Patient paralyzed by Dr. Death 'guarantees' there are other surgeons getting away with murder

Entertainment

Daily Mail 16 July, 2021 - 01:40pm 15 views

When will Dr Death be on peacock?

“Dr. Death” premieres on Peacock on Thursday, July 15. The series is a true-life crime drama program based on the podcast of the same name. The storyline is based on Dr. Christopher Duntsch (Joshua Jackson), a rising star in the Dallas medical community. pennlive.comHow to watch ‘Dr. Death’ on Peacock: Premiere date, cast, trailer

Was Dr Death a real doctor?

Out July 15, Dr. Death introduces viewers to Christopher Duntsch, a real-life Texas-based surgeon who in 2017 was sentenced to life in prison after maiming and even killing almost all of the nearly 40 patients he operated on between 2011 and 2013. TIMEThe True Story Behind Peacock's 'Dr. Death'

Where is Christopher Duntsch now?

Today, he's serving a life sentence in prison. Duntsch, who is now 50, is serving time in a Texas prison. According to The Dallas Morning News, he will be up for parole in 2045, when he is 74. Duntsch appealed his sentence and lost the appeal in 2018. oprahdaily.comDr. Death's Christopher Duntsch Is Now Serving a Life Sentence

'Dr. Death' clings to the wrong part of a true story

Mic 16 July, 2021 - 02:10pm

As a society, for better or worse, we're pretty accustomed to witnessing horror. We've been seeing images — both real on the news, and fictional in the created worlds of storytellers like Ryan Murphy and Jordan Peele — for long enough that it's hard to shock audiences. But the much-anticipated NBC Peacock adaptation of Wondery's hit podcast Dr. Death uses gratuitous violence that borders on emotionally abusive to its audience — and loses an opportunity to maximize the best of two mediums.

Dr. Death begins with a gruesome surgery. And then another. In the first 15 minutes of the premiere alone, the viewer is asked to watch as Dr. Duntsch (played by Joshua Jackson) cuts his patients open, and loudly clamors at bone with hammers and screws nails into soft tissue while blood squirts and pools on the floor.

Yes, this is what happened in real life with the aforementioned Christopher Duntsch, who permanently injured or killed 33 of his 38 patients, and is now in prison. But asking the viewer to viscerally consume the horrors he inflicted on real people felt like a cheap way to begin what is a much bigger story — how did this man end up in operating rooms, and why did he do what he did? To add insult to injury, the second episode begins with Alec Baldwin's character re-watching a corrective surgery his character Robert Henderson had done on one of Duntsch's patients, intimately detailing the carnage out loud.

While the introduction to the show is trite, the idea of watching a podcast is not. There are plenty of shows now where you can watch a popular podcast instead of listening — but most take on a more documentary-style approach, like Up and Vanished and the just-released HBO screen version of Ronan Farrow's Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes. The finesse of scripting a true crime story that most fans only listened to, on the other hand, is an art. Most popularly in the scripted realm has been Dirty John, a two-season foray dramatizing first the story of con artist John Meehan, and the just-released second season story of Betty Broderick (expertly played by Amanda Peet).

But watching Dr. Death feels as if its creators, Patrick Macmanus and a team of Wondery colleagues, took everything that made Dirty John, the show, and Dr. Death, the podcast, successful and threw it out of the window. While the show already has 80% on Rotten Tomatoes and Paste calls it "scarier than any horror movie," it seems its positive reviews hinge more on the shock of the story to those unfamiliar with the grizzly actions of Christopher Duntsch, rather than those impressed with the dramatization.

The show makes its second mistake by wildly jumping around in time. While a flashback here and there is helpful and adds nuance to any show, and a bottle episode is fine as well, it's disorienting for each episode to bounce from college years, to surgery years, to Duntsch's success and the endeavors of those trying to expose him.

The focus on the horror of it all, as well as the time jumping, creates a landscape where we don't get to know anyone. The emphasis seems to be on the institutional failures that allowed Duntsch to harm so many, rather than the characters themselves. And while that's an important part of the story, it certainly isn't its most cinematic asset.

In the podcast, victims were humanized by familial backgrounds and stories. In Dr. Death, Dorothy Burke is already braindead before we ever learn anything about her, in a forced scene with her husband about sailing. But more than anything, we don't get to know Christopher Duntsch. The nuance of his private life is obscured by allusions to a failed football career and a demeaning father that somehow are supposed to explain his sociopathic behavior. While Jackson does play him with an icy malice and unhinged temper throughout, you never get a sense of the reasons for his character's mania like you did of those in Dirty John.

Luckily we do get the comedic relief of Christian Slater's fellow-surgeon character Randall Kirby, who has fun quips like "citadel of bullshit" to play off of Badwin's very straight man Henderson. The two eventually combine acting forces with Grace Gummer and AnnaSophia Robb, who respectively play a former surgical assistant of Duntsch and a Dallas assistant district attorney. But their talents can only go so far in a mishandled script for a story that could have written itself — and did so just fine in podcast form.

