All Saints: articles

Condition critical

AFTER years of quiet convalescence on Ward 17, the patient has suddenly become critical and the makers of hospital drama All Saints have rushed the invalid to the emergency room.

The programming doctors have prescribed radical treatment for the enduring drama where illness is an asset. This much was clear from the opening moments of the series, which underwent transplant surgery from the lazy environment of a suburban hospital ward to the trolley-clogged chaos of the emergency department.

“Welcome to the emergency department—a life full of severed limbs, smashed skulls and constant adrenalin,” a nurse warns Terri Sullivan (Georgie Parker) on her first day. “Sometimes it’s wild.”

But All Saints obviously needs even more potent medicine. Bad language, abusive behaviour and overwrought acting are all part of the prescription.

There are certainly plenty of new drugs for this patient to try—the most potent of which is the ER’s new boss, the arrogant, angry and abusive Frank Campion, cunningly disguised as actor John Howard. The writers of the series appear to have saved themselves a lot of time in the character creation department by using the US hit series ER (another network, another night) as the template. Campion has all the hallmarks of ER’s emergency department boss, the now late Dr Robert Romano—albeit with all his limbs intact. A huge ego struts across the set, undermining everyone with whom he comes into contact. There is no sugar with the medicine Howard is dispensing.

All Saints might have a new drug regime but surgeons have not been willing to remove one vital ingredient—the ever-waffling nurse, nun and den mother Parker. Through the years we have been sated by the drug of Parker’s ongoing indecision. Will she stay a nun? Will she have sex? Will she marry Mitch? Will she kill her attacker? Will she get off on the charges? Indeed, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Will Terri cop her new boss’s outrageous behaviour? Will she stay in emergency? Will she snog one of her nursing companions? Will she stop falling over and overdosing patients? And, on a recurring basis, will she die?

There is nothing new in the formula—many have passed through these corridors before: Casualty, Chicago Hope and, of course, ER. But will the surgery work or are the doctors transplanting new organs into a terminal patient?

After just one episode the talented Howard is already showing signs of rejection. A good dose of Valium might do the trick but, as Seven discovered recently, 1.2 million viewers will not sit idly by while their favourite nurse cops abuse. Perhaps we’ll see him go through an anger management course.

Any doctor will tell you surgery is always risky. Transplant patients, in particular, have a nasty habit of rejecting the organs that are meant to save their lives. Keeping the All Saints cast largely intact during the operation will help mask the symptoms in the short term. But All Saints had a certain flavour because of its ward-based story-lines. Wards are where patients spend most of their time. Wards are where we could learn all about their history, hopes and symptoms.

Emergency departments are all about turnover. Get ‘em in and get ‘em out—quickly and preferably alive.

The new setting might give the writers greater scope for gore, such as impaled patients and the like. So the make-up department may soon turn out to be the new star of this show.

Sometimes, patients turn up in emergency when what they really need is palliative care. Whether Seven has misdiagnosed the illness remains to be seen.

By Simon Canning
May 01, 2004
The Australian