SPOILERS PRESENT AS ALWAYS
Carrying on with our “Cops N’ Docs” theme, I am going to investigate a long-running medical drama that I have watched from the start: Holby City. What makes it work, what brings the audiences back, week on, week out? Let’s take a look…
HOLBY CITY (1999 – PRESENT)
LOGLINE: The everyday lives, professional and personal, of the doctors, nurses and patients who find themselves, for various reasons, in the wards of the frenetic cardiac unit of Holby City General Hospital.
Casualty began back in the eighties and whilst I have also watched this from the start, unusually I consider its “spin-off” Holby City far superior. There are many reasons why, but the short version is I like its characters better. Casualty, whilst very dramatic with its accident re-enactments (some incredibly daring and others, plain weird – I’ll never forget the woman playing squash with a wooden racket that splinters and gets stuck in her neck), just doesn’t do it for me in the same way.
Perhaps it’s because there are so many great characters, past and present, to choose from? As far as Doctors go there has been the megalomanic consultant Anton Meyer who wants his underlings to worship him like a God; the arrogant Nick Jordan who believes his own publicity to the detriment of his patients; the exhuberant and (frustrated) maternal Lola Griffin, ex-wife of consultant Ric Griffin, a doctor with a gambling problem and the weight of the world on his shoulders; the unstoppable Abra, weak to the core emotionally yet wanting to save the Third World through any means possible including illegal; Owen, an obstetrician who loves women but leaves them at the drop of a hat; the repressed Joseph Byrne who will always be in the shadow of his surgeon father; Jac, who will do anything if it means she will make it to the top; Elliot, a gifted surgeon yet impossibly scatty; Diane, a brilliant surgeon who consistently puts her emotional happiness in the hands of fickle and irresponsible men; Sam, a womaniser who just wants to be loved and my two absolute favourites of all time, the lovable rogue consultant Dan Clifford (just departed) and the irrascible and tenacious Connie Beauchamp who is not only fantastic at her job, she ensures anyone who crosses her pays. Forever. This includes Sam, who fathered her new daughter Grace after a one night stand. I’d almost say “poor guy”, but he’s such a muppet let’s not. Go Connie!
Yet Holby City is not just about its doctors, but its nurses too and I think it’s this that separates it from other medical dramas. Whilst others do obviously have nurse characters, most of the time they *seem* more secondary, “it’s the doctors that are important really”, yet in Holby City they have picked up on this conflict and exploited it to the full. Doctors look down on nurses; nurses resent doctors. Doctors might “save” the patient, yet without the nurses’ help they would get nowhere and we are reminded of this over and over again, from MRSA storylines through to doctors dumping their babies for the day on already put-upon nursing staff.
And the nurses are every bit as colourful as the doctors in Holby City, with even an entire family amongst the nursing staff ranks: The Williams Family. Chrissie is the matron of Darwin Ward and it wasn’t long before she was joined by her mother Tricia (who very unhelpfully went out with Chrissie’s Ex Owen). About a year after that Tricia’s estranged husband Mark turned up out of the blue wanting to reconcile with both women which went quite well until Chrissie’s grandfather saught the same… It came out that Chrissie’s father Mark was really her brother, for Chrissie’s grandfather raped Tricia after her engagement party to Mark some thirty years beforehand.
Tricia was subsequently diagnosed with breast cancer which she *almost* beat, but unfortunately she died in a car accident setting off on her honeymoon with Mark; he was later charged with drunk driving having been over the limit at the time. Mark is now a cocaine addict, something only Scatty Elliot knows about as he has a son, James, addicted to heroin who turns up from time to time looking to score at the hospital. Mark is desperate to keep his addiction from Chrissie a secret and has almost given himself away on several occasions. Other nurses of note include the irrepressible Donna who is the epitome of the OPPOSITE of the caring profession, Jess, Eric’s daughter who is dogged by bad luck and even accused of harming her own baby and Kelly, a nurse about five years ago who was an obvious comment on the case of Beverley Allit.
Holby City was originally only about its cardio-thorassic ward but in recent years has opened up to include General Surgery it seems which I believe is called Keller Ward. This means sometimes cases are transferred up from “downstairs” (Casualty) so we get an opportunity to follow on storylines from the other show. At Christmas we are usually treated to a “Casualty @ Holby City” Special which basically means the characters from both shows are put together in some kind of life-altering event/accident. It also means there will some sort of annual cull of characters: in recent years we’ve said goodbye to Ellen, who was knocked over and killed outside the Casualty dept by a motorbike in front of ex-Partner Harry who then had to try and save her in vain; Paramedic Woody was killed by inhaling chlorine trying to save a baby from a car accident; paedrician Jim saved pregnant midwife Rosie by letting himself fall from unstable scaffolding after a juggernaut crashed right into the Holby City building and practically demolished it. All this in addition to characters getting stabbed, run over, poisoned and beaten up on the regular shows. Holby General is positively the most dangerous place to work ON EARTH.
DOCS SERIES OF NOTE, PAST AND PRESENT:
THE FLYING DOCTORS (1986 – 1991, 9 Seasons) The chronicles of the Royal Flying Doctors Service in the Australian Outback, that covers distances too far and remote by conventional roads.
I remember watching this as a child and loving it: the funniest thing is, the actor Peter O’Brien (who was also in Neighbours incidentally) has since turned up as a doctor not only in Cardiac Arrest (below), but Casualty, Holby City’s predecessor. Just like Ken Stott plays world weary policeman, this Ozzie Actor will play doctors… Even if that means emigrating.
CHICAGO HOPE (1994 – 2000, 6 Seasons) The lives and trials of the staff of a major hospital in Chicago.
I was surprised to see this had six seasons, since I was pretty sure I only watched one – I recall it being on quite late, perhaps they moved it even further back on the schedule. Certainly I recall the newspapers saying it was “too like ER” but I thought its focus was entirely different and actually extremely good.
CARDIAC ARREST (1994 – 1996, 3 Seasons) A visceral, wryly humorous look at the NHS in the 1990s.
I absolutely loved this and rued the day it went off-air, though thinking about it, that was probably what it needed else it might have “gone soft”: hard-hitting, dark, funny, it spared no punches. Brilliant.
BODIES (2004 – 2006, 2 Seasons) A young English surgeon discovers his obstetrician Boss is not quite the living up to his Hippocratic oath.
From the writer of Cardiac Arrest, this was bound to be good, but perhaps was a little over-ambitious in its second series (ordering ten episodes instead of the usual six) which *might* have accounted for why people stopped watching.
ER (1994 – PRESENT)The work and lives of a group of emergency room doctors in Chicago.
I loved this when it first started and of course it’s famous as a series for launching the career of George Clooney. I found him captivating as Dr. Doug Ross and there were some great storylines that really stuck in my mind, such as the death of Dr. Mark Greene from a brain tumour and arrogant consultant Romano’s emasculation as a surgeon when he loses his arm in a freak accident with a helicopter. Magic.
HOUSE (2004 – PRESENT) An antisocial maverick doctor who specializes in diagnostic medicine does whatever it takes to solve puzzling cases that come his way using his crack team of doctors and his wits.
I love to hate this: its storylines are for the most part ridiculous (oh, you *could* have cancer? Let’s irradiate you before we find out for sure!), yet there’s something mesmerising about it, probably its wonderfully acerbic character observations courtesy of House himself.
SILENT WITNESS (1996 – PRESENT) The activities of a Home office pathology team.
I liked this better when Sam Ryan was at the helm, but nevertheless this is good solid drama, if a little unbelievable. But who’s to let truth get in the way of a good yarn, hey?
What’s your fave medical drama and why? Discuss…