Wednesday, April 12, 2000 by

Christopher Timothy was on This Is Your Life last week. A pleasing enough actor who will forever evoke All Creatures Great and Small the tribute was heavily slanted towards his participation in Doctors, the Corporation’s new daily weekday drama serial.

There must be a great deal of hope riding on Doctors, which scheduled at 12.30pm supplants the parlour game show that traditionally propped up this slot. And to promote it on This Is Your Life - well that’s high level propaganda indeed. Doctors is a sizable initiative in daytime television, then, but a credible one?

Today’s episode has its own title, “Cheated”, the first signifier that, despite our suspicions, this isn’t a soap opera. There are other notable markers here too, chiefly the shaky pan and zoom camera work which became the cliché for “proper” drama in the 1990s. However, if Doctors‘ intention is to further distance itself from the devastating label of “daytime soap” it’s utilisation of the technique is poor – beyond establishing shots it’s all static mid and close-ups, the mark of a multi-camera production. But it’s refreshing to find a 30 minute drama that isn’t patently filler material, and therefore despite any reservations about the quality of the programme (which I’ll come to in a moment) it’s already streets ahead of the live lifestyle and moribund quiz shows that otherwise encompass the daytime.

What of the quality? Well, this certainly doesn’t plumb the depths of – say – the ill begottenFamilies, it’s a perfectly competent production. The level of scripting, characterisation and plotting is avowedly mediocre, however. The Doctors format varies little from that established by Casualty and Holby City (its obvious big-brothers). An issue is explored alongside a couple of lighter secondary stories but obviously this is a far less visceral reading. Today’s installment mainly focused on the dilemma of a mother telling her son she has a terminal disease, whilst running parallel there was a plot involving a woman suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome exacerbated by her twin sons’ addiction to gambling, and a frighteningly banal and unengaging investigation into whose turn it was to buy the staff biscuits in the practice.

The main storyline resolved itself in a straightforward predictable manner (the boy had already discovered for himself his mother’s condition) and in doing so dodged any of the cogent issues that should have been invoked. As expected, the subsidiary tales were played strictly for laughs and at times alarmingly eschewed credibility to shoe-horn in the plot: for example, the Irritable Bowel Syndrome sufferer was accompanied into her consultation by her sons, a rather unlikely occurrence but convenient for the GP who was able to administer a suitable dressing-down to them. The strictures of the 30 minute format ached obviously necessitating this quite slap-dash approach, but a few years ago BBC Scotland’s Cardiac Arrest showed how magnificently the half-hour drama could be exploited without compromising the plot or discussion. Let’s concede, though, that Doctors is absolutely not Cardiac Arrest. What it is though, for better or worse, is the most creditable daytime programme we’ve seen since the BBC abolished Pages from Ceefax. Hardly the pinnacle of British television, admittedly, but it is at least a credible investment in the daytime.

It’s an unlikely prospect, but if This Is Your Life chose to catch-up with Christopher Timothy in five or so years time, Doctors would probably rightly be but a footnote in the proceedings, provoking a few agreeable moans of remembrance from the audience, but hardly unfixing our anticipation from the – surely inevitable – appearance of Robert Hardy, Carol Drinkwater, Peter Davison, Lynda Bellingham et al.


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