Doctor in Trouble

Doctor in TroubleSynopsis: Last in the ‘Doctor’ series. Troubles befall Dr Burke (Leslie Phillips) when he stows away on an ocean liner and poses as a female photographer. Once more the young doctor runs into the authorative figure of a Spratt, but this time it is Sir Lancelot’s brother Captain Spratt (Robert Morley).

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Doctor in Trouble 6.5

eyelights: its unexpected sexiness. its zaniness.
eyesores: its corniness. its many contrivances.

‘Doctor in Trouble’ is the story of uppity Dr. Burke, who finds himself trapped on an ocean liner after he tries to propose to his girlfriend as she leaves on a modeling gig. Without a ticket or any money, he has nowhere to go, and thus he finds himself mingling with the ship’s colourful passengers all the while being chased by the Master-at-Arms.

Honestly, I knew very little about ‘Doctor in Trouble’ when I picked it up. I didn’t know that it was made in 1970, or that it was the last in a lengthy “Doctor” series, which was based on a set of humouristic novels, and which inspired no less than seven spin-off television programmes. I quite literally had no idea.

What attracted me to it was twofold: 1) I like Graham Chapman, and 2) I tend to enjoy zany Brit comedies. There was the matter of the price, of course, which was low enough for me to consider taking a risk on a picture whose quality was unknown to me and in which Chapman was only a minor player.

It was a gamble, and in return I got pretty much what I’d expected – no more, no less. It was a motion picture not too far removed from the quality of some of the ‘Carry On’ pictures, except not nearly as corny (which was a major relief, I must say), revolving around all sorts of contrivances and misunderstandings.

Haha! Watch Dr. Burke outsmart the “Indian” waiter so that he can finally feed himself! See the good doctor dress up as a woman to escape the Master-at-Arms! See him hide in a dorade box and come out all covered in soot! Watch the oafish Mr. Wendover misinterpret the Captain’s instruction time and time again.

It’s all very silly, really, but it’s only one dimension of the picture.

‘Doctor in Trouble’ is also about the eccentric and wacky characters. Being set on a cruise ship, there weren’t a lot of options for plot intricacies, so the good ‘Doctor’ depended entirely on its passengers to keep the story moving forward and to capture the interest of the audience. Thankfully, they’re quite a motley crew:

  • Dr. Burke is played by Leslie Phillips of ‘Carry On’ fame. He is a proud man, but he appears to be slightly clueless at times, making poor choices out of short-sighted self-interest. Since he is a stowaway but is trying to keep up appearances, he finds himself in all sorts of compromising situations – many more demeaning as time wears on.
  • Ophelia is a model trying to break through into acting, and although she seems fond of Dr. Burke she is far too busy to be entirely devoted to him. The fact that she tends to be polyamourous also complicates things – for the Doctor, of course (who is surprisingly tolerant of her ways). Ophelia is played by Angela Scoular, was also had an important role in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service‘.
  • Basil Beauchamp is an old school rival of Dr. Burke’s. Now an actor who plays a doctor on TV, he’s extremely popular and garners attention everywhere he goes. Having taken ill, his physician has sent him on a cruise – coincidentally on the same liner as Dr. Burke. Congenial and good-looking, he’s a constant  thorn in Burke’s side.
  • Mr. Wendover, played by Harry Secombe (of ‘The Goon Show’ fame), is the show’s clown: a real dope, he is arrogant and moronic. He has an accent, but one gets the impression that he’s supposed to be a caricature of an American tourist (or scandal-plagued Toronto mayors!). Secombe makes him perfectly risible.
  • Captain Spratt is an entitled and gruff man who treats people like scum, looking down on them. Mostly, he comes into conflict with Mr. Wendover, who is the antithesis of propriety. Played by Robert Morley, you couldn’t get a more authoritarian and stuffy personage.
  • The Master-at-Arms, whose name is never disclosed, spends most of the picture chasing Dr. Burke around – after finally confirming that he is a stowaway, after all. His tenacity and focus are second-to-none; it seems as though he has nothing else on his mind. And nothing else to do.
  • Roddie is a flamingly gay fashion photographer who is doing a photo shoot featuring Ophelia and her three lovely friends. Graham Chapman plays it up a little bit, like only he could. I’m still amazed by the number of gay characters he portrayed in his career; he was clearly unafraid to be out of the closet.
  • Saterjeeis an Indian waiter who is attentive to the needs of the passengers as well as the requirements of his job, but is just naïve enough that Dr. Burke can take advantage of him. He is played by Graham Stark, a Caucasian, who was a mainstay of the Pink Panther series, playing a variety of roles throughout the years.

Take these characters, shake them slightly and you get the dizzying effect of ‘Doctor in Trouble’. It’s not entirely funny, being somewhat slapsticky at times,, but it’s amusing. Watching it, I got the impression that the film was a decade too late to be entirely successful – it feels like should have been released in 1960, right after ‘Some Like it Hot‘.

What’s particularly surprising is that it’s sexier than you’d imagine from a “stuffy” British film right out of the ’60s: it features some mild nudity, a few underwear shots and lots of lovely “birds” in it. It gives the film a bit of edge, and yet it’s clearly not enough to be its saving grace, to keep this doctor out of trouble.

Still, I’d be curious to see some of the first entries in the series, to find out what made it so popular in the first place. And maybe catch some of the television series. I’m sure that someday I’ll revisit the good ‘Doctor’.

Date of viewing: January 3, 2013

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