A Young Doctor’s Notebook, now subtitled & other stories, returns this week for a second four-episode season on Ovation. Picking up this year with 1918 and 1935 timelines (about a year after the first season left off for both versions of the protagonist), this is both a continuation of the plot, and an entirely new tale. Based, in part, on the short story “Morphine” by Mikhail Bulgakov, the writers are tying that text back into the setting and characters introduced in season one.
When last we’d seen him, the older doctor (Jon Hamm) had been caught prescribing himself morphine. Now, released from a mental institution, he travels back to the office where he spends the Russian Revolution, determined to confront his past — while sober. Whether he can face up to the man he’d at one time been, and the things he’s done, is a central question to this second season, especially where a certain woman is concerned.
As the second season narrative begins, the younger doctor (Daniel Radcliffe) is in the throes of addiction. In an unhealthy sexual relationship of convenience with Pelageya (Rosie Cavaliero), he is much more concerned about his next fix, and not getting caught skimming drugs than he is about romance. Yet, there is some sort of affection between them, if only because she enables the Younger Doctor in his habits.
During season one, the under-the-influence older doctor had been spinning out of control as he relives the beginning of his tumultuous journey, while the younger doctor is a naive, optimistic lad; season two turns the tables. Now the younger doctor is the reckless one, out of control, while the older doctor sits in judgement, knowing full well that he is fact sitting judgment on his younger self. This created a complex dynamic, allowing both actors to explore the psyche of their damaged parts in different, unique ways.
This is a very poignant time for A Young Doctor’s Notebook to air in the United States, given the recent death of Robin Williams. Mental health and addiction are at the forefront of the public consciousness, and the series delves into the subject in an interesting, entertaining, enlightening way.
Students of history may find in A Young Doctor’s Notebook several tidbits of interest. Season two takes place during the Russian Revolution, bringing the war to the very doorstep of the hospital for most of the four installments. Natasha (Margaret Clunie), a member of the ruling elite, and The Colonel (Charles Edwards, Downton Abbey), her protector, stop over in the chaos and each catch the eye of one of our central cast. I’m not sure how much actual, factual past is included in this story, but the pair of new characters do help it feel like the office is set in the real world, rather than existing apart, on its own, as it sort of did in season one.
A Young Doctor’s Notebook is funny, but through an extremely dark brand of comedy. Whether joking about a dead horse or trying to get laid, there’s a pathetic sadness to the characters who exist within the series narrative. Tears may not make it to the audience’s eyes, but they do emanate from the characters on multiple occasions, and with good reason. This is a dangerous, tragic world, and the misfortunes, while amusing because of the cartoonish, over-the-top manner through which they occur, are genuine.
I don’t know if A Young Doctor’s Notebook return for a third season, given the lack of more source material. It’s a unique series I have very much enjoyed, thoroughly impressed by the talent behind it. I watched all four episodes of the second season in one sitting and craved more, a testament to its quality.
A Young Doctor’s Notebook airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on Ovation.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00D49YFLY][amazon template=iframe image&asin=184749286X]