Historical sitcom Quacks – the next best thing to an old Blackadder repeat

The BBC's new sitcom about a group of Victorian doctors offers uncomplicated, roister doistering laughs akin to a British comedy classic, thinks Lucy Sweet

I don’t know about you but when I stumble on an old episode of Blackadder on Yesterday’s Dusty Old Things channel, I am instantly and simply delighted, in the same way as Hugh Laurie’s Prince Regent is over the moon with a pair of new socks.

It was always such a joy, wasn’t it? The jokes were subtle and clever and stupid and broad, the waistcoats were embroidered and you could guarantee there’d be an old comedy crone somewhere in the background with wooden teeth. Every episode was just what the doctor ordered.

New historical sitcom Quacks, about a group of Victorian doctors, is a tonic, too, in a similarly uncomplicated, roister doistering way. The writing isn’t anywhere near as quick-witted as Richard Curtis’ and Ben Elton’s in their super-brained Oxbridge heyday, but it’s worth drawing up a chair for, as long as you don’t mind watching people having their limbs – and other more tender parts – sawn off.

The main character, Dr Robert Lessing (Rory Kinnear) is a self-aggrandising, pompous rockstar surgeon, who amputates legs with rusty implements while adoring crowds of bosomy fans gasp in awe. The patients almost always die, but never mind. Together with his pals – druggy backstreet dentist/anaesthetist John (Tom Basden) and stumbling proto-psychologist William (Matthew Baynton) – some form of medical progress is slowly happening. They even manage to remove the Duke of Bedford’s facial tumour, even though they accidentally set him on fire in the process.

The real revelation is Everett, who has gone from floundering cheeseball in My Best Friend’s Wedding to a fully matured period drama Stilton

Most of the fun comes from laughing at the medical ignorance of yore. Rupert Everett joins in as the imperious royal physician, with an array of withering expressions and sketchy diagnoses (‘Fast for a week, ride a horse twice a day and put a freshly baked potato on the affected area,’ he tells a stiff-backed dowager with a urine infection). Elsewhere, there’s a promising plotline involving Dr Lessing’s frustrated, intelligent wife Caroline (Lydia Leonard) who wants to join an anatomy class and maybe have sex once in her life. While it won’t make you pee your breeches with mirth, it’s all rather enjoyably gruesome and the performances are faultless.

The real revelation is Everett, who has gone from floundering cheeseball in My Best Friend’s Wedding to a fully matured period drama Stilton. The man is a smirking, sharp-toothed demigod, and he should definitely be back in the game. If he’s not in the next Andrew Davies adaptation involving people saying witty things in stately homes, I will most likely have conniptions and pass out under the harpsichord.

Quacks is on BBC Two, Tuesdays at 10pm