After 10 years of the increasingly Emmerdale-on-steroids Peak Practice, ITV bosses decided it had finally run out of steam. Something new was needed, so they replaced it with – another drama about doctors in the Peak District. What is it with ITV and medics in Derbyshire?
The answer is probably the locations, because Sweet Medicine is as far removed from the tits-and-guns of latter-day Peak Practice as it could get while staying in the same postcode area.. The production is polished to perfection, and the locations, including a doctor’s residence that appears to be a minor stately home, are even lovelier than before. Everyone’s well-dressed and on their best behaviour, even when they’re dishevelled and behaving badly, and the most dramatic event in the first episode was a doctor – gasp – speaking to his former fiancée in the street. ITV’s Peak-time programming has clearly gone upmarket.
Polished it may be, but original it’s not. The characters come straight from the TV drama training manual. There’s a manipulative, recently-widowed matriarch (Patricia Hodge, in her element), her independently-minded doctor son (Jason Merrells, making a good switch from Gavin in Cutting it), and his feisty-but-adorably-pretty doctor wife (Gillian Kearney, the Forsyte Saga). Also cut and pasted into the mix are a dissolute (but well-mannered) younger brother, a Black Sheep uncle who practises medicine for big bucks in America, and a doctor’s receptionist with the only regional accent and unrefined dress-sense in the show, because she’s lower-class.
This week’s plot, a will-he-won’t-he about whether Dr Nick (Merrells) would give up his London career to take over his late father’s practice, was about as unpredictable as the characters. Nick spent most of it wrestling with his feelings about his dad (although highly respected, he had been – surprise, surprise – a cold, domineering father), while his mum spent it coming to realise that – surprise, surprise – her daughter-in-law reminded her of her young, feisty self, and deserved her respect. In the end Nick decided to stay, which really wasn’t a surprise since the series would have ended if he hadn’t.
Sweet Medicine is hardcore New ITV drama, made with one eye on the advertisers, another on export markets and an occasional glance at the audience. It’s also ultra-professional, with not a frame, line or accessory out of place, and well acted by a quality cast. Whether it will do anything besides stroke the target demographic’s fantasies of comfortable middle-England professional life remains to be seen, but we won’t be holding our breath.