A Young Doctor’s Notebook begins in Moscow in 1934, with Jon Hamm’s ‘Older doctor’ having his office searched by army men. As he sorts through some things on his desk, he discovers his old notebook, started when he was a fresh-faced 25 year old, just out of medical school (he finished top of his class) and embarking upon his first days as a doctor, back in 1917.
And suddenly Jon Hamm isn’t so Jon Hammy as he is Daniel Radcliffe-y, as the actor best known for his role in an episode of Extras (ahem) plays ‘Younger doctor’ travelling to a village in Muryovo to begin his career. He’s immediately met with quizzical looks, as the staff at the hospital he’ll be working at don’t believe he’s the doctor; he seems to be too short, and he doesn’t have a beard. He finds himself in the shadow of the previous doctor (and often beneath his bearded gaze, as several self portraits hang on the walls of the hospital), having to prove himself to the nurses and the patients.
But help is on its way (sort of) as his older self appears to give him advice on how to be doctor and how to be a man. He’s not really there, of course, but the younger doctor is still seeing him, and still taking on his advice, whether it’s positive or negative. It’s clear from the beginning of this first episode that the dialogue is going to be sharp, clever and funny, and the interplay between Hamm and Radcliffe is already making for a winning formula.
Jon Hamm is of course a more experienced actor, and although he’s become a household name (despite his horribly ugly face….I’m not jealous) as Don Draper in Mad Men, he’s shown a knack for comedy with his appearances on 30 Rock and Bridesmaids, and hosting Saturday Night Live. Daniel Radcliffe has sent himself up on Extras and here shows that he’s also got a natural talent for delivering funny lines with a straight face, with the odd bit of physical comedy thrown in for good measure. In this episode he’s often mocked because of his height; he missed out during a gynaecology class because of two taller, late arriving, students standing in front of him, the previous doctor’s surgery gown is too big for him. When he tries to consult a book about a pregnant patient’s symptoms, older doctor grabs it from him, forcing him to jump up to try and get it, before the wrestle each other to the ground, with older doctor winning and eating the page he wanted to look it.
What I like about this episode is that a lot of it is farcical and absurd, but none of the characters are mugging for the camera or putting odd stresses on certain words in order to sell the joke. It’s naturally funny, but it’s being played straight, as it would if it were a play on stage, so you do get a sense of Radcliffe’s younger doctor actually being a doctor learning his craft rather than someone merely pretending to be one for laughs.
Hamm and Radcliffe are both giving strong performances and the supporting cast is, well, supporting them very well. The dialogue is snappy and quick and the story is interesting too, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops.