Books have often been the source material for TV shows, but Dr. Death is showing that podcasts can be excellent source material too. Following in the steps of Dirty John and Homecoming, Dr. Death is based on the Wondery podcast of the same name about the true story of Dr. Christopher Duntsch, a Dallas-based surgeon whose work is so bad that patients have been paralyzed and died because of his work. Dr. Death follows the journey of Dr. Randall Kirby (Christian Slater) Dr. Robin Henderson (Alec Robinson) and young district attorney Michelle Shughart (AnnaSophia Robb) trying to take down spine surgeon Dr. Duntsch (Joshua Jackson) whose bad work seems to be slipping through the cracks of the medical bureaucracy.
To say that Dr. Duntch is terrible at his job is an understatement. An old sponge is found sewn into the neck of one of his past patients, others have irreparable damage after being under his knife. His best friend is now a quadriplegic because of Dr. Duntch’s work and others have died. Dr. Duntsch has so much of a God complex and thinks he can do no wrong that he’s even performed surgeries high on cocaine. His poor work hasn’t gone unnoticed. He bounces from hospital to hospital but no one is willing to revoke his license and he’s able to use his charm to get out of any sticky situation. Together, Dr. Kirby and Dr. Henderson find that while it’s hard for someone to become a surgeon, it’s even more difficult to hold them accountable for their actions. Scrappy DA Michelle Shughart teams up with the doctors to try to find any way to get a charge to stick on Dr. Duntch to prevent him from ever performing a surgery again.
The major question we have through out the eight episodes mini series is Dr. Death a murder or incompetent? As Dr. Kirby notes, his work seems like he knows exactly what to do, but then does the exact opposite.
Like many drama series of this nature, the series is a bit of a slow burn, but pays off at the end with a satisfying finale. The timeline of the show can be a bit confusing since it leaps to different points of time frequently. However, all the actors are on their A-game. Joshua Jackson channels his charm into something more sinister than we’ve seen before: he’s more a sociopath than a heartthrob.
As true crime seeps more into scripted TV and we’re learning about the tragedies, will the public start holding institutions more accountable? While Dr. Death was the one holding the knife, the institutions that continuously let him practice are just as responsible for the pain the victims and their families have been through. As Dr. Kirby, Dr. Henderson and Michelle Shughart have said several times, this will happen again.