What does Aunt Joan NOT know?

On Facebook Allie Cavanaugh quoted a remark Martin makes to Joan after Louisa returns to Portwenn pregnant. It’s a funny remark that is a great example of linguistic ambiguity. In S4E2, Joan has entered the reception area and approaches Pauline and Pauline tells her that Louisa has been hired at the school. Joan is unaware of Louisa’s resurfacing and, despite Martin’s efforts to stop Pauline from mentioning Louisa’s condition of being “with child,” Pauline tells Joan Louisa is expecting. Joan is not clear about what Louisa is expecting and Pauline clarifies for her that she is expecting a baby. Immediately, Joan looks at Martin and he ushers her into his office. Then, as Allie notes, he says, “It’s not my fault” and Joan looks a combination of let down and relieved. Right away Martin says, “Well, it is my fault, but it’s not just my fault. It’s not my fault that you don’t know. I didn’t know ’til yesterday.” Here’s another great sequence of linguistic gymnastics. It’s his fault that Louisa is pregnant–well, it’s both their faults; however, he doesn’t want to accept fault for not having told Joan. There is this contraption called the telephone that he could have used, but he seems to think of it as mainly a means of communicating about medical problems. He rarely uses it for everyday conversation. I think that could be another male personality trait, although I know a few women who hate to talk on the phone.

Being reminded of this scene started me thinking about the many times when Joan is surprised to find out something about Martin that others know before she does. Although Joan is his nearest and dearest family member, it’s a little startling that Martin often does not tell Joan personal and important confidences. The fact that Martin is late telling Joan these things reinforces our observation that he has a tendency to not talk about personal matters.

One of the most important of many examples is when Joan learns belatedly that Martin and Louisa have decided to marry. She is told by the postman that Martin and Louisa have spent the night together after several others in town have heard the news. By the time Martin arrives at Joan’s farm, she knows he’s been to see the Sawle sisters beforehand. She is remarkably unfazed by being told late, but we know Martin has not felt inclined to call her about that either.

We can go back to the first episode where Martin has gone through the interview process and seeing his office space before taking the time to visit Joan, despite having chosen to come to Portwenn because she’s there. Their conversation when he appears at her farm sounds very much like he had not contacted Joan before making a decision to take the position in Portwenn. In fact, even though she had been an important person in his childhood, he hasn’t seen or talked to her in 30 years, with the possible exception of Christmas calls.

Martin does not tell Joan that he will be at the concert with Louisa for their first date. Joan has been doing what she can to encourage Martin to go after Louisa, but she only finds out they are going on a date when she sees them walking to the concert setting. In S3 he does not tell Joan that he’s having second thoughts about marrying Louisa and leaves Joan to wonder where he is. Meanwhile she has been running all over town trying to make sure everything is ready for the wedding. She’s coerced Penhale into releasing the flowers, she’s asked Bert what he’s going to do now that the food tent has collapsed, and she’s stood with Roger Fenn at the church in expectation of Martin and Louisa’s arrival. Martin hasn’t only left Louisa at the altar;he’s left his aunt there as well.

These are a few of the important occasions when Martin has neglected to tell Joan what’s happening and they stand out because he wants Joan’s approval, she is his greatest supporter, and since moving to Portwenn they have reestablished their close relationship. When he leaves Joan out, it is a sort of precursor to shutting out Louisa in S6. That he doesn’t talk is an understatement!

Originally posted 2014-10-03 06:40:38.

19 thoughts on “What does Aunt Joan NOT know?

  1. DM

    What a great character, Aunt Joan. And what a great exchange between her and Martin in the scene you reprise. It’s no wonder that Martin evades Aunt Joan since he can’t help himself but to speak the truth to her despite any efforts to downplay it. He’s truthful with Aunt Joan even when he still can’t be truthful or candid with himself (like sadly his perceptions of his own self-worth).
    Whatever Aunt Joan does not know, she does not not know for very long. Consider the mere minutes that passed from her not knowing about his haemophobia in S1E6 when he had one last chance to tell her about it until everyone finds out about it courtesy of Radio Portwenn. What a great scene we never get to see between S1 and S2 when Aunt Joan surely does confronts him with that.

