An investigation into gender inequality in the workplace? Hardly, says Lorraine Smith

, 20 December 2003

I wouldn’t normally stray into ITV1 territory unless it was time for my weekly dose of televisual pop (aka CD:UK) but, on scouring the TV pages of the local paper on this particular occasion, I thought they might have actually come up with a great idea for a one-off drama. The newspaper had a small feature on the programme that caught my eye with its description; “Chris Singleton is a high-flying surgeon. His girlfriend, Charlotte Woods, is a doctor working as a medical teacher. Both are equally talented but not getting even career breaks, which Charlotte puts down to her sex”. What an exciting idea! An investigation into gender inequality in the workplace, albeit in the form of drama, on prime time television – this, I could not miss.

Unfortunately, I wish I had missed it. The very fact that it wasn’t on BBC2 or Channel 4 should have set off alarm bells as to the nature of the show, but nothing could have prepared me for what was to follow. In case you were doing something more productive in the two hours when this was shown, let me give you the gist of the story. As mentioned above, Chris is a surgeon and Charlotte is teaching medicine. Charlotte wants to be a consultant but is forever being overlooked when vacancies arise and her male colleagues get given all the chances. After being told to concentrate on teaching and starting a family, and then discovering that Chris is having his way with one of the junior doctors, Charlotte decides to move to Manchester and pose as Chris in order to take on his new job.

This is where it all begins to go wrong for me as I’d thought that she would be taking on the male role to prove that she had the same skills and could do the job just as well, but instead she seemed more intent on doing it to get revenge on her cheating partner. To add insult to injury, the actress chosen for the part is ‘Cutting It’ star, Sarah Parish, who is not remotely masculine (or even androgynous) and proceeds to look precisely like a pretty woman without make-up once she is in her scrubs and ready for surgery. No one in their right mind would believe she was a bloke, but I suppose in real life most Brits would be far too polite to mention it. What would definitely not go unnoticed, however, is Marc Warren as her boyfriend dressing up as a woman to prove that he understood what it was like to be in her shoes. My father hit the nail squarely on the head when he said the actor reminded him of Dick Emery. The thing is, Dick Emery’s female characters were supposed to be funny and quite unbelievable.

The show opened promisingly enough with Charlotte giving a lecture to medical students and telling them that it is a man’s world where, to succeed, a woman must be better than a man. The sentiments were good but the delivery, along with the 1960s rom-com-style credits, added a rather large topping of fromage so as not to frighten off the more old-fashioned (and male?) viewers. The style and the choice of music did little to detract from the shortcomings of the programme overall and it often seemed rather too light-hearted for the subject matter it tackled. A woman being harassed by her love-sick boss and an ‘efficient’ consultant sending women for unnecessary hysterectomies is not the sort of thing I’d like to see in a 2003 version of ‘Carry On Doctor’.

A femme fatale character who screws up the whole plan simply because she’s a bitch is exactly the sort of thing I thought I’d see in such a programme and for a while I thought I wasn’t going to be disappointed, right up until the end where said character drops Tony Head’s evil consultant in hot water rather than our two cross-dressing ‘heroes’. Judith was actually the one interesting character in the whole thing because of this slight lack of predictability, but the rest of the script was filled with clichés, bad jokes and poor characterisation. The programme was listed as drama but appeared to be a comedy without the laughs.

The costumes were poor, the make-up was awful, the mannerisms were extremely badly executed and the chemistry between the two main characters was simply non-existent. If this hadn’t had some sort of serious message in it, which was trying desperately to come to the surface, I wouldn’t have bothered with more than the first twenty minutes. I can only hope that someone saw the potential here and will try again. If I wanted hospital-based comedy, I’d be watching the far superior ‘Scrubs’.

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