Monthly Archives: November 2017

Just a bit more about the clothes

I’ve written a couple of posts about how the clothes these characters wear have been well designed to contribute to their personalities and positions in the show. As one of my previous posts suggested, we know who each character is, and something about their character traits, by seeing the clothes they wear.

An awareness of how we project an image was recently the subject of an article in the Washington Post. What I most care about in this article is the reference to mythmaking through the connection to clothing. They comment that putting an outfit together is “a visual storytelling,” and that “mythmaking is in the details.” As I am most fascinated by studying the methods of storytelling, this aspect of clothing makes me perk up. Of course, TV and film are visual media, and the costumes are, therefore, essential to the story.

In some cases, the clothing choices in this show seem to undercut the character. Although Morwenna dresses herself in a variety of colors, and an overabundance of accessories and patterns that appear to be a sign that she is fanciful and informal, her clothes do not coincide with her actual reliability and sensibleness. Mrs. Tishell is, of course, identified by her neck collar, but also with her pastel cardigans and her black stockings and church appropriate shoes, yet she is very unstable and unpredictable. I would guess that these women are dressed in this manner as a deliberate subversion of how to read their clothing.

The woman who is the best dressed in town is Louisa, and this has been true for many series. I consider the choices they made in this series for what Louisa should wear as compared to those she wore last series and earlier ones quite planned and important to her character. I admire her clothes and compliment the costumer who selects them. I also think they have a purpose.

What sort of story are they telling us when it comes to Martin and Louisa’s clothes? We have already identified Martin’s suit and tie as his armor; his means of protecting himself from being associated with the majority of the townspeople, elevating himself above them, and feeling some sense of security. We have to acknowledge that, as a professional, he would be more likely to wear something more formal to signify his status and to show his respect for his patients. In S8 we see his hesitancy to give up that status, and protective shield even while contending with his suspension from practicing medicine. There is no taking off the tie or jacket for an instant, whether he’s staying at home with James or taking a walk to buy a fish. (At the same time, his unrelenting habit of wearing a suit and tie is also meant to be funny, and I don’t want to lose sight of that.)

In the case of Louisa, her clothes have projected the many phases of her development as a character and mate to Martin. In the early series she wore much more exposing clothes and much more casual ones. She actually wore jeans a time or two, and one of her early outfits seemed to be a camisole that was also a bustier. Louisa’s choice wasn’t anything approaching Edith’s in later episodes, but we could imagine that she wore this much more feminine and provocative top because she was trying to be alluring.

But as their relationship developed and she became more associated with him, her clothing switched to skirts and dresses almost exclusively. (We do see her wear pants in S8 during the sailing scenes and when she dresses like a pirate.) In S7, when they were struggling in their marriage, her clothes and hair became more severe IMO. In S8, we get a greater variety of colors and patterns again as well as many dresses and skirts with pockets. Now you may think that pockets are of little importance, BUT pockets in women’s clothing has been a topic of conversation in the fashion industry. To some degree the concern is how to provide women with the same sort of convenience men have for carrying valuables without carrying a bag. To this end there have been some articles that address the way pockets in women’s clothing have to be functional, fashionable, and form fitting. Not only that, but when we look at the history of pockets, we find that “in the mid to late 1800s, as women were fighting for liberation, pockets were introduced to clothing. Pockets represented independence.”

Throughout S8, I was more aware of Louisa having pockets in most of her dresses and skirts and of putting her hands in her pockets more frequently. This may just be a personal choice by CC, but I see it as a sign that despite her renewed commitment to the marriage, she wants to retain her independence. Thus, we have those scenes in which she asserts her ability to make decisions, as in the daycare arrangement, going back to school, and in buying the car with her own money.

For a couple whose home is so small, I am always wondering where Louisa stores all of her clothes. She rarely wears an outfit more than once, and she rarely has worn outfits from the previous series in the next one. The only constants of her wardrobe are her pocketbook, her watch, and what looks to me like a signet ring, which she wears on her middle finger of her right hand. The ring itself has some meaning when worn on the middle finger. It can symbolize “structure, balance, conscience, and order,” all traits that Louisa would want to be associated with.

I have to admit that the colorful clothing often worn by the three women mentioned here also reflects the scenery and gives the scenes a brighter look. Nevertheless, when it comes to selecting clothing for each character, a lot more thought goes into it than whether a certain color is appropriate for the setting. The style and particular features of the clothes each character wears subtly influence how we respond to them and to their role in the story.

In defense of Louisa, S6

To my way of thinking there have been too many comments about how Louisa has deteriorated in S6 and that she has become very harsh and angry. I want to look at things from her perspective a bit and defend her based on how she has been portrayed in this series and throughout the entire length of the show. I’ve given a pretty full assessment of Louisa in my post Women’s Issues, Part 1, and I’ve mentioned more about her in a follow-up post Women’s Issues, series 6. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to say more because I continue to read remarks to the effect that Louisa is expecting too much from and demanding too much of Martin.

Yes, she went into the marriage knowing that Martin is a difficult man and hard to talk to sometimes (to paraphrase Martin’s self-appraisal at the end of S5). She certainly knows that he can ruin intimate moments and is not the most romantic (not mister hearts and flowers). And we have no idea what happened between them following his confession of love and expressed intention to change at the end of S5 and the wedding at the beginning of S6. We have to assume that things were going well in their relationship or they wouldn’t have decided to get married.

So Louisa starts the marriage with reason to believe she and Martin are now on a better track. He looks at her lovingly throughout the wedding events, he expresses certainty that he wants to be married, and even after a tough night they both appear on the same wavelength – the night was difficult but they handled everything well together and they continue to look at each other fondly after reaching home the next morning. What happens next is a series of typical marital squabbles over child care, her wishes for him to be more engaged in her world and in the community, and the juggling of time demands when both parents work. Of course his mantra is that her life would be easier if she stopped working. She doesn’t see it that way and his regular reiterating of that is really upsetting to her, and many women should relate. Some of the stress would be relieved – child care concerns, the mixed emotions of being apart from her baby while she deals with school issues and meetings, possibly household needs. But other stressors would appear – loss of standing in the community, loss of self-respect, loss of her sense of purpose, perhaps a lack of direction in her life. Louisa is presented as needing all of these and shouldn’t be forced to give them up.

Meanwhile, some of the changes in their home life have started to affect Martin even though he wants to help with JH and tries to engage in more activities with L. He has adapted to JH and being awakened at night during S5, and he’s been capable of taking care of the baby when L is out or when childcare difficulties arise. But the older James gets, the more toys there are and the more noise too. I understand that these new conditions would require difficult adjustments for M, but they come gradually and we all generally adapt because it all benefits the child and makes our lives easier in the long run.

But Martin, more than most men, is very closed off to his wife. When she kisses him goodbye and tells him she’ll miss him, he’s very uncomfortable and doesn’t respond in kind. When she comes home at the end of her work day and says she missed being with both James and Martin, he tells her he did fine without her. When she kisses him goodnight after they get into bed, he accepts her kiss, but does not reciprocate. When she asks him nicely to take some time off to go away with her and James, he refuses and uses the excuse that he has a responsibility to his patients. He confesses to Ruth that his blood sensitivity has returned, but doesn’t tell Louisa. She knows he’s having trouble sleeping, but nothing she tries helps (e.g. lavender oil, magazine, offering to talk). When she can’t sleep because she’s worried about Mrs. T returning, he recommends going to bed because “everything seems worse [when it’s late].” But it’s not as though he takes his own advice. His mother arrives and he never tells L anything about their history or about their conversations while she’s been there. He agrees to attend the Sports Day event when he should have turned it down because he was never really interested but couldn’t tell Louisa honestly. We can argue about whether agreeing to do the awards was him trying to be helpful or whether he was going along to get along, but for me L was right to think he would approve of encouraging students to exercise. She is aware that their home life has been growing more difficult, but she could never have imagined that he would behave borderline antagonistic towards her. She had offered to find someone else, which I see as an effort to give him a way out, but he’s there in front of his mother and possibly unwilling to look uncooperative to either his mother or L.

Expecting Louisa to curtail her own emotions, be understanding of his without any willingness on his part to divulge his feelings to her, and to either stop her own activities or reduce her own effort to do her job well, is a lot to ask. Without any input from him and any attempt to give her some insight into what he’s going through, L cannot know how to interpret his rejection of her. If your new husband appears to be turning away from you within a few months of getting married, you can’t possibly be blamed for being devastated and upset. She’s confused, hurt, angry, disillusioned, worried, etc., etc. Give her a break!

Originally posted 2014-03-17 12:07:19.

Mobile phones

I’ve been thinking about the way mobile phones are used in DM because I can’t help being surprised that there aren’t many young people seen texting in the show. We see the group of girls wandering through town on a regular basis, but they don’t have their phones out and they don’t have earphones in their ears. I am especially aware of this because everywhere I go these days, there are people looking at their phones, listening to music on their phones, and texting. It’s like a group obsession. But in DM there is very little texting or using phones to listen to music and tune out the world. We’ve had Morwenna and Al using their computers to establish new identities and join Cornish Couples, an online dating service. They text each other when they are presenting themselves as Nefertari and Colin. We’ve seen Bluetooth in the car when Martin tries to call Louisa while driving. We’ve seen Martin, Louisa, Pauline, Al and Edith all use mobiles, so we know that they are a part of life in Portwenn. In fact, Pauline makes the most of her mobile phone by disseminating photos of the doc and the dog after taking pictures on her phone. But not much texting?!

