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medical melodrama at its finest

by Amber Simmons

**Major spoilers for ‘Dr. Romantic’ season two ahead**

Alongside cops and lawyers, shows about doctors are a dime a dozen on television. But as saturated as hospital soap operas are, once in a blue moon, a truly great medical series comes along to revitalise the genre. Enter Dr. Romantic, a truly special K-drama that has cemented itself as the finest in its field through two sterling, life-affirming seasons. Now back for its long-awaited third season after a three-year hiatus, Dr. Romantic continues the saga of genius surgeon Teacher Kim (Han Suk-kyu) and his dedicated team of doctors, nurses and administrators at Doldam Hospital who tirelessly fight healthcare injustice to save lives at all cost.

Season three’s first major arc tackles the show’s most politically and ethically complex case to date – showcasing that series writer Kang Eun-kyung and director Yoo In-sik have not lost a step, they’re ready to up the ante. In the series’ most expensive and elaborately cinematic sequence, Dr. Romantic 3’s premiere opens with a gunfight aboard a fishing vessel on the East Sea, leading into a thrilling set-piece involving the South Korean Coast Guard storming and taking control of the ship. Before long, helicopters arrive, transporting Teacher Kim, Dr. Seo Woo-jin (Ahn Hyo-seop), Nurse Park Eun-tak (Kim Min-jae) and Dr. Jung In-soo (Yoon Na-moo) to treat the wounded.

Performing risky surgeries aboard a cramped boat seems challenging enough, but the stakes get higher when it’s revealed that the survivors are North Korean defectors. The timing couldn’t be any worse as this situation could derail current negotiations between South and North Korean officials attempting to establish peaceful economic relations. As the series has established, Teacher Kim and his team steadfastly refuse to allow politicking to compromise their Hippocratic principles, leading to our protagonists convincing the Navy to “unofficially” transport the wounded onto South Korean soil so they can be treated at Doldam Hospital.

Back on land, former antagonist Dr. Park Min-guk (Kim Joo-hun) has completed his outstanding season two redemption arc to become one of Kim’s staunchest allies and Doldam’s director. Now using his tactical manoeuvrings for good, Min-guk has spent the last three years building Kim’s dream of a state-of-the-art Trauma Center. Attempting to further improve Doldam, Min-dgk headhunts South Korea’s foremost cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Cha Jin-man (Lee Geung-young) to join their team. Unfortunately, Min-guk takes Jin-man on a tour of their brand-new facility in the midst of Kim’s precarious off-the-books operation to save the North Korean asylum seekers.

As chaotic as everything already is, things get more dramatic when we learn that Jin-man and Kim are old classmates and rivals with very different values. Adding fuel to the fire, it turns out that Jin-man is also Dr. Cha Eun-jae’s (Lee Sung-kyung) estranged father, who still resents Woo-jin and his daughter for refusing to help cover-up his son’s medical malpractice back in season two. When Jin-man eventually accepts Min-guk’s pitch to join Doldam, the stage is set for some pretty compelling interpersonal dynamics, centering around a commanding new antagonist with greyer motives than Geosan Hospital’s cartoonishly villainous Director Do.

Meanwhile, the romances between Eun-jae and Woo-jin, and Eun-tak and Dr. Yoon Ah-reum (So Joo-yeon), have blossomed over the past three years, with the show portraying them as stable couples now (thankfully). While the first two seasons were defined by will-they-won’t-they subplots between two new star-crossed doctors at Doldam, it feels refreshing that season three has moved beyond that tired trope.

The series also adds two fresh faces in the lazy Dr. Jang Dong-hwa (Lee Shin-young), who is more concerned with going home to play video games rather than helping patients, alongside Naval medic Lee Sun-woong (Lee Hong-nae), who is so inspired by Teacher Kim’s maritime heroics that he decides to join Doldam as a resident.

With nail-biting life-or-death surgical cases, emotionally fraught moral dilemmas, a stellar ensemble cast, riveting storylines and passionate healthcare professionals prioritising the well-being of their patients over profits, politics or promotions – season three is shaping up to be Dr. Romantic’s best yet, and we’re only four episodes in.

Dr. Romantic Season 3 is available now on Disney+.

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