The British comedy-drama series Doc Martin (2004-present) hedged its bets at the conclusion of series three, ending with its title character, Dr. Martin Ellingham (Martin Clunes), and schoolmaster Louisa (Caroline Catz) opting not to get married in the closing moments. This sudden about-face was, from the standpoint of the audience, extremely disappointing, especially since the decision to end it that way seemed so arbitrary or, perhaps, the show's producers wanted to avoid "jumping the shark." If Doc Martin were to become a happily married man, he might lose his endearing irascibleness and thus become much less interesting a character.
Whatever the reason, Doc Martin - Series 4 (2009) picks up the pieces reasonably well. In dramatic terms the end of season three painted the show into a corner, but a trio of series-long dramatic conflicts helpfully if sometimes awkwardly gets things back on track, and overall the show remains very nearly as delightful as it's always been.
This no-frills release from Acorn Media presents the season's eight 46-minute episodes in their original uncut, 16:9 enhanced widescreen presentations.
(Mild Spoilers) Louisa having moved away to London, local GP Martin Ellingham is forced to bear the brunt of their humiliating decision to call off their wedding. The already grouchy, misanthropic one-time surgeon has become even more disagreeable than usual. The series opens with Martin attempting to overcome his blood phobia in the hope of returning to London and becoming a surgeon once more - and, more importantly, leave behind the eccentric, Cornish seaside village of Portwenn.
Martin also becomes reacquainted with an old flame, Edith (Lia Williams), a similarly acerbic but less overtly misanthropic doctor, an in vitro fertilization specialist. Though she broke his heart when the two were young medical students, she now aggressively pursues him. In the first episode, their dinner date at Martin's home is interrupted by Louisa's sudden arrival at his doorstep - seven months pregnant with Martin's baby.
Doc Martin's supporting players, like old friends, also return: PC Joe Penhale (John Marquez), who suffers from narcolepsy and agoraphobia, is as anal and irritating as ever, and an early show introduces an equally eccentric older brother. Handsome but marble-mouthed Al (Joe Absolom) and Pauline (Katherine Parkinson), Martin's gambling-addicted secretary, struggle to keep their romance on track though Al's father, plumber-turned-restaurateur Bert Large (Ian McNeice), at long last seems to have found a stable trade. Mrs. Tishell (Selina Cadell), the chemist/pharmacist secretly pining away for Martin sees Louisa's departure as her Big Chance to reel Martin in.
Meanwhile, Martin's beloved Auntie Joan (Stephanie Cole) is in an awkward place, wanting to help both Louisa and Martin while each professes to want nothing to do with the other.
As always, Martin Clunes's hilarious characterization is at the show's center. Almost always scowling fiercely - except on rare occasions when, taken by emotional surprise, a wide-eyed and childlike innocence overtakes him, Martin remains a glowering, aloof presence with no bedside manner or tact. That said, the rest of the cast is fine, too; Catz is charming and a perfect match for Clunes, while McNiece, Parkinson, and the rest are agreeably peculiar.
Video & Audio
Doc Martin - Series 4 is presented in 16:9 enhanced widescreen, which again shows the picturesque locations (actually Port Isaac, Portwenn is fictional) to good advantage. The eight 45-minute episodes (one up on Series Three) are on two single-sided discs. The Dolby Digital Stereo is up to contemporary television standards, and the shows include optional English subtitles. One note about these: On my player at least the first disc (but, curiously, not the second) defaulted to English subtitles automatically, an annoying general trend among Region 1 DVDs of British television shows. I realize some viewers might struggle with the thickest Welsh or Irish accents and dialects, but I find it hard to believe the majority of viewers would require subtitles for mere Cornish accents. It's great that Acorn is including these subtitles as an option, but I don't agree they should switch on automatically.
None, save a small amount of text trivia about the show and actor filmographies.
Though I'd strongly recommend those new to the series start at the beginning, Doc Martin - Series 4 is funny and charming; if there's a drop-off in quality it's extremely slight and the series remains highly enjoyable. Highly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Tora-san DVD boxed set, is on sale now.