Now that S7 is over, we have to revisit the theme of change. There is no other theme that has been as prominent in this show as this one, and what we find at the conclusion of S7 is not what might have been expected. The show had continually asserted by means of various characters that people can change. But by the closing scene, that conviction is very much in question.
I have taken some time rereading my previous posts on the topic of change (and there are several), and also done more thinking about how the show has weighted their stance in favor of people being capable of change and being impacted by certain significant experiences such that they involuntarily change. I have now developed a more fully reasoned perspective on this subject and decided that we need to divide it into two parts. There are core changes that take place following major events in our lives, and there are more superficial changes that we can institute by using our free will. What is depicted in Doc Martin encompasses both. By the end of S7 we still don’t have a clear picture of where this show lands on this subject, and that gives us some reason for disillusionment. They have left us with a very confused conclusion about whether change is possible or constructive, and all I can surmise is that they don’t have an answer to this premise or don’t want to provide one.
In my view some of the instigators of core changes in people originate in family and childhood. Not only does becoming a parent change us in fundamental ways, but also how our parents treat us throughout childhood is extremely momentous. Furthermore, a loss of a parent, either through death or departure, significantly affects us and can vitally change us. In Doc Martin we have all of these events and they are given substantial clout.
By the end of S6, Martin has suffered through an incredible amount of parental damage, and it has to have changed him in essential ways. We’ve heard from Ruth that Martin changed from being a vulnerable and sensitive child at age 4 to being quiet and withdrawn by age 6, and she places the blame squarely on his parents’ treatment of him. We are privy to a flashback from Martin’s boyhood when his father yelled at him for simply entering his study without knocking, and we know that he has been at the receiving end of physical and emotional abuse and neglect. When Martin’s mother arrives at his doorstep in S6, she immediately mentions that his father has died. But, really, his father disappeared from his life years before and only made a brief appearance in S2 with the unfortunate result of embarrassing Martin in front of Joan. When Christopher leaves Portwenn then, Martin tells him not to come back. He tells his mother the same in the last episode of S6. With her departure, any contact with his parents ends.
Louisa, too, has dealt with the loss of her parents. In her case, both of her parents cared less for her than for their own selfish desires and she has come to believe that she didn’t really need them after the age of 12. When her mother shows up in S5, we hear Louisa have trouble explaining why she wrote her about being pregnant. She tells Martin it wasn’t rational, which means she had a compulsion to tell her mother despite their long term separation. As in most cases, the child in Louisa still wants to believe her mother will be different this time and be interested in her.
We have other cases of parental loss with significant damage in this show. Al’s mother first left and then died; the Flint boys’ mother abandoned them and their father became psychotic as a result; and Erica Holbrook and her daughter Bernie have been deserted by the man of the house. In every example, the children have been deeply affected.
Another form of core change in one’s life is the birth of a baby. As Roger Fenn says to Martin in S2, it can clarify what it means to love someone. His remark cuts Martin because he has just been soundly deflated by his parents’ lack of love for him, but we can clearly see how the birth of a son causes Martin to respond to the world differently. He makes room in his life for the baby and has a renewed commitment to Louisa.
Two other ways in which circumstances are likely to change us at our core are through becoming terminally ill or by being sent into battle. This show gives us several scares regarding potentially fatal illnesses and two cases of sudden death. Roger Fenn contends with throat cancer and resorts to caustic remarks, while Jim Winton turns into a bedridden man whose wife becomes obsessed with finding a cure for him. I doubt she ever would have abducted a doctor at gunpoint under any other circumstances. Helen Pratt’s death turns her husband Phil into an angry, vengeful person; Jim Selkirk’s demise leads to his wife hallucinating. Stewart returns from Bosnia a delusional man who is afraid to mingle with the community, and Mike Pruddy has become burdened by excessive OCD and is running from the military authorities. He’s an extremely capable man whose afflictions keep him from creating a solid future for himself.
Other examples of occasions when people recount important changes in their lives include Martin being unable to perform surgery due to the onset of haemophobia. This phobia leads to a total departure from his immediate life. Margaret tells Martin his birth changed how Christopher looked at her and behaved towards her. She blames the deterioration of their marriage on that event, and at this point she plans to leave Christopher for another man.
From the time when Martin asserts to Joan in S3 that he can change if he wants, we watch Martin try to make that a reality. He tries to be nice to Holly and a few other patients; he tries to treat his haemophobia in S4; and he tells Louisa in the last scene of S5 he plans to change and not be like his father. In S6 Martin changes, but not for the better. He goes into a major depression due to the recurrence of his haemophobia as well as the upheaval in his home life and the appearance of his mother. Then he tries to change again by deciding to follow Louisa to Spain and next by telling her he wants to be a better husband. In S7, Martin has returned to someone who can take his haemophobia in stride. He tries to change for Louisa by doing everything he can think of to demonstrate his devotion to her. (So there is a chance that the remark he makes to Louisa at the end of S7 that he’s tried and it’s only made things worse refers to all the above efforts to change.)
Another huge change is the disappearance of his beloved clocks. What happened to them? We have to conclude that they no longer fill the void they once did.
Other times when the notion of change is promoted include when Louisa tells Danny that we make our own decisions, and when she tells Ruth that people can change if they want to; when Ruth tells Al we are the authors of our lives and we can change them if we want to; and when Morwenna becomes more assertive in S7. Ruth also tells Martin he has to change if he wants Louisa to stay with him. (As I’ve said before, Ruth should be convinced that people can change because she is a psychiatrist. As such she believes she can help people change.)
But the show also gives us several arguments against people’s ability to change. We see that despite therapy, Sally Tishell’s obsession with Martin has not changed, although she has decided to return to her marriage with Clive. We see that Bert and Al have not changed and are back in business together. We have also heard Joan tell Martin in S3 that “we are what we are” and can’t change (which is echoed in S7 by the same message written on the board by Erica Holbrook) and Louisa tell Martin in S3 that he can’t just act nice, he has to want to. We’ve also heard Ruth curiously telling Louisa in S5 that people don’t change and Louisa realizing that her mother hasn’t changed; Margaret telling Louisa at the airport in S6 that Martin is not going to change; and ultimately, Louisa telling Martin in the final scene of S7 that she doesn’t want him to change how he feels about her. In that final scene, Louisa reaches the conclusion that everyone is unusual and we are left to decipher what the final message about change is.
By the end of S6 I wrote that I thought the position the show was taking was “regardless of our life experiences, each of us has the power to change our lives and turn them into something close to what we want. We should stop wishing things were different, stop finding excuses, and do what we can to transform them.” Now I’m not so sure, and maybe the “deciders” on the show aren’t sure either.
Personally, I think change is good for us and inevitable as we grow older. We don’t want to stagnate; we want to remain curious and experimental. We want to become more sympathetic to others and more caring to our family. We want to grow as human beings and never stop growing. We want the acceptance of society.
George Takei, an actor and a Japanese American who was interned during WWII recently wrote to the mayor of Roanoke Virginia: “Mayor Bowers, one of the reasons I am telling our story on Broadway eight times a week in Allegiance is because of people like you. You who hold a position of authority and power, but you demonstrably have failed to learn the most basic of American civics or history lessons. So Mayor Bowers, I am officially inviting you to come see our show, as my personal guest. Perhaps you, too, will come away with more compassion and understanding.” Changing hearts and minds is a never ending struggle, yet must be tried through every means possible.
Life is filled with change, both internal and exogenous.
Originally posted 2016-05-22 14:50:15.