Actually, from what I’ve read, young people in Britain are moving toward instant messaging instead, but they would still be using their smart phones for that.

Our mobile phones have certainly changed our lives. Most places no longer have public phones, or have very few. We can reach each other almost anywhere now, although that’s not always good. For doctors it’s mostly helpful and we see that in DM. Without his mobile phone, M would be unable to contact Pauline or Morwenna to bring his bag, or he wouldn’t be able to help while in the car when Caroline gets an electric shock or he needs to summon an ambulance for any number of medical problems. It comes in handy when he wants to talk to Louisa, either to ask her a question or to find out where she is.

The show is such a combination of old and new that it becomes a bit confusing at times. We have computers, including laptops, but still have old fashioned radios, stoves, desk telephones, and classrooms. The old buildings and shops are charming and add character, but I am sometimes surprised to see the lack of modern devices and contemporary behaviors.

Originally posted 2014-03-13 20:49:38.

Laughter and Civility

Our last discussion was about attachment theory, and I had been considering writing a post about that, but I have found a different reason to take up my “pen” again. Recently there was a review in the NYT of several books that have been published on the subject of civility. Therefore, I was moved to write about that. (I’m sure some of the current public behavior we have been witnessing had something to do with this urge, but, the fact that laughter has sometimes been connected to civility also made me want to write about it.)

Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered that the philosopher Thomas Hobbes had written about his theory of laughter. I think I remember it because of the example he used. Hobbes’ theory revolves around those who laugh because they feel superior to someone else as when we laugh at someone who slips on a banana peel. To Hobbes, a society built on laughter would be a society built on mockery, or people laughing at the misfortunes of others.

It surprised me to learn that Hobbes was one of the few philosophers who gave laughter much consideration. Aristotle, for example, wrote more about tragedy and how tragic characters were generally of average or better than average standing. In his view, in comedy individuals of lesser virtue are the norm and we look down on them. The bottom line seems to be that humor is often a consequence of denigrating someone.

I confess to being guilty of this, and suspect most of us are. Moreover, Doc Martin is rife with humor based on this model. Whenever ME walks into a door frame or low ceiling, slips in mud, or drives his car off the road; whenever Penhale attempts anything resembling actual police work; whenever Louisa dangles from a hospital bed or says something that is misinterpreted, we are in the arena of Hobbes’ Superiority Theory of laughter. We could add other characters, e.g. Mrs. Tishell, Bert, and Janice. Each one of these characters has been depicted in comedic settings that would be categorized as a pratfall. A pratfall is basically a stupid and humiliating action. It is something that has been a part of comedy for as long as we can remember. And the remarkable thing about it is that it often involves a perceived highly-competent individual who becomes more likable after committing a blunder, according to something called the pratfall effect. I would venture to say that all of the above characters benefit from the pratfall effect. Thus, we can summarize that we laugh because we recognize how inept these characters are while we also find them more appealing as a result.

Furthermore, I then came across a recent article by Emily Nussbaum, TV critic of The New Yorker Magazine, on jokes article It seemed perfect that the accompanying picture is of a golden banana peel with the potential that there could be a tangential connection to Hobbes’ Superiority Theory. Nussbaum lists Mel Brooks, Rodney Dangerfield, and Don Rickles as practitioners of a type of humor that she calls insult comedy. (I would put Dame Edna in this category as well.) In the process of being rude, these comics also reveal some very incisive points about society and politics.

Indeed Nussbaum comments that the political journalist Rebecca Traister described this phenomenon… as “the finger trap.” “You are placed loosely within the joke, which is so playful, so light—why protest? It’s only when you pull back—show that you’re hurt, or get angry, or try to argue that the joke is a lie, or, worse, deny that the joke is funny—that the joke tightens. If you object, you’re a censor. If you show pain, you’re a weakling. It’s a dynamic that goes back to the rude, rule-breaking Groucho Marx—destroyer of élites!—and Margaret Dumont, pop culture’s primal pearl-clutcher.”

Isn’t that exactly what happens to ME when Bert sets him up with his fake injury using ketchup? Nothing ME did at that point could have salvaged his dignity. Another time this trap appears is when Pauline takes a picture of ME sleeping with the dog on the floor and then shares the picture around town. ME gets comedically “punished” regularly, either with pratfalls or with irreconcilable humiliations. His most prevalent rejoinder is one of superiority towards those who are discourteous to him. There’s almost a “tit for tat” element played out.

I am not saying that laughing at such situations is malicious, even if Hobbes would make that argument; however, I am proposing that we should step back and think about what it is that makes us laugh.

The Superiority Theory leads us to a discussion of the subject of self-esteem, which is how one views oneself or one’s attitude towards oneself. Self-esteem has been the subject of much study with prominent psychologists like Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, placing it in an important position in human development. I think we can leave it at the place where we recognize that there are people who have anything from high self-esteem to low self-esteem, and each of those markers is associated with particular personality characteristics. (We have already analyzed ME and LE on the MMPI, and we could get into where they fall on the Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale, but that is not what I want to concentrate on in this post.) More important is whether our own self-esteem is implicated in why we laugh, or accept without much reservation, that it’s admissible to laugh when comedians are uncivil to others.

First we need to agree on what it means to be uncivil. Civility goes beyond mere toleration, but may inherently imply a mutual co-existence and respect for humankind. It may interest you to know that George Washington wrote Rules of Civility as a teenager. It is a list of 110 ways for how to behave civilly. Obviously he felt compelled to set down some guidelines during his youth, and we can only imagine he had a reason to think society needed to know them. More recently there have been articles in psychology journals that address this concern as well. In the mentioned article, civility is defined as “awareness, self-control, empathy and respect…It requires us to treat others with decency, regardless of our differences. It demands restraint and an ability to put the interests of the common good above self-interests.” Even though I have not tried to find the statistics on current uncivil behavior, I think we can agree that between the online bullying and the overt impolite conduct too many young people exhibit towards adults (not to mention the name calling and other forms of belittling practiced by adults), we can come to the conclusion that uncivil actions have only increased. Should we be troubled by the expression of uncivil comportment in our comedy?

The controversy about civility and how to deal with it has been long standing. In that same recent book review in the NYT mentioned above, Hobbes is noted as having “feared that strident expressions of disagreement would threaten the diversity of views in society (much as hate speech is now thought to do), so he advocated an ethic of ‘civil silence,’ or public discretion: People could differ privately in their opinions as much as they wanted but should not openly dispute one another. Locke, by contrast, wanted to preserve public debate, but worried that too much diversity of opinion might jeopardize productive disagreement (the sort of concern campus speech codes now reflect). So he urged an ethic of ‘mutual charity,’ which required people to cultivate at least a minimal appreciation for the views of their opponents, or else be disqualified from debate. Both thinkers, in other words, imagined bringing about a tolerant society via suppression or exclusion — the very forces you would think a tolerant society would want to avoid.”

The review goes on to note that Roger Williams, a 17th C religious radical, “asked not that everyone keep quiet or respect his or her enemies, but merely that everyone not do anything to stop the conversation from going. Williams’s ‘mere civility’ demands more of us than Locke’s or Hobbes’s civility, in that it requires we have thicker skins about other people’s rudeness or disrespect; but it also demands less of us, in that we no longer have to muster respect for, or mute our criticism of, views we abhor.” In other words, he contrasts forbearance with tolerance.

Who is acting uncivilly in Doc Martin? Topping the list is the group of girls who regularly walk past ME and call him a tosser amongst other things. They are particularly bad when they mock him after Louisa leaves him and suggest he might want to date one of their mothers. Actually I have trouble thinking of any teenager in this show who isn’t disrespectful. From the boys on the beach who tell off ME to the delinquent Eleanor engages to watch James Henry to Becky Trevean and her cohort, they are all extremely impolite and disturbingly combative. Then there’s Becky Wead who writes the critical article of him in the school newspaper and Kelly Sparrock who tells him off and treats him with disdain even while he’s trying to diagnose her seizure disorder.

Apart from these members of Port Isaac’s community, we can include many others who speak disparagingly about the doc, often reflecting an obvious contempt for him. This group would include Allison, Danny and his mother, Mark’s sister, and Caroline (the radio Portwenn personality).

Among the people who are uncivil we can’t leave out Martin Ellingham himself. Could there be a more derogatory and insolent person than him? He is pugnacious towards his patients, generally suspicious of many of the motives of the townspeople, including Louisa, and, of course, has no social skills at all. His character is deliberately constructed in this manner, but we shouldn’t overlook this aspect of his personality. He cannot even restrain himself from giving the people of Portwenn a lecture on diet when he is delivering a eulogy of his beloved aunt.

The fact that these are offset by quite a few people who admire his medical ability and who manage to appreciate him despite his own uncivil behavior redeems him and provides sufficient agreeableness to his character. And Martin Ellingham is himself recuperated by some of the kindnesses he is capable of displaying.

