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The Flying Doctors
cast: Andrew McFarlane, Lorna Patterson, Keith Eden, and Vikki Hammond

director: Pino Amenta

204 minutes (PG) 1984
Mediumrare / Fremantle DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens
Dr Tom Callaghan (Andrew McFarlane) arrives at the outback town of Cooper's Crossing, to take over the royal flying doctor service base there. At first he has the support of the outgoing boss, Harry Sinclair (Keith Eden), but the locals are less welcoming, particularly as a young boy dies on his very first day. Also in the area is a returning local, Beth Drever (Vikki Hammond), who had left to marry a New Yorker, and her daughter Liz (Lorna Patterson). Inevitably a romance begins between Tom and Liz...

This is the original mini-series, broadcast over three nights in 1985. It was such a success that it led to a TV series of 221 episodes (50 or so minutes each, or an hour with commercials) that ran from 1986 to 1993, with several changes of cast members along the way. It's a combination of medical drama and soap that has been a television standby worldwide, with the addition of some fine Victoria locations. Compared to, say, Casualty (first broadcast a year after Flying Doctors, yet still being made), this is somewhat tame, but that may reflect the demands of Australian television as opposed to British.

The latter has always had a tradition of gritty realism, and documentary series such as Your Life In Their Hands had long since proved that the British public had no objection to medical gore, even in a pre-watershed viewing slot. This mini-series fights shy of showing this: when Callaghan has to use a scalpel and a drill in an emergency to relieve a patient's extradural haemorrhage, all this happens off-screen. As the PG certificate indicates, there's very little here that could be shown outside teatime, one exception being the sight of McFarlane's bare backside as he climbs out of bed. (And that's as far as you get for sexual content.)

Over three hours, in a somewhat rambling plot, Callaghan struggles to win Liz (who is not happy in the outback - she misses New York City) and also the trust of the townsfolk. But the outcome isn't really in doubt. It's put together with competence if not much in the way of visual flair, though the overhead landscape shots are very nice indeed. (David Connell's camerawork is over-lit to my tastes, but then this is television, not cinema.)

Fremantle's all-regions DVD release, on the Mediumrare label, has an interlaced transfer in the original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The soundtrack is mono, as you would expect from television of this vintage. Disc extras: the original promo, a blooper reel, and a stills gallery.

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