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Monday, January 2, 2012

Dr. Willoughby debuts on DVD for the first time tomorrow

     Dr. Willoughby is a six episode sitcom that ran on ITV in Britain just once in November and December of 1999. Having never before been rerun or released on VHS or DVD (at least, according to Wikipedia), Acorn Media's new DVD is the first chance anyone will get to see the show in more than a decade. Starring Absolutely Fabulous's Joanna Lumley, Dr. Willoughby is about the making of a soap opera, and follows the antics both on screen and off.

     Lumley shines both as Dr. Willoughby, a character that her character plays on the soap within a sitcom, and as Donna Sinclair, the actress who portrays the good doc. The two personalities are startlingly different. Willoughby is a brilliant, compassionate, confident, charming surgeon who can heal the sick. Sinclair is a conniving, manipulative, thieving, vain diva in the strain of many a stereotype. Yet Lumley, whose comedy chops are unquestionable, handles both with ease. It looks easy, swapping the two characters back and forth, but surely, it cannot be. Lumley, who has a soap background herself, may even be drawing on familiarity. However she captures the part, though, it's clear that she owns the series. Which makes it a shame it only ran for six episodes.

     The fault is in allowing anyone else to share the screen. Lumley is excellent, and carries the full weight of each episode on her own. Whenever she is not on screen, however, the production falters. It isn't that Dr. Willoughby is bad. It's just that Lumley is so good she outshines everything and everyone else. It's a series tailor made for her, but when focusing on the central character, the quality of the rest is dropped.

     Not that one should necessarily blame the supporting cast, who seem to do their best. Ralph Whatman (Brian Protheroe, Holby City, 55 Degrees North) is the male lead of Dr. Willoughby, a wannabe star who will not hesitate to take the spotlight from Sinclair if she falters in the slightest. He has other worries, though, such as being caught for not paying spousal maintenance, or even being left out of a script. Crystal Reynolds (Paula Bacon, Life After Birth) is the popular new actress, already getting more fan mail then anyone, which, of course, peaks Sinclair's jealousy. Emma Goodlife (Isobel Middleton, EastEnders) is the producer who would rather be anywhere else other than at her job, but finds herself overqualified for other opportunities, like say, working in a supermarket. Middleton is arguably the "best of the rest" in Dr. Willoughby, capturing a hilarious brand of neurotic.

     There are no special features in this Dr. Willoughby release. Then again, it's a series that got absolutely no attention since it first aired, and anyone who enjoys the show should just be grateful to get a copy at long last. It is presented in widescreen, which is curious, because it doesn't seem like ITV would have been doing widescreen sitcoms in 1999. It is unknown whether the top and bottom of the picture is cut to make this work, or it was originally filmed in widescreen and restored for this release. The sound is in stereo.

     It is hard not to recommend buying Dr. Willoughby, especially with Absolutely Fabulous returning. Fans of the latter series cannot get enough of Lumley, and this is the perfect opportunity to see her in another light. In that regard, Acorn Media picks the perfect time to dust off this old relic, and many will consider it a treasure brought to light.

     Dr. Willoughby goes on sale tomorrow, January 3rd.

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