Season one of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman captures the popular television series at its most charming and original: a gently feminist, 19th-century Western with mythic overtones, a Gunsmoke-like vision of small-town constancy, and an audacious love story that might best be described as Buckskin Bronte. British actress Jane Seymour scrubbed away her accent to play Michaela Quinn, fifth daughter of a well-to-do Boston physician who encouraged her to get a medical degree despite social obstacles. The headstrong Quinn moves to rough-and-tumble Colorado Springs to set up a practice, faces stiff resistance from the locals, witnesses the brutality of white America’s expansionism, and generally experiences a classic Western transformation from privilege to pioneering. Along the way, Quinn makes a heartfelt connection with the mysterious Sully (Joe Lando), a laconic outsider/cowboy-knight-errant/widower preserving his broken heart. While the series’ pilot may be the best thing in this set, there is a lot to enjoy about further episodes (with such guest stars as Johnny Cash and Robert Culp) exploring Quinn’s hard-won admiration from town skeptics. Dr. Quinn creator Beth Sullivan admirably balances the many influences and narrative forces at work; some of the best shows are idea-driven, such as “Portraits,” which deals with prejudice.

Studio: A&E Home Video
Year: 1988
Release Date: March 29, 2011
Run time: 840 minutes
Rating: NR

Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mix
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Spec: 5 DVD
Region: 1

This is a review of Dr. Quinn for those who would run a mile from anything described as “wholesome family entertainment” (intending no disrespect to those who appreciate such shows). Yes, children were part of the intended audience of this series, and a lot of the characters’ delivery reflects that knowledge, but there were other, more adult aspects of the show that usually aren’t given enough credit.

Dr. Quinn and Sully: Sure, Joe Lando’s Sully looked like the cover of a romance novel, but the fact remains that these were two very good looking people with a lot of chemistry. In the first couple of seasons, the sexual tension between them was so palpable you could cut it with a knife.

Whatever edge the show had came primarily from Jane Seymour, a sometimes underrated actress who could go to some pretty dark emotional places in the show’s more dramatic episodes.

Season One was the most innovative musically and cinematically. The show that year had a movie look, with a lot of visual depth to scenes, imaginative camera work, and an evocative musical score. Any episode in the series directed by James Keach is a feast for the eyes, and perhaps not surprisingly, as he is her real-life husband, Jane’s beauty is particularly mesmerizing in Keach’s shows.

There was a recurring cast of Native American characters that is rare if not unheard of in modern television. Many of the best North American Indian actors (with special kudos to Tantoo Cardinal) appeared in “Dr. Quinn” through the run of the series. Season Three’s episode Washita, the culmination of what in fact was a historical event, is one of the most powerful hours of television I’ve ever seen.
Movie Quality: 8/10

Special Features

  • Jane Seymour: Hollywood’s English Rose

Special Features: 3/10

Final Thoughts

Most tellingly, Dr. Quinn tackled some very loaded social issues. One of her first friends after she arrives out West is a prostitute. Her own hesitation about getting sexual with Sully is less a matter of virtue than of fear and inexperience. Some of the ugliest aspects of race relations, including attempted lynchings and atrocities against the Indians were incorporated into the show. Although approached with a 1990’s sensibility, the issues grappled with existed at the time, and in many cases are still with us today.
Overall Rating: 7/10