The Flying Doctors: Series 1, Volume 1 Review
When last we were in Cooper's Crossing - earlier today but slightly longer in television time - Dr Harry Sinclair was tearfully saying farewell both to the town and to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Almost everyone had, after much persuasion, taken to Tom Callaghan (Andrew McFarlane), although the one Cooper's Crossing-ite that he really wanted to spend time with, Liz, was last seen in a snowy New York trying hard to forget about her flying doctor. Clearly, his profession got the better of his romantic life. He didn't look particularly happy about that, mind you.
As this first series opens, there's a lot of unfinished business. Violet (Pat Evison), the town gossip, says as much, sitting at the bar, watching Tom Callaghan and saying to anyone who'll listen that she wishes he would forget about that American girl. And very soon he does, particularly as the locals have something new to be outraged about and that's the arrival of a new doctor, Chris Randall (Liz Burch), who surprises everyone by being a woman. If you consider how long they took to get used to Tom Callaghan, who was young but was at least a man, another ice age could come and go before the cowboys in the outback take to her. Violet isn't sure at all. She hopes that Kate Wellings (Lenore Smith) will act as chaperone between the two of them, thereby avoiding any, as Michaleen Flynn would have put it, patty fingers!
As much as the arrival of out-of-towner Chris Randall is the backbone of these episodes, thereby acting as a reprise of the coming of Tom Callaghan in the mini-series, there are still the incidental stories to keep the flying doctors ticking over. Like Casualty, there are often two separate incidents, one of which often serves to endear Randall to the people of Cooper's Crossing. Although this does go spectacularly wrong in the first episode on this set, Will To Survive. With Tom treating one patient in the hospital, and trying to reunite him with his sons, Chris flies out to a ranch in the outback and to Jim Spenser, a patient with a badly injured leg. But when the pilot looks out and says, "The bloody storm...it's closing in!", she must amputate the patient's leg on a snooker table. Which, sadly, isn't something that you'll ever see happen in Sheffield on a Sunday night.
As Chris finds out in Trial By Gossip, this doesn't go down well. George Baxter advocates for Jim Spenser and sues for malpractice while Chris is shunned by the locals. Even the kids run away from her saying that, if she should catch them, she chop off their legs. And then she finds herself on board the plane with a young girl who requires an emergency tracheotomy before the plane can reach Cooper's Crossing. Her mother pleads with Chris not to operate, perhaps fearing that she might lose a limb or two in the course of the operation, but Tom not only talks her through it but also convinces Baxter to allow her to continue practicing in the town.
Of course, this is not so very different from Tom Callaghan, the little girl and the hornet sting in the mini-series. As happened then, this series soon settles down into romance, drama and comedy with Ron the Roughneck (Mark Little). Hints of romance bounce around the main cast members with the producers unsure, at this stage, who to put with whom. It looks as though Kate and Tom might be an item while Chris and handsome new pilot David 'Gibbo' Gibson (Lewis Fitz-Gerald) share meaningful looks. Tom and Chris set tongues wagging when they arrive together at a party in the town dressed as Anthony and Cleopatra. There's yet more drama when an English family become stranded in the outback and are clearly unprepared for the hot sun and lack of water. But rather than a Walkabout-styled journey into adulthood, the dad puts on a comedy knotted handkerchief to protect himself from the sun while the kids indulge in a wouldn't-get-away-with-it-now bit of poking at a lizard with sticks.
Later in the series, garage owner Hurtle gets a snake bite, old-timer Rabbit is critically injured when the mine he's working in collapses and cars overturn. There's trouble for Gibbo when he's accused of carrying on an affair with bar-owner Sharon and for George Baxter when he discovers some ancient Aboriginal artwork on his land at the same time as a civil rights campaigner arrives in town. And through all this, a couple of Old Codgers (Frank Ottenson and Herb Krause), who are listed as such in the end credits, provide a Greek chorus on events and Ron falls out with his best mate, dons an ill-fitting suit to apply for a bank loan to buy a garage, steals Gibbo's car for a joyride in the outback and has a punch-up in the bar.
And that's it for this part of the first series. Oddly, the complete series 1 has come out in the meantime, which I am assuming holds not only these two discs but five more besides and costs only double what this one does. This one seems like very poor value besides that offer. Otherwise, I can imagine that the rest of the series carries on this vein, with a crisis or two in each episode, the locals grumbling at Tom Callaghan's city ways and Ron the Roughneck doing something daft with the promise of easy money. There's some settling down of the romances although reading ahead, it does seem odd that Kate and Baxter become romantically involved given that she's a typically caring nurse and he's the town bastard. That's just the kind of unlikely thing that's common in soaps and shows that no matter the best efforts of the show to publicise the RFDS, it's a silly drama at heart. Still much more glamorous than Casualty, mind you, which does much the same thing from the drabness of a British A&E.
If anything, this is even worse than the mini-series. There are times when the picture breaks down into a blocky mess during which, if you cared to do so, you could spot the individual squares as the picture desperately tries to fix itself. But that's not all. The picture is also so soft as to be fuzzy and the source prints are in bad shape with visible dirt, scratches and spots. There's also an odd effect in which the corners of the screen are framed as though from the point of view of a sick patient, as though distancing the action. This effect is used as such in a couple of episodes, but then appears entirely at random throughout these six episodes.
The sound isn't very much better. Not only is it so very slightly out of sync with the picture - not massively so but still noticeable if you watch it carefully - but it also sounds over-compressed and a touch too sharp to listen to. There are no subtitles.
The bonus material on this disc includes an Interview with Andrew McFarlane (8m02s), which seems to have been produced fairly recently, and sees him talk about the making of the show as well as the flying doctor service. One good thing he talks about is the funding of the RFDS - it's not financed as a government service - and how overseas fans of the show actually contribute to the RFDS budget. There is also a Blooper Reel (24m15s) and a Short Film on the RFDS (10m11s), which looks as though it was made in the last few years and which is in widescreen.