Before I sat down to write this review I was staring out of the office window. It’s the start of the February and it’s miserable. The road outside is sodden from rain overnight and everything looks distinctly grey and dirty. If you like me you’re struggling with another British winter then ITV just might have the antidote for you.
Sunday sees the start of a new six-part drama The Good Karma Hospital from Dan Sefton loosely based on his experiences as a young doctor. Sefton has set his drama in a tropical and beautifully vibrant coastal town in India.
When we first meet Ruby Walker, the brilliant Amrita Acharia she’s reeling from the breakup of her relationship and looking for an escape. In a possible TV first her salvation comes when she reaches for a magazine whilst on the toilet! She reads an ad recruiting British doctors to work in India.
Desperate to escape her misery, Ruby anticipates the sunshine, the palm trees and picture-perfect beaches. She’s even prepared for the sacred cows, the tuk-tuks and the Delhi-belly that everyone warned her about. What she doesn’t expect are the realities of work, life and even love at an under-resourced and over-worked cottage hospital.
She’s taken to the rather impressive looking Good Karma Hospital Run by a gloriously eccentric Englishwoman – Doctor Lydia Fonseca played by the equally brilliant Amanda Redman. Redman shines as the fierce Fonseca who expects nothing best from her doctors. She’s passionate about the hospital and for the community she calls home. The hospital itself is held together by a hand-picked team of British and Indian medics and it prides itself on turning no one away. Ruby, who initially finds Fonseca’s belt and braces approach intimidating is slowly taken under her wing.
Sefton’s script cleverly transforms Ruby from fish out of water to an integral member of the hospital team. Aside from the its wonderful setting giving it a new look, it also provides a backdrop for Sefton to tell stories that you wouldn’t see in a homegrown medical drama. When Ruby is forced deliver a baby boy by herself her initial joy at a successful delivery is shattered when the baby’s father discovers he has a daughter not the son he had been promised by Fonsecca. Fonsecca. admits later that if told him they were having a daughter he would’ve opted for an abortion. The show never shies away from the often brutal cultural differences which come as a massive shock to Ruby and probably the Sunday night audience.
This opener sets about introducing us to other key Good Karma staff like the standoff-ish but actually caring and charismatic Dr. Gabriel Varma (James Floyd) who is trusted by Fonsecca and who initially dismisses Ruby’s skills and her intentions of being there. We see the softer side of Doctor Varama when is called to the beach wedding of a British family. Varama meets the bride’s mother,
Maggie Smart (Phyllis Logan) who has collapsed during the service. Maggie is initially dismissive of his Varma’s assistance blaming the heat but when he her alone Maggie shares some news that changes everything.
I always think a writer has a tricky job with a first episode. You have to introduce the audience the world of the show, introduce them to a raft of new characters and their various backstories whilst also delivering compelling stories to keep the audience from turning away after the first ad break. Dan Sefton’s script has a nice mix of humour which balances nicely with the darker elements of the story. It’s a show populated by likeable and believable characters in a world that manages to feel both familiar and otherworldly. The setting means the series can tell stories from different angles and show people out of their comfort zone far from home.
Life affirming and optimistic, this series is sure to brighten up our dreary winter nights. It’s something very different for ITV and it works brilliantly.
The Good Karma Hospital begins Sunday at 9.00pm on ITV.