I have previously argued that we don’t want to “fix” ME, or probably any of the characters. I would still maintain that though comedy may stem from uncivil behavior, it is rather harmless in this show. Still, the more we tolerate uncivil treatment of others, the more we may be accepting creeping incivility in our world.

Originally posted 2017-01-22 12:45:51.

Martin’s mistaken and missed diagnoses

ME is a great diagnostician and recognizes esoteric syndromes fairly frequently, and we generally come away with the notion that his diagnostic skills are exceptionally good. Nonetheless, sometimes he gets a diagnosis wrong or misses it entirely. No doctor can diagnose everything correctly, but he is loathe to admit a mistake of any kind. In this he is not all that different from most doctors in general who can sometimes go off in the wrong direction and even have blinders on when it comes to certain medical conditions. When ME gets a diagnosis wrong, though, he blusters and blames others rather then accept his mistakes. Let’s see how many of the mistaken diagnoses I can come up with:

Water contamination source, not pool and not the village water service but Bert’s bottled water. Later his dishwasher is the cause of stomach problems in the village. There are contaminants due to his having hooked up the dishwasher incorrectly, but he blames the young substitute receptionist for serving tea to his patients.

Peter Cronk’s injury following fall. He dismisses Peter’s abdominal discomfort and Louisa’s concern as overreacting. When it turns out that Peter becomes very ill and Louisa calls him in the middle of the night to come to the Cronk house, he realizes Peter’s spleen has probably ruptured. This time he starts to apologize but gets cut off by police arriving.

Danny Steel’s mother’s dementia turns out to be dehydration. At first ME suspects nothing wrong and figures Danny is overreacting just to place his mother in a home. Once she’s in the home, he notices that she hasn’t been taking her medicine and that she resists drinking fluids at night.

The students at school come down with what looks like impetigo to ME and he wants them all to stay home because it’s very contagious. It turns out to be erysipelas instead, which is not contagious.

Old man (Mr. Cook?) with stench doesn’t have a hygiene or health problem, he has a dead bird in his bag. (Surprising that Martin doesn’t check the bag that the man carries with him at all times.)

Caroline doesn’t have a drinking problem, she has diabetes; Dennis doesn’t have a drinking problem, he has Parkinson’s. Both of them slur their words and have trouble driving properly, but the suspicion that they have been drinking to excess is wrong. ME treats them properly once he knows what the problem is, but never apologizes for assuming they were over-imbibing.

Phil Pratt’s wife Helen. She’s much sicker than he suspects and he doesn’t notice her labored breathing, her diaphoresis (or perspiring), or weakness because he’s irate that he’s had to make a housecall and he’s irritated about Louisa’s relationship with Danny. Helen dies while he’s calling an ambulance and he compounds his rather restrained reaction to her condition by having very little compassion for her husband. When Joan arrives and tries to smooth things over, M still shows no sympathy.

Mrs. T’s neck and her need to use a cervical collar. When she takes it off, it turns out she has a prolapsed disk problem. He also misses her Erotomania and falsely accuses Louisa of having it.

Delph, Allison’s daughter acts out of control, but ME just thinks she’s naughty. Finally, after Delph takes a nasty fall through the glass door of a shop, ME realizes there’s something very real wrong with her. It turns out she’s really hyper due to diet pills.

Mrs. Selkirk is mourning the loss of her husband and hallucinates that he’s talking to her. ME assumes her hallucinations are due to grieving, but later discovers she has Lyme disease and that accounts for her symptoms.

At one point, ME examines a man for testicular problems. This mistake is due to examining the wrong patient because he’s been given the wrong notes. Even though it’s Pauline’s mistake, he should have checked the name.

Al has gone to Uganda and had a terrible trip. He can’t seem to shake the fatigue and difficulty getting back to a normal routine. He talks to ME about it but ME considers his symptoms inconsequential. Then Al faints and ME discovers he’s been bitten by a tsetse fly and probably gotten East African sleeping sickness.

Woman has swollen ankles and dark complexion with joint aches. ME thinks she’s been spending too much time outside, but it turns out she has too much iron in her system.

Mr. Moysey is having a variety of symptoms including dizziness. When he comes to the surgery to get his prescription refilled, he has a bloody nose. He gets his prescription although ME does a cursory exam. He returns after having more symptoms but ME still isn’t concerned. Ultimately Mr. Moysey falls in his home and Ruth calls Martin. Now he finds skin lesions when he opens Mr. M’s shirt and realizes he has scurvy from following a diet low in nutrition since his wife died.

Malcolm, a hypochondriac, complains of skin problems and seems to be breathing poorly. ME suspects possible asbestosis, although because Malcolm is a hypochondriac it’s easy to dismiss his complaints. Asbestos poisoning is eventually ruled out and, when Malcolm uncharacteristically misses an appointment, Morwenna finds him blacked out in his yard. It turns out that Malcolm keeps pigeons, which everyone except ME seems to know about, and he has gotten pigeon fancier’s lung from the fecal matter.

Then, in the last episode, ME vaccinates a woman for rabies, although she complains of headaches. We might forgive him for being distracted and not paying proper attention to her since Louisa is getting ready to leave; however, when he realizes his mistake, he is not apologetic. He tells her she should be all right and may experience some nausea and other symptoms. But she should be fine. She finds this poor consolation.

If I’ve missed any other examples, I’m counting on anyone reading this to help me out. I wanted to review these mistakes because it’s so easy to merely think of ME as a “wonderful doctor” and forget the times when he goes awry. I’m glad these examples are included because it keeps things much more real. Luckily, most of the patients end up doing well after these missed diagnoses, with the notable exception of Helen Pratt. (Truth be told, Martin probably would not have been able to save her even if he had tried to do something. Still, trying would have meant something to Phil.) It would be nice to think that happens in the real world too. In addition, ME clearly hates to be wrong and has a problem admitting when he’s wrong. Showing sympathy is also hard for him. Most of the time his lack of sympathy is funny. On the other hand, when there is evidence of honest sympathy, it has more significance. This is true for the times when he admits that he’s been wrong as well.

Originally posted 2014-03-13 20:42:24.

About the car

(Sorry this took a while. I had a chance to go on a trip and enjoy some warm weather. Back to cold and wet again!)

For some reason I have neglected to mention the silver Lexus M drives throughout the series. For one thing, I think it should be included among the elements of the show that are indicative of class differences between M and the rest of the village. There aren’t many remarks made about the car by the people in the village, but the shiny, silver LS 430 certainly is noticeable against the pick-ups and mostly compact or worn-out vehicles commonly driven around town. (The one time that I remember somebody noting the car is in the final episode of S6 when M drives into the fruit stand to avoid running into a red van. The driver of the van angrily tells M he should use his “fancy car” rather than borrow the van.) Only the McLynns and Aunt Ruth drive cars of similar status, Mercedes.

I’m not sure why a Lexus was chosen as the emblematic car in the series. It could be something as simple as Lexus offering it for use in the show. From what I can gather, Lexus is not a popular car in the UK. Nevertheless, it is considered a luxury car and is definitely out of place in Portwenn with its narrow streets. Like the doc’s suits, it distinguishes M from the townspeople and is particularly unusual when he drives it down the dirt roads around the area and into the fields surrounding the town, sometimes literally. I’m sure that’s the point – even his car doesn’t fit in!

Its size does correspond to the doc’s height and when the airbags deploy on a fairly regular basis, they match up with the many times M otherwise bumps into things. The car also becomes a place where M sleeps on occasion. The first time is in the opening episode when M is looking for Ross and ends up in a muddy ditch. Thereafter, M dozes in the car when trying to get JH to sleep one morning in S5, and he falls asleep with JH in the seat next to him when L is in the hospital in S6. Under these circumstances the car becomes a refuge, a safe place away from home.

But much of the time it’s a location for some tension. Of course, the ride back to Louisa’s after they attend the concert and M spoils the passionate kiss L gives him is among the most tense. Her irritation with him is so palpable that he actually wants to turn on the radio. And then she delivers the blow of not wanting to see him any more. Ouch!

Some other tense moments in the car include Martin picking up his parents at the train station. It’s a mystery to him why they chose to visit and, as they haven’t spoken in 7 years, his mother is mostly silent, and he’s not much of a conversationalist, the ride to the village is uncomfortable at best. Then Danny flags them down because his car has died, and he piles his gear into the trunk. Now Martin has his estranged parents in the car along with the one man in the village he despises. Danny tries to be cheerful, an additional irritant, and he makes things even more awkward by not only thanking Martin, but also blessing him. I find all of this amusing while at the same time being testy.

Then there is the time when Martin speeds to find Louisa after Tommy’s Taxi has driven off the road. He’s worried about Louisa because she’s pregnant, and he has to deal with Tommy’s methanol poisoning. Louisa is worried about Tommy, and the ride is filled with urgency to get Tommy to a pub so alcohol can counteract the effects of the methanol. Hanging over the episode is the expectation that Martin is leaving for London and this sojourn is just a little side trip. The baby is born in the pub and the next episode begins at the hospital where Louisa has been checked for any postnatal complications. She’s free to go and Martin offers to drive her back to Portwenn with the baby. This car ride begins with Martin helping Louisa buckle into the back seat while she holds the baby, and they bicker over whether she will accompany him to London. Once on the road, they spar about the baby’s name and about Louisa going back to work, a constant battle in their relationship. Louisa reminds Martin that he’ll be returning to work, then Martin shocks her (and us) by telling her “they’d manage if you died.” Somehow all is well again once they get to Louisa’s house.

