‘Casualty’ 30th anniversary special review: ‘Too Old For This Shift’ is thrilling

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Casualty is 30.

It’s a truly impressive achievement whichever way you look at it and of course the show decided to celebrate this milestone in the sort of style you could only expect from the world’s longest running medical-drama.

Originally devised by Jeremy Brock and Paul Unwin in 1986, Casualty has evolved significantly over the years. Where once it was politically-charged drama fighting the good fight; today it focuses more on the hopes and fears of the Emergency Department staff, their patients and the everyday events that affect them.

That’s not to say Casualty has lost the ability to produce fascinating hard-hitting drama. Whilst the overall focus may have shifted the programme still strives to portray an NHS constantly under pressure from government interference and ever dwindling financial resources and at the heart of this is original character Charlie Fairhead.

Therefore, it’s unsurprising that, for the 30th anniversary, the celebratory episode revolves around Charlie.

As in the real world Casualty celebrates its 30 years does Charlie in-universe with his oldest friends Josh and Duffy, and special guest appearances from some of the characters we’ve loved in the past. It’s a clever and lovely way of reconnecting with these old faces as they each supply a heartfelt video message of congratulations to their former colleague and, for the audience, they’re real punch-the-air moments and genuine nostalgia.

Casualty 30 - Series 31

It’s not all birthday cake and reminiscing in the episode, however, as events pick up from the cataclysmic cliff-hanger that ended Season 30 in July. With Connie and Grace in desperate need and seemingly no one around to hear their cries will anyone be able to get to them in time?

It’s this storyline which provides the emotional crux of the anniversary, exposing the hearts of our characters and allows Amanda Mealing and Emily Carey to give the performance of their lives. And it’s totally heart-breaking.

Before the earth-shattering disaster that looms over the hospital there’s a wonderful guest turn from former EastEnders star Pam St. Clement as cantankerous patient Sally Hodge. St. Clement here manages to create a character who not only makes you laugh out loud but also sympathise with when the truth of her condition is revealed.

More than that it’s an utter joy to see St Clement and Derek Thompson sparring as two stalwarts of British television. ‘It’s not my first,’ interjects Charlie when the team discuss Sally’s diagnosis with pure incredulity.

Casualty 30 1 Sally (PAM ST CLEMENT)

Events take a dramatic turn for the worst when the rescue helicopter carrying Grace to the ED is struck in its tail by a drone. Crippled, the helicopter spins violently out of control and subsequently crashes into the department’s entrance causing untold carnage and mayhem. It’s a sequence worthy of disaster movie status and wouldn’t look out of place on the silver screen.

As the extent of the catastrophe unfolds, Josh leaps straight into the thick of action and it’s as if the former paramedic had never been away. As too does Duffy whose immediate thought is to ask what she can do to help. If there’s one thing these scenes highlight it’s that Casualty is primarily about the importance of teamwork and how no one person is greater than the team that supports them.

From this theme Jacob’s role in the story becomes increasingly apparent. Stricken with worry over the possibility of losing Connie and Grace, Jacob’s behaviour is, in parts, irrational however well-meaning his intentions ultimately are. Whilst you undoubtedly will feel for his predicament audience sympathy is pushed to its very limits when Jacob oversteps the mark and finds himself up against Charlie.

Casualty 30 - Series 31

Gone briefly is the pseudo ED father-figure and in his place a furious Charlie bears down on Jacob, which harkens back to the anger-charged man of his youth. And you can tell Thompson relishes this all-too rare opportunity to lay down the law.

Whilst the team struggles to cope with the reality of Connie and Grace’s condition it falls to Charlie, Duffy and Josh to be the ‘old guard’ and hold the fabric of the ED together. Theirs is an unbreakable bond of friendship, trust and loyalty and this is never more highlighted than it is here.

‘Too Old For This Shift’ is an emotionally fraught and thrilling celebration of everything that makes Casualty what it is. Such is the genius of Matthew Barry and Andy Bayliss’ writing that the episode will have you laughing one minute and reaching for the tissues the next.

With world-class direction from Steve Hughes (Doctor Who) and a beautifully subtle score from Jeremy Holland-Smith, Casualty reaches 30 with the energy of a brand new show and an affectionate nod to its history.


Aired at 8pm on Saturday 27 August 2016 on BBC One.

Buy the complete first season of Casualty on DVD on Amazon here.

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