Female voice: Belinda McClory as Dr Alice Harvey in <i>The Doctor Blake Mysteries</i>.

Female voice: Belinda McClory as Dr Alice Harvey in The Doctor Blake Mysteries.

Given the plight of the previous morgue doctor on The Doctor Blake Mysteries, it's understandable that Belinda McClory was apprehensive when she was offered that role in the returning season.

Actor Tim Potter lasted only 10 episodes as Gus Hawting before he was revealed to be a murderer in the first season's climax.

''He was a sacrificial lamb,'' says the show's unapologetic producer George Adams. Initially, Potter was excited that his character had been liberated from the cheerless morgue, ''but as he read more (episode scripts) he went, 'Hold on a minute, I'm the killer, I'm gone'. That was the end of him, poor fella.''

When it came to recasting the part, Adams knew he wanted a female.

He felt it would be good to have another female voice in the show and to have someone else in a position of authority, ''primarily because in reality there weren't many women in authority in the 1950s in medicine''.

''I had this notion that (Doctor) Alice (Harvey) was quite outspoken and didn't have much rock with how women were treated generally.

''That made her a bit of an outcast, so at the first opportunity the medical establishment shunted her off to the morgue where she could look after dead bodies. I like the idea that (Doctor) Blake and her form a bond, a kind of relationship that gives her a chance to bloom a bit and show how intelligent she is. It seemed like rich material for the actors and writers to have some fun with.''

McClory was relieved to discover that her character, in contrast to Potter, makes it to the end of the current second season.

''Part science-nerd, part feminist,'' Dr Harvey was a woman in a man's world, says McClory, whose last TV role was a guest spot on All Saints.

For the past decade, The Matrix actress has divided her time between stage roles and films which she co-writes with her husband Jon Hewitt. ''She's a unique creature,'' says McClory of Dr Harvey. ''I think that's one of the things that both attracts and repels Dr Blake. She would be one of the very few female doctors in a country town like Ballarat in 1959. Female doctors at that time were frequently relegated to female issues. The fact that Dr Harvey has a shocking bedside manner that has her relegated to the morgue, suits her fine. She gets on much better with dead people than the living. They share some of each other's quirks.''

Though she and Dr Blake (Craig McLachlan) start off on a rocky footing when Blake mistakes her for someone other than a qualified doctor, they become close, professionally at least.

''She's a mystery to him. He knows nothing about her, he knows that she's smart, doesn't suffer fools and is great at her job but he doesn't know anything about her. The whole series is him and the audience getting to know her and hopefully love her a little bit,'' says McClory.

Adams admits that putting Blake close to Harvey, even in the unromantic surrounds of a new morgue, creates an inevitable ''frisson''. But he is adamant there is no long-term plan to set them up romantically. ''I always say that's for season six or seven to anyone who's prepared to listen.''

Blake, says Adams, has enough on his plate trying to figure out Jean (Nadine Garner), his loyal housekeeper and casual partner-in-crime-solving.

Like Harvey, Blake has unconventional views of the opposite sex. His wife has died, but he hasn't stopped loving her. In his head, he's still married.

''It's always interesting for him to meet these women who are fairly attracted to him, but whether he even notices these things is uncertain. We try not to write too much into (his relationship with Jean). If you give the actors too much suddenly it's on the screen and you've potentially taken yourself down a cul-de-sac.''

While nostalgia is part of the appeal of The Doctor Blake Mysteries - McClory's father, whose favourite TV show this is, is a former policeman who drove an identical Zephyr to the one in the show - it's rooted in truth.

According to Adams, female doctors and surgeons were not uncommon in the 1950s. As a military base hospital, Ballarat was where a lot of cutting-edge medical practices were tried out.

For McClory, the nostalgia is undercut with harbingers of things to come. ''Even though the township and some of the characters resist change, there is always something introduced in the episodes. We have the knowledge of what happens. The Vietnam War is coming, Australia is losing its innocence. That's what I think makes great drama.''

The Doctor Blake Mysteries , ABC1, Friday, 8.30pm.