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Jackie's back


As a double-bill opens up a new series of Nurse Jackie on RTE Two this evening, it seems a good time to ask: will there ever be a time when medical dramas aren't hugely popular?

Probably not. It's literally life and death, the very stuff of which great fictional stories are made.

Nurse Jackie is the latest serving of medical drama, and although viewing figures are relatively small here and in the US, it's secured a certain niche spot in our affections and on the schedules.

The show stars Edie Falco -- formerly a fearsome prison guard in Oz and an even more fearsome wife and mother in The Sopranos -- in the title role. Clever and courageous, yet with a fondness for pills and inappropriate romantic partners, Nurse Jackie always seems close to the edge, but somehow she manages not to fall over it.

Nurse Jackie the programme can be a bit melodramatic and implausible at times, but Nurse Jackie the character is compelling and brilliantly portrayed by Falco, a woman who often seems too big, in talent and personality, for the confines of the small screen. In honour of both of them, here are 10 other great medical drama characters:

Dr Cathy Costello (played by Aisling O'Sullivan), The Clinic

Oh, Cathy, the poor thing: She was always beset by some kind of trouble. Cheating hubbie, work problems, life-threatening accident, her fella almost dying . . . no wonder she wore that permanent frown like a uniform.

Dr Tom Callaghan (Andrew McFarlane), The Flying Doctors

Fondly remembered old Aussie show about the famous, and titular, flying doctors' service, which provided medical aid to farmers in the outback and their families. Dr Callaghan was young, dashing and ended up leaving for aid work in Africa.

Dr Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes), ER

She had a limp. That's what most people remember about Dr Weaver. Also, she was gay. And she was incredibly short-tempered, although that might have been explained by the red hair. Still, she became one of the defining characters in the later era of the classic Chicago-based medical drama.

Dr Frank Campion (John Howard), All Saints

Cranky, irascible and obese, Dr Frank didn't seem the right man to run a hospital in the popular Australian drama. But run it he did, with an iron (albeit rather rotund) fist. A great character, given great life by John Howard's ebullient performance.

Dr Rob Lake (Max Beesley), Bodies

Bodies was unusual among medical dramas in that it was murkier, dirtier, grittier and more unsettling than the norm. It often used that jerky, Bourne Identity-style of handheld camerawork, and never shied away from showing the literal and metaphorical blood and guts of medical work. Rob Lake was the hard-pressed doc trying to rise above it all.

Dr Michaela Quinn (Jane Seymour), Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman

Curio from the early to mid-nineties, starring Jane Seymour as the lady of the title, a doctor who ups sticks for the Wild West frontier. Nice Saturday evening fare, and Dr Quinn herself was a good mix of smarts and steel.

Captain 'Hawkeye' Pierce (Alan Alda), M*A*S*H

Alan Alda's iconic role, and the one that really made his name, in the TV spin-off of the hit movie. Hawkeye was cynical, funny, disillusioned and disbelieving, struggling to make it through the madness of the Korean War in this wonderful satire.

Nurse Carol Hathaway (Juliana Margulies), ER

Another from ER -- it deserves two, doesn't it? We all loved Nurse Hathaway: She was the cool yin to Doug Ross's yang, played of course by George Clooney. And we all loved it when the two of them finally got together.

Dr Christian Troy (Julian McMahon, left), Nip/Tuck

Smarmy, cocksure, irritating but talented, plastic surgeon Christian wasn't all bad at heart: his friendship with practice partner Sean was well-played and kept this often-overheated potboiler from boiling over.

Dr Joel Fleischmann (Rob Morrow), Northern Exposure

The great lead character from a truly brilliant TV show, Dr Fleischmann was a suave urbanite trying to fit into the oddball Alaskan town of Cicely. His love-hate flirtation with the feisty Maggie O'Connell inspired a million heated slacker-era debates.