Country of origin Australia
No. of episodes 56
Final episode date 22 September 2005
No. of seasons 3
Editor(s) Steven Robinson ASE
|Created by Greg Haddrick & Des Monaghan|
Starring Shane Bourne Angus Grant Angie Milliken Petra Jared Kerry Armstrong Jason Donovan Alice McConnell Felix Nobis Michael Carman
Network Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Program creators Greg Haddrick, Des Monaghan
Cast Jason Donovan, Kerry Armstrong, Shane Bourne, Petra Yared, Aaron Pedersen
MDA is an Australian television series that aired between 2002 and 2005 on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). It concerned the day-to-day operation of legal firm MDA, which specialised in medical defence.
The title refers to the firm Medical Defence Australia, a team of lawyers and doctors who defend doctors charged with malpractice, ranging from Botox injections gone wrong to spinal cord injuries. The firm operates by collecting annual subscriptions from doctors, rather than on a case-by-case fee basis.
The main characters in the pilot episode included Dr. Louella "Ella" Davis, the moral centre of the firm whose passion lies equally distributed between her work at St Albans Hospital Emergency Ward, and defending doctors; "Happy" Henderson, a lawyer whose nickname can be greatly misleading; Dr. Jamie Lawless, an optimistic young doctor whose passion for helping others often leads him to inner conflict; Caitlin King, the new law recruit at MDA whose ambitions far exceed what she can do at the firm; Layla Young of the Bahá'í faith, the friendly receptionist; Dr. Tony McKinnon, a doctor who works with Ella at the hospital; and Richard Savage - the cut-throat plaintiff's advocate who often does battles with MDA.
MDA premiered in 2002 during a downturn in the making of Australian television. Despite critical acclaim and a number of awards, initially no renewal was made after the second season (2003). A year later, the ABC ordered another 12 episodes for 2005, but by this time several key actors had moved on. More multi-episode story arcs were used and critical response was lukewarm. Although sentiment eventually warmed, the series was not renewed after the third season.
In the opening episodes, Ella faced personal problems when her lover Nick wished to move out of the country, and she often discussed these with her sister Edwina, but those characters quickly faded into the background. Edwina did return, for one episode, in the second season.
The first episodes did not draw impressive ratings, and the critics were ambivalent, but by the eighth episode – "Bowels, Bosch and the Whole Damn Thing", in which Happy faced health problems – Jamie fell for Wendy Rossi, a doctor facing manslaughter, and Caitlin began to consider working with Richard instead of MDA – the show began to gain attention.
Other notable characters of the first season were Helena, a prosecutor whose lack of ability often led to comic relief moments; Claudia, Richard's sardonic barrister; Giles, the amiable old barrister contracted to MDA; Dr Vince Phillips, a doctor on the MDA board whose desire to take over led to a legal battle; and Dr Mark Matthews, the head of the MDA board.
In the final episodes of the season, Ella and Tony became victims of a civil suit which led to them facing considerable press exposure. They were found not guilty, but in the final moments of the season finale, Divine intervention, angry plaintiff Debbie Shanahan drove her car directly at Jamie, Tony and Ella, and the audience was left to wonder who had survived.
Although the ratings had been average, MDA was granted a second season.
The second season improved markedly from the first season, tightening storylines and scripts. The season opened with the episode "Eternity" in which Tony died on the operating table, and Caitlin moved to Richard Savage's firm. Caitlin gets off to a bumpy start with the MDA when she becomes involved with Justin Harris (a man secretly under investigation for murder, played by Jeremy Callaghan). After Justin is cleared he feels that there is no trust in their relationship and leaves Caitlin.
Two new characters joined: Amanda McKay, a legal case manager; and Simon Lloyd, a doctor joining MDA. Amanda and Simon's relationship evolves as a will-they-or-won't-they? couple of the show, with the risk increased due to his wife who worked abroad. By season's end they were a couple, but were still easing into it.
Significant season two storylines included the destruction of Jamie and Wendy's relationship, Dr Phillips' increasing efforts to become head of MDA, and the potential destruction of MDA itself as he attempts to incite a revolution against the firm, Caitlin and Richard's personal and professional fighting, Layla's grandmother getting closer to death, and Happy dealing with his son Jason.
In the second half of the season, Caitlin was written out of the show, as the producers decided her character had run its course. Kerry Armstrong also decided to leave - because the low Government funding for the arts in Australia under the Howard conservative government (often criticised within the industry) meant that appearing on one television show was not a sustainable income. Ella, subsequently, took a full-time posting at St. Albans' as Head of Emergency and only appeared occasionally during the latter half of season 2, making her final appearance in the penultimate episode "Pas de deux".
Despite increased audience size, critical response, and award nominations, the ABC made no official announcement of the show's renewal. The final episode, "Memento Mori", aired on 17 December 2003.
While it was no surprise that the ABC did not make an immediate announcement about the show's fate - many Australian television series will often miss a year due to actor's schedules and production demands - it was eight months before an announcement was made. During this time, Jason Donovan and Felix Nobis both moved on to other projects.
In August 2004, the ABC finally announced its new commitment: a 12-episode order, which would air as three four-hour miniseries in 2005. While the order was small, the renewal meant that MDA was the only series to have started in 2002 which was still on the air as of 2005.
The third season began on 30 June 2005, and was greeted with lackluster ratings, despite an impressive guest cast. Critical response, initially negative, warmed as the season progressed, to the point where it was largely positive.
The ABC released online seven-day rental copies of series one and two under its ABC Digital label.