A Young Doctors Notebook (2012) – Most successful actors tend to have vanity or side projects, but it’s always a pleasant surprise when they end up being kind of interesting. A Young Doctor’s Notebook is a rather deadpan and somewhat macabre slice storytelling that manages to fit the bill for two actors who want to be known for more than their career defining roles.
Adapted from the autobiographical works of Russian author and playwright Mikhail Bulgakov, A Young Doctor’s Notebook takes us to 1917 Russia on the brink of the revolution where a young doctor (Daniel Radcliffe) arrives in the middle of the night, freshly graduated from medical school to lead a hospital that is as he even puts it is a good day’s ride away from the middle of absolute nowhere in a backwoods hospital that is just as eerie as it is understaffed. He’s completely unprepared for the bizarre town folk and alarming medical maladies that he comes across on a daily basis. In an unexpected turn of events he turns to his older self (Jon Hamm) for advice on how to navigate the murky waters ahead not quite knowing that his senior version has more than enough problems of his own, stemming from his time in the same hospital.
While I am the first to admit that this is a little off center for what both of these men usually do, and it’s hard to initially believe that Hamm could be the older version of Redcliffe, there’s a certain sense of effortless class. It’s can bounce seamlessly between humour, tragedy, and some gorier, more macabre elements while still feeling like the same show.
With a tone that could best be described as literary and deliberate even within those wild emotional parameters, this show is the kind of thing that’s only for very distinct tastes. Much of it plays like a rough draft of a Terry Gilliam film that’s still trying to figure out what it wants to be. If you’re in the right frame of mind it’s fun, dark and a little gonzo, maybe not enough to be a sure fire winner, but it does more than enough to peak anyone’s interest thanks to the strong work from the two leads.
Once you overlook Hamm’s terrible Russian accent or eventual lack thereof once he stops trying, the chemistry between Hamm and is pretty entertaining to watch unfold. Radcliffe plays his character as fresh faced, yet ultimately corruptible. He makes it fun to watch him unravel in a go-nowhere, backward community that’s slowly driving him mad. On the other side of that coin, Hamm plays the elder doctor with a world weary and broken charm. Both men work splendidly together as one tries to warn the other of the sins that he is about to commit.
It’s not for everyone, but it’s great if you want to see two highly skilled actors getting to try something a little out of their comfort zone. I can’t wait to see what the second series, A Young Doctor’s Notebook & Other Stories has in store for us even if this one can be a bit shaky at times.
Special features on the DVD include a brief behind the scenes look at the making of the show. (Dave Voigt)