Aussie drama returns to 'classic' storytelling with true blue heroes, jeopardy & red dust vistas.
For some time viewers have lamented the absence on their screens of, what I would call, the classic Australian drama.
You know the type. True blue, feelgood stories, characters who are dinky-di heroes, with some vista landscapes to boot. Crawford Productions perfected these with shows like The Flying Doctors, Matlock Police, Homicide, All the Rivers Run, The Sullivans and others carried the legacy: Blue Heelers, All Saints, A Country Practice, Big Sky, Water Rats, Police Rescue …and yes arguably Doctor Doctor.
I’m happy to be report those qualities are back in Seven’s new local drama RFDS.
This is as true blue as it gets, folks. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
RFDS is a new take on the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS was also the title of Nine’s revamped final season). Unlike its Victorian-based predecessor, it has been shot in and around Broken Hill, NSW. The red dirt, the mines and pubs are all on show here in a series that is clearly pitching itself to an international audience. And why wouldn’t you?
The star of the show is Emma Hamilton (Mr Selfridge, The Tudors, Hyde & Seek) as Senior Medical Officer Dr Eliza Harrod, who leaves London with her teen son Henry (Ash Hodgkinson) after splitting from her husband.
She arrives in Broken Hill with all the premiere fanfare of Maggie Doyle arriving in Mt. Thomas. Everything is understandably foreign, but through her we meet the RFDS team. This experienced team are a mix of warm and laconic, finding humour in between daily emergencies, but who always have your back.
There’s handsome Dr Wayne Yates (Rob Collins), a gifted doctor and father to teenage son, Darren (Thomas Weatherall), flight nurse Pete Emerson (Stephen Peacocke) whom you always want in your corner. There’s pilot Mira (Ash Riccardo), pilot Graham Rodney (Rodney Afif), flight nurse Matty (Jack Scott), volunteer Rhiannon (Kate Mulvany), and Base Manager Leonie (Justine Clarke) who keeps the team together in a way that would make Sgt. Tom Croydon proud.
From their hangars they fly to outback emergencies and navigate relationships in a way that will feel assuringly familiar, but without opting for cliches or dull performances.
In the opening episode Eliza takes her first flight on an RFDS plane, to an outback patient with a leg fracture. But the return trip sees the injury escalate and the nearest neurosurgeon is 600km away. Welcome to Australia.
Her first day at work is capped off with a welcome party at the local pub, where resident drag queen (Trevor Ashley) pulls her on stage to a cheering crowd.
Next day, while one emergency is being addressed, another is unfolding and this one is much closer to home… now the jeopardy and the decision-making is literally life and death stuff.
By episode two relationships are fractured, there’s a touch and go pregnancy and a seizure suffering astronomy tour guide. Eliza’s initiation to Broken Hill is coming in for a rough landing -and questions are raised about why she left London (back story, back story…).
Creators Ian Meadows, Imogen Banks and Mark Fennessy have ticked all the boxes here. These are warm and heroic characters in big vista backdrops, challenged by jeopardy in high-turnover. Whereas its predecessor would often have to fake scenes, now RFDS takes you there. The men are nurses, the women are pilots and there’s diversity in the casting.
International viewers will love seeing the red dust, windmills, Aussie pubs, flyscreens, open mines and drone shots. There’s even a wayward emu.
Emma Hamilton and Stephen Peacocke are the comforting, gutsy stars, but Rob Collins and Justine Clarke underpin as steadfast, seasoned parents to this fine ensemble.
RFDS isn’t the most challenging of weekly dramas, the surgery may not be as graphic as US premium drama, and sometimes everyone is a bit too camera clean. But there’s plenty to like here, achieved with a high level of polish. It’s a return to Aussie drama in the ‘classic’ sense where you’ll happily return to spend time with this crew again and again.
RFDS premieres 8:40pm Wednesday August 11 on Seven.