Finally we have the race to find JH when Mrs. T has absconded with him. Martin drives rapidly to the school to tell Louisa that Mrs. T has taken JH. He runs in to find Louisa while Ruth and Penhale wait in the car. Penhale brilliantly notes that Louisa is upset and probably mad at Martin when they come running out of the school towards the car. Once they take off to “the castle,” Martin reveals that Mrs. T has clippings of him in her wardrobe, something pretty disturbing for Louisa to hear. Penhale tries to calm down L only to make things worse, as usual. Ruth adds to the level of concern by explaining that no one can know what kind of psychological state Mrs. T is in and whether the child is safe. Obviously they are all on edge throughout the ride and remain so while looking for Mrs. T.

I found the incident when Martin talks to Edith while driving fast to see a sick patient pretty tense. Edith is waiting for him at lunch with Robert Dashwood from London who expects to talk to M about the London surgical position, but M brushes her off, a clear indication of his priorities. Going to lunch would be the best thing for his career move, but he cuts off Edith decisively and she is left to cover up for him. I would imagine she’s not too happy about it. Maybe it’s also a sign that Martin will not be pushed around by Edith.

Less significant but still tense moments in the car include the many times when the dogs find a way to get into the car. Martin either kicks them out or delivers them to others with a sneer. One of the few times when Martin voluntarily puts a dog in the car is when he backs over Mrs. Wilson’s Yorkie and wraps it in a newspaper to bring to her. And there is the time when Martin agrees to drive Mrs. Wilson home because he nearly ran into her on the street. He’s not pleased in the first place, and her dog is with her too. He also ends up taking Caroline home when she nearly crashes into Mark Mylow. M hasn’t figured out what’s going on with her, but she’s unsteady and can’t drive herself. She is angry at M and doesn’t hide it, but she accepts the ride as a last resort. The minute they get to her house, she exits the car without a word of thanks. The time in the car must have been pretty icy.

There’s no doubt that the car plays a symbolic role as a conspicuous feature of Dr. Martin Ellingham’s persona. It is anything but helpful to his overall image and adds to the many ways in which ME has trouble integrating with the village. Like so many of his personal characteristics, the car he brings with him magnifies his differences. Driving it and/or riding in it is no party either.

Originally posted 2014-03-07 22:07:09.

Grooming interludes

Every now and then Martin and Louisa show some interest in what they’re wearing and in looking in the mirror. In addition, there are a few scenes of them doing a few grooming activities, e.g. preparing for bed or getting the baby ready. It’s only natural to check out how you look, but sometimes when it happens on the show, it’s quite funny.

Here are some of them:
Before her interview for headmistress in S2E2, L checks her hair and face in the hallway mirror before leaving home. She practices her answers to potential questions and puts some gel in her hair while talking into the mirror. It’s sort of a way to get psyched up for the interview and gain confidence. Later, while being interviewed, she is stumped by a question she thinks she should have prepared for. Pressed for an answer, she says one of her top qualities for being appointed headmistress is that she’s a good listener. After the interview, she accuses Martin of being a terrible listener. It’s a great way for them to stand off against each other and amusing because Louisa is the one who has handled the situation best. It’s one of the many times when she puts ME in his place.

Before meeting L at the pub in S2E5, M checks his face and teeth and adjusts his tie while looking in a hand mirror (funny because he makes his teeth and smile appear comically grotesque). It makes us aware that he cares about how he looks, even if he’s pretty awkward about it.

Even though on Doc Martin Revealed Philippa says she objected when a writer included a scene with Martin taking off his jacket, in S3E2 Martin takes his jacket off to wash his hands at Louisa’s house when she’s got a stomach problem. Of course, he puts it back on after washing his hands so no one sees him without it, and Louisa’s bra gets caught in his jacket collar. There’s a brief embarrassing moment for L when she has to grab the bra. L’s bathroom is filled with her lingerie which would be discomfiting for any woman (or man for that matter). (M has previously been seen without his jacket while washing his car and in the very first episode when the plumbing has sprouted a leak and he holds a pillow over it to stop the water.)

When Mrs. Wilson begins to flirt with M in S3E4, Louisa definitely takes notice. She combats the possibility that Mrs. Wilson might become appealing to M by going to see him in his office after hours. Prior to knocking on his door, however, she stops to check herself in the mirror and makes her own comical faces, sticking out her tongue. She is wearing her hair down which should probably be deemed a more casual and sensual style since she mostly uses it when she is meeting M for dinner or a drink. (Her hair is also down when she’s in bed, which shouldn’t necessarily be taken as sensual. It’s pretty hard to sleep with hair in any kind of up do.)

Louisa dresses nicely for their date to the concert in S3E5. She takes particular care with her shoes and the camera shows her putting them on daintily. However, when she steps outside to the car, Martin wonders if she is wearing the best shoes for the occasion. (He notices shoes often: Edith’s, Louisa’s at the Wenns) He never changes his shoes with the exception of wearing slippers in one scene. I guess we’re just supposed to think that his concern for detail, and perhaps health, extends to women’s feet? Maybe the clothes make the man, the shoes make the woman?

While preparing for the first wedding, Martin checks his wardrobe and picks up the suit he had cleaned. Of course, it turns out the dry cleaner has given him the wrong item. Instead of his suit, he has a woman’s dress. It’s just another mix-up in a day filled with them, and comes up again when the cleaner brings the suit by later and thinks Martin and Louisa are back from their wedding ceremony. Not only is he wrong about that, but he wants to ask Martin a medical question. (We should add that to the repeated scenes since after they actually get married in S6, Chippy Miller asks Martin a medical question at the reception and later another villager shows up at the surgery to be treated the morning after, contributing to all the commotion in the house.)
Louisa also starts to dress for the wedding and looks in the mirror at herself while putting on her veil. When she stands looking at herself in the mirror fully fitted out in her wedding regalia, we can see she’s giving the situation some thought. Her stance in front of the mirror at her home is offset by the cut to Martin looking at himself in his suit in the mirror at his home. They both appear very serious, but it’s not absolutely clear that they have come to the same conclusion that marrying at this point does not feel right.

Series 4 has few moments when Louisa worries about her appearance. She’s pregnant and generally feels she’s enormous, although I think her pregnancy wardrobe is very nice. There is also the scene at the beach where Martin follows the headmaster into the water and is still dripping wet when Edith drives by. But, it’s really the hotel room occasion that brings grooming into play. Both Edith’s corset and Martin’s sense of propriety make for a comical interaction between them. He ends up changing in the bathroom and then departing for home.

Series 5 shows both Martin and Louisa in their night clothes a lot. It’s great to see Louisa wearing sloppy pjs with Uggs at times. There aren’t many new mothers who can take much time with their appearance. She still manages to look pretty good when she gets ready to leave the house. For me the best grooming scene is when Martin is in the bathroom getting ready for bed. He and Louisa are discussing the apartment in London while he uses a comb to squeeze the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube. It’s a great trick and conveys Martin’s frugality as well as his obsessiveness. The fact that he’s telling L that there’s a great science museum near the apartment is silliness because the baby is only a couple of months old.

Series 6 finds Martin preparing for their wedding again. This time M selects his suit and tie and finishes tying his tie while looking at himself in the mirror. Much like the first attempt at marrying, he still has a serious expression on his face, but this time we sense more determination in him. Of course the joke comes when he shows up at the church and Morwenna doesn’t think he’s changed since the start of the day. It is kind of hard to tell with him since he wears pretty much the same outfit every day, give or take a different color tie. We don’t see Louisa dressing this time. We simply see her when she appears at the door to the church. We do get a laugh when she tells Martin she was late because of trouble with her hair.

The other occasions in S6 that have to do with grooming include Martin and Louisa getting ready in the morning in E6. Martin can’t find his tie after L puts the baby on top of it on the bed, they deal with tight quarters in their bedroom, and L puts some cream on the baby’s face. L remarks that most of M’s ties are blue, but he disagrees. I have trouble figuring out where Louisa hangs her clothes. Closet space seems as limited in the house as all the other spaces are. Nevertheless, Louisa always looks nicely groomed. There’s also the quite caring scene at the hospital when Martin puts Louisa’s hair in a ponytail. He’s possibly trying to do his best to make up for the disastrous previous day. The final episode has Louisa in the bathroom collecting her wash supplies for her trip. There’s nothing funny at all about this scene. Actually it’s rather devastating seeing her in there with the door closed.

There are a few other villagers who are shown looking at themselves in the mirror, notably Mrs. T. She seems fairly ridiculous while sitting at her dressing table with her black neck brace on as she applies make-up. Carrie Wilson checks herself too. Caroline has a brief moment in the bathroom. If you take the subject to its utmost degree, we could include Mr. Flint and his woman’s wig and dress. We also see Margaret looking at herself in the mirror. In her case the mirror is reflective of her narcissism. In general, however, the grooming scenes are no more than humorous interludes.

Originally posted 2014-02-25 19:05:11.

