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Average user rating 4.0
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Doctor John: Episodes 1-4 (Review)

SBS’s new medical drama Doctor John has arrived in dramaland! The Friday-Saturday show premiered with an entertaining first four episodes, and a strong focus on setting up our lead characters: a talented young resident who lost her confidence, and a fearless doctor with nothing but.

Generally, I’m not much of a medical drama person. I find the focus on a new patient/story arc every few episodes a little boring, because what I really want is an overarching well-developed story about people, whether they’re doctors or janitors.

But every so often dramaland churns out a medical drama that’s more than quick-thinking people solving medical puzzles, and more about the people behind the puzzles. Doctor John, after putting so much effort into building its two leading characters, just might become one of those.

EPISODES 1-4 REVIEW

Doctor John opens with a no-nonsense introduction to its hero and his surroundings: prison. There’s a convulsing patient in the medical bay, a runaway doctor, and while the guards are running around in a panic, a mysterious individual enters the room.

After a quick assessment, he douses the patient with alcohol and performs a quick life-saving medical procedure before slipping back into the shadows. Who is this medical Robin Hood in a blue jumpsuit? Why it’s the eponymous hero Doctor CHA YO-HAN (Ji Sung, Yo-han is the Korean version of John) himself — better known in his current digs as Inmate 6238.

Simultaneously, we meet our young heroine, KANG SHI-YOUNG (Lee Se-young). She’s both packing her bags for Madagascar, and taking a job at the very same prison that has Yo-han sneaking in and out of the medical office.

It turns out her uncle OH JEONG-NAM (Jung In-gi) is the warden there, and he asks her to fill in part-time until they find a new doctor. Sending a gorgeous and emotionally scarred girl doc into a men’s prison doesn’t sound like the greatest idea to me, but no one else seems to be bothered by this.

Above all other cautions, Shi-young’s uncle warns her about a lunatic in the prison and tells her not to speak to him, look at him, or acknowledge his existence in any way. While we’re hearing about this “lunatic” we get some quick cuts to Yo-han in the prison acting like a, well, lunatic. There’s no question he’s the one her uncle is talking about.

Yo-han’s everyday duties at the prison seem to have him relegated to janitor status, and he’s forever found pushing around a garbage can (and yet never shown in an actual cell?). However, we quickly get the feeling his garbage duty is almost like him making his rounds. With a quick squirt of the hand sanitizer hanging off the garbage can, he expertly checks in on prisoners he knows are ill and examines them. The drama actually did a great job capturing how being a doctor is such a reflex for him, and regardless of his situation or environment, that’s how he’s hardwired.

Because two scenes of Yo-han’s awesome swagger + medical skills is not enough, there is yet another life-threatening event that day when a prisoner collapses in the yard. Shi-young does her best, but it’s Yo-han watching from the sidelines that quickly puts all the clues together. Following his coaching, she saves the man’s life. But when she turns to talk to Yo-han, he’s vanished. Into a metaphorical cloud of awesomeness.

Of course, despite her uncle’s warning, Shi-young and Inmate 6238 interact with each other quite frequently. With his sharp observation and deduction skills, Yo-han figures out pretty much everything about her: she’s a second-year resident, and she’s trying to escape something by fleeing to Madagascar.

Yo-han pretty deftly sums up her, and draws out her insecurities every time they meet. It’s not exactly fair that she’s an open book — he remains aloof and infallible — but his seeing through her does have a positive affect. “Do you really think running away will give you freedom?” he asks her.

The past that’s haunting Shi-young is slowly teased out, and we learn that she was involved in a medical malpractice case that deeply traumatized her. She not only dropped out of her residency, but has decided to give up being a doctor all together — not because she doesn’t want to go back to it, but because she is punishing herself. Ah, masochism.

Yo-han, whether intentionally or not, says all the right things to Shi-young. Over the course of the first four episodes, it’s his words and actions, however harsh, that bring her to some important realizations.

It turns out they have a lot in common. Not only are they both anesthesiologists, but they both have an event in their own medical practice that’s impeded their pursuits of doctoring. While for Shi-young it’s a crippling lack of confidence and trust in herself because of the accident, for Yo-han, the impediment seems merely geographical (i.e., he’s imprisoned).

