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3 Body Problem arrives on Netflix this week
Netflix3 Body Problem arrives on Netflix this week

‘3 Body Problem’: five things you need to know before you watch the epic Netflix sci-fi

The ‘Game of Thrones‘ creators return with a brainy science-fiction epic

Jon Hornbuckle
Written by
Jon Hornbuckle

3 Body Problem, the big-budget new Netflix sci-fi, is out of this world – literally. 

Adapted from the acclaimed novel by Chinese engineer and science-fiction writer Liu Cixin, the series boasts an all-star cast with the creators of Game of Thrones at the helm. 

It’s more akin to Close Encounters of the Third Kind than your typical sci-fi invasion flick full of little green men or blood-thirsty Martians.

Here’s what you need to know before embarking on this cerebral, but addictive alien invasion mystery...

3 Body Problem
Photograph: Netflix

1. It’s set across two (connected) timelines

Like the novel, the series is told using flashbacks and jumps between eras and alternate realities. Let’s try to break the complex plot down in a more linear style...

It begins with China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. Astrophysicist Ye Wenjie witnesses the brutal execution of her dad for his scientific work. The Maoist state and scientific discovery aren’t easy bedfellows, to put it very mildly. 

Ye is then branded a traitor and handed a prison sentence. But while incarcerated, she is recruited by a mysterious military group who claim to be working to harness the power of radio waves to damage spy satellites. Their real intention is to scour the universe for extraterrestrial life. 

Under constant surveillance and scrutiny, she sends a response to a mysterious message from outer space, which will have catastrophic effects across space and time.

Cut to London in 2024 and a group of pals meet up at a fellow scientist’s funeral, reminiscing about their university antics. Their memories are tinged with melancholy – around illnesses, break-ups and a concern that one of the group, Auggie, is hallucinating some kind of countdown clock.

Actions made in 1960s China have an impact across space and time in 3 Body Problem
NetflixActions made in 1960s China have an impact across space and time in 3 Body Problem

What follows is an alien invasion story like no other, with VR headsets transporting our crew of friends to alternate versions of historic eras as they communicate with an alien race. 

And like all good alien invasion stories, fanaticism and skepticism regularly clash, with shadowy government agents keen to obliterate the oncoming threat – even if it comes at the detriment of earth’s inhabitants.

That’s as much as we can say without venturing into spoiler territory. 

2. It’s a Game of Thrones reunion

Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are no strangers to adapting a complex and world-spanning book into a TV series, having brought the world of Westeros to life in Game of Thrones. They’re reunited with Thrones’ stars John Bradley, aka Samwell Tarly, Liam Cunningham, known for portraying Davos Seaworth, as well as Jonathan Pryce and Mark Gatiss, who both featured in the hit series.

They’ve even brought their Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi along for the ride. This truly is a Westeros reunion that’s heading for outer space.

3 Body Problem
Photograph: Time Out

3. You’ll need to be on your toes 

If you thought Game of Thrones was a brain-scratcher with ever-changing allegiances and power struggles, prepare to be truly perplexed and puzzled by 3 Body Problem.

What is a ‘syzygy’? What even is a ‘three body problem’? Keeping Google handy will help navigate some of the show’s more MENSA-level jargon and ideas. (Spoiler: a syzygy is a configuration of three or more celestial bodies in a gravitational system.) 

One thing is for sure, you’ll come out of this series feeling a lot smarter.

Marvel star Benedict Wong appears in 3 Body Problem on Netflix
NetflixMarvel star Benedict Wong appears in 3 Body Problem on Netflix

4. It goes a bit ‘The X-Files’

Sunshine and Doctor Strange star Benedict Wong plays Da Shi, an ex-intelligence officer investigating a string of mysterious suicides among top scientists, while Cunningham is the mysterious head of an elite intelligence operation. Expect plenty of shadowy governmental agencies lurking around our heroes, as well as a potential wrong’un called Mike Evans (Pryce), an oil tycoon with a secret link beyond our planet.  

Those heroes are a super-smart band of present-day pals, known as the ‘Oxford Five’, who are on a mission to solve the mystery. In their number is billionaire entrepreneur Jack Rooney (Bradley), nanotech pioneer Auggie Salazar (Hobbs & Shaw’s Eiza González), theoretical physicist Jin (Jess Hong), physics teacher Will (Alex Sharp), and Watchmen’s Jovan Adepo as physics research assistant Saul Durand. 

Ye, meanwhile, is played by newcomer Zine Tseng in the flashback scenes to 1960s China, with Rosalind Chao (The Joy Luck Club) taking over for the modern scenes. 

Jonathan Pryce is part of the ensemble of 3 Body Problem on Netflix
NetflixJonathan Pryce is part of the ensemble of 3 Body Problem on Netflix

Journeying between alternate reality versions of historic events, the show delivers cameos by Mark Gatiss and Reece Shearsmith (two of the geniuses behind The League of Gentlemen) as Isaac Newton and Alan Turing, with comedian Phil Wang as philosopher Aristotle. Bill & Ted’s with a PhD? Maybe...

5. A second season is possible 

No second run has been confirmed, but the show ends with scope for a follow-up – unsurprisingly, perhaps, given there are two more (completed) books in the Cixin’s sci-fi series. (George RR Martin, take note.)

But if the series gets you craving more sci-fi, Cixin’s ‘The Three-Body Problem’, published in 2006, leads on to book two, ‘The Dark Forest’ (2011), with 2010’s ‘Death’s End’ completing the trilogy. The English translations didn’t arrive until 2015/16, but all are available in bookshops now – often under the collective name ‘Remembrance of Earth’s Past’. 

3 Body Problem is now on Netflix
Netflix3 Body Problem is now on Netflix

When is 3 Body Problem released and is there a trailer?

The show has now officially launched on Netflix, with all eight episodes landing in one drop. There’s a trailer for the newbie, and you can check it out below.

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