I think the time has come to admit that I have run out of topics to write about in relation to Doc Martin. Like the show itself, IMHO, I think we’ve covered a plethora of interesting ideas inside and out and beyond thorough. In the process I have learned quite a bit about all sorts of psychological issues and jump started my interest in analytical writing, and even writing in general. I have also learned a great deal by reading so many insightful comments and I have become more informed about what it’s like to have a blog. (BTW, it’s pretty intense!)
Since Downton Abbey ended, and all the storylines were neatly wrapped up in mostly happy endings, I’ve been thinking about the conclusion of Doc Martin. I was not a fan of Downton Abbey and only watched a couple of series, but the decision to end that show after 6 years made sense to me. In fact, its creator and chief writer, Julian Fellowes, chose to end it after more series than originally planned. He had mapped out how the series should come to a close and knew the quality and credibility of the show would deteriorate if it continued. He was not running out of material; he had simply said what he wanted to say. (Incidentally, anyone thinking that it’s stressful to employ writers to write and others to edit 8 scripts every two years should think about the fact that Fellowes wrote nearly every script for Downton Abbey himself and they did not take years off. For more read here.)
I have made no secret of the fact that I am not pleased that Doc Martin will have more series. The primary reason for this position is that I have the sense that they have never had a plan for how it should end. Every good writer knows that the ending should be established when the beginning is first written. Every great novel or TV show has been written this way: Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Sopranos, Walking Dead, and many more. Creative writing students are taught they must know what the ending is before they start writing. All producers of TV shows must rely on whether they are recommissioned to determine whether the show will continue, however, the creator/ writers ought to have an idea of how they would like their program to end. The way S6 and S7 were handled caused me to have doubts about how much effort had been spent on developing a strategy for how the show should end. The continuity of tone and action was simply missing and made me very frustrated and let down. Additional proof comes from listening to Martin Clunes say things like they never realized how essential to the plot the romance between Martin Ellingham and Louisa Glasson would become. It just seems standard that any romance in a story becomes the central focus, and they accentuated the interplay between these two characters from the first episode on. There was, perhaps, an expanding of this relationship when Caroline Catz performed so excellently in her role; however, whenever a writer puts a man and a woman in close proximity and sets up clashes, the likelihood is that that part of the story will take center stage. (In case you want to argue that every TV show must make adjustments with each newly commissioned series, I would only say that even so the writer(s)/producers should still know how they would like it to end. I recently saw an interview of the Walking Dead writer/creator, show runner, and cast on Inside the Actor’s Studio, a wonderful interview show presented as a seminar to students of the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University in NYC and televised since 1994 on Bravo, and all over the world. James Lipton, the lead moderator of the show, specifically asked the writer if he knows how the show will end. The writer immediately said “yes” but that he hadn’t told the show runner yet.)
As a fan of Doc Martin who has spent many hours writing about it, mostly in admiration of the high quality of the writing and acting, I feel it’s my duty to add a few more observations. Although I continue to be a fan of the show, the last two series have been troubling to me and I figure if anyone should, I ought to honestly express my concerns.
Yes, sure, as producer Mark Crowdy said prior to S6, it seems logical to wonder if ME can be a husband and father, but I never thought that required putting him in a deep depression, staring into space all the time. And once they’ve brought us to the place where the marriage is teetering on the edge, don’t bring the show back in S7, after a scene in the last episode of S6 in which ME tells Louisa that he isn’t good at being a husband and needs her help, with Louisa having departed for Spain after all. What happened? They were actually in agreement that they couldn’t just go home and act as though nothing had changed. But that is exactly what they must have done — that is, Louisa’s plans to leave weren’t altered by Martin expressing any regrets and we can only guess that Martin may have continued to say nothing to keep Louisa from leaving. He went back to his office after seeing Ruth in the last episode of S6 to make reservations to fly to Spain and catch up with Louisa, he told his mother to leave, and he apologized to a patient; all changes in approach for him. But at the beginning of S7 we’re back to square one.