Remarks about America and France, other countries too

I thought I’d have some fun and note the occasions when other countries are mentioned. DM certainly provides a fair share of joking about the English, e.g. all the tea they like to drink, the way they eat their eggs, the accents. Then I couldn’t help noticing the time when Louisa reads from a book about babies and elicits a snide comment from Martin about America. That made me curious about how Americans are viewed by the British. I discovered that the English, and especially those who live in Cornwall, are known to have some anti-American sentiments. Nevertheless, many Brits like to come to the US. Surprisingly, it’s the second most popular place to travel to from England (or the most popular, depending on which reference you check).

Here’s the scene from S5E1: Louisa and Martin have brought the baby home from the hospital and Martin thinks Louisa should put the baby to bed. Louisa doesn’t have the crib put together yet and tells M the baby can sleep with her. M thinks that’s a bad idea and L quotes from a book that “infants are twice as likely to suffer a sleep related fatality in a crib as those who co-sleep in a bed with their parents (or parent).” M asks if the book is American and L responds that they have babies in America. It turns out this quote is from Dr. William Sears, M.D. (He does recommend strict guidelines for placing the baby in bed with parents and warns that if those guidelines are not followed, there is some danger of SIDS. Other American pediatricians have noted that when babies sleep with their parents they are likely to breastfeed more frequently and breastfeeding might be protective against SIDS.) I don’t consider the idea of infants co-sleeping with their parents a very good one and was surprised that an American pediatrician mentions that statistic, but there it is in Sears’ advice.

France also gets some backhanded treatment. For example, in S6E8 Martin wants Joe Penhale to drive him to the airport. Joe wonders if Martin’s going somewhere nice. M answers, “not really” and Joe says, “Oh, France.” (I’m pretty sure that isn’t the only time France is mentioned in a degrading way, but I can’t seem to find the other occasion. I’ll keep looking, but if anyone remembers where it is, please let me know.)

Portugal is mentioned as a vacation spot and M’s parents have moved to Portugal in retirement. I love the scene where Martin is driving L home from the hospital and asks her if she doesn’t think she should move to London with him now that the baby has arrived. L coyly says that maybe once he’s gotten himself settled she and the baby could come to visit him. Then he says London is not a holiday destination, it’s not Portugal. It’s as though Portugal exists to provide amusement for travelers.

Louisa’s mother has moved to Spain and that’s where L is going with James at the end of S6. Spain is actually a very popular place for Brits to go with Portugal coming in 8th. (Again, where you look matters and some sources list Portugal as more popular than Spain.)

Of course, Al goes to Africa. He talks about going to Uganda, although it’s never quite clear if that’s where he went. His experience in Africa is pretty awful. Everything he has gets stolen, he has to work in a factory, sleep rough, and he comes home with sleeping sickness after being bitten by a bug. His trip wasn’t very scenic and he hasn’t seen any of the animals or sights. He’s experienced all of the dangers of Africa and none of the pleasures.

For me, these little asides are meant to be lighthearted, especially in view of the international appeal of DM. Or maybe the writers are just poking fun at some of the destinations. Considering the general lack of interest in travel amongst the people of Portwenn, the fact that one of the running jokes is about life in and travel to other countries is especially amusing. Maybe the villagers are better off staying in Portwenn!

Originally posted 2014-02-23 21:41:12.

More on vaccines

I know this isn’t a topic that may be as popular to DM lovers as others, but as a PSA I feel the issue of vaccines for children is very important. So I’m posting this article as more evidence that when ME tells Louisa that children should be vaccinated, the show is providing an extremely helpful bit of info.

Originally posted 2014-02-19 15:03:27.

Location, location, location

We tend to think of Portwenn as a place that no one leaves, or that people return to if they leave, e.g. Al, Louisa, Joe Penhale, Ruth, Jennifer, even Sally. There have also been some who came to town from elsewhere. On the other hand, there have been some characters who have moved on, e.g. Elaine, Pauline, Danny, Roger, Eleanor, Terry, Mark Mylow, and Ted. I know that in the US it’s not unusual to move from where we grew up. One 2008 source states: More than six-in-ten adults (63%) have moved to a new community at least once in their lives, while 37% have never left their hometowns.

But it’s mixed…the same source states: Most adults (57%) have not lived outside their current home state in the U.S. At the opposite end of the spectrum, 15% have lived in four or more states.

I started thinking about this because I, myself, moved from where I grew up a long time ago and never really considered living there. My children also live away from us and, in our case, that means hours of flying time away.

There are plenty of reasons for leaving one’s hometown: job opportunities, desire to see other places, being transferred by one’s job, being in the military, attending college and then settling near there, or even being run out of town. There are also many reasons to stay: like the location, enjoy having family around, never thought about leaving, tradition or inheriting a family business.

We see a lot of the above in DM with Louisa’s family probably being the best example. Louisa’s mother left Portwenn to move to Spain when L was 11 y.o. and her father took care of her. But her father was a gambler and soon was forced to leave Portwenn under a cloud when he was accused of stealing the Lifeboat money. At that point Louisa had no mother or father around and she was in the awkward position of defending her father while being suspicious that he was at fault. Nevertheless, Louisa likes Portwenn so much, she doesn’t want to live anywhere else. She says it’s where her life is. Beyond the fact that this location is where they want to film the series and that means Louisa and the many others who seem bound to this village (Bert, Al, Mrs. T) must live there, what can we say about this setting? What makes Louisa so attached to Portwenn?

As I noted in my “Kitchen Table” post, home is supposed to be a place where you find sanctuary and where you can go as a refuge. Oftentimes it’s an actual house that your family has lived in for years, like Joan’s farm, and where you have fond memories of various family occasions. Louisa doesn’t have a particular home in Portwenn; she seems to change homes fairly frequently. Portwenn, therefore, is her sanctuary and the villagers are her family. Then, too, she has her job at the school and that seems to have deep importance to Louisa. She’s been to London and prefers Portwenn even if that means a lower salary and fewer extracurricular activities. She has very little wanderlust and likes knowing the community and being a member of it. Much like Martin, she has her routine and feels happiest when she can stick to a known regimen.

Once Louisa and Martin are married, they will continue to live at the surgery. Here Louisa is giving up having any space of her own, and that has to be difficult for her. She has to either use the kitchen table or Martin’s office for any work space. It didn’t occur to me before that Louisa tells Bert when he’s driving them to the lodge:”I don’t think I’ve ever been out this way before.” She’s lived in the area all her life, but here’s a place she’s never seen. I think we have to take this as more than just an offhand comment. Getting married is embarking on new territory and the first night is only the beginning of a whole new world for her.

I also think the scene where L is dreaming and imagines being on a picnic with M is telling. Soon the earth starts to rumble and eventually the ground opens up and is about to swallow her, but then M reaches out to save her. She imagines him rescuing her, but is she thinking in terms of turning him into someone different from who he really is, or is he rescuing her from the life she’s had in Portwenn? The direction of her life has to be a concern for her. This village has no eligible men to speak of, she doesn’t have that many female friends either, and she would like to have children. Staying in Portwenn could mean forfeiting any chance of a full life for L…until Martin arrives.

The cast and crew often talk about the setting of Cornwall and Port Isaac as one of the characters. We should look at the setting-the cliffs, the narrow streets, the small houses with low ceilings, the farms and isolation. All of this is physically confining and constricting. Daphne du Maurier is mentioned several times in a few episodes. She was known for setting many of her novels in Cornwall and for making the location a character in them. Author Sarah Waters is quoted as saying “her novels and stories are fantastically moody and resonant, and Rebecca, in particular, just feels so fundamentally right – like a myth, or a fairy tale.” In many ways, DM has that mythical or fairy tale quality, although where du Maurier used the setting to give her stories suspense and a gothic aura, the filming for DM is done so that we rarely see a day with bad weather or anything gloomy. The cliffs that seem so foreboding in a du Maurier story, have a charm and beauty in this series even though there are a few times when danger lurks, e.g. the baker falling off the edge of the cliff while trying to steal chough bird eggs.

It’s somewhat hard to reach Portwenn, although there is a small airport nearby (in Newquay) and there’s always a car or a bus. Apparently the train service to Port Isaac was discontinued in 1966, but there’s still train service between London and Wadebridge or Bodmin. The ocean and its tides are a factor too. Water access would be limited during low tide. But none of this appears to make the villagers feel trapped. Instead it contributes to the sense of community they have. They put on community contests and performances, they celebrate and mourn together. The villagers also accept the many quirks and idiosyncrasies of their neighbors — Stewart’s PTSD, Michael’s strangeness, Malcolm’s hypochondria and pigeons, etc.

When it comes to some of the other members of the village, Bert is the most committed to staying there. He can see no reason to leave and tells Al that. Sally, too, must be quite attached to Portwenn since she returns after humiliating herself and receiving therapy. (I frankly did not expect her back.) Unfortunately, she continues to behave oddly and by episode 8 the town is no longer so accepting of her. Al has tried to leave, but without much luck. However, he finally seems to have found a way to stay while also separating from his father, and his search for a girlfriend may also have been resolved. Morwenna doesn’t have the same problem with ending up with Al as her friend had when she tried to get Al a date with her.

