Ian Wolf

Gigglebox Weekly #40 – The Indian Doctor

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Gigglebox Weekly With Ian Wolf

This week, for once, I’m able to review a series in its entirety rather on just a single episode.

That’s because daytime BBC One comedy drama The Indian Doctor was on every weekday last week, meaning I was able to watch all five episodes and see the whole spectacle unfold.

For those unfamiliar with it (mostly likely because you were doing your jobs while it was on, what with it being on at 2.15pm…), the series is set in a fictional Welsh mining village of Trefelin in the early 1960s, when Indian doctors were encouraged to immigrate to Britain by the then Health Secretary, which rather surprisingly was Enoch Powell.

The doctor in question, Prem Sharma (Sanjeev Bhaskar), and his wife Kamini (Ayesha Dharker), have been made more welcome since the first series. However, the doctor has to deal with some more troublesome arrivals: namely his mother-in-law Pushpa (Indira Joshi) and the new vicar, missionary Herbert Todd (Mark Heap), who is English; and thus the baddie, as all fictional English characters in TV series set in Wales are.

The series sees the town suffering from an epidemic of smallpox. Most of the village’s residents at first think it’s Pushpa, despite being vaccinated before she came to Wales. Also, English journalists (who are also baddies) spread the rumours and false claims about the possibility of the illness coming from the doctor’s native country.

However, it’s Englishman Todd who causes all the problems. Not only does he continuously believe that he doesn’t not need to be vaccinated because he thinks God will protect him from the illness, he goes around encouraging people congregate, ignore Dr. Sharma’s advice, and in the end we learn that, not surprisingly, it was he all along who was spreading the illness, because he caught smallpox during his missionary work.

It’s also Todd’s stubbornness and idiocy that gets the most laughs.For example, he goes into a ward where a young boy (the first smallpox victim) is sleeping. Without any protection, Rev. Todd visits him, reads from the Bible, and in a stupid, cringe-making moment of theatrical exuberance kisses the boy on the forehead.

The main thing that comes from the series seems to me to be a slight wave of anti-English feeling. Think about it, you’ve got a doctor from a country which used to be ruled by England taking a job in a country which is still run by England. In the first series the baddie was the Englishman who ran the coalmine (played by Mark Williams), in the second series the baddie was the English vicar, and false rumours about the illness are spread by English journalists. Even the vicar’s daughter (Naomi Battrick) has an affair with one the locals, and both of them end up getting the disease. It seems to be an unwritten code that anyone English in The Indian Doctor has to do something bad.

Now, I don’t mind the fact that the English are coming off badly in this series. It’s only to be expected. After all, it’s because of England that Wales hasn’t been an independent country for over 700 years. I’m just wondering that if there’s going to be a third series if the same thing is going to occur. I’m slightly expecting that in the third series – should it happen – there’s probably going to be some sort of by-election in the village, with an English candidate from one of the main parties being involved in a scandal while Plaid Cymru storms into power.

However, let’s return to the main matter of the series itself. Given the constraints upon it in such an early slot, it does manage to get some laughs. Some of the plot is predictable, but I like the characters, the plot, and the 60s soundtrack.

I like the fact the BBC has faith in this series and hopefully it will be recommissioned, and might inspire the BBC to commission more comedy in their daytime slots.