Holby City: the Gaskill saga’s denouement

Still from Holby City of Jac Naylor, a middle-aged white woman wearing no make-up and with blonde hair tied behind her head, wearing a hospital gown, standing in a darkened laboratory in front of a table with a desk lamp shining down and some test tubes in a rack.I’ve been a fan of the BBC dramas Casualty and Holby City since the 1980s, although I only started watching them on a regular basis again more recently (Casualty was a fixture when I was a child, although it’s less watched now and always gets dropped whenever something ‘important’ needs the BBC1 slot, such as a sporting or remembrance event). The premise was that Casualty was set in Holby City hospital, and Holby was understood to be Bristol until BBC Wales took over the making of Casualty, though not Holby City, and Welsh accents and locations started to appear in it and Holby City characters, some of whom appeared in both, started appearing only occasionally despite the premise of them being set in the same hospital. Recently, Holby City has been dominated by a storyline involving a ‘brilliant’ consultant named John Gaskell who had developed a device allowing people who are paralysed to walk again. However, he was also an extremely manipulative individual and anyone who questioned his judgement (usually someone junior with ‘na&idia;ve’ ethical principles) was dropped from the project and often driven off the ward. It then turned out that patients were dying and that the device was supported by stem cells that were contaminated, and when more senior doctors started to raise concerns, he started killing them.

More recent episodes looked in depth at his early career and his period as a student, with the laconic Swedish consultant Henrik Hanssen and his partner Roxanna McMillen. McMillen remembered her mother who had become “locked in” and her ambition was to find a cure for this condition. After Gaskell realised that Macmillan was aware of the defects of his trial, he chased her through a car park resulting in her being run over by a member of staff; he then sabotages an operation on her brain, resulting in her becoming locked in, and when she starts to communicate with a nurse who holds a letter board in her hand, he ushers the nurse away and then poisons Macmillan. Meanwhile, another consultant in the hospital, Jac Naylor, who had suffered spinal injuries by being shot (by Hansen’s wayward son Fredrik, who had been carrying out unethical trials of his own) had demanded that she be fitted with the implant after her injuries had been causing her crippling pain; when she discovered that contaminated stem cells had been used on others fitted with it, resulting in them developing cancer, she demanded it be removed. Gaskell and Hansen did attempt to remove it, and removed some of the scar tissue that had developed, but could not get at the device itself; Gaskell also attempted to poison Jac, but it appears he failed, though Hansen also was exposed to the poison which Gaskell had developed.

At the end of last Tuesday’s episode, with his trial discredited, his kidnapping of a Portuguese patient (who had been kept in a coma for months) and subsequent attempts to operate on her himself revealed, he drowned himself in a lake where he had previously prevented Hansen from doing the same to himself. Hansen appeared to intend to try and rescue him, telling him he had to face the consequences, but kept collapsing from the effects of the poison. The rest of the staff had to attempt to save both Lana, the Portuguese patient (who died) and Jac Naylor after Gaskell had tried to poison her and then fled; she, it seems survived, although the impression I got — seeing her first open her eyes and then, finally, with her eyes closed and a blank expression and her colleagues standing around with sad expressions — was that she had died. I had been planning to write a retrospective on Naylor’s career and it was only from reading tweets and reviews that I worked out that she was in fact still alive (and her name is in the cast list for the next two episodes).

I found some aspects of this plot weak. One is that Jac would have been able to get this implant put into her on demand, and then get it removed as quickly as she did, also on demand. There are, of course, waiting lists for elective, non-emergency procedures in real NHS hospitals. Another was that she apparently trusted Gaskell to remove it himself. Although she did not know that he was a murderer, she was aware that he was negligent in sourcing the stem cells to support the device. A real consultant who suspected such things would, no doubt, have the money to have this done privately or at least get a private consultation with a neurologist who had no connections to or debt to Gaskell. Another weakness is that she attempted to get both Fletch (a nurse who had recently had a crush on her) and Sacha (a consultant) to look after Emma, her daughter, if she did not make it, saying that she did not trust “her father”. The father has a name, Jon Maconie, a nurse who was once a major character, who at one point Jac pretty much threw Emma at and of whom she previously said he was a good father and regretted having at one point cut him out of Emma’s life; he would have first priority if indeed Jac became unable to look after Emma. I also wonder how Gaskell could have kidnapped a comatose patient, on a hospital bed, from a hospital, let alone from one country to another.

Despite not being dead as she appeared at the end of Tuesday’s episode, she is not out of the woods and the synopsis mentions “when her condition worsens”. Whether she will still be able to work as a consultant cardio-thoracic surgeon with the effects of both her gunshot injury and Gaskell’s butchery and poisoning attempt remains to be seen. Like most watchers, I suspect, I have always found her remarkably dislikeable, right from when, as a registrar, she got a consultant’s job purely because another (female) applicant was tending to a patient when the interviews were held. Despite her competence, she was exceedingly arrogant, a bully to junior staff (who were somehow drawn to her all the same) and was obsessed with hierarchy; she had one relationship, with a male nurse (Maconie), resulting in Emma, whom she lived with for a while but he left, for reasons we never discovered, but Naylor subsequently said “me and a nurse? It was never going to work” and when Fletch showed his affections she shouted “you’re not good enough for me!”. However, for some reason male consultants did not find her attractive enough.

Occasionally, storylines featured Jac’s background as an explanation for why she behaved the way she did: her mother had abandoned her and she grew up in care, starved of affection — though others in the same home were abused, which she escaped, and one of those, Fran Reynolds, ended up working as a nurse at Holby and confronted Jac, revealing that Jac witnessed her abuse but said nothing. Her sister, whose mother had not abandoned her unlike with Jac, also came to work as a junior doctor at the hospital, but Jac froze her out; she ultimately died after being stabbed accidentally with a scalpel during a fight with Reynolds. Jac clearly was not particularly aggrieved at the loss of her sister.

Reading the gossip, it appears that some old faces, such as the much-loved Mo Effanga, are returning starting from the next episode. She’ll be a breath of fresh air as she has a passion for the job and has real human warmth rather than being a walking robot (like Hanssen, whose occasional displays of emotion don’t convince) or a scheming manipulator who rarely shows emotion other than anger (like Naylor) — I’d quite like to see a bit less of these two in particular. Many people on Twitter are complaining that the recent storyline is not typical, i.e. not what they want to see when they watch it; one person said “when I know the aliens are gone, I’ll be back” and another asked, “what happened to the hospital programme — this is like Frankenstein’s experimental castle FFS!!”. It may remind people of how Brookside, the Channel 4 soap of the 80s and 90s, declined from being entertaining, with the odd ‘issue’ based storyline (domestic violence, gambling addiction) to being obsessed with dramatic storylines such as the killer virus and a drug bust in Thailand. The Gaskell storyline may have some people gripped but it has put a lot of the old fans off and a few episodes of normal human beings getting on with each other and treating patients with varying degrees of success might win some of the old fans back.

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