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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Doc Martin's Casebook: Sets 1-5
Doc Martin's Casebook: Sets 1-5
Acorn Media // Unrated // May 7, 2013
List Price: $124.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Neil Lumbard | posted August 8, 2013 | E-mail the Author
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Doc Martin DVD 1 to 5 Review


Doc Martin
is a popular British television series created by Dominic Minghella, who based the series upon the same character featured in the theatrical feature film Saving Grace (released in 2000), which was written by Mark Crowdy and Craig Ferguson. The television series is quite different in some respects and takes a much different approach for the character and the odd town he lives in the English called Portwenn. The show was also preceded by two made for television films based on the character, each offering a slightly different tune to this unique character.

The series has currently aired five series (or as we call them in America, seasons), and will return soon with a new and final sixth outing that has yet to air on British airwaves. The show began in 2004 and has continued through 2013 and despite production delays between seasons the show has continued to find an audience.

Martin Clunes is the lead actor portraying the character of Doc Martin. On the television series, this character is a grumpy Doctor with no bedside manner, who is often so matter-of-fact that many patients and townspeople find his attitude and general characteristics alarming. He's not too terribly fond of the people of Portwenn, and as their only doctor he sees fit to just examine his patients and "get on with it", so to speak. He doesn't spend time trying to get to know most people and he keeps largely to himself while working to help the people with health issues. It's largely a loner life for Dr. Martin Ellingham (the nickname of "Doc Martin" having been given to him by the people of Portwenn). 

The series largely revolves around the medial needs of a towns-person in Portwenn and Doc Martin ultimately "saving the day" by the end of each of the episodes. The series is mostly episodic and while there are a few reoccurring plotlines and characters it's mostly a health procedural show.

Over the course of the series, Doc Martin becomes friends with a local schoolteacher, Louisa Glasson (Caroline Catz), who first met Martin as a member of the board determining if Doc Martin would be a good fit for the community. She initially disapproves of his hiring and is surprised when she realizes an eye-gazing look he kept giving her had only to do with a eye condition she needed help with medically. The two become a "romantic" pairing over time.

The path to romantic happiness between Louisa and Martin is also interfered with my Martin's unfailing ability to mention some random health or medical issue he sees fit to mention to her in an otherwise romantic moment (such as in mentioning an actual medical term which translates to "you need help with bad breath"). The show continues to teeter-totter back and forth between the concept of the two as a couple or as simply friends in a strange relationship to one another -- and the show is sometimes less enjoyable, to some degree, because of its inability to let these unique characters simply be together.  

The other main supporting characters on the show include a local mechanic that is often visiting Doc Martin or Louisa and who goes from being a plumber to local restaurant owner or "import water" drink-seller named Bert (Ian McNeice), and who is also frequently helped out through working with his son Al (Joe Absolom). There is also Martin's aunt Joan (Stephanie Cole), a motherly figure in his life, and who is an emotional core of the show -- that is, until a abrupt passing of the character between the season 4 finale and the season 5 premiere, in which her character dies and her storyline becomes badly resolved.

Season 1 introduced the first receptionist, Elaine Denham (Lucy Punch), who was a hilarious and fun supporting character as a somewhat inconsistent and "go-with-the-flow" type of receptionist. Her character (and the performance given by Lucy Punch) added a great deal to the production. In season two, her character was essentially replaced with another character in (predictably) the same kind of role as the receptionist. Pauline Lamb (Katherine Parkinson) replaces the character and we never get to revisit Elaine's character again. Luckily, Pauline was a nice character to be able to get to know.


And then after a multiple year difference between seasons Pauline is a character dropped out of the show to introduce Morwenna Newcross (Jessica Ransom) as receptionist. The same sort of thing happened with other characters on the show, and it's a frequent irritation for characters to essentially be dropped out of the show this way.

The show's best season is probably the first year's outing. That is when the show was mainly being written by the original television creator and producer Dominic Minghella (who also happens to be the brother to another  creative individual, Anthony Minghella). The show generally seemed more consistent in tone and style and it built to a high quality season conclusion that was one of the high-points of the show's entire run to date.

As the show progresses there have been many different writers who have come and gone on the show and the same can be said for the characters (and the actors portraying them) as they have also gone through a number of significant changes over the seasons. It's one of the things that prevents the series from ever reaching its full potential of creativity. The writing becomes so inconsistent in later seasons that many episodes simply seem more out-of-character than the series seemed before.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is that director Ben Bolt (who has been the main series director for almost every single episode of the show throughout its five years) is one of the worst series writers. It surprised me because I think Ben Bolt has been a quality director for the series. It's probably a much more consistent show than it would have been because of his directing.  Yet somehow he seemed to portray the characters quite differently through his writing. As director, Bolt made the actors give consistently good performances and the ebb and flow of the show is generally quite impressive throughout.