I know, gaps are there for a reason and we are meant to speculate about what might have transpired, but when gaps become so big you can drive a truck through them, they begin to be significant fractures rather than minor intermissions. For example, let’s look at the previous gaps between series. At the outset of the show they made the decision to start each series as if very little time has passed. Therefore, S2 begins soon after Martin Ellingham has chosen to stay in Portwenn as the GP at the end of S1. He is immediately confronted with a difficult medical case that also includes some complications with his newly registered attraction to Louisa Glasson. We have a more significant gap between S2 and 3 because now the storylines are developing. The primary tension is between Martin and Louisa. At the end of the regular season, Martin had accused Louisa of stalking him after she reciprocated his expression of love for her. Then, early in S3, she accuses him of stalking her as he tries to redeem himself by wanting to ask her out to dinner. We also have Louisa needing some medical attention from Martin and finding the awkwardness in their relationship frustrating. The biggest gap between series comes between S3 and 4 when Louisa and Martin call off their marriage and Louisa leaves Portwenn. As it turns out, she has been in London for 6 months and, by the end of the first episode, has returned to Portwenn pregnant. We may have some interest in what she’s been doing during that interlude and how Martin has been handling the second time he’s been rejected by a woman he planned to marry; however, when Louisa returns in E1 of S4, the only thing we find ourselves wondering about is what she had been expecting upon her return. The shortest gap takes place between series 4 and 5 when Louisa is taken to the hospital after giving birth at the conclusion of S4. We don’t need to see how she’s transported to the hospital or how she’s checked in; we are perfectly happy to be brought into the story once that has all been completed and now she needs to find a way back to Portwenn. Although S4 had ended with the most passionate kiss yet between this couple, at the start of S5 Louisa isn’t taking anything for granted and seems pleasantly surprised with Martin’s offer to drive her back. It’s also not that important to know what took place between series 5 and 6 because Martin and Louisa departed hand in hand from the scene with Mrs. T at the Castle and now they are preparing to be married. We know some time has passed because James is obviously older by a couple of months, and there’s no doubt that some viewers would like to have seen Martin and Louisa having some nice times together, but we can accept that lacuna because the fact that the wedding is taking place has to mean things went well. However, when we get to the gap between series 6 and 7, there is a gap the size of a meteor crater that creates questions of equal magnitude.
This time there are a myriad of questions. Did Louisa go home with Martin from the hospital? Did they do anything to address their concerns about their married life? Did Martin remind Louisa of his plea to her in the operating room? Did he try to make some changes in his behavior towards her and somehow cause Louisa to leave? Was there any discussion about how long Louisa planned to stay in Spain? If Louisa told Martin she would call him once she got settled, why didn’t she? (The problem can’t be poor reception because she was obviously able to reach his voicemail when she tried.) Did Ruth do anything to help or did she, too, just abandon Martin and go off to London? And many more.
By the end of S7, no matter how convincing we may find the series, we are again (much like the end of S5) under the impression that Martin and Louisa have determined that they want to be together and plan to go home as a couple. I would really hate to see a repeat of S6 and the marriage return to a downward slide. I can’t imagine anyone being willing to go through another seesaw tour of whether Martin and Louisa will stay together. In my opinion S7 brought together many storylines, did a satisfactory job of concluding them, and ended with Martin and Louisa kissing, declaring their love for one another, and heading home together. That’s a good place to finalize the series and, in my opinion, whatever they do with S8 will be anticlimactic.
I have no intention of suggesting any storylines for S8. My blog has always been about analyzing what I think of the writing that has been presented to us. But because I have given the practices they have followed some thought, and they are clearly planning to have a S8, I want to offer some simple suggestions.
If they are going to begin the next series shortly after the previous one left off, then S8 should start with Louisa waking up in bed next to Martin, looking over at him, and appearing content that he’s there. Then, of course, either the dog or James (preferably James since they’ve used the dog before) will do something to interrupt the moment. I wouldn’t be surprised if they contrived some sort of humorous bedroom scene. (By now they are certainly aware that many viewers have a fantasy of seeing Martin and Louisa snuggle in bed. I can imagine setting up a scene that hints of some sexual foreplay that quickly gets truncated. It would be incredibly out of character to actually have them do more than kiss, but it might be possible to have them kiss in bed.)
It would be nice to see Morwenna come to her senses and find someone who is as capable as she is. Al’s a nice guy but she can do better. Maybe someone truly adult can show up and have some interest in her. Or Al can finally get the B&B going and manage to become a success at something. Then Morwenna’s talents as an organizer/capable assistant may come in handy. If the B&B becomes more viable, Ruth may have a local business that keeps her active and she may also be needed to keep Bert under control.
Penhale and Janice could be a disaster waiting to happen, which might be very funny. He’s much older than she is, but their marriages have both failed and they couldn’t be more lacking in insight if they tried. Previously I noted that any romance between these two would be hard to fathom, but since it could add to the humor as well as mirror some action going on between Martin and Louisa, I’ve changed my position to some degree. I still think their relationship will be pretty wild; I just see how this could be a better way of using Penhale’s goofiness.
