Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating * * * *
Cast: Rory Kinnear, Lydia Leonard, Mathew Baynton, Tom Basdon, Rupert Everett, Marcia Warren, Lisa Jackson, Kayvan Novak, Georgie Glen, Milly Thomas, Andrew Scott, Miles Jupp, Fellena Woolgar, David Bamber, Ben Willbond, Geoff McGivern.
Every profession has the pop stars of their day, the showmen and women, the extroverts and the gregarious who live for the acclaim, the prestige and the privilege it brings. The artist, the poet, the actor, the musician and the surgeon, all have their theatres, all have one person who plays to the crowd and relishes the sense of power it brings.
The 21st Century has perhaps altered the image of surgery, now there is no time for romance, for the showman to have an audience hang on their every word as they perform almost routine surgeries day and night, safe, closeted in a sterile place of worship, the only members of the audience keeping their faces covered, if you like, a phantom of the opera at hand.
Yet, as the B.B.C. comedy Quacks takes great pains to show, surgery and medicine, whilst not an exact science in the 19th Century, was far more imaginative and willing to learn by its mistakes than the almost barren and soulless procedure of today. Yes the N.H.S. is a beautiful creation but in terms of television it only captures the drama of the situation and the disaster at hand, it is its own casualty, for nothing has ever come close to reality of pioneering surgery and one played with great effect as M.A.S.H., although Quacks has more than its fair share of good moments and one that will surely see it renewed for a second series.
Reaching back into history is a tricky affair when trying to provide comedy; for many in the modern world it could be seen as television trying to be too clever, of offering something that is no longer relevant to them. It also has the immense shadow of arguably one of the great comedies of all time in the Blackadder series hovering over it, its fans and the critics ready to bring out the comparisons and bang the drum of a death knell on something that hasn’t had the chance to breathe yet, let alone come round from the initial blast of chloroform.
Rory Kinnear excels as the outwardly arrogant surgeon Robert and the cast is one that really gets beneath the fingernails of Victorian London as the series progresses. Aided by a marvellous Rupert Everett, the remarkable Mathew Baynton as early psychiatrist William and an array of guests that make the series more than just a normal routine comedy, including the sublime Andrew Scott as a young Charles Dickens, Fellena Woolgar, Miles Jupp and David Bamber, Quacks for a first series is enjoyable, it has that rare quality of comedy, one that is happy to sit in a period of time not known for its humour, one that is as austere and bleak in its thinking but to which great minds were forged.
Warts and all, boils and amputated legs, this was the cutting edge of the foundation of modern medicine and one in which the Quacks have started to earn their genuine stripes.
Ian D. Hall