In creatively writing for the character of Doc Martin, however, Bolt makes him more unlikeable than he ever does while in the director's chair alone, and the mean-spirit of these episodes was often causing the show to come to a halt creatively. Luckily, he only writes a fraction of these episodes, but they were often "prominent" ones that took the show in certain core directions. I wasn't particularly thrilled with the writing on Doc Martin at all once Minghella left the show following its second season, and by the time Season 5 rolled around in 2011 there were five different writers on the show and things just seemed so much more inconsistent creatively: plotlines were sometimes introduced and then hazily dropped before being reintroduced much later and less effectively.

The show never managed effectively to transition between the loss of some of the characters that left the show and the gain of the new characters that seem to inhabit the same basic roles either, and the writing was often shrugging off the characters (and the actors) in a way that seemed at times both dismissive and unnecessary.  

Unfortunately,  things on Doc Martin are somewhat bumpy between the seasons, and that is simply the matter of the show's creative flow throughout the entire run of things. It makes it essentially flow as if it were a soap opera with actors replacing the same characters or parts, moving things along as if no actors or characters had even left the show during production, which makes the show feel less enjoyable.

The series always has the consistency of acting delivered exceptionally well by Martin Clunes and Caroline Catz but the writing isn't really everything fans would hope to find and the series gradually becomes less and less entertaining. Going forward with the show will be interesting: only one season remains. Personally, I hope to discover returning cast members in guest parts and a solid conclusion for the ongoing cast members. As it stands now, Doc Martin isn't great television at all -- it's merely a solid entertainment that gets less interesting each season as the writers change and characters you loved disappear without any proper conclusion or farewell.


The DVD:


Video:

Doc Martin is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer which retains the original television broadcast aspect ratio. The series looks rather mundane on DVD, and isn't all that impressive visually. The colors are drab and detail is lacking. The series looks rather soft, hazy, and almost as if it was shot on video (even though the series was filmed on 35mm film). Unfortunately, it's just not that great looking as a series and the transfers don't help it out any.

Audio:

The series is presented on DVD with a standard Dolby Digital 2.0 audio presentation. It's not a particularly engaging sound-field. It's basically focused on bringing out the dialogue and that's about it. Nothing is particularly stand-out at any given point in the show's entire run, when the audio is considered. The music score sounds decent accompanying the show but doesn't really stand out much.


Extras:

There aren't any extras on any of the first four series. The fifth series set contains interviews and production footage, about forty minutes worth in total, which is a clear improvement, but still is not that much to get excited about.

The included television movies might be considered as supplemental to some viewers, but these films are not technically "extras", per se, but to some degree it would have made more sense if Acorn Media had released them as such with the first season as they don't have much to do in relation to the character archetype presented on the show.

In the first Doc Martin TV film, there seems to be more in common with the character from the original  theatrical film than the character on the show, and he is someone who has moved to a similar (albeit different) type of community after his wife's extramarital affairs. In Doc Martin and The Legend of the Cloutie, none of the characters featured in the first film seem to be the same characters at all -- even though they do appear as characters, and Doc Martin is trying somehow to scare some people out of a local house so that he can move in himself. It was somewhat interesting, in a bizarre way, but it felt like a total cash-in with no connection artistically to the first film (or the eventual series) at all.

Final Thoughts:

Doc Martin is a highly inconsistent series. It is at times greatly entertaining and at times highly aggravating. The fact that so many characters and actors come and go on the show and are in essence replaced with basic-archetypes that are incredibly similar makes the show feel like a soap-opera sometimes. While it's a fun show at times (especially during the first two series), everything could have been better if the show had kept more of its actors around and if the romance between Doc Martin and Louisa had been allowed to happen in a more befitting manner. Creatively, the show becomes more disappointing as it goes on, and less and less involving. The fifth series is actually the weakest season to date. Longtime fans who are considering revisiting the show will probably like having the set, but I don't think this is something worth revisiting much. I'm hopeful the sixth and final season, which is soon upcoming, will improve upon the last few seasons and end the show on a high(er) note.

Recommended, but only to fans who managed to enjoy all of the seasons and movies. Otherwise, consider getting the first season (or two) and wait and see if the show can successfully manage a good series conclusion.

Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema, and a student who aspires to make movies. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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