Doctor in Trouble

Doctor in Trouble is a 1970 British comedy film, the seventh and last film in the Doctor series. It was directed by Ralph Thomas and stars Leslie Phillips as a doctor who gets accidentally trapped on an outgoing cruise ship while it begins a round the world trip. The cast was rounded out by a number of British comedy actors including James Robertson Justice, Harry Secombe and Angela Scoular. It was based on the story Doctor on Toast by Richard Gordon.

Doctor in Trouble
Original British 1970 quad film poster
Directed byRalph Thomas
Produced byBetty Box
Written byJack Davies
Based onDoctor on Toast by Richard Gordon
StarringHarry Secombe
Leslie Phillips
Robert Morley
Angela Scoular
Music byEric Rogers
CinematographyErnest Steward
Edited byPeter Boita
Distributed byRank Film Distributors (UK)
Release date
  • 16 June 1970 (1970-06-16) (UK)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom


Renowned surgeon Sir Lancelot Spratt (James Robertson Justice) arranges a cruise for his patient, the famous television star Basil Beauchamp (Simon Dee). The captain of the ship is Lancelot Spratt's brother George Spratt (Robert Morley).

Doctor Burke (Leslie Phillips) becomes a stowaway by mistake when chasing his girlfriend (Angela Scoular) onto the ship to propose to her. She is one of a group of models doing a fashion shoot with camp photographer (Graham Chapman). Other passengers aboard ship include pools winner Llewellyn Wendover (Harry Secombe) and Mrs. Dailey (Irene Handl), a socially ambitious lady hoping to find a wealthy match for her daughter Dawn (Janet Mahoney).

Burke is pursued by the Master-at-Arms (Freddie Jones) who correctly suspects that he does not have a ticket. Burke tries various ruses to try to escape him, including dressing up as a doctor. Eventually he is caught and exposed as a stowaway. Captain Spratt orders him to serve as an orderly, scrubbing the ship.

When the ship's doctor falls ill from a tropical disease, Burke takes over his duties. He is called into action when a Soviet cargo ship sends a request for help due to a patient with acute appendicitis. Burke is transferred to that ship to perform an operation. By the time he has finished his own ship has departed, and he is forced to stay on board the Soviet vessel until it reaches Grimsby. When the cruise ship finally returns to port, Burke learns his girlfriend has married the ship's doctor, now recovered from his illness.

Meanwhile Dawn Dailey, having failed to snare Captain Spratt, decides to marry Wendover. She learns after the wedding that he is not as wealthy as she had imagined.

Main cast


The film was based on the book Doctor on Toast, published in 1961.[1] The plot of the book focused on Dr Grymsdyke and was different from the final film.[2]

The original intention was for James Robertson Justice to play two roles, Sir Lancelot Spratt and his twin Captain George Spratt (a variation of the part of Captain Hogg that he had played in Doctor at Sea) - "the best part of any we'd done together" according to producer Betty Box.[3]

Shortly before filming however Justice had a cerebral stroke and was rushed from his home near Inverness to Aberdeen for brain surgery. Justice recovered and wanted to play both roles as planned but the filmmakers knew he would be unable to do so, in part because he now had an uncontrollable tremor in his right arm. The part of Captain Spratt was offered to Robert Morley (who had been considered for the role of Lancelot Spratt in Doctor in the House but had wanted too much money). James Robertson Justice still played the smaller role of Lancelot. "It must have taken every ounce of energy he possessed to do it," said Box. "We knew he needed the money and paid him for both parts - he certainly deserved it for long and loyal service."[4]

Producer Betty Box said the film "wasn't a happy time for" her and director Ralph Thomas as they knew it "was the last movie we'd be able to make" with Justice.[5] She felt Robert Morley's casting undermined the picture. "Situations which would have been hilarious with James were just mildly amusing with Morley, and the whole point of the piece was lost," she said. Despite good performances from other members of the cast she thought "the entire project was doomed... from the day a real life surgeon said the world 'Scalpel' over dear James's unconscious bulk."[6]

It was Leslie Phillip's third appearance in a "doctor" film. He played Dr Tony Burke, the same character he played in Doctor in Love. In Doctor in Clover he played Dr Gaston Grimsdkye.

It was the first time Angela Scoular acted opposite Leslie Phillips; the two would later fall in love and marry.[7]


Ralph Thomas did not like the film saying "the unit was getting desperate, of course, and the title says it all; but it still, fortunately, continued making money, but I couldn't bear to make any more films in the series. And so Rank said "Well, right. Would you allow us to dispose of your interest in a television series. And I said "yes I've love to" and so they did."[8]

Box thought the Doctor series "died" when James Robertson Justice did.[9]

Penelope Mortimer of The Observer wrote "why all this talent, of various kinds, gets absolutely nowhere must be the fault of the screenplay... For it is a dreadful story, a terribly script, inadequately seasoned with worn out laughs. In all fairness I must say that a large section of the audience was hooting with laughter. It is on occasionals like this that one feels one has dropped from Mars."[10]

The film receives two stars out of five in the Radio Times Guide to Films, which describes it as "innocently smutty" and feeling like it has been made up of "leftovers from Doctor at Sea".[11]


  1. "DOCTOR ON TOAST". The Australian Women's Weekly. 29 (11). Australia, Australia. 16 August 1961. p. 4. Retrieved 16 May 2016 via National Library of Australia.
  2. Dr. Grimsdyke as Ghost-Writer: DOCTOR ON TOAST. By Richard Gordon. 237 pp. New York: Doubleday & Co. $3.95. By FRANK G. SLAUGHTER. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 30 July 1961: BR19.
  3. Box p 272
  4. Box p 273
  5. Box p 272
  6. Box p 273
  7. Angela Scoular obituary at The Independent
  8. Collected Interviews: Voices from Twentieth-century Cinema by Wheeler W. Dixon, SIU Press, 2001 p113
  9. Box p 273
  10. Celestial morali ty Mortimer, Penelope. The Observer (1901- 2003) [London (UK)] 21 June 1970: 28.
  11. Radio Times Guide to Films p.382
  • Box, Bett, Lifting the Lid, 2000
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