Interestingly, while we learn a heck of a lot about Shi-young’s story in our premiere episodes, we don’t really learn a whole lot about Yo-han’s story yet. We learn what he’s like, and that he’s in prison for murder, but we only get a glimpse at the case in his past. There’s an equally brief look at the prosecutor (Lee Kyu-hyung) who seems to have it out for him — even after putting him behind bars — but even that is only a hint.

I find I don’t mind the mystery that still lurks around Yo-han at this point. Since we know Shi-young so well, it seems like we will team up with her as she gets to know more about Doctor John and his story.

We mainly saw Shi-young in one huge drawn out emotion battle with herself and Lee Se-young was quite strong in these leading episodes. Rather than being a flat character with a token damaged past, Lee Se-young did a nice job drawing out the internal tensions her character was facing.

But really, it’s the swagger from Ji Sung that seals this drama. It’s funny — I always say that I’m not a huge fan of his, and then I’ll watch him in a drama like Secret and Kill Me, Heal Me and just get completely sucked in by his charisma. So in case you were wondering, yes, it’s possible to push around a garbage can on wheels with brooms sticking out every which way and still be a total badass.

By the time Episode 4 ends, we’re in the middle of a setting shift. Shi-young has decided to return (and has been allowed back) to her residency at the top Seoul hospital. We’re quickly introduced to her colleagues, the frenemy who seems to have petulant gizibe written all over her, and the complicated relationship with her mother (Kim Hye-eun), who also happens to be the chief of the Anesthesiology Department. Because why not.

And let’s not forget the fact that the closing shots of Episode 4 are Shi-young following a mysterious man in the hospital who is walking carrying his white coat with an all-too-familiar swagger. The drama cuts as Shi-young and Yo-han come face-to-face again.

As problematic as the prison setting was (meaning: unrealistic and far too warm and welcoming), I’m kind of sorry it was just the introduction to the story. As the drama moves into the hospital setting, I hope it keeps its character-centric story, and doesn’t get too comfortable with recycling the same overused medical drama tropes.

Also, when we leave behind the prison we leave behind the wonderful uncle/warden (I hope he’s still a part of the story!). We also seemingly leave behind the adorable doctor LEE YOO-JOON (Hwang Hee) who works at the local hospital near the prison and is a great addition to the first few episodes.

I’m not sure what lies in store for this drama now that the plot and setting are both transitioning — will it be hospital politics, esoteric medical mysteries, more digging into her scars, a complicated romance, or all of the above? Only time will tell. But we’ve had enough set-up to know our heroine, and thanks to Doctor John, we know how strong she will be in her comeback.

While Doctor John isn’t doing anything that hasn’t been done before, it feels like a pretty solid K-drama set up. Just the right amount of emotional angst, arrogant hero, earnest heroine, romantic chemistry, and family issues — in other words, the promise of sweet, sweet drama.

It’s a bit on the cheesy side if you stack it next to Justice, a legal thriller that also premiered this week, but it’s also more fun. But from the director that brought us Thirty But Seventeen and the web drama Gogh’s Starry Night, I do expect a good amount of K-drama good times. I actually really enjoy stories about larger-than-life heroes with “groundless confidence” and a little bit of snark — and I could watch Ji Sung stare people down and make sarcastic faces all day. Sure, Doctor John requires a hefty suspension of disbelief, but I’m okay with that. This is dramaland, after all.

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thanks for the recap i loved reading ur insights. but for me this drama is a miss. i nevet ever dropped an on air Ji Sung drama but this time i cant live with it.
and most frustrating part how can lead characters be sharing their philosophies, have detailed discussions when there is patient dying/gasping for air/trembling in pain... like is there anything else more URGENT then actually doing the act rather than discussing it before even starting. Thats outright boring.
I FFed a lot even during for 4 episode and am sure ill be FFing even more if i continue....

Dr. Romantic was the best Medic Drama that i ever watched and Dr. John is no way near to it.

See you soon oppa...

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Me too! I dropped it, every one talks way too much .... but does not say anything useful at all ... and I still can't stand dumb female leads who are not genius on their own but need some one to school them even when they topped the school.

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In this case I don’t mind the mentor-mentee relationship. He knows because he has years of experience and hence he is better than her. But if invest in this notion and they add romance I will be super grossed out :)

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i am already foreseeing romance in some tiny moments as scenes were paused longer than usual during couple of so called eye locks... which i dint like.

i have no idea what to expect from this drama so far... its neither a tight screenplay rollercoaster ride of medical drama nor a suspense thriller of Defendant's league.....