    Interestingly in the remainder of the scene you cite is this bit of dialogue:

    AJ: “How pregnant is she?”
    DM: “About six months I’d say. Mmm, I know. She doesn’t want me involved.
    AJ: “What did she say?”
    DM: “She said she was fine and I was not to worry.”
    AJ: “Bullocks. You’re the father.”
    DM: “[indecipherable]”

    wherein Martin only relates what Louisa actually said, accurately and fully, once Aunt Joan presses him (which does differ considerably from, “She doesn’t want me involved.”) Nonetheless, Martin goes on to repeat this, anything but clear, initial interpretation enough times that it seems that even most of the audience comes to believe Louisa has said it too. Meanwhile, once Aunt Joan encounters pregnant Louisa soon thereafter, Joan has no problem telling Louisa what she herself (Joan) wants and what she’s prepared to do for the baby.

    Although Aunt Joan lives on the outskirts of the village and lacks full Kernewes standing, we see over and over just how tied in she is with all the villagers. She mediates not only between Martin’s world and the world of the village, but between the wider world of people and reality. She does, of course, fulfill the Wise Old Woman archetype for and has been played brilliantly throughout (a role not meant to played for its saintliness or grandmotherliness). Aunt Ruth plays the role in a distinctly different, and sometimes lesser, manner. That role is still not as Martin’s confidant; that role ultimately can only belong to Louisa- but only after they stop relating as house-mates and begin relating as inti-mates.

  2. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I knew someone would remember something important that Joan does not know until others have found out. Martin’s haemophobia is an excellent example of one of those times. We can only imagine how she would confront him about that. I would guess that she would immediately realize that he came to Portwenn precisely because he had this problem.

    Aunt Joan sets Martin right a number of times, and is a pragmatist in general. I think Aunt Ruth only approaches being a confidant. Martin tells her about the recurrence of his “blood sensitivity” when out to lunch with her for her birthday and then runs to find her when Louisa heads for the airport. Although Joan is the more affectionate of the two, Ruth is the person Martin appears most inclined to turn to for advice. Once Stephanie Cole left and Eileen Atkins was brought in, they had to come up with a different sort of personality type. The physician/psychiatrist aunt who is also dispassionate, unexcitable, works well and was a marvelous successor.

  3. mary

    I so miss Aunt Joan…a pragmatist with a heart. I do love Aunt Ruth and I think he respects her advice but Martin really could use a hug now and then.

  4. Linda

    Aunt Joan was the recipient of at least a little affection from Martin and it is clear that he loves her and vice versa. I found it had to believe that he had not seen her in 30 years though! After the affection he had from Joan and Phil as a boy, you’d think that as an adult, he would have wanted to renew their relationship. It is not clear if he called her but I expect so. Martin, being Martin, probably imagined he had done something wrong and that was the reason why he no longer went to Portwenn in the summer. That is sad because had he continued to go, he would have been a very different person. I have often wondered why Christopher and Margaret didn’t just allow Joan and Phil to raise Martin since they had no use for him and they did. I suppose that would have been frowned upon by their peers so they just kept up pretences of loving their vulnerable son. What crap. I wonder why Joan didn’t go after her brother about all of this but perhaps he husband didn’t know of the affair and she was loathe to open a can of worms.

    I think Martin tries to keep things from Joan so she won’t be disappointed in him possibly. That, and the fact that he always plays his cards “close to the vest”. She reads him very well though. She sized him up well when he was so broken up after Louisa broke up with him. She felt very bad for him but tried to analyze things for him – the “chalk and cheese” thing. I wondered why she said that Louisa wouldn’t make him happy at that moment when it had been clear to her at the concert that Martin “had been his charming self” with her friend Annie. On the one hand she tells him early on that he is pale and needs to eat and that no one will want to “fix his plumbing” if he looks like that. This was when he was asking after a plumber for the surgery in episode 1. She also tells him to “do something, say something” when she senses that Danny is “very keen” on Louisa.