Ruth has made the most of moving to Portwenn. She’s written a book, moved into town where she can feel safer, and agreed to turn the farm into a fishing business with Al. She has Martin and Louisa nearby and she can depend on them as much as they depend on her.

To me this village is a microcosm of what I see all around me. Wherever I’ve lived there have been some people who have lived there all their lives and have no intention of moving, and others who can’t wait to move on. Finding the right mixture of setting and community is our ultimate goal. Once we find it, it’s hard to let it go.

Originally posted 2014-02-16 22:49:26.

Class differences in UK

Previously on this blog there have been comments about how the relationship between Martin and Louisa should also take into account the difference in their class status. Veronica noted that in England it might be unusual for a person from Martin’s background to fall in love with and marry a person from Louisa’s background because of their class differences. She used the naming process as an example: When they leave the hospital and Louisa mentions calling the baby Terry after her father,Martin thinks the name Terry is too common. He covers his first comment by saying “I mean too many Terrys already?” trying to make it sound like he means it’s too often used rather than it’s not of high enough status.

When they go out to dinner to discuss the baby’s name (S5E5), Martin mentions he’d like to use Henry, his grandfather’s name, and that his grandfather was an accomplished physician. Louisa counters that her grandfather’s name, James, would be her choice and that he was a postman. She appears defensive about that and tells Martin the fact that her grandfather was a postman doesn’t make his choice more valid. For his part, Martin denies he was making any judgement about status, but the issue is out there.

During the course of the series there have been comments by villagers about Martin’s suits. His suits function in so many ways that I hadn’t given much thought to how they would also be a symbol of class distinction. But it’s certainly true that there isn’t any other villager who regularly wears a suit. Penhale, and the other police officers, wear uniforms and that sets them apart from the people in town, but most of the town dresses casually on a daily basis. That’s not really so different from most towns, although Portwenn has no evident lawyer, banker, or corporation that might include others dressed in more formal attire.(Actually, Tom, Caroline’s husband, has a coat and tie on in the episode where he appears.)

I mentioned in my entry about myself that my husband practiced neurology in a small town. One of the amusing things about some of the doctors there was that a few liked to walk around town with their white coats on. Sometimes they’d go to the post office or other places in the village with scrubs under white coats, or just the white coats over a nice shirt and pants. We always thought they looked ridiculous and were trying to impress people.

In our experience in the medical profession, some hospitals expect the medical students and doctors to wear ties and white jackets or coats, some do not, and some of these practices have changed over the years. We see some of that when Peter Cronk gets taken to the hospital and those doctors are wearing ties or dressy clothes. The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota requires its doctors to wear jackets and ties as a sign of respect for the patients. So for Martin as the GP to wear a suit wasn’t so remarkable to me. (I know it’s also used as an indicator of being uptight, closed off, oriented toward ritual, etc.) But I have to admit, wearing a suit also sets him apart and above the villagers.

I have to say that Louisa, too, often dresses more nicely than her colleagues or most of the other villagers. Because of that, she seems more likely to be a woman Martin would find appealing, but it also sets her apart to a certain extent. We do see her in jeans at times, though, and that connects her to the community.

Of course, it is their altercation over schools that causes a big brouhaha in their marriage. Martin is already interested in signing JH up for a boarding school, but Louisa is totally against it and can’t believe Martin would be thinking already about sending JH away when he’s still such a young baby. She’s upset for more than class reasons — she’s the headmistress of the school and considers the school fine for a good education. After all, she was educated there and went to college in London. But Martin wants to give JH the best education available.

This argument is consistently a part of US education discussions. Are our public schools giving our children a sufficiently good education? Do parents need to send their children to expensive private schools, boarding or otherwise, to get them a quality education?

I really hadn’t thought too much about this concern in terms of UK and this show until I saw an article by the associated press recently that reported:

“In most areas of British life, success comes down to going to the right — usually expensive — school.

A third of Britain’s lawmakers, half its senior doctors and more than two-thirds of its High Court judges went to private schools, which educate just 7 percent of British children, according to statistics compiled by the British Parliament. Well more than a third of Oxbridge undergraduates still come from these private schools.”

So it looks like the show actually is making an accurate point about the importance of going to an elite school that will lead to a high-status career. The conflict is not just a good way to put Martin and Louisa at odds, especially about something that is her profession.

There’s also the matter of whether Louisa should return to work now that she has a baby. Martin doesn’t want Louisa to work, a sign that he makes enough money to support them both and that he’s still thinking like old-fashioned elite men who want their wives to be home with the children. He gets a lot of blowback on that from Louisa throughout series 5 and into series 6.

We also know that Martin’s parents consider his move to Portwenn to be the GP a definite step down for him.

More than I originally realized, it seems like class and its importance in the UK is a factor in this series.

Originally posted 2014-02-12 16:25:00.

Other doors and doorways

Now that I’ve discussed the idea of liminality as it pertains to the doors and doorways of the surgery building, I want to look at some of the other doors that I see as significant in relation to the use of liminal spaces. It’s important to remember that liminality refers to characters reaching a threshold that is either real or emotional and finding themselves in a position to decide whether to move across that threshold into another realm, stay on the threshold straddling two positions, or resist making any changes and remain content as they are. Victor Turner, a British Cultural Anthropologist, saw liminality as not only a form of transition, but also of potentiality. “Turner noted that in liminality, the transitional state between two phases, individuals were ‘betwixt and between’: they did not belong to the society that they previously were a part of and they were not yet reincorporated into that society.”

Although I don’t want to get too caught up in theory, I see Louisa as a character who goes through just that sort of liminal sequence. When L and M decide at the end of S3 not to marry and L leaves Portwenn to live in London, she separates herself from the society she belonged to previously. When she returns to Portwenn after about 6 months, she is pregnant, in need of a job and a place to live, and in the mindset of being independent and self-sufficient. During her stay at the Crab & Lobster, she seems quite unsettled. She needs a quiet place to grade papers, some of the townspeople are critical of her as a member of the community, and her relationship with Martin is strained. The intrusive obstetrician, the wacky headmaster and the dogmatic midwife don’t help. (I never want to lose sight of the fact that many of these scenes are deliberately included so that we feel Louisa’s discomfort or smile at the awkwardness of the situations she finds herself in. On the other hand, what makes me enjoy DM so much is that the situations are so easy to relate to.) Once the baby is born, however, L is reincorporated into the social life of Portwenn. Unbeknownst to her, they all listen while she goes through labor and delivery and accepts M’s admission of fault. Next we see a motorcade leave Portwenn for the hospital to bring her flowers and welcome the baby. Since M finds a way to avoid all but Penhale at the hospital, the community tries again by coming to L’s home door. They are pleased to see the doc there with her and enjoy seeing her out and about.

The liminal door scenes that I find important to the show and the relationship between L and M are what I will look at next. The first of these comes after M and L have had their first date (S3E5) and M has once again ruined a passionate moment by making a comment about L’s perfume. She stalks off and sits silently in the car on the drive home. When they reach her house, L tells M that their relationship isn’t going anywhere and she’s sorry but she doesn’t want to see him anymore. Now he’s speechless. She opens her front door, walks in, and stands looking at him with eyes that reflect her combination of sorrow and regret. Then she shuts the door and Martin drives off. Crossing that threshold into her house and closing the door puts the relationship past the stage of “iffy” to over. On the other hand, her front door takes center stage during the rest of the episode when it is used as the site for several more interactions between M and L. The next morning, M has trouble concentrating at work after a sleepless night due to L’s decision to end their dating, and decides to go see her. But once he’s knocked on her door, he gets cold feet and runs away. It’s just as well because Holly arrives soon after and any conversation M and L might have had would have been interrupted as usual. Then Holly slips and falls and must stay at L’s house and M has to deal with her back pain. From this point on, many discussions between M and L take place at L’s front door where she’s inside and M is within the frame of the door. L asks Martin if Holly’s injury is serious while he stands at the threshold to the front door, she questions him about his forced congeniality as he stands at the open front door, and it’s before he reaches the threshold of the front door after reviving Holly that M finds he must stop, ask L to marry him, and return to tell L he can’t bear to be without her. Louisa’s front door has become the location for the transitions in their relationship and works nicely to buttress their reunification. Then the next morning they stand at the front door to say goodbye and make plans to meet up later on and the postman crosses the threshold with mail for Louisa that Martin hands to her. It’s a brief scene but filled with meaning since M and L are now a couple and pretty soon the whole village will know about it.

The next big liminal scene is when Louisa is at the pub in labor and tells Martin to leave. Once he goes outside and shuts the door behind him, he can’t help coming back to the door, and even opening it, despite her insistence that he stay out. The door is the barrier between them now and M wants to cross it even if that means yelling to L through it. The closed door also gives both of them time to think about how they feel and what they want from each other. They are both clearly in a quandary and then come to the same conclusion. He wants to be with L and the baby, and she wants him there with her and the baby. He enters uninvited again, crossing the threshold into the room, while acknowledging that he knows she doesn’t want him there but also admitting that he was wrong about many things. By this time, however, she has decided she wants him with her after all and she avidly tells him to come in. At the end of the scene, it’s clear that M and L will be together with the baby. She tells the baby that he’ll get used to M, and M allows that he can learn how to manage a baby.