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yeah. I def foresee some romance.
agree with you on the expectations. I am not clear either. Lets see how this weekend episodes turn out.

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This drama’s first episode reminded me a lot of Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim- a lot of dramatized over the top moments to try and catch viewer’s attention with not much medical accuracy.

But I’m hoping, like RDTK this drama will settle into itself and discuss the issues of a dignified death and euthanasia that they said they would be touching on.

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RTDK was a way different drama than DJ for simple reason... RTDK never distracted from its sole attention of being a medical drama. in DJ both the parallel story lines Prison and Medical are not gelling well (as it did Doctor Prisoner... which i loved).

So if DJ gets back to be a full fledge medical i am sure it will be better but for that too those discussions while patients suffer in emergencies should be cut down...

besides all this dignified death and euthanasia both are one of the most critical aspects of medical professional.. and i really hope they do some real justice to it and that with dignity...

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I really hope from next episode things get a bit more serious and consistent. The whole prison setup and the dramatic setups were quite cringe/y.

I am still going to watch this weekends episode before I decide to continue or not. I might continue even if it involves some FF :)

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hope you enjoy the coming episodes... i can't cause first 2 episodes drained what all little patience i have in me... so it would be difficult for me to continue for now. but may if it gets better after another week and beanies will have positive thibgs to say i might pick up again.

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I had the same reaction with Familiar Wife. I wanted to drop it after 2 episodes. And i almost watched the next episode with some FF.
But, then, the show turned around and I really enjoyed the drama.
I am trusting that Ji Sung and Lee Kyu-Hyung wouldn't have picked a sloppy script. That's the reason I am not able to drop!

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i have same hope from Ji Sung cause his drama choices were always beyond my expectations... so i really really hope it turns around so i wont be of guilty of dropping Ji Sung drama...
and may be you can let me know if it does get better... so that i can enjoy it too.

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@kdramaswimmer - Ah, its you!!
Will keep you posted.
We will probably be using this thread for Dr.John's discussions.

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@mayhemf
yup thats me changed the display name cause thats my mind thinking these days.
and please do keep me posted...

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I liked it despite it probably being nothing new. Things that made me eyeroll include watching our Doctor stroll around like he owned the prison, essentially going wherever and doing whatever he wanted.

Things I liked and want to see more of. Doctor John seems to have a bit of a crazy streak. I hope they don't drop this and sorta "forget" about it later. Watching him sew up his own wound and listening to him laugh maniacally reminds me of my crazy drill instructor. THIS is what could make this show more unique and I am all for it.

As always, I am on board for Ji Sung. If I could get through the most painful first four episodes of Defendant, I can get through anything.

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I didn't expect to hold on to this one, but the first two episodes just flew by and Lee Se-young is adorable so I'm hopeful!

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I haven’t watched Epi 3-4 yet but I enjoyed 1-2 quite a lot! I think I’m biased cuz I actually understand what medical emergencies they are getting Yo-Han to diagnose and swoop in to save the day, so it made it more interesting.

That being said, it had all the usual super dramatized and needing belief suspension moments, including Ji sung spraying himself (while half nekkid) and silhouetted against bright light 🤣, and the most irritating lack of gloves(!) while doing procedures.

Will be sticking to this cuz I love a zany medical geeeenius hero and Ji Sung is slaying. Also love love love Se Young and I feel for her- I can’t wait for her to kick ass next time.

Will try to explain the medicine behind the scenes if I can, time willing! Will update you all if I can. (It’s been too long since my last Medicap 😝)

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Yaayyyy you're back!!!!

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❤️

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I'm hanging in for Ji Sung but the medicine.... OMG! No.

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Actually the medicine itself wasn’t too bad. It was the bed side manners and professionalism of the doctors that was a big FAIL. Haha.

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Assuming you just accept Ji Sung is a superhuman geeenius of course. 🤣

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well...soundtrack's amazing!
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I only have one question.
Why is that cutie Dr Lee only going to appear for the first couple of episodes?
Hoping he could be a permanent supporting cast!Hahaha...

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I thought the first episode was meh, but the second episode intrigued me enough to want to watch a third so there is that. We shall see.

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I really liked the first two episodes. Definitely my favorite premiere of the last few weeks. I've watched a lot of medical dramas, especially American ones, so stuff like long discussions while a patient is dying doesn't bother me.

