Quacks, BBC2

The middle of August is probably not the normal time to launch a new sitcom, but then Quacks is not a normal sitcom. It is a medical sitcom set in Victorian times when surgery was a messy, bloody business but some pioneers were making major breakthroughs as well as painful mistakes.

Our mavericks in question are played by Mathew Baynton as a fledgling psychiatrist William, Rory Kinnear as arrogant showman surgeon Robert and Tom Basden as hedonistic dentist turned anaesthetist John. They are joined by Lydia Leonard as headstrong social campaigner Caroline. 

That’s the main cast, now where are the jokes? Quacks was created by James Wood, who wrote the brilliant and quite subtle Rev. This is even more subtle than that. Maybe the first episode is more of a scene-setter but the gags are thin on the ground as we watch the quartet establish their characters. If you like gory gallows humour you might get some fun out of watching Kinnear attempt to break the land speed record for slicing a leg off while smoking a fag.

The series certain looks good, with scenes set in parlours, asylums and, most impressively, an operating theatre where punters come to watch as if they are watching a new play and reporters take notes as if they are critics. Maybe that’s why it’s called a theatre. And I should say that I did like Rupert Everett’s grandly anti-semitic Dr Hendrick advising a woman suffering from cystitis to rub a baked potato on the problematic region.

And with a cast like this the performances, played almost totally straight, are never going to disappoint. Maybe I was just hoping for something with more laughs. While watching Quacks it made me think that this setting would have been perfect for a Victorian Blackadder series. I wonder if Wood had Blackadder in mind when he was writing Quacks and was worried that if it was too broad it would be too similar. Anyway, I’m not going to duck out of Quacks after one episode – Sherlock’s Andrew Scott is due to pitch up later – but please don’t come to me asking where the laughs are. I didn’t spot them either.

Quacks, Tuesdays from August 15, 10pm, BBC2. The whole series will be available as a box set on BBC iPlayer after the first episode has aired.

Read interviews with the cast here.

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