Last Night’s TV – Casualty 1909


Watching Casualty 1909 last night, I had to marvel at just how much can be wrung from one show by way of spin-offs before someone, somewhere says, “Ok, enough, we’ve killed it.”

This show reminded me a bit of the historical dramas we used to watch in school as part of our history lessons. It contained a great deal of factual stuff, as backed up by the pop up messages reiterating that the show was based on historical testimony and artefacts. Well, let’s face it, if it says it’s true in captions, then it must be…

Basically, it had all the ingredients of the modern day hospital setting, just launched a hundred years back in time. There was the baddie doctor who was high as a kite on cocaine most of the time, the goodie doctor who genuinely tried his best – and his love interest in the shape of a nurse who boldly invited him on outing on an omnibus, clearly a wanton woman if ever I’ve seen one – and the domineering matron in the form of Cherie Lunghi.

Add to that a few minging close-ups of surgical procedures carried out with flagrant disregard for the patient, catheters the size of brooms and acknowledgement of the fact that Gonorrhoea left unchecked stinks, it forced upon us rather hurriedly a gazillion historical facts pertaining to pre-NHS times but it was at the expense of the storylines.

For instance, there was a potentially interesting and historical social commentary about childhood prostitution that unfortunately got lost in the bigger picture, as did many of the character’s stories.

That said, it was highly amusing in parts; there was an argument over whether amputation to cure a case of warts was justified, an apprentice chemist who “bled” a salesman rather too enthusiastically and a trainee nurse who, when asked to insert a catheter showed some reluctance, only to be yelled at by the bombastic Mr Dean who scolded, “For heaven’s sake girl it’s a male member, it’s not a cobra!”

And the vocabulary of the day was quite interesting too. Where today we might hear shouts of “Chem 7, stat, and get me a full tox screen!” in the A&E – or ‘receiving room’ as it was apparently called in those days – we heard instead, “Swabs and cyanide wool in the cavity please Sister.” *Shudders*

Overall, if, like me, you love period drama and you love medical shows, in theory, you should’ve liked this and while it was tolerable, as I mentioned earlier, I felt I was being given a history lesson rather than being entertained. The actors didn’t really get much of a chance to shine either, given that they were busy cramming in as many factoids as was humanly possible, so they were wasted really. It would’ve been just the same end result if they’d had total unknowns playing the lead roles.

I can’t condemn it entirely though; it was a fun watch in many ways and after it, I at least felt rather glad I wasn’t around to need of medical treatment in those days. However, that said, it then occurred to me that the medical dilemmas and problems of 1909 weren’t all that different to today’s – there were icky and gross infections around then as there are today, there are still incompetent/junkie medical staff killing people off and there are still political intrigues on every ward… If you take Casualty and Holby City as a verbatim yardstick of modern day medicine anyway!

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.