Ji Sung's character is like a mix of KMHM's Cha do-hyun, Shin se-gi and Ahn Yo-na, and I dig it.

Lee Se young was the emotional center of the first two episodes, and I thought she did a great job.

The case Yo han went to prison over seems interesting and very morally complicated from the articles Shi young was looking at.

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Loved your write up!! Ji Sung’s suave is the only reason am still watching the show.

Btw, did they not mention euthanasia as the reason for him being in prison?

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I believe that was in ep 2.

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Thanks @missvictrix
I've started watching from Ep 2, I just realised and don't mind continuing to see how Dr John continues to help or distress the other doctors around him. Heh!

I'm fine with medical dramas that don't focus overmuch on the politics of hospital running and money grabbing. If this show sticks with how the people become better doctors and persons, in a reasonably interesting and mostly coherent way, with or without romance, that is good enough for me!

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I second the hope for as little hospital politics as possible! 🤞

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i just read that this drama has good ratings in korea, but by reading this comment section i can see that many hv dropped this drama.. hmmm :/ nevertheless i like this drama, im excited to see what the future episodes would bring.

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I like it a lot. I thought this week's episodes were really good. I like that it's dealing with heavy subjects such as euthanasia but there is humor injected too.

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I have been watching this show on Viki. I notice we only have the "review" for ep 1-4 and am a little disappointed that it's not getting a platform for discussion on new episodes here, despite its ratings is doing well in Korea. There have been more twists and character development lately. It's getting more interesting.

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Do you recommend i continue with it? i really didn't like the romance setup

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Don't force yourself to follow any show. There are many great Korean dramas to choose from, tailored for different audience and emphasis

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I don't know why people always have a problem with age gap in dramas. In real life, age gap is nothing! I see couples with 18-25 years age gap and they are totally happy together. It is not the age that makes the difference in a relationship, it is how much they understand, love, and support each other. Ji Sung's show Entertainer got bad reviews because of the age gap before. But if you really follow through the show, you definitely see why they are falling for each other. They know and understand each other's problems. They see in each other what the other is looking for! I am not talking about their chemistry in the show, I am talking about the characters they are playing. If I am Yo Han's resident, I would fall for him too! He is not only good in what he is doing but also very compassionate and caring about others (his patients, his students). Who would not fall for that kind of person!! The same thing with Entertainer, I would fall for him too if I was Geu-rin!! I don't stop watching a show because of the age-gap, don't judge the book by the cover. Entertainer started with low ratings because of those who keeps complaining about the age gap of the main leads, but and then who follows through the show loved it and the ratings was high later! Of course if you don't like the storyline, stop watching it. But do not stop watching something just because of the age gap! Writers don't just make people fall for each other with no reasons. If they do, it is a bad written script. Most of the time, they have reasons!
Just my opinion, I love the dramas. I have watched a majority of Ji Sung's shows and never disappointed neither with his ability of choosing excellent scripts nor his acting talents. He is the only Korean actor/actress that I follow through all his work.
:)

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Their chemistry is the real deal! <3 <3 <3

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I was really excited about this show, but after watching two episodes i had to drop it, i found the setup for romance crigy, why do the writers keep doing the pretty innocent girl and the older wise man bit; just urgh!! I really enjoyed knowing wife, is it so hard to write up an older female character? I mean WWW was great!!! with 3 female leads

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I'm loving this drama. The dialogue is excellent. The issues poignant. Its a relevant situational drama. I teared up when Yo Han explained how giving pain meds to comfort and withholding them to preserve life meant he was "torturing" the patient with no hope for recovery. I teared up again watching the interaction between the two sisters when their father went into cardiac arrest and the dilemma every doctor is gaved with and every loved one will be called on to make, when and how to let go of a suffering loved one. More than some of the flippant or far-fetched scenarios of other current dramas, this one hits the viewer right in the heart. If you have not yet had to make these decisions, one day you will. And this drama deals with love, suffering, life and letting go in a responsible, dignified manner. The acting is excellent but for me, the dialogue is outstanding. Well done.

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I felt bad this drama does not get much attention because the first few episodes were not promising and misleading what the show want to open a dialogue of multiple debates on pain management and philosophy of being doctors. It’s not like the medical drama with weekly cases as it looks like. I really want to read discussion from this site but people turned it down so fast. Sadd

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