Casualty pays tribute to the power of Doctor Who as Ethan and Fenisha head to Holby Comic Con
There’s always been an interconnected element between Casualty and Doctor Who. They’re both, of course, among the BBC’s flagship shows. And they’ve both practically national institutions. After all, Casualty is currently broadcasting its 34th series, while Doctor Who awaits to begin production on its 39th. But the medical drama set in the busy Emergency Department of Holby City Hospital has also tipped its hat towards the science fiction show many time. Sometimes with guest starring roles for Doctor Who actors, like Colin Baker as a UFO hunter with glow-in-the-dark eyes. Others with a recurring theme of patients named after Doctor Who characters or performers.
But this week’s episode went beyond giving Doctor Who fans a covert wink. It establishes popular consultant Ethan as one of us, complete with closet cosplay. But it also effectively acted as a love letter to the Time Lord’s positive effect on the real world.
In a very accurate vision, Holby Comic Con is a day of rain, queues, fezzes and jelly babies
The episode begins with Ethan attending Holby Comic Con on his day off, while cosplaying as the Fourth Doctor. (And it’s nice to see the Lovazi official replica getting an outing on TV). The whole sequence is full of wonderfully on point details. The Comic Con signage is spot on as a recreation of MCM branding. And so is Ethan’s discussion with his friends, who’ve come as a Pig Slave from Daleks in Manhattan, of all things, and a Weeping Angel. “I know Gallifrey’s mentioned before then, but I’m pretty sure we don’t actually see it until Series Three.”
By chance he meets off duty Holby paramedic Fenisha. She’s there canvassing for the environment with a rather weak patter. (“Sure, fantasy worlds are great, but so is helping save this one.”) The two have a somewhat complicated history, with Fenisha pregnant after a one night stand with Ethan, and him believing she’s had an abortion even though she actually hasn’t. And at first her view of him as a socially awkward nerd is reinforced by finding him at Comic Con. Though soon she’s charmed despite herself by how easily Ethan bonds with a twleve year old, fez wearing Eleventh Doctor cosplayer they bump into at a stall. (“Bow ties are cool,” smiles Ethan.)
Before long Ethan has to spring into action as a real Doctor when a young Who fan is severely injured
Since this is Casualty, though, nobody can ever have a relaxing day off. Soon a large van plows through the crowds, injuring many and leaving the young Eleventh Doctor cosplayer fighting for his life. Ethan first overcomes a PTSD event triggered by memories of the terrorist attack he previously survived, in which a lorry was deliberately driven into a crowd. And then he and Fenisha join forces to try and save the boy. The on duty ambulance team are quick to respond. But Ethan judges that the junior Who fan will never make it to the hospital in time.
Urgent action is needed but Fenisha doesn’t believe he’ll survive such drastic surgery outside an operating theatre and almost pleads with Ethan not to go ahead. Nevertheless, the young consultant proceeds to perform open heart surgery in the back of the ambulance. He cranks open the boy’s chest and sews shut the tear in the heart itself. Almost immediately it begins to beat again under its own power and the child survives the rest of the dash to the hospital before being passed on for more critical care.
The episode’s real heart, though, is when Ethan lists Doctor Who as one of the influences that’s drawn him to emergency medicine
Towards the end of the episode Fenisha, who now sees Ethan in a different, more heroic light, asks him about why he’s such a Doctor Who fan in the first place. And Ethan explains how he and his late brother would always watch classic Doctor Who together. And how, like many fans before and after him, the Doctor represented a different kind of courage. Someone who solved problems and saved lives by using his wits and his brains rather than his fists.
“The central idea, this crazy boffin, in his time machine, travelling the universe and making things right … [My brother] was just way cooler and more confident than me. I just liked the idea that there were other ways to be heroic.”
This week’s Casualty provides a welcome antidote to the usual twee, mocking depiction of SF fans in popular culture
This episode of Casualty stands out among other attempts to highlight a character as a fan of science fiction. It shows that fandom as something that’s inspired them in a positive way, rather than as a fun quirk or even a point of mockery. It helps that new writer Tim Stimpson obviously knows his Sontarans from his Sensorites. Indeed, the script takes an easy hand in depicting con life. Even in a parallel subplot about a teenage Harley Quinn cosplayer who’s been catfished by a classmate.
Casualty Episode 34.38 is still available to watch on the BBC iPlayer here.