Tuesday was new comedy night on BBC1 this week, although “new” had the very narrow meaning of “a specific sequence of images and soundwaves not previously broadcast”. In terms of ideas, characters and gags, the comedy was as old as the hills.
Doctors And Nurses is a sitcom set in an NHS hospital (for some reason on the Isle of Wight), and features an idealistic but cynical doctor, a greedy consultant, some hard-bitten nurses and a series of patients who are treated with institutionalised insensitivity.
The twin problems facing any such drama are that a. it’s been done before (by Cardiac Arrest, tlc and, currently and brilliantly, Scrubs) and b. in the context of the NHS it’s so seriously true that it’s no laughing matter.
They had a go, nevertheless, and places it wasn’t so bad. Ade Edmondson, who like his wife Jennifer Saunders tends to specialise in chronically incoherent characters, was lucid enough as good guy Dr Roy Glover, battling with Bentley-driving fat cat surgeon George Banatwala (a superbly smug Madhav Sharma) and budgets-before-healthcare Chief Executive Flapper (a superbly weasely Steven Alvey). Mina Anwar was fine too as the cross-me-and-die ward sister (in fact she’d be good in Holby City, which might be worth her while remembering).
The show is co-written by TV doctor Phil Hammond, and it was presumably he who supplied the necessary outrageous-but-true hospital stories (nurses holding a sweepstake on which male patient had the biggest tackle was a good one, and new to the screen in our recollection). He probably also supplied the heavy doses of soap-box diatribe on the iniquities of NHS understaffing, treatment rationing and so on, which did stick out rather like an untreated sore thumb, but are par for the course in this kind of show.
The big problem remained, however, that it really had all been done before. We already get two hospital shows a week (Casualty and Holby) on BBC1, and despite the diatribe, Doctors And Nurses didn’t say anything about the NHS that the straight dramas aren’t already saying. It didn’t create any characters, relationships or tensions that hadn’t already been done in tlc and Scrubs, either. Most of all, it wasn’t particularly funny.