Last Friday, Peacock released Dr. Death, the riveting and appalling true story of the popular 2018 true-crime podcast of the same name on Wondery. The podcast is centered on the surgeon, Dr. Christopher Duntsch, a real-life former Texas-based surgeon who in 2017 was sentenced to life in prison after maiming and killing almost all of the 33 patients he operated on between 2011 and 2013.
The slightly fictionalized series stars Joshua Jackson as the manipulative and overconfident Duntsch. At the same time, Alec Baldwin and Christian Slater star alongside, playing Dr. Robert Henderson and Dr. Randall Kirby, the two doctors that put their careers out on the line to stop Duntsch from ever operating on a human being again.
In 2018, Wondery released a groundbreaking podcast from an independent medical journalist, Laura Beil. Beil had lived and worked in Dallas, TX for more than 20 years as a medical journalist. Now she writes for national magazines.
Her work in the podcast, Dr. Death, dove deep into the true story of Dr. Christopher Duntsch, the former American neurosurgeon who has been nicknamed Dr. Death for his gross malpractice. The former surgeon shattered the trust and ruined the lives of 33 out of his 37 patients, according to TIME. Some patients woke up paralyzed, others awoke from anesthesia to permanent pain from nerve damage that Dr. Duntsch botched. Two of those patients died. One from significant blood loss after the operation and the other from a stroke caused by a vertebral artery cut. One patient, Duntsch’s childhood friend, woke up a quadriplegic after going in for a spinal operation. An operation he trusted coming from his best friend.
The podcast thoroughly investigates the gross malpractice and arrogant persona of Duntsch in six episodes. It hooks you into this riveting and somber story from patients who put their trust in Duntsch and were betrayed when they found their condition worsened when they awoke from surgery. Medical journalist Beil efficiently dove deep into Duntsch’s botched surgeries and the upbringing that led to him becoming a surgeon. However, this Peacock series breathes new life into this horrific and heartbreaking true story that violates the patient and doctor trust.
The Dr. Death Series
As previously mentioned, Joshua Jackson, The Affair, takes on the lead role as Duntsch with the same charm and egotism that was described in Beil’s podcast. Jackson wows us in this performance by taking the same careful steps that Duntsch used to portray himself as a hardworking, competent, and compassionate human being.
Jackson told E! News that he was glad to go home to his wife and baby after spending hours playing a “delusional narcissist” who is “so far removed from reality as you and I experience it, or the evidence of his own life as we come to witness in this show.”
While Jackson was skeptical about taking on the role, he said that listening to the podcast is what initially convinced him.
“I found myself not only being creeped out and horrified by what I was hearing, but I found myself wanting to know why. How did this happen? How did this man come to be? How did he keep on doing these awful things? Who the hell was he?”
Besides Jackson’s performance, Christian Slater and Alec Baldwin stand out as the perfect duo with Henderson’s (Baldwin), reserved and laid back personality, and Kirby’s(Slater), a larger-than-life personality with a “let’s do something about it” attitude.
Other actors on the roster include Grace Gummer, Dominic Burgess, Frederic Lehne, and Hubert Pint-Du Jour. Also including the young Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Michelle Shughart, played by AnnaSophia Robb. She dominates on screen as the up-and-coming district attorney who was described by Robb as being the sweetest woman she’s ever met whose motto is to always do the right thing.
In addition to the performances, the most compelling scenes that stood out to me the most in this series were when Duntsch was performing surgeries.
Show creator Patrick Macmanus did not shy away from the grotesque nature of Duntsch’s operating room. Viewers at home are sure to empathize with the pain Duntsch’s former friend, Jerry feels when he awakes to not being able to move his body. You will no doubt sit at home and squirm as you see Duntsch hammer and drill into a human body. Not only is it agonizing for the patients but it’s fascinating to watch a surgeon who’s has no recognition of the proper anatomy of a human body. He had no idea what he was doing. How did this man pass medical school? Why did the hospitals he worked at let this continue for so long?
Without a doubt, this series will invoke anger, sadness, and fascination. The eight episodes from this series fully capture the important themes and messages it intends to make to its audience. To never let another doctor like Duntsch operate on another human being and advocate for stronger patient rights. Definitely give Dr. Death a watch on Peacock!