Joshua Jackson on Not Playing Dr. Death as an Evil Man

Collider 16 July, 2021 - 02:10pm

That was a big focus of Collider's one-on-one interview with Joshua Jackson, who spoke openly about the differences between the American and Canadian health care systems and why it's an important step for shows like Dr. Death to include an all-female directing team (Maggie Kiley, Jennifer Morrison, and So Yong Kim directed the eight episodes). But more importantly, he explained how he got inside the head of a man who it would be all-too-easy to write off as pure evil.

JOSHUA JACKSON: Well, the first key and probably the most difficult hurdle for me to get over was to not judge him. When I listened to the podcast, when I got into the conversation with Patrick Macmanus, when he gave me all the research material, I so wanted to make him evil. My instinct was that the only way, that this man has to be evil, because there has to be a reason why all of this spectacularly bad stuff happened and the simplest and easiest answers he's evil. Right? He's a psychopath. He's doing it on purpose. I wanted to make it easy for myself. And that's frankly what I found so compelling about the character is that it's not easy. He thinks he's the hero of this story. Right? So the outcomes are totally evil, and it is unconscionable that this man was allowed to continue to create this much chaos and pain in people's lives. But from the inside, he sees himself as the victim of circumstance. And that disconnect from reality, I found really compelling.

JACKSON: Well, actually, I think it's even one step scarier than that. I think the systems were working. The systems were telling us where their actual values lay. Right? The value of the institutions was placed above the value of the patients. The value of the legal system, right, of tort reform in the state of Texas was placed above the safety and remuneration of the patients and victims. The value of the doctors, right?

Christopher Duntsch was allowed to keep on moving because he himself represented value in the specialty that he was in, in frankly, the face that he presented, he was valuable to these institutions. So what's scarier to me is, it's not that the systems broke down, it's that they actually operated mostly as they're supposed to. And because while we, as patients were told, well, the patient comes first.

But the actuality is, is that these hospitals will protect themselves. The medical boards will protect themselves. The legal system will protect themselves. So for those of us at just the human level who are interacting with them, we have to realize that we don't just need the systems that have been created to operate better. We need to actually reform them. Because whether it be a hospital network, whether it be a medical board, whether it be the legal system, it doesn't actually place the little guy first. Right? It doesn't place the patient or the victim at the front, it protects the institution first and then somewhere down the line comes the patient.

JACKSON: Well, yeah, it gives you a healthy skepticism. You know, I like to believe that the doctors that I interact with have my best interest at heart. And thankfully, knock on wood, I've never had some spectacularly horrific outcome, like Christopher Duntsch, but I grew up in Canada and I'm Canadian. So the Canadian system is very different than the American system. And the American system, I often find myself having to remind myself that in the American system that the money comes first before the care. Right? In the Canadian system, you go for care first, and then you pay a couple of times a year into the system. It's just a very different way of thinking about interacting.

In America, health is a service. In Canada, health is a right. So I have to constantly remind myself here that no matter how well-intentioned or well-meaning any doctor or any hospital that I'm interacting with, ultimately they're selling me something. And I need to think of it, not as a patient, but as a customer, which is a very difficult thing because you're in an extremely vulnerable place anytime you're interacting with the medical system.

JACKSON: Yeah. I think Patrick...he chose a very difficult path of how to tell this story, particularly by centering Duntsch. I mean Duntsch could very easily just have been the black hat bad guy. Right? And by bringing him into the center portion of the story, you essentially are asking the audience to have compassion or empathy for him, to understand him. And by doing that, then you also bring in his patients. And now you have to have empathy for the people who are the victims of your central character. It's a complicated plank that he tried to walk.

JACKSON: We were bouncing between time periods a lot. So we shot the episodes in three different bricks. But even inside it, there was some times where sequences would line up as chronological, but the timeline was a lot to keep your head around. Particularly for Duntsch, because it goes over such a long period of time. So we were bouncing around quite a lot.

JACKSON: I mean, I think, leaving aside our show, it means that finally the industry as a whole is starting to redress some of the failures of imagination that have led us into a predominantly male, predominantly white-dominated creative industry. So what it meant for the particulars of our show is that we had three excellent directors. Right? All three of them are fantastic each in their own right. Each very different. Jennifer Morrison, I've actually known for a very long time. So it was lovely to get to know her again as a director and just see how she has grown and blossomed and thrown herself into that role. But the meta statement of "my gosh, a show can be shot by three women, who knew" ... we were 75 years past the place of thinking "can three men shoot a show all by themselves?" So I think we're getting towards a better place.

And you know, the hope and dream is that the generation that comes up behind me, it seems inconsequential whether it's all women, all men or a blend of something in the both. But I think, it is good. I'm happy to be a part of a show that is redressing the failure of creative imagination that has placed a female director as some other thing, rather than a director, meaning a male director. That it needs to be noted that like, well, you can only give these ladies so many slots.

