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Holby City spoilers follow.
Holby City has certainly upped the ante in the wake of its axing, with the BBC drama delivering tense twists every week. Serial killer Cameron Dunn (Nic Jackman) recently returned just months after finally being imprisoned – but while he was there to take part in the stent trial, he used the time to make his escape.
As entertaining as it may be, jaw-dropping developments like this have become more frequent than treatment actually taking place. As Holby gears up to a spring conclusion, it’s quite a risk for the show to veer so far from its medical origins for the sake of a story that should be long over.
The show is, of course, expected to deliver exciting, unpredictable soap-worthy moments. But unlike its fellow continuing dramas, Holby’s setting calls for a specific theme and this should not be undermined with shocks and thrills.
The sudden return of Bernie Wolfe (Jemma Redgrave), Cameron’s mother who was presumed dead, illustrates this point perfectly. Bernie’s homecoming merely serves to facilitate this second wave of her son’s reign of terror, with no use for her infamous skills as a surgeon.
Important health-related plots are also being neglected in favour of prolonged disputes and endless incidents that put everyone in jeopardy far too often.
When Dominic Copeland (David Ames) was fitted with a stoma after a car accident that resulted in emergency bowel surgery, Holby City had an opportunity to educate viewers on the long-term impact of a life-changing procedure.
There were strong performances from David Ames as his alter ego took tentative steps to recover – only for the show to go off course by creating friction between Dom and his friend and mentor Sacha Levy (Bob Barrett).
Dom’s natural anger over the situation should have been used to progress the story sensibly; however, instead, it led to Sacha being pressured to perform a dangerous reversal operation.
It was the wrong way to utilise the show’s medical approach, as even when the surgery was unsuccessful it didn’t trigger a more responsible direction going forward. Dom’s feelings on the matter were all but forgotten and his transition into growing comfortable with his body again was left completely to the imagination.
The same character is currently central to a storyline navigating his adoptive mum Carole’s (Julia Deakin) diagnosis of vascular dementia. With beautifully crafted dialogue that plays to Holby’s strengths when it is given the room to do so, the dynamic between mother and son has been captivating to watch.
Yet it is ongoing storylines like Carole’s, as well as Jac Naylor’s (Rosie Marcel) battle with a brain tumour, that are being sidelined.
These two women should be in the spotlight right now, but just as we become immersed in their complex stories, episodes swiftly move on to subjects that, while hard-hitting and current, don’t necessarily belong on the wards.
The sinister narrative of sexual exploitation features commendable performances all around but with scenes spanning throughout the whole building, it can, at times, distract too heavily from the events going on around them.
Jeni Sinclaire’s (Debra Stephenson) manipulative behaviour was easily the leading story before Cameron intervened. For a show billed as a medical drama, surely it’s time to prioritise a plot in keeping with the genre?
After all, Holby has the scope to explore this field to an extent that no other soap can. We have seen superb attention to detail in a frank depiction of end-of-life care as patient Delroy (Delroy Atkinson) succumbed to cancer with nurse Kylie (Amy Murphy) by his side.
Still, such authentic tales are all too brief, while the next almighty bombshell is only ever around the corner. Staff liaisons in the on-call room and fake death schemes are given more screen-time than the highlighting of real-life issues, like last year’s short-lived foray into NHS budget cuts and the ongoing pandemic.
Murderous doctors are now commonplace in this hospital. But while Fredrik Johanssen’s gun siege in 2017 mastered the balance by paving the way for compelling, relevant repercussions like Oliver’s (James Anderson) brain injury, Cameron’s new scheme has had an overpowering effect on existing stories.
Our weekly insight into the lives and illnesses of various patients has also suffered. Rather than focusing on the winning formula of beloved characters and guest stars with their nuanced, powerful conflicts, Holby has picked up the pace at a time when it should be doing the opposite.
We aren’t suggesting that the programme winds down just yet – simply that it’s time to return to its roots and remember the value of its medical storylines, which produce understated moments that stay with us long after the credits have rolled.
So as we prepare to say goodbye, let’s see a calmer period that takes advantage of Holby City’s surroundings, leaving the sensationalist scenarios behind.
Holby City airs these scenes on Tuesday, September 7 at 7.50pm on BBC One.
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