed in the show’s making. Yet what it lacks in fantastic beasts, it more than compensates for with mind-blowing ideas and a gasp-inducing sense of wonder.