Judge Clark Douglas doesn't need any dumb medical rulebooks.
Our review of Marcus Welby, M.D.: Season Two, published December 22nd, 2010, is also available.
The original M.D. Show finally comes to DVD!
"I'm here to help."
Facts of the Case
Dr. Marcus Welby (Robert Young, Father Knows Best) is a general practitioner who has a real passion for helping his patients. He's been working tirelessly in his profession for many years, but all that hard work is starting to wear on him. He can no longer handle the strains of his heavy workload, so at the insistence of his colleagues, he decides to hire a younger doctor to help him out. He chooses Dr. Steven Kiley (James Brolin, The Amityville Horror), a strapping young guy who rides to work on a shiny new motorcycle. However, Kiley's medical philosophies aren't nearly as hip: he tends to operate by-the-book in pretty much every situation. This doesn't sit too well with Dr. Welby, whose unconventional methods are often well outside the confines of generally accepted medical practice. Despite their differences, the two manage to work together to help a wide variety of patients in need of their aid.
The two-hour pilot and the 26 regular first-season episodes are spread across seven discs.
The long-running medical drama Marcus Welby, M.D. was simultaneously groundbreaking and familiar when it first hit the airwaves in 1969. Actor Robert Young was quite familiar to television audiences thanks to his popularity as the star of Father Knows Best, and Marcus Welby, M.D. gave him a show that essentially could have been titled Doctor Knows Best. The concept of two people with differing philosophies working together was also a well-worn idea, giving the episodes a familiar patter of two people debating their ideas until either one side won (usually Welby) or the two managed to find some sort of middle ground. Despite these conventions, the show did have a bit of edge at the time.
For one thing, Marcus Welby, M.D. mixed up the expected chemistry by making the older doctor the one who rebelled and broke all the rules and by making the young hunk the square of the show. Despite a few bouts of Cranky Old Man Syndrome, Marcus Welby is a forward-thinking man who consistently proves to be more open-minded than those around him. In addition, the show tackled a wide variety of serious issues in a then-gritty way, honestly approaching subjects like autism, abortion, heroin addiction, and cancer. Though much of this material pales when contrasted with the more graphic frankness of modern medical dramas like House, M.D. (which owes an awful lot to this show), Marcus Welby, M.D. still holds up reasonably well.
This is largely due to the charismatic performance of Robert Young in the title role. Young is more commanding and engaging than he was in Father Knows Best, nobly speechifying his way through some 23 hours of medical drama over the course of this season. He's warm and caring, but generally unwilling to bend to those who try to interfere with his controversial techniques (in some episodes, he unflinchingly lies to patients about their condition because he knows it's what they need to hear). Brolin is appealing enough in the role of Dr. Kiley, but he doesn't have the same level of screen presence. Even so, he gets the job done and never seems like a bland, one-dimensional piece of eye candy. The only other regular of note is Elena Verdugo (Mannix), who plays Nurse Consuelo Lopez. Verdugo is fine in the role, but she generally isn't given much to do.
The show is satisfactory sock-folding television most of the time and ambitious drama on occasion, which would earn it an easy recommendation if only it weren't so horribly dated at times. Medicine has changed a great deal in the last 40 years, and some of Welby's techniques seem laughable now. At times one may feel like Bones in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, gasping in astonishment at the "barbaric" techniques of the past. However, this is to be expected, as the show is a product of its era. The dated attitudes are a slightly bigger problem, as the supposedly liberal Welby isn't quite as fair-minded as he ought to be at times. During one scene, Welby tells someone, "I'd offer you a cup of tea, but Consuela isn't here." Make the tea yourself, you lazy doctor.
For me, the highlight of the set was the two-hour pilot movie, "A Matter of Humanities," which does a nice job of setting up the characters and themes of the show. Welby has several of his best moments in this double-length episode, including a terrific speech about the importance of general practitioners ("We don't treat eyes or ears or brains or knees…we treat the whole person") and a scene in which he beats himself up over not reaching a patient in time. I was also impressed by "Don't Ignore the Miracles," which tackles abortion in a surprisingly frank and honest manner (though Welby's decidedly pro-life stance perhaps prevents the episode from being as complex as it could have been). Finally, the episode "The Daredevil Gesture" is noteworthy for having been directed by none other than a young Steven Spielberg. It doesn't stand out in a particularly remarkable way, but it's fun to see one of cinema's modern legends cutting his teeth on this stuff.
The transfer is solid enough considering the show's age, with some occasional softness but generally solid detail. Marcus Welby, M.D comes from the era in which television shows were still trying hard to sell color television sets, and as such has a much more vibrant and cinematic palette than many of the more visually drab medical shows that would follow. Audio is a mixed bag, usually sounding acceptable but occasionally becoming very muffled and quiet (particularly the music). There are no extras included aside from a booklet containing an episode guide (the packaging lists the pilot movie as an extra, but I'm hesitant to categorize it that way given that the first disc presents it as the first episode rather than as an optional supplement).
It's dated and kinda predictable, but Marcus Welby, M.D.: Season One is reasonably engaging stuff. Young's warm performance goes a long way toward making the show watchable, so fans of classic television will want to consider giving this set a look.
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