Now, I’m sure that you have been here before me. You’ve almost certainly watched every series, bought the DVD and worn the t-shirt until it’s threadbare – but I have only just caught up with the excellent ‘Doc Martin’. I knew it was there, but for some reason I avoided it: perhaps I had some idea that it was about a vet (a joke on ‘Bob Martin’?) and I’d had enough of James Herriot to last me several lifetimes.
But! I just clicked on an episode out of curiosity and now I’ve started, I can’t stop: in the space of a couple of weeks I’ve seen almost every episode. Which compels me to ask the question, why is it so addictive?
The series hovers between drama and sitcom, and lasts 50 minutes, which allows time for plots and characters to develop in a more leisurely way. So it could be that…
Or is it the scenery? It could be that, too: Portwenn, the setting for the stories (in reality Port Isaac) –
is a village in Cornwall – and Cornwall is utterly beguiling. It’s not only the very tip of the country which juts out into a watery waste that stretches all the way to America:
it’s also a land of crags and cows where every twist in the road brings a completely different view; a land where villages cling to cliffs, a land where houses perch one above the other: and add to that the fact that they always seem to film the episodes in summer with the sparkling blue sea behind them, and you’ve got a winner.
Or is it the characters? The series has a wide cast of characters; some permanent, some dipping in and out, and some only lasting one episode. The actors are excellent, and include guest stars such as Ben Miller, Claire Bloom and John Alderton, while Stephanie Cole plays the Doc’s aunt, a dauntless hill-farmer and all-round Old Bat (such as I hope to become myself one day*). The wide cast of regulars and their medical complaints keep the Doc busy – and here we come to it; because really it’s the main character himself which keeps this series engaging.
With all the social skills of Benedict Cumberpatch’s Sherlock Holmes, Martin Ellingham (Martin Clunes, of ‘Men Behaving Badly’) manages to upset everyone in the village, most of all the woman he secretly loves and who loves him. To keep up a ‘will-they-won’t-they’ romance for three series is no mean feat, and in spite of having lots of chances, Martin manages to screw things up at every turn with his utter lack of tact and empathy. And yet he wins our respect and affection by his dedication to his patient’s health: when there’s an emergency he drops everything and rushes to the scene: but if a malingerer comes to his door they will be booted out post-haste – and that is also deeply satisfying.
So perhaps it’s the medical dramas that keep me watching. Like ‘Casualty’ there is great delight to be had in guessing people’s conditions or trying to predict the disasters that are about to happen.
But whatever it is, if for some bizarre reason you have not caught up with Doc Martin, I urge you to do so forthwith. Sadly, it’s not on i-player so you’ll have to go to Netflix or get the DVD.
On i-player I also watched a retrospective of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, the album everyone owns. The first bit of Tubular Bells was played at our wedding, and also while Holly was being extracted from my uterus; and this programme is well worth watching for an inside view on the album, its making and its legacy. There’s a brief glimpse of John Peel too, as I mentioned the other day.
*an old bat, not a hill-farmer