medical drama

medical drama
   Medical drama is one of the most consistently popular and enduring forms of drama on British television. Conventionally set in hospitals (usually National Health Service ones), they concern the problems of both the patients who come to be treated and the medical staff who treat them. It is common for the staff to be the main characters, with patients appearing for single or multiple episodes. Dramatic tension arises out of life-anddeath conflicts, and often concerns a variety of ethical and moral issues, exploring the effects of medical decisions on patients and the public. Because of this, medical drama is often criticized as a melodramatic form, concerned only with individualized, personal issues, and its similarities to soap operas are apparent.
   Significant early British examples include Emergency Ward 10 and General Hospital, in which the standard genre conventions were already evident. Dr Finlay’s Casebook was one of the first examples to be primarily situated outside of the hospital, and was instead concerned with a rural medical practice. The BBC’s most significant contributions are Angels, about a group of female trainee nurses, and Casualty. The latter has consistently been the BBC’s most popular drama for many years, employing a variety of big name stars in cameo roles, launching the careers of a large number of actors and, in 1998, spawning a top 10 single.
   The development of medical drama has seen a slow but definite movement away from the godlike, omniscient doctors of the 1950s towards an acceptance of the complexities of modern medicine. Issues such as euthanasia and AIDS have become commonplace dramatic fare, and characters are conventionally portrayed as multi-dimensional, flawed individuals, working within tight budget constraints and dealing with complex moral issues. Medical drama has often been criticized by governments for its portrayal of the medical profession, particularly those dramas set within the National Health Service. This was especially true in the 1980s, when the Conservative government repeatedly lambasted Casualty’s portrayal of overworked staff and underfunded hospitals. The most extreme case of this resulted from the BBC’s Cardiac Arrest in the mid-1990s, whose portrayal of a health service industry and staff in nearapocalyptic crisis shocked both the viewing public and professionals alike. The fact that the series was written by a practising NHS doctor (under an alias, for fear of reprisals) only strengthened the criticisms made by the programme.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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