    She certainly found out quickly about engagement #1 and poor Martin didn’t get the chance to tell her. She knew he was at the Sawle sisters’s but I wonder if he had not actually planned to see her to tell her as part of this trip? He doesn’t say this but maybe that was because she quickly told him she was happy about the engagement.
    Poor Martin. He is just not used to living in a small village where news travels so fast!

  5. Linda D.

    I was thinking too, about the times when Martin kind of “plays” with Louisa like when she found out he had already filled in the form to name James Henry. She was SO angry. Instead of just explaining, he said things like “I thought it had gone on long enough”, and I think “James Henry will be pleased”. To me, that was kind of a way to mess up her mind. If he was teasing her, we could understand it a bit but since he has no sense of humour and NEVER teases anyone, I thought it was a bit cruel and unkind. He did eek out a wee smile when she twigged to what he had done so maybe that WAS him teasing her? He planned the christening without involving Louisa and she found it out from Ruth. He was unapologetic when she expressed her upset about this, even when it precipitated her running to her mother with the baby. I wonder if Martin thinks others are on a “need to know basis” and thatis why he doesn’t reveal too much before he has to?

  6. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    He also neglected to mention that he had the flat in London painted and never asked her opinion. Louisa is clearly angered by being left out of the planning/fulfilling of these events. I suppose we could say that these scenes foreshadow the likelihood that he wouldn’t share the return of his blood phobia with her.

    I have always thought the naming scene was supposed to convey his decision to surprise her and found it a rare moment when he does something nice without being prompted. I think that’s what we’re meant to take away from it. Despite filling out the paperwork without her, he has made a concession to her wishes that he knows will please her, and it does. He seems to take some delight in her reaction too, as you say. One of those unusual occasions that are somewhat out of character for him. And it is those odd but tender times between them that also make it hard for me to swallow what happens in S6.

  7. Amy Cohen

    The “it’s not my fault” line reminded me of something that has bothered me about Louisa’s pregnancy. Martin is a doctor, Louisa a single professional woman. Both must know about birth control. Were they just careless? Or are we supposed to think they deliberately did not use birth control in order to conceive a child (seems very unlikely)? Or was it just a failure of contraception? It never comes up other than in that line, but it just seemed out of character for DM not to stop and think about contraception before having sex with Louisa. Not sure if you’ve discussed this elsewhere, but this post made me think about it again.

  8. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I’m pretty sure I did mention this somewhat strange circumstance in a post at some point. I suppose we’re supposed to think they were so overcome by their passion for each other at that moment that they tossed caution to the wind and had unprotected sex. That begs for some explanation since Martin is hardly ever spontaneous, somehow doesn’t have his medical bag when he leaves the next morning, and there was blood, etc. all over the kitchen floor still. Then we have to believe that they had at least one more sexual encounter during which they either neglected to use contraception, it didn’t work, or Louisa misled Martin into thinking she was using something when she wasn’t. It’s a bit of a leap, I agree.

  9. Amy Cohen

    Well, as they used to tell us in sex ed, “it only takes once.” The first time they might have been carried away, so even if they were more careful the next times (it was three weeks from the engagement to the cancelled wedding), that first time would have been enough.

    And yes, it seems totally out of character for Martin to be so careless.

  10. Shauna

    I am so happy to have found this site! It has been wonderful to read such thoughtful posts. I started watching DM about a six weeks ago, and I have been so enthralled by it. I have wondered about the situation in which Louisa becomes pregnant too. It doesn’t seem in character for DM to be so caught up in the passion of the moment that he wouldn’t think about birth control. I re-watched S3E5 & E6 today. I had a thought. When DM ruins the moment of their kiss in E5 he asks Louisa if she at the onset of her menstrual cycle. Holly is injured the next day and the emergency and proposal happens the day after that. If we are to believe that DM was accurate with his diagnosis of why Louisa was so emotional, they would have had sex on day three of her period and again on day five. (During dinner Martin asks if Louisa is staying. He is so pleased she is staying he tells her to have more salt! I love that moment!) In S4E2 she is arguing with Martin about why she didn’t tell him about the baby earlier. She mentions she is 37 years old. Could it be possible they thought they were “safe?” I know it is possible for a woman to get pregnant during her period, but not highly probable. Add Louisa’s age and they might not have worried about it in the moment. Just a thought. At least it is an explanation that I can go with. Now if he was wrong, well, I guess I have to try to believe he didn’t think about birth control. Maybe we weren’t supposed to think about it so much!

