DVD: Doc Martin – Season 1 (2004)

February 12, 2014 | By

Film: Excellent

DVD Transfer: Very Good

DVD Extras: Standard

Label: Momentum Pictures (U.K.)

Region: 2 (PAL)

Released: October 31, 2005

Genre: Comedy / TV / Britcom

Synopsis: A city doctor with a fear of blood moves to a sleepy coastal village and becomes a blessed curse.

Special Features: Disc 2 – Outtakes (13:45)




After the 2003 TV movie couplet – Doc Martin, and Doc Martin and the Legend of the Cloutie– further adventures for the lead character were were put on ice, and he was given a major overhaul in light of a major flaw in the original series’ construct: by starting out with an an amiable, socially active (and sane) lead character, the writers couldn’t possibly have created enough conflicts to last a full season (which in British terms, roughly means 6-8 episodes).

The solution was to completely ignore the TV movies, as well as the 2000 film Saving Gracewhere Doc Martin first appeared as the genial, pot-smoking Doctor Bamford, and reformulate him as Dr. Martin Ellingham, a brilliant surgeon who has no people skills whatsoever, and is afraid of the sight/smell of blood. That decision ensured the pilot episode went off with a bang: within the first 24 hours of his arrival at the sleepy coastal village of Portwenn, Doc Martin (everyone ignores his last name) manages to offend the entire community.

It’s actually incorrect to brand the first episode as a pilot because the first season’s 6-episode run was obviously conceived as a whole; characters seen in the margins eventually get their own episode to shine, and certainly by the end of the first season, we’re completely familiar with the town’s leading figures.

Drawing from a huge pool of fine talent, the actors, writers, and directors manage to walk a very fine line and largely avoid creating small town caricatures with quirky behaviour that exists purely for one-shot gags.

Martin’s aunt Joan, who cuts hard and dry when scolding her nephew about his dreadful people skills and bedside manner, ultimately has her own story arc where an old flame named John Slater (John Alderton) returns to finish wooing her after a decades-long absence. His arrival necessitates Joan telling Martin of how his parents dumped him during the summer months up until they discovered Joan was having an affair with Slater. Morally repulsed, they cut familial social ties with Joan, and Martin never spent another summer with the lone family member who genuinely loved him like a son.

Other key local characters include the father and son plumbing team of Bert Large (veteran character actor Ian McNeice), and son Al (Joe Alsolom), a twentysomething who wants to free himself from pipes and water and study computer sciences. There’s also forest ranger Stewart James (Ben Miller) who believes he’s co-habiting with a giant squirrel named Anthony; talky pharmacist Mrs. Tischel (Selina Cadell) who’s been wearing a neck brace for decades and may be suffering from a psychosomatic illness; and radio talk show host Caroline Bosman (Felicity Montagu) who grills the good doctor on air for creating a panic about possible contamination of the village’s water supply.

There’s also cuckolded Col. Gilbert Spencer (Zombi’s Richard Johnson) and the young airhead his wife is boffing; local police constable Mark Mylow (Stewart Wright), and his quest to find a mate using enhancement hoodoo (“Big Boy” pills and related sundries); music teacher Roger Fenn (Billy Liar’s Jeff Rawle) whose job and health come under jeopardy; and school teacher Louisa Glassen (Caroline Catz) and select schoolchildren whose sudden mystery illnesses Martin often treats with contempt.

Glassen actually appears with Martin in the first scene in ep.1 as both arrive on the same small island hopping plane, and their initial dislike is set up in seconds. That friction turns to a peculiar intrigue among the characters, and the writers toy with their clunky efforts to connect socially and emotionally throughout the first season.

As rude as Martin certain is, Louisa can’t help being attracted to his confidence, brilliance under pressure, and problem solving skills that are driven less by ego than a compulsion to save lives, as well as show people how stupid they can be when they don’t listen to a doctor’s advice (namely his).

When local boy Peter Cronk (Kurtis O’Brien) requires serious attention at the nearby hospital, the event finally brings Martin and Louisa together in a cab, where their mutual interest coalesces with a kiss, as well as one of several utterly inappropriate statements Martin makes that deepens their divide (or, in the case of Season 1, has him kicked out of a taxi cab and forced to walk home).

