TV: A Young Doctor’s Notebook – Episode 1 Summary + Review

“A journey to the middle of nowhere”

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(“My name isn’t Oliver”)

Airing on: Sky Arts

Genre: Drama, Medical, Dark Comedy Age: 15+

Aired: 6th December 2012 – onwards (UK Version)

These are the struggles of a young doctor, Dr Vladimir Bomgard, arriving in remote Russia, from a “long and arduous journey”. The small doctor’s practice, which is staffed by zany medical professionals, is a far cry from the bright lights, and washed people of Russia.

The young doctor is watched by his older self, who looks on at the turn of events from the past. This is a semi-autobiographic drama looking at the author Mikhail Bulgakov’s own experiences working at a country hospital.

When Dr Vladimir arrives at the doors of the country hospital, his youth is a surprise to the staff. His predecessor had been a great and respected doctor, and the young doctor cannot hope to live up to these high expectations.

Warning! Not suitable for younger viewers! May contain spoilers!

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As the young doctor looks around his new residence, his older self also provides some reflective commentary about the space.

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(That hairstyle will never go out of fashion.)

The staff at the hospital comprise of the older nurse Anna, the crowding dental practitioner Feldsher, and the plain-spoken younger nurse Pelageya.

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(“Would you like some hot milk and cookies before you sleep?”)

After the brief tour, the doctor is promptly put to bed, like a child. His mind is however racing from all the potential patients, that could ascend onto the practice late at night.

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(“Ugh, those cookies and medical text books are making me throw up”)

His worst fears are confirmed when a  young woman appears at the door. Complication with birth are not a forte of the young doctor, and he is forced to look-up information, much to the bemusement of the staff.

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(The young doctor lost his innocence that day)

His older self turns out to be a hindrance, and the promptly destroys information in books, trying to reassure the young doctor that he already knows the information.

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(Magic? Imagination? Time travel? Your guess is as good as mine.)

After the operation, the staff reassure him that experience is all he needs, but the young doctor is not convinced.

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(“Is the new doctor old enough to smoke?”)

Determined to exercise his new-graduated doctors abilities, young Valadimir attempts to remove a tooth of a patient. After much tugging and pulling, which included dragging the man’s body across the floor, he manages to take out the tooth… and part of the jawbone.

The young doctor is horrified, but decides to take the jawbone as a memento of his efforts.

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(“This won’t hurt a bit. So… how was your holiday..”)

The series returns to the present day, where the older Dr Vladimir Bomgard is under investigation. Agent Kriil from the authorities is looking through the doctor’s belongings, and comes across the journal of his “long and arduous journey”.

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(Hiding a personal journal among medical books wasn’t a good plan)

Overall, this is a special series. Short, blunt, grim, and superbly funny. Potential viewers will be drawn in by the pull of Danielle Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame), and Jon Hamm (Mad Men), but this is a dark series, and the actors portray their new persona brilliantly.

I haven’t been impressed by Radcliffe’s performance before, but in A Young Doctor’s Notebook, his acting has significantly improved. He can definitely act like a bumbling doctor when required, and he doesn’t rattle of his lines with minimum expression, a pet peeve of mine from his previous work.

Jon Hamm, as the older doctor, threatens to steal the show a couple of time, with his deep-voiced rumbling commentary. But, the real gems may be the medical staff, particularly the hilariously annoying male practitioner Feldsher. Actor Adam Godley‘s curly moustached, pipe-smoking character is unaware of personal space, reading expressions and outbursts of cruel comments.

The cast works well in this episode, which is basically a introduction to the characters more than anything else. There is a brief mention of the doctor writing a diary that is later found by an authority figure. The future episodes will probably lead on from this point.

I’m not sure of the inclusion of the past and future versions of the doctor. There are scenes where the two have entire conversations, and physical interaction, but the staff don’t seem to notice the young doctor ranting to himself, or even piggybacking his older self. How is that possible? Or even, what is this phenomena?

At just over 20 minutes, the episodes don’t outstay their welcome. The shortness might be down to their short-story original material, or just to keep the plot tight. I appreciate that each moment is well-timed, and doesn’t drag down the pace of the story.

Rated 4/5 – Funny, dark and charming.

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