  11. Amy

    That’s interesting, Shauna. I never analyzed it that way. I see one problem, though. With Martin’s hemophobia, I doubt he’d have sex with Louisa if she had her period!

  12. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Hello Shauna. How nice to hear from a new reader! It sounds like you have immersed yourself in this show over the past 6 weeks. Clearly all of us writing on this blog have fallen into that category at some point too. (I have to say that watching 56 episodes in 6 weeks is pretty dedicated!)

    It is amazing how some of the inconsistencies lead many of us to try to come up with an explanation that makes sense. I hadn’t heard your reasoning about the use of birth control before, and I find it quite a reach. When I heard Martin say to Louisa after her angry outburst following the kiss that she might be more emotional due to starting her menstrual cycle, I considered it a representation of a typical male rationalization. He couldn’t have said anything offensive; she must be reacting too emotionally and that could be because she’s at that time of the month. It’s kind of like saying someone is “hangry” because they are being moody and that must mean they haven’t eaten enough recently. It’s a way to shrug off what may be a good reason for someone to be upset. It’s also like his insensitive question about whether she could be pregnant when she faints and he checks her later in the day.

    Of course women get pregnant at 37 or older. Rather than think she is no longer fertile, Louisa has asserted to Bert that she wants lots of children. The show does not seem to take the position that she is no longer capable of conceiving.

    I agree with your last comment…we weren’t supposed to think about it so much!! Since starting this blog I have become aware that there are many situations that don’t add up throughout the show, but that the writers, et.al. have chosen to keep despite that. We are taking apart the show in much more detail than they do.

  13. mmarshall

    Shauna,
    I thought exactly the same thing! Methodical, reasoning Martin would never have had impulsive, unprotected sex! He would definitely have thought that through! So maybe this is one example of a “break-through” of his emotional side.

  14. Amy

    The other thing that occurred to me recently was—why didn’t Louisa get the morning after pill? After all, in Erotomania, she teases Martin the morning after he passed out drunk by saying she’d come to get the morning after pill, so clearly they both knew what it was and that it was available.

    But why try and make sense of this, I guess. The writers wanted her to get pregnant, and so she did.

  15. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    All I can say is BINGO!

    I’m sorry that my enthusiasm for adding much right now is at a very low point. I wish everyone a good Thanksgiving.

  16. mmarshall

    Amy,
    I think the reason she didn’t take the morning after pill was that she really wanted children, or at least a child, and as she’s getting older, this may have been her only chance. I think that’s why she weighed her options ALONE and so personally in London without consulting with him.

    Back to Shauna and how-could-ME-have-had-unprotected-sex… Really, it was a moment waiting to be written — L and ME finally get physical, as both had dreamed of, then ME interrupts this passionate moment with a back-to-reality, “your breath may not stink, but is this really the right timing for this passion??” That would have been more in keeping with the ME we know and love! 🙂

  17. Amy

    Yeah, I hear you, Karen. Right now my escape is Doc Martin. I’d rather live in a fantasy world in a little village in Cornwall than in the real world.

    Have a good Thanksgiving.

  18. Amy

    Mmarshall–your description of that scene made me laugh! Wouldn’t that have been fun to write and to watch.

    I guess we have to accept the storyline as written even with all its holes—the blood and medical bags that disappear, the uncharacteristic carelessness of DM about birth control, the fact that we don’t know whether Holly fell in the morning or at night, and so on.

    Suspension of disbelief…

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