Got the end-of-summer blues? Take a dose of Doctors, the best show on telly | Kathryn Hearn

Doctors is a daytime TV institution, and for us devotees, it’s been a long summer while it’s been off air. Thank God it’s back

The first Monday of September signals the end of the summer and throws a bucket of cold misery squarely in your face. It’s back to school and back to work with shorter days, more crowded commutes and the sunniest days behind us. But there is one redeeming feature on the horizon – the return of Doctors.

This lunchtime soap opera is simply the best thing on TV. Devout fans like me have been champing at the bit all summer while the show was taken off air to make room for sports tosh like Wimbledon and some football tournament involving a man in a waistcoat. But finally, today, at 1.45pm on BBC One, our friends at Letherbridge’s Mill Health Centre will open their doors again.

The first thing to love about Doctors is that … it isn’t about doctors at all. Yes, the show revolves around a “busy Midlands practice”, but you won’t find any “scalpel please” Holby City moments. Instead you’ll discover a kaleidoscope of rich, three-dimensional characters, and storylines taken from real life, ranging from the dramatic, such as the smashing of a paedophile ring, to the hilarious – normally involving the eccentric receptionist Valerie.

How does this soap earn its place as the best in the world? To start with, the writers are on the ball. They have tackled big issues such as immigration and under-age sex by bringing these down to an individual’s story and dealing with them in sensitive and insightful ways. The show took on an emotional upskirting plot long before a Tory MP got the chance to vote against the making it a criminal offence. There were special weeks on mental health and homelessness, based on real-life tales. But surprisingly there have also been weeks with programmes themed around Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, – even a Waiting for Godot parody (Waiting for Gordon).

BBC Doctors’ Bollywood proposal

Another joy of Doctors is its lunchtime transmission, allowing for a 30-minute sneaky sit-down or the start of a full-on afternoon sofa veg-out. But for most of the stalwart devotees, it’s recorded daily to be devoured later before being discussed and dissected in a fan group (who is behind Tark’s hit-and-run murder? Is the rumour of another death founded? And – since 27 June – how many more sleeps until the show returns?).

Unlike most other soaps, every episode can be enjoyed as a standalone without having to know the ins-and-outs of the pub’s landlady’s pet dog’s cousin. And also unlike other soaps, the characters look ordinary – and that’s a good thing. They’re not all lipstick and Lycra. Their homes and lifestyles are realistic. They even wear the same clothes in different episodes.

Of course the show has its faults. Letherbridge seems to be the only place in the UK where patients can rock up and get an appointment to see a GP on the same day; the staff always seem to be able to manage a leisurely lunch break out of the office every day; and the surgery still appears to operate with paper patients’ records.

So why isn’t Doctors more celebrated? Even though it’s been running since March 2000, it always seems to be treated as the bridesmaid, never the bride. Maybe some viewers are switched off by the idea of a daytime show, imagining a lame Doc Martin-style setup, only in Brum. Some people might never have given Doctors a go after being put off soaps by others which seem to often resort to lairy shoutfests. Perhaps people aren’t aware of the show’s humorous side – actor Ian Midlane won the best comedy performance at the British Soap awards this year for his role as Dr Al Haskey. But if you’re still not convinced that the show is the best soap opera yet, give it a watch – in this sad end-of-summer season you might find Doctors is the perfect tonic.

• Kathryn Hearn is an assistant production editor at the Guardian


Kathryn Hearn

The GuardianTramp

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