Sometimes a television shows grows on you, over time, and sometimes you just flat-out get it wrong. Nick Lyons provocatively dismissed Doc Martin: Series 1 - curiously an Image Entertainment release - back in 2007, by declaring its "sole purpose is to capitalize on the success of others by mimicking [Northern Exposure] as best as [it] can without actually plagiarazing [sic]." When I reviewed Doc Martin - Series 2 this past July, I was much less harsh but still used adjectives like "mild" and "slight" to describe it.
I now feel quite differently. I suspect partly this was due to my coming to the show mid-stream, so to speak, and that in small doses its characters tend to come off as over-emphatically eccentric. Gradually I've discovered they're fleshed out quite nicely into still-eccentric but believable ones as the program unfolds at its leisurely but always engaging pace.
Regardless, I'm now a confirmed, enthusiastic Doc Martin fan. The show's many charms and big laughs were only just becoming apparent when I reviewed Series 2, but it was with great enthusiasm that I dug into Acorn's Doc Martin - Series 3 (2007). As before, the episodes are attractively presented in their original 16:9 format, enhanced on DVD.
Martin Ellingham (Martin Clunes), "Doc Martin" to his patients, is the misanthropic GP serving the Cornish seaside village of Portwenn. Originally a London-based surgeon, Martin fled to Portwenn - where he spent childhood holidays with his Auntie Joan (Stephanie Cole) - after developing a blood phobia.
Brilliantly played by Clunes, his large ears and full, upturned lips emphasizing a fixed scowl, Martin projects a glowering, aloof adult and the petulant, dyspeptic child at once. As a doctor his bedside manner is appallingly tactless and he is blunt to the point of extreme rudeness. And yet this is not to say Martin is uncaring. Indeed, just the opposite: his concern for his adopted community's well-being is admirable, and he often takes unpopular positions to protect it. He does not suffer fools (or intelligent but naïve people) gladly and cares not in the slightest what others might think of him.
His dedication to Portwenn's populace is exceeded only by his love for the hamlet's primary schoolmistress, Louisa (Caroline Catz), a beautiful young woman of extraordinary patience and tolerance for Martin's lack of social grace, and who sees in him the sensitive, caring man Martin almost completely represses.
The series achieves something quite difficult, in making believable that a woman as attractive and nurturing as Louisa would fall for a man as thoroughly unpleasant as Martin. Indeed their growing love for one another, which only really blossomed toward the end of Series 2, finally flowers fully over the course of Series 3, and it's sweet, charming, and often quite hilarious.
To wit: When much of Portwenn falls ill to what at first appears to be food poisoning ("The Morning After"), Martin pays a house call to the bed-ridden Louisa. He treats her condition with atypical tenderness. Gently taking her hand, Martin gazes into Louisa's eyes with profound empathy, finally telling her, "I'm going to need a stool sample."
Martin's scenes with his patients approach the brilliance of W.C. Fields. During a consultation with an old woman, an inveterate smoker:
Virulent anti-smoker Martin: Did you think you'd make it to seventy!?
Woman: I'm seventy-five!
Woman: Mother smoked a pipe until she was 93.
Martin: ...And then she died.
Woman: No! She lost her pipe.
For Doc Martin's third series, several cast changes were made. Stewart Wright, whose good-natured Police Constable Mark Mylow took a horrible beating romance-wise at the end of series two, has been replaced by a new character, PC Joe Penhale (John Marquez), who suffers from narcolepsy and agoraphobia, which tends to get in the way of his duties. Al (Joe Absolom), the handsome son of the aptly named Bert Large (Ian McNeice), is absent from the first three shows but returns later on. Bert, meanwhile, gives up plumbing to open a restaurant, while Martin's free-spirited receptionist and Al's girlfriend, Pauline (Katherine Parkinson), enjoys increased responsibilities at Martin's clinic.
Video & Audio
Doc Martin - Series 3 is presented in 16:9 enhanced widescreen, which again shows the picturesque locations (actually Port Isaac, Portwenn is fictional). The seven 45-minute episodes (two fewer than Series 2, though one more than Series 1) are on two single-sided discs. The Dolby Digital Stereo is up to contemporary television standards, and the shows include optional English subtitles.
The only extras are the usual sort of thing Acorn include on its TV titles: brief, not particularly helpful cast filmographies and a photo gallery.
Though I'd recommend those new to the series start at the beginning, Doc Martin - Series 3 is extremely funny when its title character is at his cruelest best, and sweetly charming (and often still hilarious) during his tender moments with Louisa. Stick with it and I suspect like me you'll grow extremely fond of this well-written, superbly-acted comedy-drama. Highly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Tora-san DVD boxed set, is on sale now.