Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: The Complete Series Megaset


Jake Slicker: “Who’d want to get married these days? Women acting so crazy. Wanting to vote, wanting to close the saloons, wanting to do things they ain’t meant to do.”

Prisoner: “You let a dang woman work on me? What are you trying to kill me?”

Kid Cole: “This ain’t no woman. She’s a doctor.”

Running for six seasons and spawning two made-for-television movies, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman was a phenomenon of family values in the 1990s. Exploring gender and race issues, the bonds of family and friends, and adventure and danger, all against a backdrop of 19th century Colorado, the series managed to create a remarkably engaging story that has held up surprisingly well.

The series is centered on Dr. Michaela Quinn (Jane Seymour), a woman from a wealthy family in Boston who moves to Colorado Springs to practice medicine, and is quickly thrust into a town with a suspicion to strangers, especially a female physician. Almost immediately she takes over the care of three children, Matthew (Chad Allen), Colleen (Erika Flores, then Jessica Bowman), and Brian (Shawn Toovey), after the unexpected death of their mother.

This setup, coupled with the opposites-attract relationship she begins with loner Sully (Joe Lando), makes for a somewhat soapy, sentimental premise. In fact, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman is unapologetically sentimental and frequently emotional and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There is a place for shows that strive to connect with viewers through emotionally-charged storytelling even if they are not always completely successful. While there are plenty of moments that lean more towards melodrama than subtle storytelling, it’s the sincerity, particularly in Seymour’s and Toovey’s portrayals, that made it the popular show it was.

For all of the family values and wholesomeness that the series was often purported to embrace, there was still a great deal of violence, as well as taboo subjects and many unsanitized, antiquated opinions portrayed rather frankly for a family show on network television. For instance, an episode that focused on homosexuality, surely not a storyline many would expect from this series, was addressed openly and handled capably. Sure, many of the episodes ended with characters realizing the errors of their ways, but there weren’t always easy answers or solutions and the show made a point to highlight those moments as well.

One of the topics most consistently covered throughout the entire series’ run is that of the plight of the Native Americans. In fact, their story is as much an integral part of the series as Dr. Quinn’s struggles on the frontier. The show relied heavily on one character in particular, Cloud Dancing (Larry Sellers), to really highlight the ways in which Native Americans were constantly faced with false promises and broken treaties. The episode on the real-life massacre at Washita was especially effective in offering an unflinchingly honest portrayal of what was endured by Native Americans at this time.

The show reportedly went to great lengths to create as realistic a time period as possible, consulting the Smithsonian, and having a medical doctor on staff to adhere to real medical history and procedure. This may be somewhat hard to believe when Dr. Quinn is repeatedly performing ground-breaking surgeries in less than ideal circumstances. Possibly the most glaring suspension of disbelief is required in the episode where she completes a ridiculously difficult plastic surgery procedure on a burn victim. Later seasons had the series focusing (and then closing with a bit of medical history narrated by Seymour) on such medical issues as sickle cell anemia, the pros and cons of intubation, and the early effects felt from staph infections.

The series benefited from the many wonderful guest stars it regularly employed, particularly those from the country music world. Kenny Rogers, Barbara Mandrell, Trisha Yearwood, and in recurring guest roles, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash played roles as varied as gunslinger, photographer, and lawman. It is easy to see what would attract so many country music stars to Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, essentially a western filled with cowboys, the frontier, and plenty of tradition.

In the end, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman was the show it set out to be. Interested in issues that continue to be of relevance today and with a commitment to accurately portraying its time period, the series was often successful, and it did so without apologizing when things got a little sappy. The bonus features are somewhat sparse. There are a couple of short featurettes, four commentaries featuring cast members, an episode of A&E’s Biography on Jane Seymour, and some on-screen cast biographies and trivia. In addition, the complete set also includes the two television movies made after the series ended.

RATING 6 / 10