TV miniseries review: A Young Doctor’s Notebook, series 1 (Sky Arts, 2012), directed by Alex Hardcastle
As part of Playhouse Presents on Sky Arts, we were treated to this four-part adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s short stories A Country Doctor’s Notebook, about a fresh-out-of-University doctor, sent to practice medicine in some remote part of Russia during the revolutionary years.
The young doctor (Daniel Radcliffe) has to travel through a snowstorm to get to the remote house where he is to be the new doctor. The previous doctor, Leopold Leopoldovich (Christopher Godwin), could do nothing wrong, and was the doctor of all doctors, at least if you listen to stern nurse Anna (Vicki Pepperdine). The surgery is also staffed by nurse Pelageya (Rosie Cavaliero) and an eccentric feldsher (Adam Godley).
The young city doctor from Moscow finds it very hard to blend in to the country life with their syphilis-ridden country yokels. That he keeps being visited by his older self (Jon Hamm) also doesn’t necessarily make things easier.
Meanwhile, some time later, we see the older doctor and an NKVD agent (Tim Steed) in Moscow, where the older doctor is being interrogated about his morphine addiction.
Granted the Moscow bits I don’t fully understand, as in, why the older doctor was accosted by some form of agents, and all that. There also doesn’t seem to be an explanation to why the younger doctor keeps seeing his older self. The other way around, sure, that would be understandable, but this way around? “You always hit your head on that lamp. *BANG* There you go, I told you.” That doesn’t detract from the enjoyment, because this show had me in stitches.
Ever since Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, where Harry’s under the influence of the Felix Felicis potion, I thought Daniel Radcliffe should do comedy. I haven’t always been too kind to his acting abilities in general, but as a comic actor, I think he’s marvellous. (And as the person he is off-screen, but that’s another post altogether.) In a quirky period comedy like this, he’s excellent. Just the right amount of frustration, incredulity and exasperation – and hilarity.
To blend slapstick, black comedy and period drama is a stroke of genius. You have the young doctor banging his head on that lamp – as well as the gore of having to saw off someone’s leg, or perform a tracheotomy, or deliver a baby outside in the snow. And somehow, it works, and is incredibly funny at the same time. Quite often, with something graphically medical, I’d be laughing and wincing at the same time. It’s absolutely insane, but in a good way.
My only problem with this miniseries is that it’s way too short. I want more. And Daniel Radcliffe should do more comedy. For that matter, anything involving Jon Hamm in a period costume (or out of it, in a bath) with a British accent to boot the we definitely need more of. He’s a good actor and he’s oh so ruggedly handsome. Remind me again why I still haven’t seen any Mad Men?
5 out of 5 drops. Doctor’s orders.