Some shows hook you because they have amazing plots or characters who are uniquely psychologically complex—so much so that you’re willing to forgive all kinds of missteps because you get so invested in the story (Game of Thrones). Sometimes they get you because they capture a moment in time or space so perfectly that you’re reeled back into your childhood or because they’re produced so beautifully that they dazzle you visually. Sometimes, it’s that Zeitgeist thing we keep coming back to, and a show seems to have something vital to say about the historical moment we’re experiencing.
And sometimes the you’re dazed into submission by pure charm.
Welcome, The Indian Doctor, you charming bastard.
Set in the 1960s in a Welsh mining town, Deep Sehgal and Tim Whitby’s quirk-tastic historical drama (now available to North American viewers from Acorn TV, after airing on the BBC from 2010 to 2013) stars Sanjeev Bhaskar as an Indian expat who takes up the post of small-town GP in the town of Trefelin, and Ayesha Dharker as his haughty and disgruntled wife. Kooky locals abound, affable drunks, wayward boys, evil mine managers, evil mine managers’ wives, plucky pub and shop ladies. The provincial Welsh are somewhat leery of the “exotic” new doctor, but frankly not nearly as leery as Kamini Sharma (Dharker) is of them and their ghastly little village.
The Ensuing Hijinks are really exceedingly predictable. Each of the three seasons has a central villain: Evil Mine Manager Sharpe (Mark Williams) is sent packing, only to be replaced by an Evil Evangelical Preacher and an Evil Real Estate Developer (honestly, is there any other kind?), and the Sharmas battle them all, while bearing the day-in, day-out stresses of marriage, mourning a lost child, dealing with the receptionist being up the spout out of wedlock, confronting ethnic tension, being outsiders in a land of outsiders, and fighting the deadliest ailment of all, small-town boredom. Plot-wise, the show has all the earmarks of a complete cheesefest. And yet you will keep watching. “That’s a cheesy storyline,” you’ll think to yourself, eagerly queueing up the next episode. You’ll let these writers do whatever they want and you will not look away for a second even when you know better. Why?
Basically, because Bhaskar and Dharker exude so much voltage you cannot look away. Most of the rest of the cast is fabulous, too, particularly characters who have time to develop over many episodes (Ifan Huw Dafydd as beat-down local tippler/ shop steward Owen Griffiths and Mali Harries as pub owner Megan Evans both give great performances). The storylines they’re working with are Downton Abbey-grade predictable and melodramatic. And I’m telling you, you simply won’t care, because the main characters are So Damn Charming. Dharker is totally amazing—by turns snobbish and engaging, vivacious and resentful, steely and vulnerable. Bhaskar is a perfect foil, combining a relentless optimism with some deeply buried and potentially explosive inner pain. Every scene between them is a beautifully choreographed dance. Their changing relationship with each other, and their changing relationship to the alien planet that is small town Wales, are a joy to watch, no matter how silly or tiresome a subplot gets thrown at them. And this show is rife with subplots that are both (I found the Evil Preacher who dominated the second season, and the storyline he engendered, just about impossibly ham-fisted—and I was still glued to it). Period drama? Character-driven cuteness? Subtle (and occasionally not that subtle) ponderings on love, class, grief, race, ethnicity and culture in a homogeneous, isolated, small-town setting? If you are into any of these things, The Indian Doctor might be your new favorite show. If you have total immunity to Adorableness, you might find you have a bone or two to pick with it, but I have to say, I’m pretty easy to annoy that way, and I found it highly bingeable. It’s not flawless. But it’s got a really good personality.
The Indian Doctor is now streaming on Acorn TV.
Amy Glynn is a poet, essayist and fiction writer who really likes that you can multi-task by reviewing television and glasses of Cabernet simultaneously. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.