My university didn't have nuns. I was terribly disappointed.
When I was young, it was always Saturday afternoon or Tuesday evening, and Peter Davison was always on the television, as a vet, a doctor, or, well, the Doctor. I actually just wanted him to be my older brother - I liked the fact that he could cure non-specific urethritis, tend to a pregnant cow, and save the universe in the same week. Look at TV now - could Ross Kemp handle that range?
What's still so special about A Very Peculiar Practice (and what made it surprisingly enchanting for kids) was the magical realism threaded through it - this was a time when "real" drama wasn't formulaic, and when entire episodes could be constructed around an elaborate visual pun (such as Bob Buzzard becoming an arms dealer).
Every episode was superbly structured, unwinding from small incidents to a dramatic conclusion (oddly, it's the same as ER, but this time just for black comedy) - I've never forgotten the tragic story of the efficiency expert dying slowly from blood poisoning.
I'm so glad this has come out on DVD.
At a time when student fees are very much a hot potato, it’s timely to revisit A Very Peculiar Practice. A bleak look at the state of education, with a university used as a microcosm of society as a whole, A Very Peculiar Practice could have been just a heavy-handed message drama. Fortunately, Andrew Davies manages to inject proceedings with moments of great comedy and also creates a series of really memorable characters – washed-up Jock, the sexual Rose Marie, and the truly horrific Bob Buzzard all registered long after the series was over.
Those who accuse Peter Davison for playing the same part in everything he does would also do well to watch A Very Peculiar Practice. His performance is multi-layered, with Daker in turn angry, pathetic, sad and joyously in love. He successfully banishes memories of him playing a wet vet and a youthful Time Lord.
Of course, what marks Practice out as a bit different are the dream sequences and the badly behaved nuns. Much has been said about why the nuns are there, but Andrew Davies has remained tight-lipped. Personally, I like to think they are there to show just how far society has fallen – "Blimey, even the nuns are bad!""
Recently another academic drama, Teachers, has used similar tactics to unsettle the audience – with the appearance of donkeys for no obvious reason and the day of the week appearing in strange places. But, perhaps it is a sign of the times, this time around the drama's sole purpose is to entertain rather than to say anything significant.