WFTB Score: 11/20
The plot: Hapless Dr Kilmore struggles to maintain his composure, reputation and job in the face of the sneering authoritarianism of Dr Kenneth Tinkle and formidable matron Lavinia. As secret passions boil away in the wards, the majority of the inpatients do their best to recover; but when Kilmore is unjustly removed, they are forced to take direct action.
When the mind over matter techniques of dodgy faith dealer Francis Bigger (Frankie Howerd) can’t stop him landing straight on his coccyx, he earns a stay in the male ward of the local hospital, between committed malingerer and wife-avoider Mr Roper (Sid James) and Mr Barron (Charles Hawtrey), suffering a pregnancy on behalf of his uncomplaining wife. Comings and goings in the ward, especially Mr Biddle’s (Bernard Bresslaw) insistence on visiting female patient Mavis (Dilys Laye), soon send Bigger into a private room, where he mistakenly comes to believe he only has a week to live.
Amongst the staff, meanwhile, pretty Nurse Clarke (Anita Harris) has the hots for popular Dr Kilmore (Jim Dale), and in the bosom of Matron (Hattie Jacques) lies a passion for ruthless senior physician Dr Kenneth Tinkle (Ken Williams). However, the arrival of Sandra May (Barbara Windsor), her chest bursting with gratitude for Tinkle because he previously saved her life, upsets the apple cart. Against hospital rules, she’s caught in his room; so Tinkle and matron hatch a plan to literally make Kilmore the fall guy. Roper and Biddle are outraged by Kilmore’s unfair dismissal, and with a little help from Nurse Clarke they prepare a patients’ mutiny to make Matron and Tinkle pay for their haughty ways.
It may be because the quirks of the National Health Service are fondly mocked by the British; or it may be because TV show Dr Kildare and the Doctor films (directed by Ralph Thomas, Gerald’s brother), complete with portrait of James Robertson Justice, loom large; or it could be because the Carry Ons made hospitals their second home (starting with Nurse, they also made Matron and Again Doctor); but Carry On Doctor feels to me like the archetypal Carry On.
In particular, Kenneth Williams is right at home as the snooty, superior, yet still bungling senior doctor who rubs everyone up the wrong way. Everyone, that is, except the secretly lustful Matron, played beautifully by Jacques. The chemistry between them (see Jacques laughing when they bump noses) provides much-needed underpinning, given the unconvincing business of Babs‘ infatuation with Kenneth, Kilmore’s disgrace and redemption, and the relatively flimsy storylines given to the rest of the cast.
Since much of the ‘action’ of Doctor is by its very nature static (Sid James, recovering from a heart attack, stays in bed most of the time), it’s lucky that the film has a couple of tricks up its sleeve. Firstly, it benefits greatly from a barnstorming performance by Frankie Howerd, his high-pitched incredulity and eye-rolling sarcasm adding a new dimension to the regular Carry On cast (Dandy Nichols, too, has a funny cameo as the garrulous Mrs Roper).
Secondly and more importantly, while Talbot Rothwell’s script may be light on plot, it’s absolutely packed with gags: silly ones, like the fully bandaged man who turns out to be invisible (’Oo, I still don’t like the look of him!’ Tinkle says); saucy ones, like Lavinia throwing herself at Kenneth, the daffodil (an in-joke harking back to Nurse), or Kilmore’s adventures on the roof; or more traditional fare, like the chaotic weddding of Bigger and his deaf companion Chloe (Joan Sims, superb and underused as usual), conducted by an equally mutton chaplain. There’s easily enough genuinely clever material to forgive lazy jokes such as (as happens more than once) looking under a sheet and exclaiming ‘That’s a big one!’
Inevitably, the passage of time means that it’s impossible to look at some aspects of Carry On films in the way their original audience saw them. In particular, the treatment of Babs Windsor’s trainee nurse here is dolly-birdism of the worst kind. She receives the ultimate ‘Phwoooar!” from a leering ambulance driver, takes her clothes off to sunbathe, then promptly disappears from the film.By contrast, Jacques is called a ‘battleship’ and other older ladies are referred to as ‘cows.’ Matron’s rough-house treatment at the hand of the female patients is also more suited to army barracks than a hospital, though this is at least Equal Opportunities humiliation since Tinkle is treated no better (indeed, he’s almost tortured!). It’s not worth getting too hung up on such things, but there is a slight feeling that the film is designed exclusively for working-class men, a feeling you don’t get in superior series entries such as Don’t Lose Your Head or Carry On Up the Khyber.
But the film is what it is: and what it is, for the most part, is funny. Carry On Doctor isn’t the most exciting of the series by a long shot, but its hit-rate of jokes ensures that you simply don’t have time to get bored. Although they don’t all play as full a part as they might, all the gang are here – joyously, the film pre-dates Jack Douglas – and they are all on top form with Rothwell’s material. Carry On Doctor has a few ills of its own, but as long as you’re immune to rank sexism, it’ll cheer you up on a miserable day.