Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

Doctors Austen week, 2013 BBC series (Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge: October)

on October 31, 2013

pride-prejudice-bicentenary-challenge-2013-x-200Wow, this was confusing!  First I read that there’s a whole week of Austen-related specials on Doctors.  I watch two of them (Austenland: Part 1 and 2) and judge by the preview of the supposed third episode (Charlotte’s Web) that it has nothing to do with Austen and that in fact it was just a two-part special.  Before I get round to reviewing it, we find a letter in the following week’s Radio Times discussing the Austen-inspired episodes on “14-18 October” and realise that I need to watch the rest after all.  In fact, it turns out that there are six in all – seven, if you count the episode in which the main, stand-alone story hasn’t anything to do with Austen (that I could spot) but the ongoing story arc does – spilling over into the start of the following week.


For a summary of the series as a whole, see my previous post.

The background to the specials is that there is to be a Jane Austen exhibition held somewhere in the locality, which one of the regular cast is encouraging others to attend.  Also ongoing seems to be a sponsored read they are taking part in to raise money for charity.  Some of the characters who have never read any Austen are being sponsored to get through one book, but must pay the money themselves if they fail in the attempt.

Plot summaries and comments

Austenland: Part 1 and 2

The two Austenland episodes (nothing to do with Shannon Hale’s novel of the same title) seemed distinct from the rest of the series, except for a few references to the sponsored read and a shot of the poster advertising the launch of the exhibition.  The story concerned a girl in her late teens or early twenties who had been the victim of a mugging some time before and was now selectively mute, choosing to carry around a computer tablet on which to write any communication.  She was shown with her head in an Austen novel from the outset.  I felt that the design of her costume was very clever as she looked quite Regency in style whilst wearing modern day clothing – a long dress with a high waist and a cropped denim jacket with a very Spencer jacket look to it.  Unfortunately this was about the only thing I did like, and to be honest if I hadn’t decided to review the episodes (and that I wouldn’t have time left this month to listen to the audio version of Longbourn) I’d have stopped watching after the first one.  The girl, whose name is Lizzie, visits the the GP for a reason that now escapes me, although it can’t be connected to her trauma problem as the doctor quizzes her about why she hasn’t been attending her counselling appointments.  The girl becomes even less communicative but it’s clear she doesn’t want to belong to our world, but to retreat into the society of Austen’s novels.  She falls suddenly unconscious and begins to dream a strange version of Pride and Prejudice in which she is Lizzy Bennet and other characters from the book are played by characters she has met around the surgery.  She has clearly developed a crush on one of the doctors and casts him in the role of Darcy, whilst a practice nurse plays Lydia (the only other sister present) and a receptionist plays Mrs Bennet.  Before long Mr Collins appears on the scene (played by one of the nicest doctors – I felt a bit sorry that he had to have such a ghastly part but he did it very well!), along with – inexplicably – Frank Churchill and General Tilney.  Despite her confusion over where these characters have come from, she’s enjoying herself and goes out, only to find herself at the picnic scene from Emma.  Mr Woodhouse and Miss Bates are there, and Lizzie insults Miss Bates in the way Emma does.  Embarrassed, she leaves the party and finds Mr Darcy, who scolds her.  She returns to the house and discovers she’s now at Northanger and must endure a terrifying night during a storm.  From then on things deteriorate further – she’s discomfited by Mr Collins’ lecherous looks as he proposes and won’t take no for an answer, she’s alarmed by the violence Darcy shows when he rescues Lydia from a gypsy and she’s horrified when she discovers Darcy and Caroline Bingley in a passionate embrace in the gardens.  Everything is going wrong, and she’s confused because it’s a world of her own creation.  The doctor finally succeeds in wakening her and she is now able to speak.  She agrees to return to her appointments to help herself reintegrate into real life, but by the time she has got through the very busy reception area she’s obviously having second thoughts and as she leaves she spots a man who’ll make a perfect Captain Wentworth…

I really wasn’t sure what to make of those two episodes.  There didn’t seem to be any clear message in them and it looked rather like the cast had all had the chance to pick an Austen character they wanted to be and a story had been woven around that.  I thought they all did very well in their characters but the whole thing didn’t hang together very well, the doctors were unable to help the patient and the status quo was restored by the end of the episodes.

Charlotte’s Web

The other episodes focused on one book each.  Charlotte’s Web was a modern take on the story of Charlotte Lucas.  I think I found this the most interesting.  It investigated the idea of marrying for money and security, but the main difference was that the modern-day Charlotte seemed to be doing this out of laziness and a disinclination to work, rather than the need for protection that a Regency woman would have had.  However, it examined the effects on her other relationships, including with a close male friend who obviously has feelings for her, and raised the question over whether, like Austen’s Charlotte, she would sacrifice as much as she gained in the marriage.

