By: Bill Cushing – Aug. 2021
Peacock’s ‘Dr. Death’ is a new limited series based on the hit podcast and inspired by the terrifying true story of Dr. Christopher Duntsch (Joshua Jackson), a young and charismatic star in the Texas medical community. After building a successful neurosurgery practice, things suddenly change when patients entering Dr. Duntsch’s operating room for complex but routine spinal surgeries are becoming permanently disabled or dying.
Doctors Robert Henderson (Alec Baldwin) and Randall Kirby (Christian Slater), two doctors who witness the damage Duntsch has done first-hand, and have a complicated history themselves, make it their personal mission to stop him. Baldwin’s Dr. Henderson is the calm voice of reason, while Slater’s Dr. Kirby is more aggressive and outspoken.
Henderson and Kirby issued the first warnings about Duntsch to the hospital administrators. They were met by resistance to reprimand Duntsch in anyway. Apparently, a reaction of this sort is not uncommon in such situations—especially when the doctor in question is someone reputed to be a great star, and one they’re happy to have on staff. The institutions that Duntsch worked for were more concerned with lining their pockets and protecting themselves than protecting their patients.
After getting nowhere with administrators, they bring their pleas to the District Attorney’s office, and team up with a Dallas prosecutor. Together, they take matters into their own hands.
Part medical drama, part mystery, part thriller, Dr. Death is a worthy binge, but also difficult to watch. The surgery scenes are traumatizing, and Joshua Jackson finds just the right balance of darkness in his performance as Duntsch. The series jumps back and forth in time from Duntsch’s college and medical school days to his fellowship with Dr. Geoffrey Skadden (Kelsey Grammer) to his disastrous time in Dallas where he maimed or murdered 33 patients.
Like Jackson, Baldwin and Slater are very well cast. Baldwin is terrific in his role, and Slater looks like he’s having a blast chewing the scenery. They play a sort of strange but delightful odd couple.
In addition to the leads, ‘Dr. Death’ has a bunch of strong performances from supporting actors including AnnaSophia Robb as Assistant District Attorney Michelle Shughart, Meryl Streep’s daughter Grace Gummer as the physician’s assistant who is initially conned by Duntsch’s charisma, and a heartbreaking performance by Dominic Burgess as Duntsch’s best friend Jerry Summers, who is so devoted to his pal that he willingly volunteers to be a test subject for one of Duntsch’s surgeries, with disastrous results.
Top notch writing and directing combine, along with the terrific acting, to make a riveting eight hours of TV. Although we are never given any true insight into what made Duntsch act this way, never getting too deep into his motivation, it doesn’t detract from making this a highly binge-worthy watch.
‘Dr. Death’ also leaves you with the unsettling knowledge that this is a true story. That this could and probably will happen again. That it could happen to you. And isn’t that the scariest part?
‘Dr. Death’ is available to stream on Peacock.
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