JACKSON: Well, it's not. Right? We're certainly not there yet. I think Ava is the first person to have a completely female directed show on Queen Sugar. And that was a revolutionary act. I mean, truly a revolutionary act. And created all sorts of discussion and blowback inside the industry. And that's only four years ago. Right? So, we've taken steps and that's good, but I think it's a totally valid thing to ask because we're not there yet. We're moving in the right direction. Right? From a creative standpoint, what is so unfortunate about the fact that you need to ask that question, and it's a totally valid question is, one would have hoped that we would have always understood that the more diverse and the better quality voices that we have in telling stories, the better the industry is as a whole. Right?

White men also have stories to tell. We've told lots and lots and lots of our stories. Plenty, plenty, plenty, plenty. It is good and healthy and natural and necessary for us to have other people and other perspectives, than just white men. And I, as an actor, want to have the ability to work for the whole smorgasbord of humanity as my directors, as my costars, as my writers, because it makes the stories that we're telling more compelling, not less.

So really for us, we're in a place where we're actually conscious of it, but the industry still has time to go. Because the reality is, is that we're a training craft business. So it has to be taught through generations. You can't just...it doesn't come out wholly formed. Right? So the training craft is being downloaded to a new generation of people whose faces look much more diverse than just a bunch of me-s. And that's good, but we're not there yet. So I think that's a totally valid question and I'm happy to be a part of now several shows that have been part of moving in that direction, but the feet needed to be held to the fire so that we don't slide back.

Dr. Death is available now on Peacock.

Joshua Jackson got 'a little crash course in spinal surgery' to play a murderous real-life surgeon in 'Dr. Death,' a must-watch for true-crime fans

Insider 15 July, 2021 - 12:00am

Speaking to Insider ahead of the show's premiere, Jackson, who plays the deranged Dr. Christopher Duntsch, revealed that part of his preparation for his unnervingly authentic portrayal involved shadowing real (but not murderous) surgeons. He even observed several of them performing surgery. 

"I got a little crash course in spinal surgery," he told Insider. 

But according to Jackson, the most difficult part of filming the surgery scenes wasn't the blood or guts — it was having to pretend like he didn't know the outcome. 

"In each one of those surgeries, Duntsch thinks that he's just about to do the thing that's going to save the day," Jackson explained. "And obviously he does not, but you cannot jump to the end as the actor... You have to let that unfold in front of you." 

Showrunner Patrick Macmanus told Insider that he'd listened to a few episodes of the "Dr. Death" podcast before he began developing the show and quickly zeroed in on the characters.

"There was one way of telling this story, which was that it was a medical thriller and you're on the edge of your seat every step of the way," he added. "And there's another, which is what we were leaning into, which is that it's a character study." 

Macmanus said that Duntsch is an "extraordinarily complex" character, and that he wasn't "just a psychopath." 

Much like the podcast, the new show takes an unflinching look at the effects Duntsch's disastrous surgeries had on his community, including the 33 victims he maimed or killed while operating. And similar to the podcast, the story's narrative arc is driven by the efforts of two of Duntsch's fellow doctors — surgeons Robert Henderson and Randall Kirby — to stop him from claiming more victims. 

Christian Slater and Alec Baldwin play Drs. Kirby and Henderson, respectively. Rounding out the cast is AnnaSophia Robb as prosecutor Michelle Shughart, and Grace Gummer as Kim Morgan, Duntsch's assistant-turned-lover. 

Like Jackson, Slater also shadowed a few surgeons to prepare for his role, even going so far as to make plans to spend a weekend with the real-life Kirby (though the actor's trip was ultimately canceled because of the pandemic).

The "Heathers" star had nothing but praise for Jackson's award-worthy performance as Duntsch. 

"I really feel very grateful that he ended up playing the character," Slater told Insider. "I'm only in one scene with him in the operating theater. And he really brought some phenomenal inept skill to those scenes."

"I would definitely not want him to perform any emergency medical treatment on me," he joked. 

While the gory surgery scenes are certainly stomach-churning for viewers, Jackson said that the most terrifying part of the story to him was the fact that Duntsch was allowed to operate for so long.

"The system is built to support and applaud a man like Christopher Duntsch," Jackson explained. "And when he is as spectacularly off as this man was, the system doesn't really have a set of balances to take care of him."

Indeed, the most terrifying part of "Dr. Death" isn't the egomaniacal doctor at the center of the story. Rather, the show posits, the system that allowed Duntsch to slip through the cracks and harm so many people is the true evil at play. 

It's a bold claim to make, but one that the show does its best to prove.

"Dr. Death" doesn't ultimately present a conclusion about why the real-life Duntsch, who's currently serving life in prison after being convicted of intentionally maiming an elderly patient, did what he did. Leaving open-ended whether Duntch's crimes were due to ineptitude or homicidal tendencies was a purposeful choice on the showrunner's part.

"We will never answer why he did what he did," Macmanus said. "There is no way of answering that question. What we will do is explore all the possibilities."

All eight episodes of "Dr. Death" are now streaming on Peacock.

Entertainment Stories

Top Stores