First Watch: A Young Doctor’s Notebook – “Episode 1” (Season 1, Episode 1)

I stumbled upon A Young Doctor’s Notebook when I was looking for any new shows that might have slipped through the cracks of the Tonight’s Watch Fall draft and stumbled upon this interesting little mini-series.  A Young Doctor’s Notebook is based on Mikhail Bulgakov‘s semi-biographical collection of short stories chronicling his time as a young, newly-graduated doctor in a rural area around the time of the Russian revolution. The premise of the series might jump out and grab you (though, the Bulgakov credit might), but once you throw in the fact that Daniel Radcliffe is playing a young Jon Hamm and it might start to lure you in.

The pilot begins with a brief stint in 1934 — with our protagonist, the unnamed doctor (Jon Hamm), reading from a notebook while some military men search his office. The entire scene seems to speak to the Doctor’s melancholy: from the scene’s slow, pensive strumming to the office being entirely cast in shadow, it is clear from the start that things are not going well for our Doctor (but, that might also just be what it is like in Russia). There is no explanation as to why the men are searching his office, but judging by the time period and their uniforms, it can be assumed that he was probably marked as an enemy of the Soviets, but nothing is certain at this point.

“They say happiness is like good health; you don’t notice it until it is gone. Me? I was happy in 1917.”

Back in 1917, we meet the Young Doctor (Daniel Radcliffe) — a newly graduated medical student, young and inexperienced (in his life and line of work) — as he makes his trip from Moscow to the rural area where he’ll take over as the resident doctor. After we get to see first-hand how long and arduous his journey was (don’t worry, our young Doctor will remind you if you forget) we get to meet the rest of the cast: Anna (Vicki Pepperdine), the senior mid-wife, Pelageya (Rosie Cavaliero), the junior mid-wife; the Feldsher (Adam Godley), which seems to be some sort of doctor’s assistant; and, finally and most importantly, Leopold Leopoldovich, the Doctor’s predecessor who, even in death, overshadows the Doctor at every turn. It is interesting to note that Leopold Leopoldovich is the only male in the series with a name, the rest of the characters simply go by their occupational title.

Following the introductions, there is an interesting exchange between the young Doctor and the old Doctor — that is, they have a bit of a chat. It is never addressed how the young Doctor managed to communicate with his future self, but he does it as if he were talking to any of the other characters — well, maybe a bit less awkwardly.

The cast of A Young Doctor's Notebook.

Daniel Radcliffe and Jon Hamm as the Doctor in A Young Doctor’s Notebook.

The rest of the episode is dedicated to characterizing the young Doctor as youthfully incompetent in filling Leopold Leopoldovich’s shoes, generally inexperienced and brimming with self-doubt. His first patient comes in the middle of the night and happens to be a pregnant woman. Unfortunately, the woman’s problem happens to be from one of the lessons that our young Doctor didn’t quite catch at medical school. Luckily, Anna and Pelageya are able to assist the young Doctor and the woman and her baby make it through the night.

Then, as if one poorly-handled patient wasn’t enough for our young Doctor’s first episode, another patient turns up for the Feldsher. The young Doctor — most likely out of some sort of hubris developed as a result of walking away from his first patient with a minor victory — volunteers to pull out the patient’s tooth.

It does not end well.

A Young Doctor’s Notebook is a slightly dark, somewhat dramatic, comedy (read: British comedy) that will quickly draw you in to its main character(s).  It might be my personal baggage that made me latch on to our young Doctor so quickly, but that shouldn’t take anything away from Radcliffe’s performance. I’m hooked. I’m very interested in watching the progression from Radcliffe’s bumbling young Doctor turns into Hamm’s suave, brooding old Doctor and how the Russian Revolution comes to affect the Doctor’s life. The series feels like a better (read: British) execution of Quick Draw with the “book-smart” college graduate coming into a band of “street-smart” country folk with a dash of Python-esque humor sprinkled on top.

The series hasn’t aired yet in America, but has already been picked up for a second (hopefully longer) season. Don’t miss out on the premiere next month on the Ovation network.

  • Rating: “Hooked.”
  • Comment: A Young Doctor’s Notebook won me over very quickly, despite the fact that I walked into the series not knowing it was a comedy.
  • You might like A Young Doctor’s Notebook if you like: dark, comedic dramas; Quick Draw, if it were British and, well, better; Monty Python.

A Young Doctor’s Notebook will have its American premiere on October 2nd, 2013 on Ovation.

About Daniel

I'm a guy who spends way too much time playing board games and watching television with his friends. View all posts by Daniel

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