Joshua Jackson as Dr Christopher Duntsch in ’Dr. Death’. Picture: Barbara Nitke/Peacock
Joshua Jackson as Dr Christopher Duntsch in ’Dr. Death’. Picture: Barbara Nitke/Peacock

Joshua Jackson is brilliant in his sinister role in ’Dr. Death’

By Debashine Thangevelo Time of article published Oct 9, 2021

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Viewers love medical dramas like “The Good Doctor”, “Nurses”, “Virgin River” and “New Amsterdam” because they are heartfelt and inspiring. The shows help restore faith in humanity. And that’s how it should be, right?

Well, “Dr. Death” throws a scalpel in the works of that theory.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s no less compelling to watch.

But it follows an unprecedented dark and disturbing narrative, which is based on the true-life events of a Dallas neurosurgeon infamous for gross malpractice – he maimed several patients, killing two of them.

In 2017, Dr Christopher Duntsch was convicted of maiming one of his patients and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The eight-part biographical drama sees Joshua Jackson cast as Duntsch.

The first episode paints an unflattering picture of Duntsch as a narcissistic, arrogant and condescending individual.

His reckless behaviour is a red light for the supporting medical staff. But he is somehow allowed to continue operating on patients.

His unsuccessful surgeries are initially fobbed off as an accepted downside of medical practice.

Watching Duntsch in surgery, operating on patients with the finesse of a grizzly bear, leaves the viewer reeling.

AnnaSophia Robb as Michelle Shughart, Christian Slater as Randell Kirby and Alec Baldwin as Robert Henderson. Picture: Barbara Nitke/Peacock

Dr Randal Kirby (Christian Slater) and Dr Robert Henderson (Alec Baldwin) start looking into Duntsch and his trail of botched surgeries.

They are determined to strip him of his medical licence, but their efforts are stifled by a maze of red tape.

The series also revisits Duntsch’s life as a failed football player at college. He then switched tack and pursued a career in medicine, much to the concern of his physical therapist father.

As a neurosurgeon, he shamelessly brags about his qualifications, especially when he detects some doubt from his patients and their loved ones.

He also has this Jekyll and Hyde personality – he’s charming when convincing them to go with him for their surgery and becomes aggressive and rude when they hesitate or enquire about other options.

Jackson, who is one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, is brilliant in his depiction. He slips into the skin of his psychopathic character with aplomb.

Watching him spiral out of control is unsettling, more so when he steps up his surgical procedures.

What’s even more disturbing is that he doesn’t follow proper hygiene practices – he wears the same scrubs to several surgeries.

In his interview with Variety, Jackson, who was last seen in The Affair, said: “He has all of the book knowledge and he is actually a very, very, very intelligent man. So, he’s capable of deluding himself and fooling other people.

“When you look at his surgical attack — what he said he wanted to do — it’s exactly perfect. He knew exactly where he wanted to be, how he wanted to do it, what he wanted the practice and the outcome to be.

“It’s just that when he got to the practical application because he hadn’t done that work — he’d been allowed to escape doing that work — he didn’t have the actual skills to apply that.”

Of course, rather than concede to not knowing what he is doing, he continues with one disastrous outcome followed by another. Hippocratic Oath be damned.

Duntsch was also suspected of being under the influence of drugs. Those who knew him felt strongly about his incompetence and one even said he would never allow Duntsch to operate on him.

The series follows Duntsch dodging accountability and even moving to Texas, where he set up a private practice and is recruited by one of the leading hospitals there.

Meanwhile, Henderson and Kerby are unrelenting in making him pay for his crimes and they eventually get the full backing of ADA Michelle Shughart (AnnaSophia Robb).

“Dr. Death” is a harrowing tale but you just can’t look away.

“Dr. Death” airs on M-Net (DStv channel 101) on Tuesdays at 10.30pm.

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