Magazine article The Spectator

Television: James Walton

Magazine article The Spectator

Television: James Walton

Article excerpt

Sky1's new hospital drama Critical (Tuesday) can't be accused of making a timid start. Within seconds, an urgent request had come over the loudspeaker system for 'the trauma corps' to head to the emergency department, causing the main members of the cast to sprint down various corridors at impressive speed. Meanwhile, a patient was briskly wheeled to the same department from a helicopter on the roof, pausing only to cough up blood all over the lift. Moments after that, the trauma corps were already exchanging the kind of rapid-fire medical speak -- 'Dullness to percussion on the left side!'-- that most viewers mightn't entirely comprehend but that clearly translates as variations on the phrase, 'Uh-oh'. (I did, mind you, understand the sentence, 'Is this anyone's Twix?')

And, as it turned out, things didn't slow down from there -- because Critical takes place in real time, with each episode concentrating on the apparently crucial first hour that follows a serious trauma victim's arrival in hospital. The result on Monday was like a highly accelerated version of House , with the doctors having to work out what was making the patient (I'm pretty sure) go into VF just as he was supposed to have CT.

That it was also miraculously assured for an opening episode might have been more surprising if the series weren't written by Jed Mercurio. A former doctor himself, Mercurio made his considerable TV name with Cardiac Arrest and Bodies , both much praised for their realistic -- i.e. deeply alarming -- depiction of medical life. (He went on to do the same with police life in Line of Duty .)

In fact, as Mercurio medics go, the team in Critical radiate an unusual degree of competence and concern. But they're also up against NHS bureaucracy and the sort of hospital politics that saw their leader suspended halfway through, leaving young Fiona Lomos (Catherine Walker) to take all the big, grisly decisions in a brilliantly tense climax.

Along the way, too, Mercurio somehow found time to introduce a richly promising range of characters. Among them is Dr Angharad 'Harry' Bennett-Edwards (Kimberley Nixon), whose status as the newbie duly makes her the viewers' representative -- which in this case means that, while she might not always know precisely what's going on, she's definitely thrilled to be there.

Now, a documentary about trains mightn't sound a huge departure for BBC4, but, given the target audience, Timeshift: The Nation's Railway did start with a bravely unexpected claim -- that steam wasn't all it's cracked up to be. …

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