A Very Peculiar Practice

Finally released its entirety, The Fan Can looks back at the cult 80s comedy-drama.

 

5 stars

 

 

Starring: Peter Davison, David Troughton, Barbara Flynn, Graham Crowden

Out: 10 October

 

Peter Davison in A Very Peculiar Practice

Before Andrew Davies became the master at adapting for television seemingly every major English classic of literature, he was most renowned for penning A Very Peculiar Practice.

 

That was way back in the 1980s, but it's still talked about by those with long memories as an exquisitely crafted satire on the rock-hard politics of that era.

 

At its centre was the sweetly diffident Stephen Daker (Peter Davison), a new boy at the medical practice on the campus of the University of Lowlands.

 

From his first day onwards, we follow both his misadventures and occasional triumphs whilst his decent nature and good intentions are thwarted, mostly by the other doctors: fierce feminist bisexual, Dr Rose Marie; upwardly mobile nutjob, Dr Bob Buzzard; and dipsomaniac old codger, Dr Jock McCannon.

 

The Doctors and nurses in A Very Peculiar Practice

The focus of the first series is a red-brick English university facing the brutal onslaught of the Thatcher revolution, as the academic elite face cuts and the reshaping of an infrastructure they never expected to be altered.

 

By series two the old ways have all but gone: regime change has happened and a full scale Americanisation of this English institution is under way. The medical centre has to adapt to this brave new world, and there are other changes too, as Daker bags a new feisty Polish girlfriend, and Lowlands gets a JFK wannabe for its Vice-Chancellor.

 

Stephen Daker and his girlfriend in A Very Peculiar Practice

Of the two series, the second is by far the stronger. More inter-linked and with a propulsive narrative, it takes the japery of the first series into darker and stranger territory. Davies' talent is in picking the weirdness out of the ordinary and he creates a world full of rich, vivid comic characters, all circling around Daker's ever bemused Everyman.

 

There's much to laugh at in A Very Peculiar Practice, but its second series nails its satirical target more successfully than the first and is, consequently, more dramatically nourishing on top of it.

 

The Doctors in A Very Peculiar Practice

The final episode is brilliantly stark and portentous, impressionistic even, as the madness of Lowlands' Vice-Chancellor reveals itself as the university erupts into rioting and anarchy. Modern students will be able to look at this series and discover where the rot started to set in.

 

That last episode was so conclusively final that its TV movie coda, A Very Polish Practice from 1992, four years after season two breathed its last, seemed rather redundant. It still does. With only Daker and Joanna Kanska's Greta, plus an awkwardly squeezed in Bob Buzzard, present from the original cast, it relocated the series to post-Soviet Poland. But it lacked either the exquisite weirdness or the bruise-black tone of its parent show.

 

A Very Peculiar Practice, a nurse

Twenty-five years on, and with a Thatcherite-flavoured government in charge, A Very Peculiar Practice feels blisteringly contemporary. Only the slightly flat production values of the time dull its power, but they're easily tolerated.

 

As Davies explains on the commentary here, A Very Peculiar Practice only existed because he owed the BBC money and he decided to write his way out of the debt. It's still one of the few completely self-created dramas he's written for television. As good as his literary adaptations are, you can't help wishing he owed the BBC another wadge of cash so as to create something else with his own brilliant voice.

 

Neil Humphries

 

 

 

Trailer here, peeps:

 

 

A Very Peculiar Practice
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