Medical series have long been a nice cash cow for the small screen.
From American shows like General Hospital, now in its 44th year, to Britain’s whimsical post-war series Dr Finlay’s Casebook, shows about doctors will always find an audience.
In the past, the doctor was usually the man on the pedestal, the always wise and charming local expert who could face the disease of the week and triumph over it.
Fast forward to the Victorian country town of Ballarat in the late 1950s, and meet the hero of The Doctor Blake Mysteries, Dr Lucien Blake, who returned after war service in Asia to take over his late father’s practice.
Lucien is cut from a different mould to the television doctors of the past. As we get to know him, we see a flawed human being with a tendency to over-imbibe to cope with stress, but with a quick mind and a heart in the right place. This makes him an invaluable police surgeon as he works with the local constabulary to solve unexplained deaths, which happen at the rate of one a week in television land.
What is admirable about The Doctor Blake Mysteries, now in its fifth series since the inaugural one of 2013, is that it is a totally Australian-made product, bringing work to a regional country town and using buildings authentic to the era.
Played by a bearded Craig McLachlan, who is also associate producer of the series, the multi-layered character of Lucien is a far cry from McLachlan’s past roles as Henry with the curly mullet hairstyle in Neighbours, or more recently his stage persona as Dr Frank’N’Furter in The Rocky Horror Show.
An added strength of The Doctor Blake Mysteries is that it always has several interesting subplots alongside the main murder mystery to be solved. Chief of these is the slow-burning romance between Lucien and his faithful Catholic housekeeper Jean (Nadine Garner). Through the first few series there were mere hints that there might be the possibility of romance, but by series five it is out in the open. And in the best tradition of television, it won’t be straightforward, as Lucien is divorced and Jean’s Catholic faith will have her making some hard decisions.
Veteran actor John Wood pops in as media magnate Patrick Tyneman, and police superintendent Matthew Lawson is given a fine and complex characterisation by Joel Tobeck. The professional and personal mateship between Lucien and Matthew adds another layer to the stories.
Stories by and about doctors go all the way back to the Bible, as Saint Luke the Evangelist, author of the Gospel of Luke, was also a physician. The long and proud history of physicians telling stories looks set to continue in series five of The Doctor Blake Mysteries.