Judge Victor Valdivia, D.R. is a series about a cantankerous DVD reviewer, canceled during the first commercial break.
Our review of Marcus Welby, M.D.: Season One, published April 26th, 2010, is also available.
The hard-hitting, no-nonsense family practitioner with a heart of gold.
It may not be a pop culture touchstone today, but Marcus Welby, M.D. was one of the most popular series of the '70s. One of the first and longest-lasting medical dramas in TV, it can be seen now as a forerunner to medical dramas that followed in its wake with similar formats. If anything, it's a show that deserves to be better remembered, because despite moments that are hokey or preachy, it's thoughtful enough to stand alongside any TV drama seen today.
Facts of the Case
Dr. Marcus Welby (Robert Young, Father Knows Best) is a general practitioner in Santa Monica, California. Along with his young partner, Dr. Steven Kiley (James Brolin, Hotel), he runs a clinic from his home. Aided by genial nurse Consuela Lopez (Elena Verdugo, Meet Millie), the two solve medical mysteries and problems, sometimes ones that involve themselves. This six-disc set compiles all twenty-four episodes of the second season:
If the storyline for Marcus Welby sounds familiar, it's because it's the same basic storyline followed by countless medical dramas that followed, particularly House, M.D.. The notion of a dedicated doctor and his team trying to diagnose a particular disease or malady, sometimes with only meager clues, is a popular one in TV fiction. That may make Marcus Welby seem a bit old-hat, but it's actually one of the better shows of its ilk. The writing is sometimes surprisingly complex, and not all the endings are easily resolved.
Of course, the key difference between Marcus Welby and Dr. House is that Marcus Welby is meant, for all his bluntness, to be a likable character. Even if he seemed a bit cantankerous at the time, by today's standards, he's basically a cuddly bear. Still, he's also a gifted and dedicated doctor and Young, one of the most skilled TV actors of the era, makes him an instantly gracious protagonist. Brolin is actually the actor who gets more of the dramatic scenes, and he carries them off with skill. In "A Woman's Place," the episode in which he is forced to confront his feelings about his alcoholic father and how they affect his work, he gets some great scenes and delivers them perfectly. Verdugo plays the comic relief role and does so well, but she really isn't given much to do for the most part, and doesn't even appear in several episodes. Nonetheless, the main cast is appealing enough that the show is certainly at least agreeable to watch just for them.
The performances are solid, but it's the writing that really shines. As surprising as it may seem, Marcus Welby is actually realistic and thoughtful, even by today's standards. Some episodes do have happy endings, sure, but many don't, and the depiction of the patients and how they react to their diseases is nuanced. "To Get Through the Night," for instance, concerns a psychologist (Larry Hagman, Dallas) who is diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease, and the episode has no pat resolution. It's a fatal, painful disease, and the real challenge is how he's going to deal with his emotions, not how it can be "fixed." Similarly, in "A Woman's Place," the story of an alcoholic surgeon is handled delicately and carefully. As Marcus Welby points out, there is no pill that magically cures alcoholism and the episode's conclusion is, essentially, that the surgeon is going to have to learn to struggle with alcoholism day by day, not always successfully. Again, though these are self-contained episodes (this isn't a serialized show), they're not necessarily resolved ones. The overall effect, then, is more realistic than you might expect—just like in real life, some problems take a lifetime to solve, and others have no real solutions. Marcus Welby's refusal to settle for cheap happy endings is what makes it more enduring and worthwhile than too many other shows of its era.
"To Carry the Sun in a Golden Cup" is one of the best episodes of the season and represents why Marcus Welby is worthy of respect. The storyline, in which a nurse (Jo Ann Pflug, The Love Boat) is stricken with a hereditary form of sclerosis, would have been well-made if it was just about trying to diagnose her problem. As her symptoms worsen and her life is in danger, the suspense over whether Welby and Kiley can figure out just what's wrong with her is built carefully and convincingly. The real twist, however, comes when the doctors, in the process of trying to nail down a precise diagnosis, uncover some long-buried secrets that will change the lives of the nurse and her family forever. Juxtaposed with this storyline is a B-story about an older woman struggling to have a baby that dovetails perfectly with the main story at the end, resulting in an ending that's emotional and bittersweet. It's episodes like this one that have make Marcus Welby worth seeing even today, some forty years after it originally aired.
Technically, the DVD release is good. The full-screen transfer looks quite sharp, with vivid colors and little to no damage. The stereo soundtrack is also solid, with clearly audible dialogue. There are no extras.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Marcus Welby does sometimes suffer from the flaws common to series of the early '70s. Though the series generally hits the right notes, there are a few moments that are rather preachy, particularly in episodes dealing with social issues. Additionally, the special effects are not great. That's not usually a problem, but there are certain episodes that suffer because of it. In particular, "The Labyrinth," in which Ricardo Montalban (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) plays an anthropologist who develops permanent damage after participating in tribal drug ceremonies, is well-written but not well-executed. The attempt to visualize his hallucinations just looks cheap and silly, and undermines what's actually a genuinely touching episode.
Marcus Welby wasn't the first medical drama, or even the most renowned one. It is, however, an above average one that treats both medicine and its characters with respect. If the dialogue seems a bit preachy at times, and the show's technical aspects can be less than satisfying, the quality of the characterizations and storylines is complex and nuanced enough to be worth watching nonetheless. Fans of House in particular might want to give it a chance, since it's in many ways the spiritual precursor to that show. In any event, it's recommended to any viewers looking for a solid medical drama.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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