“Although this series is based on real events, certain parts have been fictionalized solely for dramatic purposes”. That’s the first line you read when you sit down to watch ‘Dr. Death ‘. A few short words of warning that what you are about to see is a story based on real events. It prepares you from the outset, making us mindful that, whatever it is that we’re about to discover has twice the impact knowing that it has happened (and even worse, that it could happen again).

But if the opening warning makes your hair stand on end, then the tale the Peacock series tells, released in July in the United States and which arrived in Spain on September 12 on Starzplay, is much more terrifying. Ready?

‘Dr. Death ‘tells the true story of Dr. Christopher Duntsch, a promising Dallas-based doctor with a brilliant career in neurosurgery, cut short by a series of bizarre circumstances. Suddenly, the young, charismatic and highly-admired surgeon is being investigated by the medical community after performing 33 (straightforward) surgeries in which all of his patients ended up either paralyzed or dead.

In this way, the series highlights the denunciation of an entire medical system that, as we’re dealing with a drama, regrettably falls short. However, it goes without saying that there are oodles of pleasant surprises in store here thanks to some stellar performances, time leaps and excellent narrative

Undesirable characters played by extraordinary actors

Joshua Jackson plays Dr. Christopher Duntsch. A complex protagonist and the axis of the entire series, his thought process the driving force behind the story. Trying to comprehend his character is the most attractive aspect to the tale as it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle in which there are always a few pieces missing. Jackson does an exceptional job in holding audiences interest to continue peeling away the layers while not getting bored into the bargain.

To avoid this fateful outcome, what better idea than to include the characters of Alec Baldwin and Christian Slater, neurosurgeon Robert Henderson and vascular surgeon Randall Kirby, respectively. The good cop/ bad cop in any investigation, but in this case in white coats. The relationship of complicity between the two manages to ease the entire uncovering of the case: from the moment they detect Duntsch’s malpractice and right up to the final outcome.

However, none of them are pleasant. Of course, Duntsch exudes an unhealthy dose of hubris and over-ambition that sparks rejection in any of his interactions. But then neither is Henderson and his correction, nor Kirby with his incorrectness constantly seeking the punchline. But together they form a trio of evil against good and whose adventures keep us glued to our seats throughout. The icing on the cake is undoubtedly their collective acting talents.

A tale often told, but told well here

The other major dramatic force in the story is played by the patients. The victims of a white-coated serial killer who existed and the consequences these people are still suffering today. The cases depicted – albeit dramatized – are the scariest ones of all. No need for monsters or ghosts here, because if there’s one thing that ‘Dr. Death’ makes patent, it’s that reality is indeed stranger than fiction.

In addition, the continuous leaping forwards and backwards in time between the current trial, the doctor’s early career, the mutilated patients, his time at university and the investigation into the two doctors, even though they complicate the narrative, they do work well. What might have been a series developed in linear fashion about a story with an introduction, middle and end, instead gambles on immersing audiences in a story that holds the suspense of trying to understand what happened up until the final credits roll. Exactly the same as what happened in real life.

A denouncement that loses pace when fictionalized

That aside, the gamble pays off and is not only entertaining, but also becomes an accusation against the entire private healthcare system in the United States, exposing  a complete lack of communication between hospitals and companies in the sector, allowing medical errors to be repeated until death, without the perpetrators ever even missing a day’s work.

As you watch episode after episode, you keep wondering how such a catastrophe  could have been allowed to happen, and what’s wrong with a system that allows a serial killer to skip from one hospital to another without ever triggering the alarm bells. A terrifying situation you continually experience as you skip from fiction to reality, praying you never have to go under the surgeon’s knife.

In the end, it all adds up to a denouncement, no matter how successful the production is, where you find yourself regretting they hadn’t opted for a documentary series format featuring genuine witness statements and testimonies, documents and videos from the trial that would strike an even more effective blow and have twice the impact on the system, thereby forcing it to implement solutions.

Paula Hergar
Paula Hergar is a 360 journalist as Paquita Salas would say, writes about TV in Vertele and presents, writes, and directs Zapping on LOS40. In addition to collaborating in cultural programs in La 2 and being the author of the book ‘Around the world in 80 series’.