The Good Doctor
Author: John Enbom
Writer’s Potential: 7
Logline:A lonely first-year resident secretly makes his favorite patient sicker in order to keep her in his care.
Synopsis:MARTIN PLOECK (27) arrives in Southern California to start his post-medical school residency. Martin is quiet and passive, in stark contract to fellow first-year resident DAN, who’s gregarious and confident. Dan invites Martin to a party, promising the beautiful daughter of a cardiologist will be there. Antisocial Martin skips the party. Martin treats MR. SANCHEZ, a Spanish-speaking patient. Despite Martin’s inability to communicate with Sanchez, Martin fills out his orders based on an admit sheet showing Martin has no known medication allergies. During rounds, WAYLANS chastises Martin for looking only at the symptoms instead of finding out relevant personal information about the patient. Privately, Martin asks Waylans about the likelihood of getting an infectious diseases fellowship. Waylans warns him not to get ahead of himself.
A brusque nurse, THERESA, barks at Martin because she can’t read his sloppy handwriting. Martin arrives at an exam room, where DIANE (18) waits with mother MRS. NIXON and sister VALERIE (22). Diane feels ill but isn’t quite sure why. A nurse tells Martin he’ll have to draw Diane’s blood himself because they’re understaffed. Martin is uncomfortable with the task and the sight of blood, but after a few attempts, he gets it right. Mrs. Nixon is a little unenthusiastic about Martin’s lack of confidence. An orderly, MIKE, pops in to take Diane to her room.
Martin goes to a bar after work and meets Dan and his beautiful new girlfriend, CHRISTINE (the cardiologist’s daughter). Dan is nothing but charm and wit. Martin has nothing to contribute. Martin is able to diagnose Diane’s illness — a severe urinary tract infection. He puts her on antibiotics. Diane is impressed with his knowledge, and he even wins over Mrs. Nixon. When Diane’s obnoxious boyfriend, RICH, shows up for a visit, Martin’s heart sinks a little. Theresa drags Martin out of the room to look at Sanchez, who appears to be having a severe reaction to the prescribed penicillin. Martin is shocked, explaining the admit form specifically stated he had no allergies. Theresa shows him the admit form, which actually notes his penicillin allergy. Martin doesn’t believe this. Theresa files an incident report. Worried, Martin asks Waylans how this will affect his possibility of getting a fellowship. Waylans urges Martin not to worry about it, but he isn’t very reassuring. The next day, Diane is feeling better. Martin is encouraged when he hears her breaking up with Rich over the phone. Martin subtly asks her about the relationship, then charms her with his wit. Martin relaxes, feeling a little more confident — until Theresa pulls him away, again criticizing his sloppy handwriting. He tries to stand up to her, but she is a difficult woman.
Mike sympathizes with Martin’s problems with Theresa. He jokingly suggests that doctors should know all the ways to secretly kill people who get in their way. When Martin returns to Diane, she has overheard the interaction with Theresa and tells Martin he’s a good doctor. The next morning, Waylans looks at Diane’s chart and decides she’s ready to go home. Martin fails to convince him to keep her there for another day. Martin goes to her room to say goodbye, but Diane’s already gone. MR. NIXON, her father, packs the last of her things and asks about the condition. Martin tells him to make sure Diane continues with the course of antibiotics to make sure the infection doesn’t return. Mr. Nixon tells Martin that Diane took a shine to him and invites him to dinner. Martin accepts. Mike brings Martin his next patient, a disoriented but voluptuous woman. Mike feels like he’s found a kindred spirit when he spots Martin glancing at her breasts.
Martin goes to dinner at the Nixons. He’s annoyed that Diane isn’t there — she went out with Rich, with whom she got back together. Valerie flirts with Martin intensely. The family is a little gregarious and obnoxious. Eventually, Martin excuses himself to use the restroom. On his way, he sneaks into Diane’s room and steals a photo of her. In the bathroom, he calls his own pager and uses this as an excuse to leave the dinner. The Nixons understand. That night, Martin goes to the bar. Through the window outside, sees Dan laughing with Christine and notices Theresa is one of the gang, so he decides to go home alone. He puts the stolen photo of Diane into a frame.
Waylans has a discussion with Martin about his lack of confidence with the patients. Martin explains that he really wants to be a doctor, but it’s taking him time to learn, and people like Theresa aren’t helping. Waylans understands to some extent. Valerie calls Martin to tell him that he left his jacket at the Nixons. Martin contemplates his loneliness and alienation and comes to a decision. He returns to the Nixons’ house to pick up his jacket and asks to use the bathroom. Inside the bathroom, he quickly replaces the medicine in Diane’s capsules with innocuous lactose powder. Before long, Diane is back in the hospital, her infection acting up. Martin is pleased to see her again. Martin is rushed to Sanchez’s room, because he’s presenting with new symptoms. Martin realizes he was never suffering an allergic reaction to penicillin — it was a result of improperly administered antibiotics. He shows the findings to Waylans, pleased that he’s finally beat Theresa at her own game. Martin flirts with Diane and tells her they’ve put her on stronger antibiotics to fight what is evidently a more severe strain of infection. While Diane sleeps, Martin secretly replaces her medication IV with generic saline.
Later, nurse MARYANNE apologizes for screwing up Sanchez’s medication. Martin feels horrible for getting her in trouble — he was after Theresa. Before long, Maryanne is fired. Martin’s confidence improves as he consults with Waylan about tests and courses of treatment for Diane. He impresses Waylan. One night, while Martin’s in the supply room scrounging for more saline, Mike barges in with the drugged-out voluptuous woman, intending to have sex with her in the supply room. Mike realizes Martin is up to something, too, so Martin agrees to look past this indiscretion. Diane is very trusting and admiring of Martin’s abilities — this, too, improves his confidence. When Rich shows up at the hospital, Martin instructs him not to see her. Waylans brings in a specialist to consult with Diane’s case. He gives Martin tips on impressing the specialist, who is on the fellowship committee. Diane ends up going into surgery. Martin stays by her side the whole time, which makes Mike suspicious something’s going on between them.
