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TV REVIEW : 'Dr. Peter's' Powerful, Moving Battle With AIDS

July 01, 1993|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Doctors haven't been getting good press for some time now, and the medical establishment's slow and problematic response to the AIDS epidemic certainly hasn't helped. There is something, then, about the case of Dr. Peter Jepson-Young and his battle with the virus that puts the image of doctors--and AIDS patients--in a new light.

The Vancouver-based Jepson-Young decided to have the Canadian Broadcast Corp. and producer-director David Paperny tape his weekly diary during his bout with AIDS, and HBO's "America Undercover" series has compiled an hour's worth of his 111 episodes into "The Broadcast Tapes of Dr. Peter" (at 8 tonight, repeating on July 6, 11, 16, 21 and 27).

The compressed Dr. Peter is obviously nothing like the Dr. Peter whom Canadians watched from 1990 until the late fall of 1992, when he died. Jepson-Young's direct-address reports, alternating between calm, clinical updates and personal reflections (sometimes in the same breath), must have assumed the force of shamanic power for weekly viewers. And the witnessing of his gradual decline, related up to the end by Jepson-Young with his usual personable clarity, must have been like being a loved one holding a vigil beside a deathbed.

"The Broadcast Tapes" is inescapably a far more conventional TV account of one man's experience with AIDS, but the force of Jepson-Young's personality gives even this diminished program a distinctly personal signature. He enjoys talking to us outdoors, even when the disease afflicting his body causes blindness. (And after it does, he goes on a skiing holiday.) His distanced description of that blindness, or his growing cancer, or his recurrent fevers, is never so removed that we fail to sense his pain; but he's also so even-mannered, so possessed of strong will, that we can hear and understand his medical self-analysis. It becomes a unique video demonstration of the fact that knowledge is power.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday July 2, 1993 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 16 Column 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Photographers-- Photographers' credits were reversed on the photos of the Gateway Center bridge and of HBO's "The Broadcast Tapes of Dr. Peter" on Page 1 of Thursday's Calendar. The photographer for Dr. Peter Jepson-Young is Fine Arts Services.

Part of Jepson-Young's power comes from his having the advantages of inner peace, loving admirers and caring family and friends--things many people with AIDS never enjoy. He is thus far from the typical AIDS patient, but he also seems to know this, and never projects himself as a political or social symbol.

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