John Mullan searches out medics who matter.
- Lady Macbeth's doctor Surprisingly enough, the staff at Dunsinane includes a wise physician who, though ignorant of his employers' dark deeds, watches Lady Macbeth sleepwalking and knows she has done something bad. "Unnatural deeds / Do breed unnatural troubles". The "good doctor", as he is called, tells Macbeth he has no cure to offer.
- Allan Woodcourt Esther Summerson, the heroine of Dickens's Bleak House, is very good indeed, so who will be a suitable love interest? The "dark young surgeon" Allan Woodcourt qualifies. "He was, night and day, at the service of numbers of poor people and did wonders of gentleness and skill for them . . ." He goes off to China and India to help even poorer people and returns for the happy ending.
- Dr John Lucy Snowe, narrator of Charlotte Brontë's Villette, gets treated by the handsome English doctor to a girls' school in a renamed version of Brussels, after her collapse in the street. He is a childhood friend and Lucy entertains the idea of a romance. Except that, while a brilliant doctor, he falls for Ginevra, the school flirt.
- Doctor Thorne The eponymous country GP of Anthony Trollope's novel is a thoroughly good egg who has brought up the bastard daughter of his rakish, now dead brother as his own. He is bluff, decent and kind – though not slick enough for the stuck-up burghers of Barchester.
- Tertius Lydgate Poor Dr Lydgate arrives in Middlemarch with lots of idealism and a belief in progress. But then he falls for a pretty woman – Rosamond Vincy – and, in George Eliot's stern scheme of things, his medical ambitions are doomed. Instead of helping humanity, Lydgate ends up a mere society doctor in a spa town, and dies young from disappointment.
- Dr Watson John Watson, fresh from service as an army surgeon in Afghanistan, is taken on by Sherlock Holmes as a flatmate to be "a whetstone for his mind". Conan Doyle had to make Holmes's stooge (and the narrator of all his detective adventures) a doctor. He is trustworthy, loyal, benevolent and literal-minded. And his experience as a doctor has taught him to talk to the ladies.
- Dr Dolittle The gentle hero of Hugh Lofting's children's books is clearly supposed to be good, and he is certainly well liked where he lives and works, in the quiet English village of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh. But he does grow to like animals rather more than people, and his patients are eventually frightened off by his swelling menagerie.
- Dr Zhivago Try to forget Omar Sharif: in Boris Pasternak's novel, Yuri Zhivago is a humane doctor and ultra-sensitive poet who lives through the horror of Russian history in the 20th century. Lara, the love of his life, is not only beautiful and brilliant, she is a volunteer nurse during the first world war. Their love blooms in a field hospital.
- Dr Stephen Maturin In the Napoleonic nautical yarns of Patrick O'Brian, Maturin is right-hand man to Captain Jack Aubrey. As well as being the ship's surgeon, Maturin is a part-time spy and a famous naturalist. Fluent in a dozen languages, he is something of a bohemian: a former opium addict and an accomplished cellist and flautist. Sometimes he has time to cure people.
- Henry Perowne Perowne is a noted neurosurgeon and protagonist of Ian McEwan's Saturday. Only slightly less accomplished than Maturin, this squash player and bon vivant has his comfortable world threatened by a criminal psychopath – whose life he saves in a properly doctorly fashion.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2010