About a week ago I discovered that Doctor Foster is now on Netflix. The first series which I watched a few years back was awful but compelling and I was happy to find a second series I hadn’t known existed. Alas, though one series was too short, two is definitely too many and after the third episode it doesn’t seem to know where to go at all. I can’t be bothered giving you the ins and outs of the plot but basically it’s a war between cheating husband and virtuous but wronged wife who goes haywire and takes revenge in acts which largely rebound on herself. It just goes on too long, like a terrible row which nobody wants, but no-one can think how to end. There comes a silence: you think it’s all over; then somebody says, ‘It’s just that…’ and the whole thing kicks off again. Only sheer bloody curiosity kept me watching to the final credits, and afterwards I couldn’t help thinking: yes, the guy’s awful; yes, he cheated and lied and spent all their money; yes, he’s a total creep who never takes responsibility for his actions – but do they really have to make such a Greek tragedy out of it? Divorce happens every day, but they make of this a drama where it’s kill or be killed – and in the end it’s like MotherFatherSon, totally over the top.
But at least DF knows what it is, whereas MFS doesn’t seem to have a clue. Is it a political drama? Is it a story of family breakdown? Is it a tale of journalism investigating corruption? Is it about the downfall of a powerful guy? The answer is yes to all: it tries to be every one of these things but ends up being none – because it doesn’t know how to prioritise. It’s like an overworked secretary doing a bit of this and a bit of that and getting nothing actually done. Some dramas have a main plot and successfully juggle lots of interweaving sub-plots, but this does neither: it has quite literally lost the plot.
So after all the wearying emotions of these dramas I needed some light relief, and where better to turn than Portwen? The location (Port Isaac in Cornwall) is one of the main attractions of Doc Martin, being a village with whitewashed houses, steep hills and a natural harbour: the other is Martin Clunes as ‘the Doc’, a highly competent and dedicated doctor but a sad, ridiculous human being unable to sustain close relationships (comparisons with Sherlock abound). There’s a terrific supporting cast in a number of revolving stories (Eileen Atkins, Claire Bloom, Ian McNeice and before the character’s death, Stephanie Cole) as well as guest appearances by the likes of Sigourney Weaver: all in all it’s an object lesson in how to make setting, cast and story work together. The plots may sometimes be contrived but in the moment they never feel so; and alongside the ongoing tragi-comedy of Martin and Louisa’s marriage there are enough interesting medical emergencies and comic moments to make this highly watchable.
Of course nobody’s interested in any of this because they’re all agog for the latest yawnfest, Game of Thrones.