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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Chapter Closed On A YOUNG DOCTOR'S NOTEBOOK

Article first published as Chapter Closed On A YOUNG DOCTOR'S NOTEBOOK on TheTVKing.

The British series A Young Doctor's Notebook, which has been airing on Ovation in the States, came to a close last night with the fourth episode of season one (a second season has been ordered). While short in length, it's been quite a journey for the Young Doctor (Daniel Radcliffe), from eager graduate, topping his class, to hardened, drug-addicted general practitioner in the cold wilderness. But this is nothing compared to what we learn about the Older Doctor (Jon Hamm).

It turns out, A Young Doctor's Notebook plays out in the Older Doctor's head. This explains the cartoonish style and exaggerated happenings and people. The Younger Doctor's life is not portrayed as reality, but rather the hallucinations of the Older Doctor, suffering withdrawal from morphine addiction. Unlike FX's Wilfred, the answer to the mysterious center is presented sooner, rather than later.

This changes the perception of the entire piece. At first, it seems a goofy comedy, easy to laugh at the Younger Doctor's antics, whether it be in botched medical procedures or fumbling around in general. But now, knowing this is in the Older Doctor's diseased mind, it becomes a sad, melancholy drama, one from which there is no easy escape. The laughs cover pain. As the Doctor gets tossed behind bars in the 1930s, we see not only the beginning of his downfall in the 1910s, but how he sees himself, which is not so positive.

The surreal quality of A Young Doctor's Notebook is thoroughly intriguing and enjoyable. Even when one is rendered uncomfortable by events, the series remains something that can't be looked away from. The brilliant performances by Hamm, Radcliffe, and others ground a story that could so easily be silly or ridiculous in serious emotion, while still hitting the notes of a humorous play, and it's very impressive.

In the final half hour, the Young Doctor travels to the aid of a woman who has been bashed in the skull. An Even Younger Doctor (Joshua McGuire, The Hour) assists, and this is when we see how much our Young Doctor has changed. Almost wordlessly, the Young Doctor euthanizes the injured girl, knowing there is no cure, a realization that is slow to dawn on the Even Younger Doctor, then eats ham. We can see a pattern about to be repeated, a bad cycle that will be very difficult to escape from.

The Young Doctor even fantasizes about having his license stripped, half seriously wondering how many patients he would have to let die (never kill) to escape the hell of his job. The Older Doctor finds out, unfortunately, just how low he can sink. It's a message that can sort of be communicated, since they interact in the story, but the Older Doctor holds back somewhat, perhaps knowing he can't change the course of his life. So, so sad; a bitter, inescapable destiny.

While the focus is on the Doctors, as it should be, the series would not work nearly as well without the talented work of the supporting cast. Adam Godley, Rosie Cavaliero, and Vicki Pepperdine do extraordinary work, and they should not be forgotten about. The way they lend themselves to small, supporting roles is not exactly an easy feat, balancing between being entertaining but not distracting. Each have specific moments that can be praised, and the overall effect owes a lot of credit to the trio.

The same can be said for the crew that builds the sets and costumes, and lights the scenes, as well as scores the piece. There is a tone here, reinforced by every aspect or the visual and audio presentation.  A lot more is going on than just actors delivering lines, and it's the combination of everything that really lets this succeed in the best possible way.

I don't know when we'll get a second season of A Young Doctor's Notebook, and with our eyes opened, it certainly won't be as funny and light as the first. Yet, even as depressing as it may be, I really want to see more of these characters and this world. They have left a lasting impression not to be soon forgotten, as much for the high quality of the production, as for the compelling story itself.

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