This show is an unusual one that isn't like anything else, being an occasionally surreal political, black comedy-drama. Unlike most shows that were made in the 1980s and which were about life in the 1980s, it hasn't dated as it concentrates on its memorable characters. The story of its creation is a good one and I hope it's true. The writer Andrew Davies opened his post one morning and found he owed the BBC £17,000. Apparently he'd been paid an advance to write a TV adaptation, but the show had been cancelled and they wanted their money back.
Unfortunately he'd spent the money. So his only hope was to pitch them another idea and, as he worked in a depressing inner-city university, he pitched the idea of a series based in a depressing inner-city university. Surprisingly, it was commissioned. The end result was what sounds like an unpromising format for riveting drama of: life in a doctors' surgery as a metaphor for the state of Britain. Thankfully, it's more entertaining than that sounds. The hero is Doctor Daker, a new recruit to the university's medical staff. He's a painfully shy, naïve idealist who's out of touch with real life because he has this strange notion that doctors are supposed to make sick people better. He arrives without any ambition other than to do a good job, to care for his patients, and to get through the day without embarrassing himself too often. I don't think Peter Davison has ever been better and, to this day, I reckon he's the only actor I've ever seen who has the ability to go bright red with embarrassment.
The show relates how his idealist ways are tested by his fellow doctors, who all have no interest in wasting their time with sick people. The boss of the surgery is the decrepit Old Jock, played gloriously by Graham Crowden, who spends the whole series seemingly at death's door. As a doctor, these days he'd be a walking lawsuit. He's the sort of doctor who'd prescribe a lie down to a patient who's just died and most episodes feature him missing obvious ailments like broken legs and appendicitis. Instead, Jock spends his time plotting against the vice-chancellor Ernest Hemingway, who he's convinced is plotting against him, although in reality the vice-chancellor is a corrupt money-grabber who is more interested in fleecing foreign students. And when he's not ignoring patients and drinking himself to death, he dictates his magnum opus, the sick university, a rambling and incoherent treatise on everything that's wrong in society.
What he should be spending his time on is stopping his subordinates stabbing him in the back. The first of which is Doctor Rose Marie, played by Barbara Flynn. Again I reckon this is her best role. Rose Marie is a radical feminist lesbian who has no interest in doctoring, but who has worked out what's wrong with the world, and that's men. No matter what illness her female patients have, it's the fault of men, and her vulnerable patients are ripe for being converted to her world view.
She's a saint when compared to the final, and best, character in the show, the force of nature that is Bob Buzzard. Played by David Troughton, Bob is a man without a single redeeming factor. He became a doctor for the money and the social standing, and he'd never soil his hands by actually looking at a patient. Instead, Bob spends his time wrestling with his rinky-dinky computer, playing golf, glad-handing pharmaceutical reps and taking backhanders. He's a character whose every line is crass, arrogant and ridiculous and he's one of my favourite characters in anything.
There are several running joke characters, including a fourth wall breaking writer who wakes up one morning to find he owes the BBC £17,000 and who can predict every twist in the story as he's writing a drama series about life in a university surgery. And there's two nuns who are always rooting around in bins, joy-riding and getting drunk. The only weak elements are that the show apparently gave Hugh Grant his first acting role, and Daker's girlfriend in the first series, who is supposed to be arch and witty, but who comes over as annoying. Thankfully she gets replaced in the more surreal series 2 by a more interesting Polish girlfriend.
Sadly, the show's perfection is tarnished by the weak spin-off film set in Poland and featuring Daker's continued adventures riding the European gravy train, but that aside, the 14 episodes of Peculiar Practice are a quirky and original tv series. And for good measure it had a great original theme song sung by Elkie Brooks.