Now Available on DVD
From Acorn Media
From Acorn Media
The Origins of Doc Martin
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I once read a study that stated that-- no matter how much we blather on or how much they pretend to ask us about our plans for the weekend or our new shoes, family pets, or hobbies-- the typical doctor only actively listens to their patients for an average of five minutes at any given appointment.
Whether it's just fixating on the examination itself or paying attention to certain key symptoms or phrases that would indicate a need for further testing (cha-ching!), a small procedure (cha-ching, cha-chaing!), or even an operation (cha-ching in every language known to man)-- bedside manner seems about as old fashioned as the idea of house calls. And this is probably why USA Network has a huge hit on their hands this summer with Royal Pains since it centers on a handsome prince in a blue shirt and khakis willing to save you in the comfort of your own sofa.
Unfortunately that's television or the luxury of those with the money and life in the Hamptons, baby. For in the real world-- to a doctor who wants to squeeze in as many patients as possible in a given day and especially to those who write with pens by Prozac on notepads by Ultram and glance at watches boasting an advertisement for Viagra, they're overly quick to tell you that your exam is over and your time is up even if by doing so they've missed something so vital that your life-clock time (not sponsored by Viagra) may be up sooner than they thought.
And admittedly, often in the over-crowded medical system, sometimes it's not our over-worked doctors' faults (save for the cushy ones specializing in things like pharmacological kickbacks, boob jobs, and botox that is) but there's no excuse for rudeness no matter how busy you are. Additionally, my one measuring stick for people-- doctors definitely and men I date especially-- is how they treat people to whom they don't necessarily have to be nice-- for example, the "tired, poor, huddled masses" a.k.a. the sick and those less fortunate than them.
And when it comes to this criteria, Doc Martin-- as played by Martin Clunes-- gets a failing grade. Of course, to be fair, the poor guy is playing a man whose name sounds an awful lot like footwear on this side of the pond given the trendy boots prone to the arty goth crowd in the '80s and '90s American high school scene and likewise, the lead actor had just come off the wildly successful UK sitcom Men Behaving Badly.
However, there's humor in his complete disregard for manners considering that essentially everyone else in the picturesque fictitious Cornwall village of Portwenn (filmed in reality in Port Isaac) is either exceedingly charming, very bizarre or a bit of both-- giving it that instant Northern Exposure vibe to which the ITV British Comedy Award winning series is often compared.
Clunes-- working off of the character originally crafted by Craig Ferguson and Mark Crowdy in 2000's hidden UK gem Saving Grace starring Brenda Blethyn (in which he portrayed Dr. Martin Bamford)-- successfully segued Bamford into Martin for two prequel made-for-television movies to provide audiences with a back-story before the series kicked off in '04 where it's been only ITV's third series scoring the #1 midweek 9pm slot since 12/04.
While I must confess that traditionally medical shows aren't my "bag" unless they're accompanied by a clever hook or set-up-- after a shaky start for a newbie tuning in in Series 2 having never seen anything other than Saving Grace, I felt Martin delivered something decidedly unique.
And this is definitely achieved by coupling such an idyllic backdrop which looks as though it could be used for Englishmen Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, Dear Frankie, or Waking Ned Devine with the recurring and intelligent Midsomer Murders Village Mysteries twists throughout as each storyline takes you in countless directions-- some kinky, some hilarious, some melancholic, and some that are just nicely unexpected.
Although, this being said I do have to grant that-- despite the novel concept of a top London surgeon who irrationally develops a fear of blood, has to retrain as a general practitioner and relocate to his childhood village of Portwenn-- Clunes' character lacks the same joyful articulation in his misanthropy to put him in the same "watchability" bracket as John C. McGinley's Dr. Cox on Scrubs. Since, honestly at times I just wanted to smack the Doc for lecturing a woman while she slipped away to death but despite this, the show gets bonus points for the sudden arrival of his parents. For only one glimpse into those who spawned the man and soon enough you realize just why and how Martin is the way he is.
And thus, a recurring theme of parental angst is introduced into the series that reappears subtly throughout whether on a lighter and more comical level with good-natured local boy Al (Joe Absolom) or on a more serious one with Louisa Glasson (Caroline Catz), the beautiful teacher whom Martin hopelessly loves from afar.
Beginning the series without prior knowledge of their sexual tension-- the show opens with a fantasy sequence of the two in what seems to be a romance novel plot before we realize that the neighbors had indeed shared a kiss but par for the course, the doc had blown it and ruined the potentially romantic moment by (I'm assuming here) making some remark about her need for better dental hygiene. Even though, sadly we later discover that the kiss had occurred at a stressful moment when they'd been up all night, worried, and drinking loads of coffee which would explain the sans minty-fresh experience.
When the handsome but now eerily religious-- to the point that every five minutes he needs to pray or praise the man upstairs-- ex-boyfriend of Louisa returns to town to check on an elderly relative and then begins a relationship with her, Doc Martin grows even crueler and more cantankerous than before. But luckily some of the locals keep him in check including his new receptionist Pauline (Katherine Parkinson) and PC Mark Mylow (Stewart Wright) who seems to be the only person who can tolerate the doctor, even when Martin refuses to be his best man when Mark rushes into a hurried and questionable engagement.
Featuring all eight regular length episodes from the second season in addition to the ninth one-- a feature length Christmas special "On the Edge" (that funnily enough had no visible ties to the holiday) which finds Louisa's dad arriving in town and a hostage situation getting underway-- the transfer of this new series is of much higher quality than a vast majority of recent British Acorn releases given the 2005 source material.
Moreover, it's featured in beautiful 16x9 widescreen that fills your enhanced televisions completely and boasts magnificent views of the area to make you feel like you're in Portwenn (or Cornwall's Port Isaac). While no doubt you wouldn't want to visit Martin Clunes' curmudgeon titular character, the slim-packaged three-disc set also boasts Dolby Digital with subtitles for the deaf and/or hard of hearing. And although the only extras are a photo gallery and cast filmographies, fans looking for a cross between a village mystery and a medical series mixed with a nice love story (or rather the potential of one) without all the cliches will want to be sure to check it out.
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