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Casualty: Series 21 - a.k.a. the flogging of a not quite dead horse

Casualty, class of 2006

Above: Casualty, class of 2006

Last Saturday, Casualty, the longest running medical drama in the world (unless you count the US soap opera General Hospital, which I don’t), reached the end of its twenty-first series. I’ve been a fan since around Series 8, way back in the mists of time in 1993, when I was a scrawny young thing of 10, and, over the course of the past 14 years, I can count the number of episodes that I’ve missed on one hand. Generally, it’s been a rewarding process, although over the past few years I’ve been increasingly wondering why I still bother. My reaction to the most recent series has been overwhelmingly negative, and while there were definitely some good and even great moments (more on those in a moment), this has ultimately been, for me, the worst series in Casualty’s 21-year history. Storylines have been poorly thought-out, characterisation non-existent and the overall execution of just about every element so bloody amateur that I can’t believe no-one in a senior position stopped and said “What a minute, something is seriously wrong here.”

The highlight of the series was, undoubtedly, the two-part Christmas special scripted by a former regular writer on the show, Barbara Machin. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: for a show in its 21st year to produce episodes of this calibre, which not only compare favourably to anything else I saw on TV in 2006 but would also easily make it into my list of the top ten episodes of all time is an amazing feat. What Machin did was incredible: she took a show that was festering in the gutter, and characters who had either been ransacked of all their complexities or were just never convincing in the first place, and somehow managed to produce two of the most enthralling hours of television I can remember seeing in years. These two episodes were everything that Casualty used to be and should still be: dramatic, funny, moving, truthful and believable drama about real human emotions and situations, not manufactured soap opera twaddle. Brilliance, sheer brilliance, and, if nothing else, it gives me a small degree of optimism to know that the show can still be capable of this level of quality. Unfortunately, despite accepting a position as a “series consultant” on the show, she doesn’t appear to have exerted much of a positive influence on the scripts to date, and has yet to write another episode.

The problems? In short: an emphasis on soap opera rather than actual drama, with seemingly every plot revolving around who’s screwing who; a complete lack of continuity, with storylines being developed for several weeks and then unceremoniously dumped or completely altered with a blatant lack of regard for what had previously been established; non-existent characterisation, with personalities being changed to suit the requirements of moronic storylines rather than the other way round, and well-rounded, established characters being sidelined in favour of bland or unbelievable new arrivals. This was supposed to be the show’s triumphant 20th anniversary - an amazing milestone, to be sure - and yet, from the end results, I can only deduce that primates were calling the shots. To have four or five (at a charitable estimate) out of a total of 48 episodes stand out as worthy of saving from the dumpster is a truly depressing legacy for what was, at one point, one of BBC1’s flashship dramas.

Here is a rundown of may ratings for each episode. Unusually good and bad ones are in bold:

21.01: Different Worlds: Part One 5/10
21.02: Different Worlds: Part Two 5/10
21.03: Waste of Space 8/10
21.04: Heads Together 7/10
21.05: Sons and Lovers 7/10
21.06: Angels and Demons 5/10
21.07: What You See is What You Get 5/10
21.08: Born to be Wild 6/10
21.09: To be a Parent 7/10
21.10: It’s Now or Never 6/10
21.11: All Through the Night 7/10
21.12: No Place Like… 6/10
21.13: The Edge of Fear 6/10
21.14: In Good Faith 6/10
21.15: Killing Me Softly (Part 1 of 2) 10/10
21.16: Silent Night (Part 2 of 2) 10/10
(best episode of Series 21)
21.17: The Sunny Side of the Street: Part One 6/10
21.18: The Sunny Side of the Street: Part Two 7/10
21.19: Fish Out of Water 2/10 (worst episode of Series 21)
21.20: Stormy Weather 4/10
21.21: The Personal Touch 3/10
21.22: Countdown 6/10
21.23: The Silence of Friends 6/10
21.24: No Return 4/10
21.25: The Miracle on Harry’s Last Shift 4/10
21.26: The Killing Floor 3/10
21.27: Combat Indicators: Part One 3/10

21.28: Combat Indicators: Part Two 4/10
21.29: Sweet Charity 6/10
21.30: A World Elsewhere 3/10
21.31: Stitch 4/10
21.32: Life’s Too Short 6/10
21.33: Day One 5/10
21.34: Lost in the Rough 5/10
21.35: Lush 7/10
21.36: Aliens 6/10
21.37: Close Encounters 7/10
21.38: A Long Way From Home 3/10
21.39: The Apostate 4/10
21.40: Communion 7/10
21.41: Brass in Pocket 6/10
21.42: Entropy 5/10
21.43: It Never Rains… 7/10
21.44: Lie to Me 5/10
21.45: The Fires Within 6/10
21.46: Walking the Line 3/10
21.47: Seize the Day 4/10
21.48: To Love You So 6/10

Posted: Thursday, August 09, 2007 at 10:55 AM | Comments: 2
Categories: TV

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