Is the saga of the Downton Cottage Hospital the dullest plotline in TV history?

As Downton Abbey draws to a close, Ben Dowell wonders whether the shenanigans of the local medical centre is quite the gripping story to help the show go out with a bang

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We all love a bit of Dowager Duchess and Isobel Crawley sparring. The snippy exchanges between the two ladies, played by Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton, have delighted Downton Abbey viewers throughout the run of the drama.

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Who can forget the time Mrs Crawley offered the Dowager a metal implement “to crack your nuts” or the time the aristocrat got one over on her rival in this moment….

But now, as the show reaches its conclusion, writer Julian Fellowes has decided to match up the two great characters in…what? A saga about a Cottage Hospital, no less.

Are you with the Countess who desires things to remain as they are? Or are you with Mrs C who wants the hospital to merge with its larger neighbour – the Royal Yorkshire – to improve medical care for the locals.

To be perfectly frank, I find it hard to care. Surely there is a better way of getting these titans on screen together?

Last Sunday’s episode saw the ‘exciting’ plotline reach a climax as Lady Cora joined sides with Isobel.

In the red corner was Lord Merton (Douglas Reith), also taking the commoner’s side (but he fancies her so he doesn’t count). In the blue was Dr Clarkson (David Robb) who believed things should be kept just the way they are.

And this Sunday there will, no doubt, be more of the same.

When we think of Downton’s best moments much of it is high drama. There was the death of Mr Pamuk, the death of Matthew, the death of Lady Sybil (yes, there have been lots of deaths).

But the beauty of many of Downton’s highlights have also rested in their prosaic mundanity. The subtle little clashes of etiquette, the fondness between one servant and another, or a flash of studied fury from Carson. 

Somehow Downton has got the Cottage Hospital story wrong. Understated and mundane has become dull and uninvolving.

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Still, good luck to the show. I have been enjoying this series so far (even if I think it will probably have had its day come the end of autumn). But I feel sure that when its cast and production team count its awards – 10 Primetime Emmys and three Golden Globes, amongst others – you can bet it won’t be for plotlines such as this.