08 February 2023

Dr. Blake

Now that Doug Henshall is leaving Shetland, the show can’t go on in his absence, and I’ve been pressed to find a new enthusiasm.  Bosch is terrific, of course, but the one thing it ain’t is cozy.  Enter Doctor Blake, an Aussie show available on Amazon Prime.

Let’s admit that we find formulas comfortable. Sometimes they show their age – I’m fond of Death in Paradise, but it’s worn a little threadbare, and I’m glad to see them adjust the seasoning without spoiling the recipe.  Doctor Blake is generic in the right proportion, a little like Brokenwood, or The Coroner, familiar in its conventions and yet original in setting and detail. 

Australia in the late 1950’s and early ‘60’s reminds us a little of the States in and around the same time, the sense of restless change against a backdrop of social inertia, rock’n’roll and TV, and racial tensions, the Cold War – and the recent world war still casting a shadow.  Lucien Blake is an Army war vet, who served on the Malay Peninsula and was captured by the Japanese.  A doctor now, he’s come back to his hometown, outside of Melbourne, and taken over his late father’s practice, both as a neighborhood GP and as the consulting police surgeon.  And as you’d expect, he very often finds himself ruling a death suspicious when it might go down easier as accident or misadventure, the local cops not always happy with his findings.

So much for formula.  There’s also a fair amount of charm, and equally, disquiet.  The fabric of the town, both public and private, is sinuous and misleading.  And the backstory comes out in skittery, unexpected ways – not simply that things aren’t what they seem, but that flat characters can become suddenly round.  Lucien himself proves unsettled and ill at ease; he’s not sure he should be playing the part. 

One of the things that makes it work for me is that I don’t know any of the actors.  When you watch American or Brit television, you’re like, Oh, yeah, I remember her from Downton Abbey, or Ripper Street, or whatever.  I’m sure these people are well-known Down Under, but they’re all new to me.  In other words, I don’t have any preconceptions, because I don’t associate them with other parts.  It’s kind of liberating, that they don’t bring extra baggage.

The writing is very sharp, the characters given a lot of air, and you have a sense of breathing room, although the structure is necessarily tight: they are mysteries.  At the same time, you feel it’s a lived-in place. 

I think what I like about it, and I’m now into the third season, is that there’s definitely a comfort zone, we like these people, but there’s still something a little off to one side, only glimpsed.  We turn our heads, as if to catch it, and it slips away. 


  1. I agree a good show and the good doctor's backstory- which becomes more important in the later series- is dramatic and a corner of history less familiar to American viewers

  2. Thanks for the recommendation - I'll put it on my list and give it a try!

  3. GREAT show. Craig McLachlan (Dr. Blake) is a terrific actor who, in look and bearing, calls to mind Frasier Crane, if he had more hair and had a medical practice that lent itself to investigating murder mysteries. A shame the series went on hiatus in 2018 (McLachlan had "Me Too" legal issues) and hasn't returned.

  4. They did a pilot/sequel with Nadine Garner as Jean, but it hasn't been picked up.
    Three actresses who worked with MacLachlan in a 2014 stage production of ROCKY HORROR filed against him for inappropriate behavior. He denied it and counter-sued. The case ended in an acquittal, and MacLachlan dropped his own suit. The magistrate's ruling seems ambiguous, at best. There appears to have been a slap-and-tickle atmosphere prevalent during the show, and nobody can establish with any certainty whether this was consensual, or life imitating art, or actionable harassment. An unsatisfying result, all around.

  5. Sounds like my cup of tea, so to speak, and I certainly enjoyed Miss Fisher. I'm back to no television right now, so I have to wait.

    I found rapid recycling of 1970s big-hair actors particularly annoying, especially when one might appear as a good guy and three episodes later a bad guy. It happened in the movies, too, particularly anything Clint Eastwood worked on. Meanwhile, hundreds of wannabees fresh out of drama school would have loved a shot to get a few acting credits on their résumé.


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