ITV, Sunday 8 April 2018
For those that haven't seen the previous series of The Good Karma Hospital, well done you for having dodged a very dull bullet. In a quick summary, the series follows a junior doctor working at a hospital in south India run by an eccentric ex-pat. The cast features some '90s stars I long thought retired; I am glad to see they are still getting work involving extended stays in warm climates with plenty of scenes in a bar on the beach. The scenery, however, does nothing to detract from some half-hearted performances.
Wait, I hear you cry, why is such a reputable publication like BioNews telling me of such a show? Well, dear reader, this episode tackles the 'taboo' subject of surrogacy in India, and of adoption. I know, what a shock – a medical show in India covering surrogacy. Who would believe the originality of the writers? The real shock is that it took 'til series two to come up with this plot. As usual with mainstream dramas, I am torn between appreciation for increasing public awareness of alternative families, and disappointment with the mind-numbingly obvious plots with alarmist messaging.
Allow me to illustrate. Matron Mari gets a surprise when a childhood friend walks into the hospital in labour. It soon becomes clear this is more than just a simple reunion. Pramila is a surrogate and Mari is obviously disapproving. Pramila is motivated by a desire to have a better life in England with the money she makes. The twins are born and all seems well. The intended parents, Naveen and Sweta, arrive, who are overjoyed with their new children.
Naveen and Sweta seem to genuinely care for and respect Pramila. The show takes an obvious and darker turn when the formidable Dr Lydia Fonseca (played by Amanda Redman) tells the intended parents that the baby girl has thalassaemia, a severe, life-limiting and incurable disease. Barely an hour later Naveen and Sweta abandon their sick baby girl and take her healthy brother home, simply leaving a cheque to the hospital.
Here is where the terrible acting and obvious plot goes from bad to worse. Surrogacy relationships do break down, rarely, but there are several unlikely points here. First, it is not very plausible that a surrogate for a clearly wealthy couple in India would be walking into a random free hospital, rather than having private medical care provided. Second, it is rather unlikely that once the child had been abandoned by its intended parents, the ever-sage and powerful Dr Fonseca wouldn't have contacted the authorities.
Rant over for now. The storyline continues when the childless Matron Mari, who put career before family, convinces Pramila that she will adopt the child. It really is made out to be so simple. Mari and the matriarch-to-all Dr Fonseca have heated exchanges. All seems set that Mari will adopt the sick child, and she begins to bond with her and is seen doting on the child. Not to be usurped, the ever-wily ex-pat Dr Fonseca whispers in surrogate Pramila's ear, who quickly becomes empowered with a sense of motherhood. Pramila pulls out the agreement with Mari leaving her broken-hearted.
Now, it took me three goes to finish this one episode, which shows my dedication to BioNews, but also that it's probably a show to miss. To some, it may have seemed like a happy ending. To me, it reeked of lazy script-writing with a strong whiff of colonialism from the Dr-Fonseca-knows-best mentality.
I am all for mainstream dramas covering surrogacy and raising awareness of the risks involved, particularly to UK parents thinking of going to India (those that still can – see BioNews 866). However, it needs to be more than a subplot in one episode, which is given only slightly more screen time than a girl with a brain tumour who may be a reincarnation of an Indian goddess.
As I googled the show to watch it on catch up, I am told it's been commissioned for a third series. I have never been more grateful to pay my TV licence.