In the second episode of A Young Doctor’s Notebook, it becomes clear that Older Doctor (Jon Hamm) has gotten himself into a bit of bother. He appears to have become addicted to morphine, and is being questioned about subscriptions that have been issued by people who are no longer with us (dead, in other words).
He’s under pressure in 1934, which explains why he looks pale and stressed in 1917, when Young Doctor (Daniel Radcliffe) is looking to him for advice and confidence as he struggles through his first months as a practising doctor. He’s working in the middle of nowhere with people who don’t understand, or don’t want to hear, what’s really wrong with them, and he’s finding it hard to grow a beard too. Radcliffe spends most of the episode with half a half-beard on his face, unable to find the time to fully shave it off as he’s confronted with some difficult cases.
He first tries to explain to a man that has contracted syphilis how deadly the disease is, and how horribly he’ll die, but the man won’t listen, instead just looking for a ‘gargle’ to help with his sore throat. He’s completely unconcerned about what’s gone wrong with his genitals (something bad, anyway) or what Young Doctor is telling him about his likely deeply unpleasant death.
But worse is to come, as a barely alive girl is brought in, with severe wounds on her legs, after falling into a lathe. While she’s clinging onto life (he keeps asking if the nurses are sure she’s alive) he’s arguing with Older Doctor about what to do. Is it wrong that he wishes she would just die so that he doesn’t have to make a decision about amputation or not? In the 21st century, such a decision would be relatively straightforward, with more advanced equipment, prosthetic legs and rehabilitation experts, but in the first quarter of the 20th century, medical equipment was still very basic and it would be extremely difficult for the girl to live very long with such crippling injuries.
It’s a testament to the writing of the series that there can still be humour in the argument the doctors are having, even in the face of such a bleak and difficult case. Young Doctor eventually decides that amputation is what he must do, and it’s a slow and laborious endeavour, as he needs to use a blunt amputation saw to get through the bone.
He’s also got to contend with the troubled Older Doctor, who is attempting to use some morphine that’s left over after the operation, something which disgusts and angers Younger Doctor. It makes the series more than just a comedy, as Young Doctor is discovering the mistakes he’ll make as an older man, and Older Doctor is now facing up to his crimes that have been detailed in the notebook he started in 1917.
The first episode of the series drew record numbers for Sky Arts, if it continues to be this good, those numbers should keep growing.