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TV Reviews : 'Finlay' Casts Warm Spell Over a Small Scottish Town

November 12, 1994|RAY LOYND

The accumulative warmth of "Doctor Finlay," Scottish Television's six new interrelated stories on "Masterpiece Theatre," casts a spell before you're even aware of it.

It mirrors a world that feels still within reach and yet so impossibly distant at the same time.

The chronicles of an idealistic young physician who sets up practice with an older doctor in a remote Scottish town in 1945 debuted on PBS last year. Now the swirl of personal dramas pick up from the same small town and with the same Scottish actors.

Led by the affable Ian Bannen as Finlay's medical partner, the characters fill the air with their rich Scottish burrs and a tangle of unfinished stories (incomplete, as in real life).

Based on characters created by Scottish writer A.J. Cronin, the hourlong Sunday segments will particularly snare viewers with memories of a different world, notably the 1940s--when doctors made house calls (some even on bikes!), when antibiotics were still a few years away, and when doctors often stumbled onto terrible family secrets.

In the case of the romantic figure of Finlay (David Rintoul), whose fiancee jilted him last year, the good doctor now trumpets Britain's brave new world of National Health Service. With dreams of free care for everyone, he is a subtle harbinger of the British Labour Party, which after the war hailed socialized medicine, big change and (something Americans could never understand) threw Churchill out.

But the foreground is certainly not political history as such. The dramatic thrust here is a microcosm of human flotsam--an alcoholic wife married to a pompous physician in one episode, a pregnant woman wrongly incarcerated in an asylum in another.

Best of all, in the joyful conclusion Dec. 18, is the touching marriage of Finlay's caring, middle-aged housekeeper (the endearing Annette Crosbie). Her wedding dinner, when she and Bannen have one last dance amid whiskey and bagpipes, is the show's jeweled crescent.

* "Doctor Finlay" premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on KCET-TV Channel 28 and KPBS-TV Channel 15, and at 8 p.m. on KVCR-TV Channel 24. It also airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. on KOCE-TV Channel 50.

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