While Diane is unconscious, Martin awkwardly kisses her. He drains her antibiotics once more, promising himself he’ll only do this for one more day, but the guilt catches up with him. He decides to replace the saline with real antibiotics, but Theresa enters Diane’s room and won’t leave. He keeps watch but ends up falling asleep. When he wakes, it’s too late — she’s been rushed to the emergency room, where she ends up dying. Racked with guilt and sadness, Martin goes home. The following day, Theresa surprises Martin with compassion and sympathy. Waylans asks Martin routine questions to ensure his emotional response to his first patient death is reasonably healthy. When he’s satisfied, Waylans dismisses Martin. Later, Mr. Nixon barges into the hospital, accusing Martin of killing his daughter. Waylans comes to Martin’s defense.
Martin is surprised that this death becomes a boon to his career — the specialist wants Martin to assist with a study of this particular infection, which will look great on a fellowship application; Dan introduces him to Christine’s beautiful cousin; and he’s bonded with Waylans and Theresa, who now consider him a “real” doctor. Then, Mike decides to blackmail Martin. He’s found a diary Diane kept, which apparently chronicles a fantasy sexual relationship between Martin and Diane. In exchange for silence, Mike demands prescription painkillers. Martin has trouble getting them. At first, he only gives Mike a few. Mike keeps threatening that he’ll hang on to the journal and use Martin as his personal pharmacy forever. Martin requests some volatile stomach medication, which he paints to look like Percodan. He hands these over to Mike, but the plan seems to backfire when Mike pops them right in front of Martin. They affect him rapidly. Aware of what Martin has done, Mike tries to take him down with him. To the rest of the hospital, it looks like Martin was trying like hell to save him.
Waylans tells Martin most of the staff suspected Mike was a drug user — this time, he got ahold of a bad batch. Martin rummages through Mike’s things and finds where he hid the diary. He takes it back to his apartment, where he’s in the midst of reading it when the police show up to ask follow-up questions. Guilty, fidgety, and stammering all over himself, Martin all but confesses to a death they don’t even suspect was a murder. Knowing things aren’t going well, Martin grabs the journal and scrambles into his room, very suspiciously. The police beat on the door, and Martin contemplates escaping through his bedroom window. Instead, he flushes the incriminating diary pages down the toilet and claims he got an emergency page and needed some documents. The police seem okay with this explanation. Martin gets together with Christine’s cousin. Some time later, he introduces himself to another patient — another teenage girl. She asks if his tests will hurt. Martin tells her not to worry — he’s getting better at this every day.
Comments:The Good Doctor is a well-written but bleak character study of a lonely doctor who makes a lot of bad choices for complex reasons. Although the reasons for his deplorable actions are made abundantly clear, the unpleasantness of the protagonist is still a big hurdle to overcome with audiences. As written, it merits a consider.
It’s not easy to sympathize with anything Martin does throughout the story. He’s simply not a sympathetic character, a fact that the writer seems to embrace the majority of the time. The script does contain a few scenes to elicit sympathy for him, however, and these scenes ring false every time. What the writer does well, however, is making Martin’s bad behavior understandable to the audience. The toxic combination of loneliness, ambition, and insecurity make him into a compelling, if repugnant, character. Audiences may relate to his psychological turmoil, even if they don’t agree with the choices he makes. They will not feel sorry for him, though.
The supporting characters are a mixed bag. Each member of the Nixon family, including the teenage son who appears in only one scene, is fully realized and interesting. The hospital staff, on the other hand, relies a little too much on stereotypes. Dan the cocky stud whom Martin envies, Waylans the ineffectual bureaucrat, Theresa the shrew — not much that hasn’t been seen in other medical movies. Similarly, Mike, the blackmailing drug addict patient rapist, is a little too over-the-top in his bad deeds. This serves to make Martin’s murder of him seem more justified (even though it’s not), but it mainly makes Mike look like a far-fetched cliché than a real person.
This story is pretty solid, with a few exceptions. The first act does a nice job of setting the deliberate pace and melancholic tone. It takes its time in establishing quiet Martin’s desires, but it all pays off well in the second and third acts. Once Martin has made the decision to secretly make Diane sick to cure his pathetic loneliness (and build his confidence), the writer does a nice job of gradually increasing the suspense the farther Martin pushes his secret agenda. By this point, Martin’s occasional wistful gazes at the other doctors performing competently or having fun with their girlfriends are unnecessary, but the writer continues to add these moments in a vain attempt to make the audience feel sorry for him.
The third act pays off without feeling like too much of a cheat. The writer does a nice job of showing the misguided trust the doctors put into each other, and the police put into the doctors. Mike’s blackmail and subsequent murder might be a little too neat and tidy, but the writer’s portrayal of Martin’s guilt is effective. Only the final scene is a letdown — after Martin spends the third act wracked with guilt, the life he was so desperate for (success, fellowship, pretty girlfriend) falls into his lap, yet he’s going to continue doing horrible things to patients? It’s a creepy “fade to black” moment, but it doesn’t make any sense.
Despite the misgivings, a strong actor and/or big star in the role of Martin will ensure some sort of success. Martin is an extremely well-written character. Perhaps a competent supporting cast can also elevate the supporting roles beyond stereotypes.