Amanda Redman stars as Dr Fonseca in The Good Karma Hospital
ITV’s new Sunday-night cocklewarmer, The Good Karma Hospital, seems to have been put together with the same, hard-headed practicality. You can imagine the planning meeting, where someone ordered up a rival to Call The Midwife but less heavy, and with nicer weather.
The consequence of that fateful meeting is going to be on telly every Sunday, following Dr Ruby Walker as she leaves heartbreak, grey skies and NHS cutbacks for a public hospital on South India’s tropical coast.
Like the endless cycle of birth and rebirth, the debut episode was rather repetitive. “How do I find Dr Fonseca?” she asked as she arrived. “Follow the screaming,” she was told. Later, she was heard protesting, “I’ve never done dental work before.”
“Ask Nurse Mari for the pliers,” came the reply. Her moodily handsome mentor Dr Varma (James Floyd), meanwhile, never opened his mouth without some cutting reference to “gap-year kids” and “stories for the dinner party”.
It felt like an hourlong version of that moment where your mum told you there were children in India who’d be glad to eat your sprouts. Ruby (Amrita Acharia) was us, not realising how hard some people have it, not up to the task, in need of a good shake – in every scene.
The drama is set at a public hospital on South India's tropical coast
To add to the frustrations, apart from a brief conversation in a car, no one in the first episode ever enquired about Ruby’s obvious Asian ancestry, something she’d have been explaining until she was blue in the face, if she’d just landed in the real India.
What with the ‘terrifying ride from the airport’ scene, the ‘stop resuscitating the kid, it’s too late’ scene and the ‘they wanted a boy, not a girl’ scene, the first instalment was every cliché of India, plus every cliché of the TV medical drama, hastily stitched together with a few added coconut palms.
Amanda Redman does sterling work as Dr Fonseca, the hospital’s grizzled, ex-pat, saint-in-cynic’s clothing but in terms of remedies, she’s an aspirin for an amputated leg.
Lion County: Night and Day grants a rare look inside a pride
Another ITV debut on Sunday was Lion Country: Night and Day, granting us the rare privilege of following assorted prides of lions around the Zambian wilderness.
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They’re an enigma, lions, the most formidable hunters of the cat world and yet also the most social. The narration didn’t go for soppy sentimentalising but watching a grizzled old dad trying to sleep while the cubs pestered him and a tiny five-month-old cub searching forlornly for his mum, you couldn’t ignore the tug of shared DNA.
Yet the daddy in question wandered off and left his cubs to the mercies of the wilderness a few hours later. Pride leaders are also given to killing male cubs to prevent them from growing up to be a challenge.
So many scenes of this lion soap opera were like that, a two-headed beast of quite familiar, human behaviour sharing the stage with pure kill-or-be-killed. At one point a trio of males came upon a group of lionesses and their cubs.
To distract them from attacking her cub, one lioness, Rosa, began trying to seduce the males (or what passed for seduction, in big-cat terms).
It worked, only to get Rosa in hot water with the other lionesses. Minus the watching wildebeest, much of this could have been happening in a Watford nightclub.