Although the disclaimer before each episode of the Dr. Death Peacock original series says the show dramatizes events in the story for television, the truth is not far off, making this streaming series more chilling.
The story explored in the Peacock series starring Joshua Jackson, Alec Baldwin, and Christian Slater is an important one. It is a cautionary tale about creating systems that favor money over people, the pressures faced by hospitals, the complicated politics of operating rooms, and the lasting effects of malpractice on the communities that trust doctors to help them. It took a team of dedicated people with strong moral obligations to bring Dr. Christopher Duntsch (Joshua Jackson) to justice.
The show credits its creation to the Wondery podcast Dr. Death: Season One, but the frightening true story behind the podcast is the basis of it all.
The Real Dr. Death: More Recent Than You Think
Given the blind premise of Peacock’s Dr. Death–a neurosurgeon who continually maimed or killed his patients–one might presume this TV series reenacts a horror story from a bygone era. The events depicted in Dr. Death happened as recently as 2017. That’s when Dr. Christopher Duntsch became the first doctor in U.S. history convicted of criminal charges due to his medical malpractice.
Viewers can feel the echoes of this precedent-setting case even now in 2021. For instance, since high school, Jerry Summers, Duntsch’s friend, died just this year from an infection due to complications linked with the surgeries Duntsch performed on him in 2011 that left him a person with quadriplegia.
The ending credits of the season one finale provide a somber reminder that these events are part of a systemic problem.
“After cancer and heart disease, medical errors are a leading cause of death in the U.S. Estimates range in the tens of thousands to 440,000 deaths each year. What happened here will happen again.”
Dr. Death Series: A Bone-Grinding Beginning to a Euphoric Finale
We start the series by being introduced to Madeline Beyer (Maryann Plunkett) as medical staff prep her and send her into surgery with Dr. Christopher Duntsch (Joshua Jackson).
We don’t see the surgery itself, but we’re party to the horrific descriptions of the revision surgery performed by Dr. Robert Henderson (Alec Baldwin). We then meet Dr. Randall Kirby (Christian Slater), giving his opinion after learning that Dr. Duntsch has been hired at Dallas Medical by Jill Deleone (Zabryna Guevara).
Spoilers: It’s not positive.
We then witness Duntsch’s arrogance. His staff, previous friends, and acquaintances all seem uncomfortable in his presence, and we can see why. Joshua Jackson’s Duntsch oozes ego in every human interaction, proclaiming his genius as a man and surgeon, even as he maims or kills two more patients before the end of the episode.
The series following the pilot is a non-linear narrative working toward Duntsch’s conviction. We see Dr. Kirby, Dr. Henderson, and Michelle Shughart (AnnaSophia Robb) working together to bring down Dr. Death and expose the underbelly of the deeply flawed system that allowed him to go undetected.
At every turn, we see Duntsch’s relationships flounder, his finances tank, and his mind spiral into madness. He proves himself to be a monster. Each episode reveals more events that shaped Duntsch into a man without remorse. Events that ultimately culminate in his imprisonment.
Joshua Jackson’s Duntsch: An Uncomfortable Spectacle
As enthralling as the series is, it’s hard to watch at times.
Joshua Jackson’s Duntsch is a one-person train wreck, and this story is a series of disconnected train cars crashing into everything he touches. He represents the worst of humanity. Perhaps the only solace the viewer can take is that the end is spoiled–Dr. Duntsch eventually met justice. Early on in this non-linear narrative, we stare into Duntsch’s eyes as he’s examined by the prison’s staff, “inmate” clearly visible on his jumpsuit.
Without this small consolation, viewers would scream watching Dr. Christopher Duntsch get away scot-free, one disastrous surgery after another.
Watch Dr. Death On Peacock
The Peacock original series, Dr. Death, is a slow burn filled with drama, blood, and fantastic performances that will get you sucked in from the start and squeeze you slowly until the very end.
There is frustration, horror, and uncomfortable silence punctuated by the sharp metallic sound of a medical hammer. However, the small victories and the quickly snowballing case against Dr. Christopher Duntsch are heightened by the performance of Joshua Jackson as he portrays a man you’ll love to hate.
Just remember, this story is all too real, and hate alone won’t do the hard reform work ahead.