Perry Mason did it for lawyers. Marcus Welby did it for doctors. From 1969 to 1976 and beyond, Robert Young was the face of the television doctor. The actor was so identified with his part that he dealt with fans and their medical questions his entire life following his portrayal of Marcus Welby. In those days there wasn’t a medical doctor on the planet, real or fictional, who was more recognizable than Welby. The show pretty much wrote the book on the television medical drama. It doesn’t matter if your a fan of House, ER, Grey’s Anatomy, or any of a hundred other medical dramas that have come and gone since that time, each of those shows owes more than a little of its existence to Marcus Welby, MD.
In the 1950’s Robert Young was that model parent in Father Knows Best. It’s likely that audiences first fell in love with his wise and caring style. There was something about both the character and in the man himself that just caused America to trust him. It was no surprise that when the Marcus Welby creators were looking for a doctor that could, above all, exhibit those same qualities that Robert Young would get the call. And it didn’t matter that Young considered himself retired from show business for the last 6 years. Marcus Welby was a role he just couldn’t turn down. It was another gentle character with wisdom and common sense beyond his years. The Doc was a general practitioner in California. To him his patients were people. He would treat the individual as well as whatever ailment was proving to be the problem. He took the tough cases, often seeing some slight symptom that others would miss. That’s because he paid attention to his patients, and they couldn’t help but trust him with their lives. More times than not, that trust was rewarded with a full recovery. But, even when Welby couldn’t beat a disease or injury, he always added something to the patient’s life. It might be helping them to come to terms with their own mortality. He might heal a family rift. Sometimes he just offered a kind word at just the right time.
Welby had a young assistant, who offered in this first season to help out for a year. That was Dr. Kiley, and he was played by later tough guy James Brolin. Fortunately, the young doctor stuck around for more than the promised year. It was Kiley who often brought some of the drama to the show. We had the inevitable modern young doctor often at odds with the sage old fashioned ways that Welby represented. It was usually Welby who was going against conventional wisdom and the young Kiley who was “by the book”. It was an amusing role reversal from the usual young/old combination on television. Of course, Kiley would end up being amazed by what Welby could accomplish with his old ways. In this first year Welby had a girlfriend in Myra Sherwood, played by Anne Baxter. The truth was that a love life only complicated his life, and before the season was over, she was long gone. Horror fans will remember the dancing gypsy girl Elena Verdugo from House of Frankenstein. She would play a counselor who worked with Welby.
The series was an instant hit. It would have the distinction of being the very first ABC program to finish a year number 1. At one point the show was seen by 25% of all American homes that had a television set. There would be reunions and later attempts to bring the series back. Once Robert Young was gone in 1998, there was no more talk of resurrecting the good doctor. The last special would air in 1988.
The 7-disc set includes all 26 episodes from the first season and includes the original 2- hour movie that started it all.
Each episode is presented in its original full-frame broadcast format. Age is the real problem here. The prints show the wear and tear. There’s just no way around the shape of the material. There are obvious attempts to make the shows look as good as they can, but the image is soft, and colors bleed badly at times. You have to take it for what the show is. You’ll never see it any better.
The Dolby Digital Mono track shows its age as much as the picture. Expect some hiss and distortion at times. Still, dialog is fine, and that’s all you really need if you’re watching such a vintage series.
You get a rather nice booklet that lists the episodes and offers a synopsis of each. The booklet also includes some nice stills. This is a practice that isn’t quite so common anymore. Kudos to Shout for making it a staple of their releases.
I’m often told by fans of these classic shows that the audio and video quality keeps them from buying the sets. I never could understand that kind of thinking. If we were talking a sloppy transfer, I could see the point. Fifty year old television is never going to look like an episode of Lost in HD. If you’re waiting for eventual Blu-rays, forget it. There isn’t enough of a market to justify the expense. The likelihood is that these shows might actually look worse in high definition. Remember that improved detail means for EVERYTHING, including the defects and print flaws. My diagnosis is that you need to be happy with what you can get. If they don’t sell well on DVD, what makes you think someone’s going to put down the kind of money necessary for more restoration and Blu-ray? You’re dreaming. This is your chance; take it while it’s there. “That’s what’s really important, anyway, isn’t it?”