What would you do if you lost the last 12 years of your life? How would you cope finding yourself in a body suddenly 12 years older, in a world vastly different, surrounded by people you either didn’t know or found strangely changed? Doctor Andrea Fanti (Luca Argentero), Head of Internal Medicine at Milan’s top hospital, is about to find out.
He's a cold, arrogant man who believes that any emotional connection with his patients will get in the way of a proper diagnosis. His emotional withdrawal after the death of his son has destroyed his marriage and personal life, his authoritarian approach at the hospital has left him with no real friends, and the interns he supervises are terrified of him. He’s a man who lives for medicine, not his patients. Then a grieving parent comes into the hospital and shoots him in the head.
Fanti doesn’t die, though in a way maybe he does; when he recovers he can’t remember the last 12 years of his life. He wakes up as a man who thinks he still has a son and a wife, a man with the anger and bitterness of the last decade wiped away. Unfortunately for him, the world he remembers is long gone. All he has left is being a doctor - only now, he’s the doctor he was 12 years ago, surrounded by people who only know him as a nightmare to work with.
Italy has been notoriously disinterested in medical dramas in recent years, but Doc – which aired its first season during the height of the coronavirus crisis there – was a smash hit, becoming the most watched show there in 13 years. Surprisingly, this high concept series is based on the true story of Italian doctor Pierdante Piccioni, who fell into a coma after a car crash and woke up a few hours later with his memories of the last 12 years gone.
He went on to write a book about his struggle to rebuild his life titled Minus 12, which was a major inspiration for Doc. He’s still working as a doctor today; he led that country’s fight against Covid-19 and also served as a consultant on the series (if you look closely you’ll see him as one of the patients in episode two).
While the real-life doctor had family and friends to help him (Piccioni’s last memory before waking up was of his son’s eighth birthday), Fanti is more isolated. With no memory of how his marriage ended, he wants to win back his ex, Agnese (Sara Lazzaro), and try and recreate the life he’s lost. Meanwhile, Giulia (Matilde Gioli) is leading the charge to rehabilitate him, but now she’s dealing with a very different Fanti from the one she once knew.
It’s decided to keep him in the hospital where he spent so many of his now-missing years in the hope it might help his memory to return. But he’s not a man who can sit around idle; put him in a room with another sick patient and his skills are going to come to the fore. Soon he’s back on the ward, only now he’s working as an assistant to the group of trainees he once terrorised.
A group of doctors tackling a disease of the week where the challenge is figuring out exactly what illness they’re dealing with is familiar territory, but Doc keeps on finding twists to keep things fresh. One week Fanti’s holding a wedding in a ward, the next a train wreck turns the hospital into a war zone. His fellow doctors have their own lives (and secrets) too; he may be the centre of the story, but this series rapidly develops into an ensemble drama.
Throughout the series flashbacks to the past show us both the younger, more idealistic Fanti and the hardened, cynical man he became after the death of his son. Doc is constantly finding new ways to explore his condition, whether it’s the way it shows off the Milan setting like he’s seeing it all for the first time or an episode where he tries to get everyone to help him figure out his email password.
While it’s an episodic drama, there are series-long storylines too, as he’s driven to try and win his ex-wife back even as a bond develops between him and Giulia. And over the course of the series an accusation about his past behaviour increasingly looms over his future. He might be able to build a new life in the present, but how can he defend himself from a past he no longer remembers?
Doc is now streaming at SBS On Demand.
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