REVIEW / A finger on the pulse of the nation's health

I HAD a little fantasy while watching Cardiac Arrest, BBC 1's new medical drama. In it - the fantasy, that is - a Tory backbencher suffers an apoplectic attack as he dictates indignant quotes about the series to a tabloid reporter - 'typical BBC propaganda', 'blatant political bias', that sort of thing. As the ambulancemen lift him on to the stretcher his Bupa card falls, unobserved, behind the sofa and the sound-track gives an ominous little throb. He comes round to find himself half way through an enema, a sleep-walking houseman having misheard 'coronary resuscitation' as 'colonic irrigation'.

It certainly isn't a series for those with an allergic reaction to harsh realities. Despite coincidental endorsement from real life - the death of an overworked young doctor a few weeks ago and the recent row over clinical decisions about elderly patients - some Tories have still come out in bumps simply through contact with the pre-publicity material, so my fantasy may yet come true if they actually trouble themselves to watch it. What they will see is a bleary portrait of life in a National Health Service hospital, not so much warts and all as just the warts.

Dr Andrew Collin, Jesus sticker on his 2CV and eagerness shining in his eyes, embarks on his medical career under the jaundiced supervision of Dr Maitland, whose bedside manner suggests she is the love-child of Dr Kildare and Ruby Wax. At one moment she is yelling baffling initials in classic form ('Mrs Kelly's BP is right down . . . SVT poor output'), the next she is delivering mordant one-liners: 'Forget antibiotics - we should prescribe a pine box,' she snaps when Collin agonises over a man dying of lung cancer.

The visual style is studiously documentary - it looks dreary and underfunded itself, as if everything has been filmed by available light - and when the action turns hectic there's a sense that the camera is getting underfoot, pushed out of the way by blurry shoulders as nurses rush to the scene of the action. But if it captures the feel of the average hospital ward it avoids the tedium, building atmosphere in a series of short scenes which aren't afraid to be elliptical.

Your introduction to young doctors on the job, for example, is a scene in which Dr Rajah wakes to find a nine-pint lovely in bed with him. When she discovers that he's a qualified doctor, not a student, she gives a little air-punch of triumph, a detail which isn't explained by the dialogue, but which you eventually realise tells a little story about promiscuity and sexual hierarchies. By excluding you slightly the script only persuades you the better that you're sneaking a look at something you wouldn't normally see.

Dr Collin is soon disabused of his humanitarian romanticism, harried by his bleeper from crisis to crisis, snowed under by paperwork and hopelessly ill-prepared for working through other people's tragedies. He isn't too impressed with his colleagues' standards either - Rajah uses warm tea to lodge a catheter in place when he runs out of saline solution and Dr Maitland is armoured against personal feeling: 'With that amount of asbestos in his lungs it'll take a couple of weeks,' she observes drily when told that a mesothelioma victim is to be cremated.

All of this absolutely has the feel of real life - the stuff of student gossip and weary experience. But if Cardiac Arrest is to maintain its stamina in the long run (another eight programmes have apparently been commissioned to follow this six-parter), it is actually going to have to make up more and tell the truth less. The virtues of this first episode - its sense of revelation and chaotic accumulation of detail - are available to a talented beginner - they're actually scientific virtues of observation and note-taking. Plotting the narrative of a long-running series is quite another matter. John McUre is still learning - there were some rough gear changes between comedy and issue-drama last night - but in general the prognosis is looking good.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

booksReview: Lena Dunham, Not That Kind of Girl
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments