More Problems With CPR: The Doctor Edition!

***SPOILER ALERT FOR THE RECENT PIRATE EPISODE OF DOCTOR WHO***

Oh, Doctor Who. Why you do me wrong?

Yes, Amy is only doing CPR by rote description, under stress, and she has to do it so the camera can see her panicked face past her swinging hair, so we can forgive her improper technique and improper timing.

Things we can’t really forgive:

-Rory: Amy, you have to be the one who does CPR on me, because you’ll never give up!
Amy: ::Does X number of cycles of not-enough-chest-compressions-with-not-enough-rescue-breaths (I didn’t go back to count, but it was only a few)….then gives up immediately.::

-The Doctor sits idly by looking very concerned, even though 2-person CPR is much more effective (as chest compressions are really, truly exhausting, and you can do CPR longer if you switch out with a buddy). The Doctor has to know this, as he knows all kinds of other things. He could kinda lift a finger or something. Unless he has some sort of ulterior motive other than to demonstrate to the audience exactly how dire the circumstances are. Let’s take bets on that one, shall we? (Hint: It’s usually a bad idea to bet against writerly laziness and shortcut-taking, especially when it comes to pseudo-medical circumstances. Remember that the last time he did something doctorly, he sprayed some goop on some people and thusly cured “every disease in the world.”)

-There’s a pause between cessation of effort and recovery. Rescuer gives up, exhausted and distraught, and then there’s a pregnant pause….followed by a huge gasp, and inevitable spontaneous recovery by the victim.

Please, someone pay me a nickel every time an author uses this obnoxious pattern to create a contrived and formulaic emotional rollercoaster:

Author: He’s dead! Audience: ::Sob!:: (or, so hopes the author.) Author: Oh, just kidding! Audience: Oh, hooray! (or, so hopes the author.)

Come. On.

-Even improperly-executed CPR works. Victim pops up, smiling, with no ill effects whatsoever. Because CPR is magical. It’s the medical deus-ex-machina. And it’s complete crap. I’ll get into why in a future post. But for now….Gah! Stop treating CPR like a magic wand! Please, oh please, oh PLEASE!

(I still want to beat writers with wet chickens when they pull this stuff.)

Oh, Doctor Who. You broke my heart this week.

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Published in: on May 10, 2011 at 6:00 am  Comments (32)  

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  1. Yeah, even I noticed most of those things, and I haven’t taken a CPR class since high school. Lame.

  2. Agreed wholly; I watched Amy get all weepy, thinking to myself, “Watch. Rory’s suddenly going to gasp for air and his heart will start on its own…” That was a disappointingly un-imaginative scene for a usually creative Doctor Who show.

    • Yes, I became nervous from the very beginning when I saw that Steven Moffat did not write the episode. I trust him above all others.

      • I kinda stopped trusting Moffat the second he de-mystified the Weeping Angels by making them talk and move….although watching The Doctor showboat on top of a prison THAT WAS BUILT FOR HIM BY HIS ENEMIES was an amazing character moment!

        I think the man tells a good story. And I’ll love him forever for River Song, who is a delightful badass.

  3. Oh, Thank you Dr. Grasshopper! (As a former CPR instructor) I sit idly by while so many shows turn CPR into a farce; my friends get mad at me if I don’t. It spoils the (suspenseful/romantic?) moment. I will make sure everyone I know reads this. However, just for the record, I can forgive Dr. Who just about anything.

  4. What really annoys me is they could have the drama and tension and all, with one other maneuver that every healthy adult should know: Heimlich.True, circumstances around the Heimlich don’t allow for the dead/rebirth trick, but choking is still pretty dang notable. I’ve known multiple people walking around thanks to that little trick, all ready to vouch for the drama of the event that required it. And I guess the vomit’s not so mandatory, either, for writers who want to be shiny.

    • Heh. Writers never write vomit for the Heimlich or brain damage and/or broken ribs for CPR. Ah, fictional medicine.

    • The Heimlich isn’t really great for near drowning, because the amount of inhaled liquid often isn’t the problem (though the inhalation can lead to severe infection later on, which means Rory wouldn’t be out of the woods yet) and the Heimlich isn’t proven to work on liquids in the lungs at all.
      So, the basic version of what Amy’s doing is right, and in this case, because Rory’s heart stopped because of a lack of oxygen, the rescue breathing is a much more important part than in heart attacks (the vast majority of heart failure in adults has a cardiac cause, in children it’s usually lack of oxygen). So the goal here is to get some air into his lungs and then get his blood moving.

      Of course my basic objetion here is that the Doctor really should have done something. Does he not know CPR? Do they not have any medical equipment on the TARDIS?
      My other pet pieve was that Rory was all: I’m a nurse! I can tell you what to do! And then proceeded to tell her nothing about any actual proedures, only: DON’T GIVE UP! Which was nice and all until Amy proceeded to do exactly that.

      Of course if I were travelling with the Doctor and somebody else, I’d make very sure that somebody around me know CPR (and other emergency techniques) BEFORE we land ourselves in a situation where we need it.

  5. A. men.

    That entire sequence, when I was supposed to be oh-so-WORRIED, I just sat there going, “That’s way too slow. Rory would have told her better than THAT. Wait, why is she doing both parts, and why is the Doctor just sitting on his hands? Wait, she’s giving up already? And the Doctor isn’t even trying? And the TARDIS has nothing at all to help? And Rory’s just lying there unresponsive for about a decade, losing brain cells to oxygen deprivation, while I know exactly where this is going? And the music thinks his random resurrection is all magical and not at all THE OLDEST SHMALTZIEST TRICK IN THE BOOK? … sure.”

  6. THANK YOU! that episode should have come with a “if you’re a real doctor – don’t watch” warning.

    • All TV episodes involving wanna-be-medical stuff should come with that warning.

      I’ve coped with it by applying the same willing suspension of disbelief as we do to FTL travel and elf magic.

      And I started a blog where people seem to react positively to my rants about the subject. Which is quite therapeutic. 😀

      • FTL travel is much more believable than the “do not die!” routine.

      • FTL travel is generally an Established Trick. It’s not pulled out of nowhere at the last moment in all but the worst stories — it’s something integral to the world and generally established WAY back at the start. (It’s an FTL drive: we have FTL drives now. FTL drives are cool.)

        Same with Elves and their magic, although we’re much more likely to break Sanderson’s First Law with that. And the Doctor’s Screwdriver is essentially the same: The existence of elf magic/the screwdriver is established early on, the fantastic things it does at the end aren’t always established or logical — which is a problem, but not the SAME problem. We’re accepting that there’s magic we don’t know about (and it’s pretty cheap when used to, for instance, turn Golem into God through groupthink.)

        Doing CPR Wrong is different. None of these stories have Chekhov’s CPR Training at the start, explaining that it’s now done crazy-differently. Doing CPR Wrong is never* PLOT REQUIRED — it’s just a case of Not Doing The Research. Not in the least the same. The writer generally knows, with FTL travel, that these don’t exist in the real world — the writer DOESN’T know that he hasn’t a clue how CPR is done.

        I get around it by being a computer guy, which means I bashed my head against the wall when watching things like The Net, but can watch House (for instance) without saying “Hey, why are the diagnosticians performing surgery instead of surgeons?”**

        * Well, for the Doctor himself, it is. Two hearts.

        ** Because House is a jerk and none of the surgeons are willing to do surgery for him any more, I assume.

        • Golem should be gollum. **coughs**

        • My questions are usually a little more nitpicky: “How the HELL did that patient get admitted without a set of basic labs…that when they’re actually done would be UNAVOIDABLY DIAGNOSTIC….oh right. They can’t actually practice good medicine, because then the drama would be gone. MUST! DO! STAT! BRAIN! BIOPSY!”

  7. The only thing that makes it make any sense, to me, is that The Doctor had a great clever device that would save Rory when Amy failed, and he is, in fact, quite disappointed that Amy’s horrific attempt at CPR actually worked, because it meant he didn’t get to demonstrate how clever he was.

    Granted, it’s still better than him deciding the best solution was to mix every medicine in the world together to create a super-medicine. (On a side note: Whose idea was it to create test subjects with every disease in the world on all of them? Why not, say, one each? And maybe a control group?)

    • Ooh, I like your explanation!

      And I guess it’s fair to unfavorably compare some of the worst episodes in the new series to each other, right? It wouldn’t be exactly sporting to compare them to episodes like “Blink”, would it?

      • This one could have been a decent episode. Heck, cut the unnecessary CPR scene at the end and it would have been at least a C.

        I would have been happier if the second Weeping Angel episode hadn’t been Weeping Angels. There really was no need for them to be: they introduced new powers, and ignored the old ones. The story would have worked fine without the tie-in — in fact, I’d bet the story was originally about a different race, but was changed to be the Angels so we could have another Weeping Angels story.

  8. Completely unrelated to Dr Who (I haven’t seen the episode yet), this post makes me wonder what you’d think of the Surf Lifesaving ad we have on TV here: http://youtu.be/kWF9gZxGxjc

    • I like it!

      CPR is a really useful skill, don’t get me wrong. I think everyone should learn how to do it, because sometimes, SOMETIMES, it can make the difference between someone getting to the hospital without brain damage and dying in the field.

      However, it’s just not as effective a technique as it’s portrayed in fiction. I think 85% of CPR attempts in stories are successful, whereas in reality it’s more like 15%.

      But I totally agree with what the ad was trying to say: learn CPR and potentially help someone out someday.

  9. The thing that confused me most with this scene is that Rory’s a auton… So, a) he’d float; and b) he doesn’t need to breathe, let alone require CPR.

    So I figured the Dcotor knew there was no real danger all along and left Amy and Rory to it because he knew it would benefit their relationship. Amy’s lack of CPR ability is irrelevent because all she has to do is give Rory the motivation to come around again by proving that she loves him enough to not give up on him. Even though she does. But Rory’s always been a bit wet…

    • I don’t think Rory’s an auton at this point; when they put the universe back together, I think everything was put back “the way it was supposed to be”….Amy had parents, The Doctor was still around, and Rory was a real boy….

      At least, that’s the way I read it…..

      • See, that’s what I thought. But I’m sure at the wedding reception when Amy brings the Doctor back, Rory says, ‘I’m made of plastic..!’ And he’s still got all the memories of being the Lone Centurion.

        Mind you, it’s Doctor Who. If you start to pick at the odd lose thread, the whole thing unravels…

        • I think Rory retains the memories, definitely. And I think it’ll be used as a plot point somewhere along the line. And I definitely think the actor is playing the role with a more mature flavor, since he did end up having the memories of someone who’d lived through the centuries. Which is a neat touch that I don’t think everyone will notice.

          Although for the life of my I can’t imagine why he’d go to such trouble for Amy. She’s absolutely stunningly gorgeous, but she treats him like crap.

          • What I don’t get is why a 2,000 year old is still interested in an 18 year old. I mean, there must be a maturity gap there. It must be that police woman’s outfit she wears…

            • And it’s at that point where you really have to start wondering if the thing between The Doctor and Rose was creepy after all. :p

  10. To be fair, I believe that episode made a lot of people unhappy for a lot of reasons. It was basically a Swiss cheese of plot holes held together by heroic levels of suspended disbelief. It was, essentially, a catastrophic Star Wars Prequel event. Luckily, Gaiman has pulled the Doctor’s scrawny white ass out of the Epic Sucktasm, for now at least.


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