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10 August 2017

In Trust Me, Jodie Whittaker plays an entirely different kind of doctor

The hospital imposter is an excellent dramatic device, playing on our deepest fears in BBC One's drama.

By Rachel Cooke

The medical drama Trust Me (BBC One, 8 August, 9pm), starring Jodie Whittaker, is just the kind of battiness we need in these, the dog days of summer. It’s completely preposterous, right from the get-go. But its vice-like grip makes for a delicious accompaniment to a large glass of rosé. And this is even before we get to our heroine’s considerable love interest: a brooding Scottish doctor called Andy (Emun Elliott). Cue rising temperatures all round.

Whittaker (soon to be a Doctor of an entirely different kind) plays Cath, a Sheffield nurse and aspiring whistle-blower. When her complaints about corner cutting fall on deaf ears and she is suspended for having made them, she pinches the CV of her friend Ally, a doctor who is about to emigrate to New Zealand, and assumes her identity.

It’s quite a good CV – at the Edinburgh hospital where she will land a job in A&E, her interviewer wonders whether she isn’t over-qualified – and it brings with it the in-built admiration of her new colleagues, who fancy she’s slumming it out of sheer good-heartedness. These medics, though: are they blind as well as naive? Why do they never notice Cath hurriedly Googling the symptoms of diabetes or the fact that she sometimes pulls from the pocket of her scrubs a book that is possibly titled Emergency Trauma for Dummies?

Still, the hospital imposter is an excellent dramatic device, playing as it does not only on our deepest fears, but on our rapidly changing attitudes to the medical profession, a dangerous shift that has been facilitated, as Cath’s new job has been, by the internet.

I also think – though this could be the rosé speaking – that the queasiness one experiences every time she pulls on a pair of latex gloves carries with it a weird resonance. When she’s out of her depth, which isn’t all the time because she was a seriously good nurse, I can’t help but remember the moments when I was, in life, too. I think of all those I know for a fact to be in this position now – my God, they’re everywhere! – but who would rather die than admit it.

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As loopy as it is, Trust Me speaks loudly to this age of bullshit, instant fame and the scorning of expertise. What is David Davis in the end, but an unqualified doctor who is about to attempt to insert a large stent into a particularly tender part of the body politic?

And so, gingerly, to Diana: In Her Own Words (Channel 4, 6 August, 8pm). Before it screened, journalists were expected to be in camps: for or against. Neither position allowed for the reality, which was both tawdry and enlightening. The tawdriness emanated almost entirely from the unseen Peter Settelen, the voice coach who recorded the Princess in 1992-93 (the films around which the documentary was built), and who could be heard asking her, among other things, how frequently she and the Prince of Wales enjoyed conjugal relations.

The enlightenment came from the script, which was elegant, from the editing, which was deft, and above all from Diana herself, who was here both utterly delightful – a goofy comedian with a good line in self-deprecation – and slyly knowing. Something, indisputably in my view, really has been added to the record: an unexpurgated reminder, perhaps, of the way in which the establishment moved almost as one to describe an unhappy but perfectly sane and capable woman as “mad”.

Settelen should not have sold the tapes. But that’s for his conscience. My gut tells me that Diana – who had by this time already spoken at length to Andrew Morton – knew full well the risk she was running by allowing them to be made. Indeed, deep down she may have hoped they would be leaked sooner rather than later. As the tapes reveal, she was nothing if not highly practiced in the art of performance. This was no dress rehearsal; Settelen was teaching his granny to suck eggs.

There she sat, on some over-stuffed sofa in some airless Kensington Palace drawing room, giving it her all, deploying her charm and emotional sincerity like weapons, her skin aglow with the mischief of it, as if she carried a lightbulb within. Oh, how she is missed. Our national soap: where once there seemed to be gunpowder, now we find only Xanax. 

This article appears in the 09 Aug 2017 issue of the New Statesman, France’s new Napoleon