TV Review: A Young Doctor’s Notebook

 “Even letters don’t want to be sent here”

The term black comedy is often used in reference to Russian works and in the case of A Young Doctor’s Notebook, it is well–earned. A short TV series from 2012 produced by Sky and based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s collection of short stories entitled A Country Doctor’s Notebook, it follows the experiences of a young doctor fresh out of medical school in Moscow and landed with an isolated post deep in the Russian countryside where even the nearest shop is half a day away by coach.

It frames these growing pains of a doctor (Daniel Radcliffe) learning how to deal with the practical, as opposed to the theoretical study at which he excelled, with scenes from 20 years or so in the future, when the doctor (now played by Jon Hamm) has been exposed as a morphine addict and has found his old diary. Hamm’s Doctor then dips in and out of the earlier scenes, interacting solely with his younger self and trying to offer a way through his crises of inexperience.

Gruesome is not the word to describe the majority of his cases as pregnancies go awry, tooth extractions are botched and amputations are particularly belaboured. But there’s a wry humour always present, whether from Hamm and Radcliffe’s interactions, or from the sceptical medical staff who can barely believe the boy they’ve been sent. Vicki Pepperdine, Rosie Cavaliero and Adam Godley make a great trio here and often get the best lines.

The series does get darker though as the morphine addiction takes a real grip and this has an interesting effect on how the stories are told, the unreliability of memory and the shaping of personal narratives coming into play. A cracking supporting cast make all four episodes a feast of theatrical spots and overall, I’d say this is well worth a watch. A second series played last year so I’m off to see if I can find it somewhere. 

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