Intended for healthcare professionals

Views & Reviews Medical Classics

The Doctor and the Devils

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 20 August 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1373
  1. Alison Cohen, consultant psychotherapist, Stobhill Hospital, Glasgow
  1. Alison.Cohen{at}

    This poetic screenplay from the 1950s raises questions, still pertinent today, about the pursuit of medical knowledge. Informed by the story of the body snatchers Burke and Hare, it tells of Dr Rock, a bright and ambitious anatomist who needs bodies to dissect. These come to be supplied, increasingly fresh, by the two characters Fallon and Broom. The text beautifully captures the squalid streets and taverns and the upper middle class university world of 1820s Edinburgh.

    A charismatic and contradictory man, Rock has a mind of his own. He is contemptuous of the “false pride and prejudice” that maintain sharp class divisions, believes passionately in his work, and has a following of young, rather awestruck students. For him the purpose of medical study is “the …

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