For me, another major liminal doorway scene is when Mrs. T has JH at “the castle” and Martin, Louisa, and Ruth argue about how to get Mrs. T to bring down the baby while standing at the entrance door. Mrs. T is waiting for the “knock, knock, knock” on the door and Martin obliges when he arrives. But the door is locked and Mrs. T does not open it before talking to M from the window above. The conversation that ensues involves M standing outside the doorway so he can see Mrs. T in the window while L and Ruth stand inside the alcove leading to the door. L and R do not agree on what M should say to Mrs. T, and R is alarmed when M decides to follow L’s advice. Then come the series of responses Louisa tells Martin to use. At this point we know M is struggling to figure out what to say that will get Mrs. T to bring the baby down. He’s accustomed to demanding things from people and getting them, but this time ordering Mrs. T to bring down the baby doesn’t work. His logical assessment of Mrs. T being more fit to care for JH than Morwenna has also been wrong. As he stands looking at L and R in that doorway, he loses all confidence and takes L’s suggestions. Her subconscious desire to reach him by guiding his remarks to Mrs. T breaks down his defenses and he ends up telling L what he’s been wanting to say for a while. Ruth may be utterly amazed at the success of M’s remarks at bringing Mrs. T down with the baby, but the threshold space between M and the door has functioned beautifully to once again transition the relationship between M and L to a much better status. By the time Mrs. T opens the door, L and R have joined M outside the alcove. M and L are reunited with JH and, after each has expressed some sincere feelings, they walk off hand in hand.

The preeminent liminal scene, however, is when Louisa stands in the church doorway on their wedding day in S6. On the way to the church Martin had looked somewhat unsure and had delayed getting out of the taxi briefly. But once he opens the door and steps out, he’s made the commitment to follow through. Martin has entered the church about 20 minutes before L arrives. He keeps wondering where she is and looking for her. The vicar has very little to say that is comforting except that waiting 15 minutes is not too bad. The big moment comes, of course, when Martin walks down the aisle to look for Louisa again and there she is standing in the doorway, with the sunlight shining behind her and a bouquet of flowers in her hands. They look at each other for several seconds and let the moment sink in. Louisa is late getting there. However, when they look at each other while she’s standing in the doorway, there’s no question anymore. She motions him to go back down the aisle and takes the critical step forward into the church to join him, walking with deliberation past the villagers. Soon they are both agreeing that they are sure they want to marry.

I suppose we could include the door to the lodge as another liminal scene. There’s no certainty that they’ll be pleased with what they find once they open that door, but they are pleasantly surprised upon entering the building. And, once they leave it, one trial after another awaits. Who knows what might have happened differently had Martin never built a fire in the fireplace?

Each of these doorway scenes leads to pivotal changes in their relationship. A door and its threshold have many implications. They are a way to limit one’s choices; they are a means of entry into a new time of one’s life; and they are places that signify the potential of what is still to come. In DM doors and doorways have been used effectively for all these reasons.

Originally posted 2014-02-06 14:56:34.

Opening scene of S6E1

I have watched E1 of S6 many times by now and have continued to be intrigued by how they chose to place the camera at the very beginning of the episode. After the credits, we view the street and the surgery building from the vantage point of someone looking through a window from a building above it. I’ve been struggling to come up with a reason for doing that. The view from that vantage point only lasts about 7 seconds and then we are in the exam room with Martin doing a gyno exam prior to his wedding, obviously a very private and intimate procedure. Is it because we are being reminded that we are looking at this village as if we are voyeurs, watching a group of people in their private lives without them knowing? Is it that we are in a godlike position where we can see what’s going on in the world without being seen? Are we supposed to think that either this episode or the whole series is being viewed by someone who has been letting us see what’s going on for all these years and giving us the option of watching what goes on at the surgery? Is it that we are being prepared for a series that comes from a different vantage point?

I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on this opening scene.

Originally posted 2014-01-31 13:35:09.

Doors and doorways

On Kate Kennedy’s Portwenn Online site there is a thorough description of how the doors to the entrance to the surgery and to the kitchen have changed throughout the series. But I’d like to look at how these doors and doorways have been used in DM. I want to include the interior doors of the surgery in this discussion as well because they play a key role. After that I will look at the other doors and doorways that have been used in significant ways.

In literature, and in anthropology, there is a concept of liminality. The word is derived from the Latin “limen” which means threshold. It can be applied to all sorts of situations, e.g. actual crossing of thresholds between outside and inside, or rites of passage, or change in status, including marital status. I’m going to use it to signify actual thresholds and what happens when a character stands at the entrance to a room, building, balcony, etc. and either crosses the threshold or is stalled at or prevented from crossing it. In some cases in DM the thresholds of doors function as barriers, in other cases they are merely a site of egress or ingress. When it comes to the two main characters, I believe that physical thresholds are often used when Martin and Louisa are going through transitions in their relationship. They are in a position of liminality both in location and in their lives.

The surgery is the heart of the action throughout the series because it doubles as Martin’s workplace and home. From the moment Martin opens the front door to enter the little house that becomes his primary location in the town, we know that it will be a source of disruption as well as the place he commands. The fact that it is situated at a high point overlooking the town gives Martin a physically superior position to accompany his position of status as doctor. The location allows him to separate himself from the town and its people and to literally look down on them. On the other hand, as a doctor he is constantly involved with the townspeople and cannot distance himself from them. Moreover, many of the people use the road in front of the building and the bevy of teen girls passes by there frequently.

Anyone coming to his front door must cross a slate platform and this area is often the setting for conversations between M and others. It’s where the dogs linger and where patients line up on M’s supposed last day in S4E8. Pauline and Al sometimes sit there to talk and Aunt Joan meets Edward, her young lover, when she sees him on a ladder out there. The doctor’s friend, Gavin, first approaches him on this site, and it’s where he finds his mother, suitcase alongside, when she returns in S6E6. It’s also where Louisa talks to M on several occasions, including when he first makes a date with her to go to the pub and when he tells her she may have Erotomania. The previous night he had opened up to her and expressed his love for her, but when she comes back the next day ready to return his love, he backs away from her. He can be both willing to talk to her there and quick to become angry with her there. At one point, L stands on this site and asks Martin why their conversations always end up so combative. Thus, much happens before entering the front door, and we could say the platform that occupies the outer space before the door functions as a kind of threshold area.

For the patients, the front door is rarely an obstacle, although they better not let a dog in. On the other hand, there are several times when Martin stops visitors at the front door. Gavin discovers M has no interest in talking to him when M slams the front door in his face. He also slams the front door in the face of the water treatment plant’s executive in S1E3. He doesn’t quite shut out Mark Mylow when he comes to the front door to ask M to be his best man, but he might just as well have. And Joe Penhale gets very little respect when he meets M at the front door to tell him to name the baby before time runs out. Edith shows up at the front door after M has corrected her diagnosis of the patient with diverticulitis and M allows her in after accepting her non-apology. Louisa enters through the front door in the early series when she needs to see M for medical care or confront M about his treatment of other villagers. But later Louisa uses the front door to bring some clothes and the baby to live with M at the surgery, a clear indication that their relationship has advanced to a new stage. Not long after, Louisa struggles to push the baby carriage over the threshold while leaving the house, and I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that her difficulties getting over that threshold are symbolic of the stresses in her life with Martin in addition to having her mother show up. Series 6 has the awkward scene at the front door when Dennis and Karen come to dinner. Then in S6E6 Martin’s mother arrives and Louisa appears in the doorway. Margaret is stunned to see another woman cross the threshold and hold Martin’s hand to comfort him. Louisa surprises her again when she explains that she’s Martin’s wife and they are married with a son. It’s a big step for Martin to allow his mother to enter and he is distinctly not thrilled about it. Ultimately, of course, it’s the scene at the front door in the final episode of series 6 that makes the most impact. First Louisa talks to the taxi driver inside the front door, next Martin and Louisa interact inside and counterintuitively decide to move outside to have more privacy. Once they cross the threshold and go outside, the upheaval in their relationship becomes a reality. Martin says goodbye to James just as Louisa steps outside behind him. This is a bona fide liminal moment as it uses the threshold for both an indication of actual as well as emotional departure. It is then that Martin seems defeated and reverts to being more of a doctor than a husband. He gives Louisa some medical advice followed by an awkward kiss on the cheek, helps her into the taxi, and stands in the street watching them drive off. The family home has transitioned back to medical office, and the marriage has undergone a major blow.

Crossing the threshold of the kitchen door plays an important role in DM as well. The kitchen door is always unlocked and Aunt Joan tends to enter the surgery through the kitchen door most of the time, often carrying something for Martin to eat. Bert, too, shows up at the kitchen door on occasion. But it’s really Louisa who uses this door the most, and it becomes the site for the many evolutions of Martin and Louisa as a couple. One of the earliest times Louisa appears at the kitchen door is in S2E2 when she’s checking on Peter Cronk. This is the second time that she and Martin have had to step in to help the Cronk family and once again there is tension between the two of them. She enters the kitchen only to find Peter watching an inappropriate DVD. The next scene finds L sitting at the kitchen table talking to M. During this occasion L once again tries to establish some rapport with M and notes that M is different but she likes the way he is. He appears to be pleased until he begins to suspect that she’s only being nice to influence his vote on her candidacy to be headmistress. That reaction leads to L leaving in a huff, something we become accustomed to seeing. Another time Louisa comes to the kitchen door is S3E1 after she and M have had some disagreement over the care of a hyperactive girl. Louisa and Allison, the girl’s mother, stand in the doorway while L prompts Allison to say “thank you” to M and then prompts M to say “your welcome” in response. Here L uses this gateway to mediate a tense situation between Allison and Martin, which soon deteriorates and leads to L needing to usher Allison back out through the door. She, however, reenters to ask M if she can stay as his patient and talks to him about her worries concerning what she’s doing with her life. The scene and episode conclude with M and L hoping that “something new” will soon enter their lives. It is a very poignant moment.