That season finale also provides a glimpse into the respect Martin once enjoyed while employed at a large hospital, and the ridicule he must now deflect when surrounded by peers and snotty grad students now doing the technical work he long gave up for a position of a village medical G.P.

In his own surgery in Portwenn, Martin must initially deal with acclimatizing the locals to his own style of patient care, since he’s taken over the all-in-one residence and surgery of a predecessor whom he regards as an idiot.

The behavioral fauna within his practice includes a churlish secretary Elaine Denham (Lucy Punch) who yaps at length with her pestering boyfriend, and her regular (and costly) distribution of tea and cookies for patients. There are also chatty patients whom Martin throws out of his surgery without hesitation; and a dirty dog that repeatedly finds a way into his life, and later in Season 1 spawns a minor epidemic.

The surgery set has also been designed to exploit Martin Clunes’ height with all kinds of sharp angles and low doorways in clear danger of smacking Martin clear in the head (which happens with awful brutality).

Martin’s rude behaviour also manifests itself through horribly sharp put-downs, and one can see why Clunes kept up a rather stubborn fight to make the character work after Dr. Martin Bamford’s debut in Saving Grace. The TV series was created by Dominic Minghella in 2004, and alongside fellow writer Ben Bolt, Season 1 is quite frankly a perfect example of how to hook viewers on characters, and make them scream for more after the season finale.

Clunes’ best-known work is in broad comedy (Men Behaving Badly), a series of TV movies and mini-series, and the notable dramady William & Mary (shot concurrently with Doc Martin), but he’s never played a character that becomes more complex through each subsequent season.

Paring away the obvious comedic touches, the revised character of Dr. Martin Ellingham is an only child whose parents never really loved him; his only growth was in the intellectual and professional realms. He frequently says the wrong things because they feel right to him, and he genuinely doesn’t care about consequences because he knows he’s either right in his observations, or feels it’s his job that’s important; integrating oneself into a small community is just a bloody waste of time, and being branded a tosser fails to muster any tangible humility.

Clunes has also physically transformed himself from the amiable, honorable fuzzy-haired bloke inWilliam & Mary to a rigid figure always dressed in a navy blue suit, strutting like an officer navigating through streets of untreatable mental midgets. He’s always clean-shaven, and his close-sheared silver and black hair emphasizes his big ears and unique facial elements.

Because of the season’s 6-episode run, every nuance has been carefully plotted, so there aren’t any fluffy characters or rude quips; everything he does has consequences later on. With Louisa, his inability to connect, let alone greet her in passing like a normal person, worsens, but Clunes’ skillful performance ensures he remains sympathetic; we deeply want Martin to be happy, and are horrified when he’s able to create social train wrecks through a sparse but brilliantly chosen bon mots.

Season 1 eventually ends with the Doc almost getting the girl, as well as saving a semi-regular character – Peter Cronk – who glides through three episodes like a younger version of Martin: an overachiever whose egotism hasn’t been tempered by the realities of adulthood, and the working world.

The Region 2 DVD from Momentum includes clean transfers of all 6 episodes from Season 1, as does the Region 1 DVD from Image Entertainment. Momentum’s extras are restricted to a blooper reel that’s mildly amusing, though most of the audio is far too low in spots, and the takes need to run on before an actor stumbles.

The Doc Martin universe includes the feature film Saving Grace (2000), the TV movies Doc Martin (2003) and Doc Martin and the Legend of the Cloutie (2003), and the Doc Martin TV series, Seasons One (2004), Two (2005), Three (2007), and Four (2009). There is also a German production, Doktor Martin, starring Axel Milberg as Doktor Martin Helling, spanning Seasons One (2007) and Two (2009).

Martin Clunes has also hosted two TV series thematically related to Doc Martin – Martin Clunes: A Man and His Dogs(2008), and Martin Clunes: Islands of Britain (2009).



© 2010 Mark R. Hasan


External References:

IMDB — Soundtrack Album —Album Review — Composer Filmography — Composer Interview 


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