For me Mrs. Tishell has outlived her welcome and, like Aunt Joan or Dr. Timoney, should exit the show. Selina Cadell has been outstanding, but now that she’s back with Clive, her storyline can conclude without any adverse effects. Just as Martin and Louisa’s up and down relationship has run its course, Mrs. Tishell’s obsession with Martin has become tired and overdone.
All of the above is predicated on all the actors being available to return in 2017. To me that is a critical question considering the ages of several of them. Even more to the point is whether they can begin the next series soon after S7 ends, as has been their practice, since everyone has been aging and a baby who first appeared in S4 would now actually be 7 years old in real time. No matter how well Martin Clunes and Caroline Catz age, it difficult to believe that they are still as young as they were in S4 or S5. I mean, give us some credit for not being utterly delusional!!
One final observation: Recently I read an old interview with Martin Clunes because it was posted on Facebook. I was surprised that he mentioned Mikhail Bulgakov as a favorite writer of his. I am most familiar with Bulgakov’s collection of short stories, A Country Doctor’s Notebook, and especially the story called “The Steel Windpipe.” Before reading that Clunes is a fan of Bulgakov’s work, I had not thought about some of the similarities between these stories and Doc Martin. I was particularly struck by how they reflect the contrast I wrote about between professional advice and folk wisdom. In addition, like Martin Ellingham, the doctor in these stories has moved from the city to a small rural town and contends with all sorts of serious medical problems as well as ignorance and hesitancy to trust the doctor. Bulgakov writes with a sense of humor too. Now I can’t help wondering if there was anything about these stories that contributed to the writing of the show. (I also should mention that Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe turned Bulgakov’s stories into a television series in 2013 in the UK called “A Young Doctor’s Notebook.”)
At this point, my energy and dedication to writing this blog is flagging. I never thought I would be writing this blog for almost three years and never expected more series to come. The two year hiatus taken by the show between S6 and S7 stretched my ability to come up with topics to the nth degree. But I was very fortunate and the readers of the blog kept me going. Now I am struggling to find a way to sustain this blog another two years, and I think you readers must be feeling the same. I am in the strange position of having more blog subscribers than ever, and sometimes more readers of my posts than I used to have, but much fewer comments than before.
However, the amount of spam I get has never waned. One thing I had not realized when I started this blog was how much spam I would have to wade through. Along with actual readers from all over the world (yet primarily from the US) I get spam in all languages, and I mean all. Although I know very little about other alphabets beyond the Latin one we use in English, I can identify messages that are written in French, Spanish, Greek, Chinese, Hindi, and who knows what other languages, and sometimes all mixed together. Every day without fail I get dozens of messages that want to sell me things. The range of items begins with erectile dysfunction meds to oxycontin or other controlled substances; from NFL jerseys to Michael Kors pocketbooks and Christian Louboutin shoes; from earrings to bracelets to cosmetics. If you’re interested in porn or sex of all kinds, start a blog. I also get long, totally unintelligible comments like “It’s pretty worth enough for me,” or that seem like someone sat down and wrote whatever words popped into their head (not that I read them to the end). I am offered all sorts of advice as well for getting my blog to go viral or become profitable. Some of the oddest spam comes from people who write that they were bored at work or their sister told them to check out my blog. Bottom line is I’ve learned to only approve the comments that specifically say something cogent about Doc Martin, but to get there can take more of one’s time than expected.
The response to my posts has been totally unpredictable. Some posts have inspired many comments while others barely got noticed. I always vowed that I wouldn’t let my ego get too involved and that I would be fine with writing the blog for myself. I have to admit, though, that it’s been difficult not to start looking for comments once some posts were noticed.
The hard truth is that realizing that this blog is languishing means closing a chapter in my life that has been both extremely fulfilling and utterly improbable. It was totally unlike me to jump into fandom of any show, and it had been years since I had written any essays approaching literary analysis. And I was very pleased that I still had it in me! If I managed to add a different dimension to this show for avid viewers, I am very thankful. I have gotten to connect with people all over the country and the world, and that has been wonderful for me.
I want to save every bit of the posts and the comments and have to learn the best way to do that. I will probably keep the blog going while finding very little to write about; however, if there are new readers, they will have access all the previous posts and comments. Keeping it open gives us all a little time to get accustomed to moving on and for writing any comments we still may have. Thank you all for an excellent adventure.
Originally posted 2016-05-11 11:35:09.