The comedy-drama Doc Martin (2004-present) appears to be one of British network ITV's biggest hits of recent years. The series has been broadcast all over the world, and other-language adaptations - Doctor Mateo in Spain, Doktor Martin in Germany, Doc Martin in France - have been produced. Acorn Media seems to have done surprisingly well with its Doc Martin DVDs in the U.S. as well, and all this may account for Doc Martin - The Movies, a two-disc set of modest but entertaining made-for-television films that preceded the ongoing series.
Doc Martin has had an unusually convoluted, even unique development history, and these two TV movies reflect that. The title character Martin Clunes plays in these shows is quite different from the one he'd later make famous in the series, and the rest of the cast is almost entirely different, though the locations are the same and the comic tone isn't far off from what would follow. For Doc Martin fans, these two films will be of interest, but they also work as stand-alone TV movies in their own right.
The IMDb and other places get the release dates on these wrong. Both were produced in 2001, and are presented here in good 16:9 enhanced widescreen presentations. There are no extras.
Clunes first played the character, then called Dr. Martin Bamford, in the theatrical feature Saving Grace (2000), a comedy starring Brenda Blethyn and future talk show host Craig Ferguson, who also co-wrote the script (and who presumably continues to receive royalties from the TV series). In that film, Clunes was a third-billed supporting character.
But Doc Martin, along with the obscenely beautiful Cornwall coastal setting, was eventually, extensively reworked for the 2004 television series. Before the series, however, came two television movies, technically prequels to Saving Grace, providing Martin's back-story.
In Doc Martin (2001), successful London obstetrician Dr. Martin Banford discovers that his wife, Petronella (Lynsey Baxter) has been sleeping around and then some, including with three of his closest friends. (How Martin learns this and his reaction that follows are smartly done.)
Emotionally at sea, he makes his way to Cornwall, to the quaint coastal village he used to visit as a child. There, in typical British comedy fashion, Martin is alternately charmed and bemused by the local eccentrics, such as one anonymous gossip who exposes the sins of others by leaving colorful Jell-O molds on their doorsteps like gelatinous Scarlet Letters.
The immediate follow-up, Doc Martin and the Legend of the Cloutie (also 2001), has Doc Martin settling in Cornwall and finding the ideal farmhouse only to have it snatched out from under him by a particularly obnoxious woman (Anna Chancellor) who plans on razing the property to develop pricey condominiums. Martin hatches a plan to scare her and her family off by masquerading as a local, Bigfoot-type creature, the Beast of Bodmin. A subplot concerns the sudden appearance of more obnoxious people, custom agents, hot on the trail of publican Charley (Paul Brooke), clearly up to something fishy.
Those familiar with Clunes's intensely acerbic Doc Martin of the later series may be surprised by the more genial character he plays here, one who admires the free-spiritedness of his new neighbors and whom covets local acceptance - almost the antithesis of his later TV persona. And for this reason it's interesting if jarring to see Clunes playing such an opposing character while making this Doc Martin equally valid.
As with the later series, the two Doc Martin TV-movies were filmed in Port Isaac, in Cornwall. Amusingly, Doc Martin's clinic from the TV series is frequently visible in wide shots, and some of the action in these two films was clearly shot on and around the same street.
The two TV movies have identical casts, more or less. Even Lynsey Baxter, a major character in the first one nonetheless turns up for what amounts to a five-second cameo in the second. With the exception of Tristan Sturrock, who played a character called Harvey in Saving Grace and the two TV movies, but a different continuing character in the 2004 series, the entire cast of the TV movies would be replaced for the eventual series, though obvious slight variations appear. (For example, Ian McNeice's Bert Large and tavern owner Charley have similar characteristics.)
Overall, these are slight but entertaining comedies, with the second one marred by too many unpleasant characters and too much deviation from what would be the program's final, polished formula. The second show even ends with a what-was-that?! bit that crosses over into the realm of fantasy.
Video & Audio
The two movies, on separate, single-sided discs, look and sound quite good, and are presented in 16:9 enhanced (1.78:1) widescreen with excellent Dolby Digital surround. Optional English subtitles are included. No Extra Features.
If you're new to the world of Doc Martin I'd recommend starting with Saving Grace, followed by these two TV-movies, and then the series, which will begin airing its fifth season soon. On their own terms quite charming, Doc Martin - The Movies are Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Musashi Miyamoto DVD boxed set, is on sale now.