Northanger Bungalow(!)

This covered the story of Catriona Morbrook, a teenager living with her recently separated mother, and obsessed with horror films and zombies.  She becomes convinced that the previous occupant of her home had murdered his wife.  Whilst searching the loft for evidence she believes she sees her own mother who has now become a zombie.  It turns out to be a type of epilepsy, but whilst it was a good way of updating the story, I was unimpressed with the hallucinations and the very casual treatment of apparent mental illness (similar to the Austenland episodes).


This episode was a reworking of Emma in which a young girl from a council estate becomes frustrated that she can’t be as in control of her friends’ lives and events around her as she would like.  It turns out that this is her reaction to the discovery that she has rheumatoid arthritis and her fear that this will stop her dancing, which she wants to pursue as a career.  I quite liked this story apart from its rather laboured use of signs such as “Hartfield Estate” and “Randalls Park”, in case we couldn’t work out the connection!


This was the story of a man who’s celebrating his five years clear of cancer.  As he arrives at the health centre to invite the staff to his party he bumps into his former boyfriend, who disappeared overseas during his illness with little explanation.  The staff work together to uncover the cause of the split (the mother of the recovered cancer patient who had in fact given the impression in an email that her son was dead!) and reunite the pair.  Although this was a little predictable at times, it was probably the best updating of one of the stories and I also liked the title, which was enough to give a clue to the source novel but also describe the focus of the medical storyline.

Background story

Running throughout the latter four episodes, and continuing into the subsequent, non-Austen, episodes, was the ongoing story of a mother and daughter who were opening a beauty salon locally.  It quickly became clear that this was a Pride and Prejudice idea, the twist being that the mother was both Mrs Bennet and Jane.  They turn up at the health centre to register and Gloria, the mother, quickly becomes convinced that Kevin, a young GP, will be the perfect partner for her daughter Sigourney.  Sigourney, however, is unconvinced that she’s in need of a man and has a low opinion of the medical profession.  Gloria falls for an older doctor, Heston, who’s quite flattered by her attentions, but Kevin convinces him Gloria’s a gold-digger and he’d be better off steering clear.  At the launch of the Jane Austen exhibition Kevin becomes keener on Sigourney and “rescues” her from the attentions of her landlord who’s also the security guard at the health centre (in fact, this was one of the most poorly attended launches I’ve ever seen, since everbody there, but for Gloria and Sigourney, was a staff member of the health centre!)  Next day, Barry the security guard turns up at the salon to mend a leak and takes the opportunity to impart some information about Kevin’s past (it’s all true – I knew just enough about the history of the programme to know that! – but slanted to make Kevin look bad).  Kevin turns up later and tries to ask Sigourney out, but she throws it all in his face, along with the accusation that he split up Heston and her mum.  Before he can leave, the leak – which Barry had repaired badly so he’d have to come back again – bursts and Kevin comes to the rescue.  He defends himself against Barry’s rumours and then storms off.  Later, however, he encourages Heston to think again about Gloria and finally Sigourney turns up in the health centre car park and kisses Kevin.


My thoughts on the short series are that the on-going story was well thought through, although I’d imagine the more familiar you are with the series and the characters, the more you would get out of it.  There was another storyline in which Emma, a doctor, and Howard, the practice manager, were seen separately on several occasions reading Persuasion for the sponsored read, usually with the other’s voice heard as a voice-over reading the passage from the book.  I assume they have had a previous relationship a long time ago but I don’t know this as the last time I watched it, Emma had not yet arrived.  If I were a regular viewer, no doubt those scenes would be more meaningful to me.

I didn’t feel that the individual stories worked very well, however.  Because there was no time to develop the guest characters, a very broad-brush approach had to be used in order to establish their personality as well as make the link between the episode and the source book.  This led to the issues I’ve already highlighted surrounding mental illness, along with the fact that everything felt rushed and forced.  And why no Mansfield Park or Sense and Sensibility episode?

Overall I was disappointed; when I was still a regular viewer I saw a short series of Shakespeare-themed episodes which were much better constructed.  The stories were developed over several days, making them more believable and involving, and nobody had to dress up in period costume! In addition, much of the action took place on location in Stratford-on-Avon itself, which made it seem more of a special event.  A shame the Austen season didn’t achieve as much.

My November review will definitely be of Jo Baker’s Longbourn (audiobook).

Thankful for…

  • An enjoyable (if brief) trip to Kent to visit friends and relatives
  • Surviving the storm whilst we were there, with no damage to property or person
  • Ann Voskamp’s recent series on Missing Jesus, which I’ve found encouraging reading
  • The chance to spend time with my parents, who arrive today
  • The decisions over the Bookworm’s high school applications finally completed

What do you think? Let me know!

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