Doug Coutts’ TV Preview: Doctor Thorne


Prime, 7.30 Thursday


By Doug Coutts

It starts off well, with a bit of senseless self-inflicted violence late at night in the fog in a seedy part of town and segues post-titles – “twenty years later” reads the caption – to a charming country scene with young ladies having a picnic.

Not just any ladies, these are the daughters of the rich and classy – 19th century Sloane Rangers – and behave as you’d expect. In fact, they’re rather beastly towards Mary, neice of the local doctor and as such not one of them, which they make quite plain.

Just you wait, Lady Alexanderina de Courcy, you’ll get yours and no mistake. Let’s hope so, anyway.

Doctor Thorne is a costume drama, based on the book by Antony Trollope who, if I remember my 6th form English, was a 19th century writer who enjoyed taking the piss out of the upper classes, and their obsession with money – because marrying into it was the only way to keep the extensive estates in the hands of those they quite rightly belong to.

When Doctor Thorne suggests to the wife of one of his rich clients that one should marry not only for money but “worth, and a pure heart and beauty” – coincidentally the things his niece possesses in spades – she replies, “Indeed, but there must be money.” (“Indeed” is the word used by snobby people when they really want to say “Oh, fuck off, that’s just bullshit”.)

There’s more to life than money (apparently) but in Doctor Thorne’s corner of England it pretty much dominates the conversation.

He is doctor, financial advisor, and confidante and go-to-guy for all the wealthy land-owners and as such knows where all the old bodies are buried and where the news ones are likely to be dumped.

He himself is beyond reproach – a sensitive, thoughtful, decent man possessed of that one thing money can’t buy, strong moral fibre.

On the surface it’s all tea and croquet on the lawn followed by dance-cards and gavotting about the ballroom, while underneath there are desperate attempts to borrow money to save the family seat, manoeuvrings and take-over bids, with skeletons falling out of closets all over the place, even at the good doctor’s surgery.

At least he’ll know how to put the bones back in the right order.

What other critics said:

“The script has been short on sizzle, since writer Julian Fellowes prefers to state the obvious whenever possible … But Fellowes’ knack for 40-second scenes, which made Downton Abbey so addictive, served him well as he boiled down a hefty Victorian novel into three episodes.” — Daily Mail.

Downton never did it for me – the characters were dislikeable and two-dimensional – but Doctor Thorne shows much more promise. While characters such as Lady Arabella are, of course, dislikeable, they are also believable and well-developed.” — The Independent.

“More Sunday-night girls in nice frocks worrying about who they will marry and who belongs to which class, while their parents in their drawing rooms worry about what’s going to happen to the bloody estate … zzzz. It gets better, though. By the end of the opener, I’m having a lot of fun.” — The Guardian.

Doug Coutts has had a career in and around television for close to 40 years. He spent 13 years as a floor manager at Avalon Studios before going freelance and never earning as much again. His writing has spanned TV genres — from Shortland Street dialoguery and quiz shows to documentaries and comedy — while a lengthy stint as TV reviewer in the Auckland Star earned him two mentions in Metro magazine’s Hot List and an angry letter from Jon Gadsby. You can read more of Doug (the satirist) at:
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