Doc Martin Revisited

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The Doc Martin Collection, Series 1—4

Just out!  Acorn Media has released, for the first time in one set, the first four seasons of the hit British comedy-drama.

Ahhh-h-h-h—  Here I am once again, back in the little Cornish coastal village of Portwenn.  Right now I could be anywhere in town and still see the snug little harbor with its fishing boats and swooping gulls and terns.  There’s the local school where Louisa Glasson (Caroline Catz) teaches and, in the village itself, the seaside restaurant of ex-plumbers Bert Large (Ian McNeice) and his son Al (Joe Absolom), though reservations are never necessary, since turnout varies as does food quality.

Then there’s the one and only police constable in town, Joe Penhale (John Marquez), ready to pounce on errant jaywalkers, runners of stop lights (if there were any such lights here) or beastly murderers, of which there have been none since Penhale arrived sometime ago—not because of Joe’s vigilance but because there simply aren’t any murderers in Portwenn.

And of course the harbor can be seen from the GP’s office as well.  GP?  Yes, Dr. Martin Ellingham (Martin Clunes, star of Men Behaving Badly and Islands of Britain).  He moved to this picturesque backwater some years (seasons) ago after his blood phobia ended his career as a London surgeon.  If you haven’t met Doc through the TV series, shown both in Great Britain and in the U.S., or been introduced to him on a previous visit to this website [see Doc Martin, That Hilarious British TV Series], then you now have a second, even more complete chance to do so.

Acorn Media has been kind enough to issue the first four seasons of Doc Martin in a box set.  Here’s an opportunity to visit with Dr. Ellingham for some twenty-four hours—through thirty episodes on nine discs—if you feel you’re up to it.  Perhaps for only the stoutest of hearts is this undertaking recommended, though the risk is worth it—a doctor is available, after all—and the encounter is highly encouraged.

I say “up to it” because Doc Martin, as he’s known to all in Portwenn, is no ordinary individual, physician or otherwise.  He may well be the rudest, most insensitive, most cantankerous man you’ve ever met, or will meet, so being around him for an extended period might be something of a—  Yes, something of a challenge.  As a person, out and about as it were, he has few social graces and no gift for small talk, or anything remotely like, “Hi!  How are you today?”  Even if he so greeted a passer-by, which he wouldn’t, he wouldn’t wait for a reply or care if he heard one.  When he runs into someone rounding a corner, as he has done in several episodes, the other person is the idiot, and he’ll say so.

As a doctor, he has no patience with his patients, except for a genuine disease and then only if the person had no part in bringing on the malady through poor judgment or stupidity.  For Ellingham has no tolerance for the fool, not even the simply incompetent, or the blithely helpless, or the innocently bewildered, for that matter.

You see, at all times he’s single-minded in purpose, whether he’s preparing dinner with a piece of fish (perhaps his favorite food, probably because as a doctor he knows fish is healthy), or reaching someone who is injured or ill, or—and there is this—visiting the local schoolmarm, sometimes guilty herself, as in Season IV, of wasting his valuable time with false worries about her pregnancy.  (However abortive the wedding, the courtship was not entirely unsuccessful!)  The altered relationship between Louisa and Doc is now, by Season IV, barely ongoing—well, “ongoing with interruptions,” it might be termed.

If Martin, arrogant and opinionated, is a little too much for some, there’s a host of eccentric characters in Portwenn to delight and fascinate, sometimes offering acute studies in human nature, both at its best and its worst.  Take that guy (Ben Miller) with a maniacal misuse of shotguns.  He has Anthony as a companion; companionship is well and good except that Anthony is a six-foot squirrel, à la Elwood P. Dowd’s six-foot rabbit in Harvey.

Mrs. Tishell (Selina Cadell), not mentioned heretofore, is a regular resident of Portwenn, the local pharmacist—er, chemist.  Usually wearing a neck brace, she dispenses medicinal as well as moral advice at the slightest provocation, and disapproves of Louisa’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy.  She knitted a sweater for Martin in Season IV and gave him a parting kiss.  He promptly consigned the garment, with its large letters “Martin,” to the first trash can he saw.  He was off to London, or so he thought, to renew his career as a surgeon, his hemophobia “conquered.”

Joan Norton (Stephanie Cole), Ellingham’s aunt, is one of the least abrasive characters in the village.  In contrast with Mrs. Tishell, she takes kindly to Louisa, offering her a place to stay.  But, like everyone, Joan has an illness, osteoporosis, which develops in the middle of Season III, and she has other problems as well. When an old flame (John Alderton) arrives to rekindle the fires, he learns he has a terminal illness—yep, he’s seen Doc!—and abruptly ends the romance, sailing, literally, alone into the sunset.  In another episode, and somewhat out of character I feel, Joan takes up with a man (Justin Salinger) young enough to be her son.  Turns out he has a mother fixation and has, too, the expected medical problem.

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