But the most significant scene that involves L at the kitchen door is when she appears there pregnant at the end of S4E1. This time she never crosses the threshold-in fact, she takes a step back when M opens the door. Her return to Portwenn and her pregnancy are total surprises to M and turn his life upside down. The scene portends the trajectory for the series which is filled with a mixture of anger, resentment and frustration between these two until the last scene of the final episode. Then in S5, after M and L have moved into the surgery together, the kitchen door is the setting for several heated conversations, including one when Ruth enters through it only to find M and L arguing over L’s weight gain. Despite L’s decision to move out in E6, she can’t help coming back to seek M’s help with the baby and she turns up at the kitchen door pushing the baby carriage more than once. However, there’s always an undercurrent of her really wanting to be with M again. (He, too, regrets the separation.) In S6, they are married and we move on in the relationship. Now Louisa uses the kitchen door freely.

The interior door that is often a site of liminality is the door to the exam room. The door to the exam room is a boundary that separates the reception area and the rest of the house from M’s private space. Naturally, he examines patients there and what goes on behind the closed door is meant to be private and confidential. However, that condition is not always honored by his receptionists or the patients themselves. There are many occasions when the receptionists barge in without knocking or stay too long, and there are several occasions when the patients themselves walk through the door into the reception area partially clothed. These are transgressions of the boundaries and can be a humorous way to blur the line between private and public. Edith has no respect for the boundary of the exam room door and forces her way in without regard for the patients or Martin’s position. In addition, M frequently escapes to this room to talk on the phone in private, to work on his clocks, or to simply have some alone time. M shuts the door behind those patients or patients’ family members when he is in no mood to trifle with people who are disruptive or inconsequential to him. Thus, Gavin once again suffers the indignity of having a door slammed in his face while trying to meet with M in the exam room. And Margaret suffers likewise when M does the same to her.

Louisa is another matter. In her case, the door to the exam room turns into a sort of mixture of private and personal boundaries. She certainly respects it as a patient and as an early visitor, but as time goes on, her relationship with M advances and the door functions in a variety of ways. One ironic turn is when M decides L should see the new doctor to be checked for tears that could be causing perineal soreness. This time M must wait outside the door while L is in the exam room. He finds it very hard to stand there and even barges in at one point. Once they move back to the surgery, L comes to the threshold of that door numerous times. She stands there when she’s filling in as the receptionist to notify M when he needs to see patients, but it’s when M has neglected to tell L about the date of James’ christening that the doorway becomes a prominent liminal location. First L confronts M while standing at the threshold, then she enters the exam room in an aroused state, angry that M still doesn’t recognize the resentment she feels due to his continuous unilateral decision making. It is during this confrontation that L reaches a turning point and decides she doesn’t want the meal he’s planned or perhaps any more of his disrespect for her opinions, and walks out the door in another huff.

But it is S6 when the exam room takes on special importance to the relationship between M and L because during this series M uses the room to deal with many personal concerns that he does not allow L to know about. He hides the regular testing he does on himself after his hemaphobia returns, he never mentions the conversation he has with his mother about family, and he distances himself from everyone by regularly disappearing into the room. The mere fact that L must look for him there on several occasions while his mother is in the house emphasizes his estrangement from her. Certainly the beginning of E7 when L brings breakfast into the room so they can eat together underlines the intrusion into their lives that Margaret has become. But it is when L returns home after hearing about M’s sickness while releasing Penhale’s hand from the post in E6, where the door to the exam room is used as another prominent liminal site. First L stands just inside the door after putting James to bed and tells M that everyone is talking about M having thrown up on Penhale. She remains there while she asks him about his continuing problems with his blood phobia, then takes one step towards M as she asks M if he will phone the psychiatrist Ruth has recommended and asks him what he thinks is causing the problem to persist. She follows that with another step towards him while wondering if she’s the reason for his disorder. He is at a loss for an explanation and denies that she’s the source of his troubles, but they seem to be reaching an intimate point in their conversation when it is interrupted (as usual) by a knock on the front door. If they had had more time to finish this discussion, maybe some progress could have been made in their communication difficulties, but his mother’s arrival puts an end to that and the relationship unravels over the next 2 episodes.

These 3 doors in the surgery building are the ones with the greatest significance; however, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the scene in E8 at the bathroom door. Here we see M on the outside of the closed door while L remains on the inside of it. We see their desperation and wish one of them would just open the door. But neither of them can or chooses to and the impasse is palpable. The door to the bathroom has been open for other conversations between M and L, and this private space has never before taken on the sense of privacy that a bathroom can have. This time it’s a definite barrier for them.

I also want to mention the door to the bedroom itself because M stands there while talking to L about keeping James quiet in S5, then ducks into and out of the door frame when she calls the baby Albert. In S6, L and M stand in the door to the bedroom when talking about Dennis and Karen, which leads to some very uncomfortable moments. M also closes the door to the bedroom in E8 after talking to L through the bathroom door, which seems to add some final punctuation to the scene.

I have no idea if the directors, writers, or anyone else regard the doors as anything meaningful and I may be reading too much into their use. Whether it was intentional or not, however, I think these sites contribute to the complexity and impact of the scenes and the relationship between the two main characters.

I realize this post is very long and I actually have other things to say about doors in other locations, but I will put them in another post.

Originally posted 2014-01-30 17:07:29.

Phrases and actions that are repeated

As I’ve watched DM, I’ve noticed that now and again there will be a comment that one character makes that resurfaces as something another character says later. I guess you could say turn around is fair play! I thought it would be fun to list the ones I’ve noticed and see if there are others anyone else knows of. I bet there are more. Here are the ones I’ve come up with so far:

Martin tells Edith he accepts her apology in S4E1; she tells him she accepts his apology in S4E8. In both cases neither of them actually apologizes.

Martin tells L she has bad breath in S1E6. Louisa is embarrassed and buys mouthwash. Edith tells ME he has bad breath in S4E3. He is later seen using mouthwash.

Martin calls the pub owner an officious oaf in S4E8; Penhale calls the airport security guard an officious man in S6E8.

Martin calls several people morons throughout the series; he’s called a moron by the caravan owner in S6E1. (It’s also great that Martin is always rejecting the dogs that hang around him and in this episode the caravan man tells Martin that his dog Edna is a good judge of character. This time she might reject him!)

Joan tells Martin that people don’t change in S3E5 and Martin disagrees saying they can if they want to. Ruth tells Louisa people don’t change in S5E6 and Louisa retorts they can if they want to.

Louisa tells Martin in S5E5 that she’s stuck in the house with JH and Martin: “It’s just you and me and the baby.” In S6E1 she tells Martin at the lodge that she is alone with him, but this time she’s happy about it: “It’s just you and me.”

There are also a couple of occasions when certain actions are repeated:
Louisa’s young neighbor is about to leave her house without her baby son in S4E6 and has to be reminded to take him; Margaret walks off without JH in S6E7 and is reminded by Ruth to take him.

Martin walks down the aisle in S6E1 to look for Louisa and we see him from behind; at the end of S6E8 he walks away from L and we watch from behind as he walks down the hall. Both times he’s all business and things are a bit uncertain, although the last time has a cloud over it.

Originally posted 2014-01-13 21:38:55.

What kind of father is Martin Ellingham?

In several interviews over the years Martin Clunes predicted that Martin Ellingham will be an appalling father. I suppose it makes for good copy to describe the Doc as grumpy, brusque, unsociable, and also likely to be a terrible father. However, the evidence from the show really belies that prediction. Maybe the problem is mostly due to semantics because appalling is a strong word and MC was being hyperbolic when he used it. Also, he may not have seen the scripts for series 5 by that time. Nevertheless, series 5 shows Martin Ellingham to be anything but an appalling father.

Throughout series 5 I couldn’t help noticing the many occasions when ME is willing to join L in the care of their baby. We know that the baby cries a lot at night, not only keeping M and L awake, but also making enough noise to bother many of the villagers. Louisa complains about not getting enough sleep and not being able to think straight, and she is up with the baby more than Martin; however, it’s Martin who takes the baby for a ride in the car one early morning to try to calm him, and the only evidence that he is feeling any ill effects from lack of sleep is when he asks Mrs. T for some paracetamol (or analgesic). Martin also has no hesitation in taking care of the baby when L goes out with her friend one night. He changes the baby’s diapers regularly and even takes care of him when Mel, the childminder, gets mad and leaves. From the earliest moment, ME is shown holding the baby, taking the baby with him to Joan’s house and letting L take a nap, allowing L to have a lie-in while he takes JH to have breakfast with Ruth, and running around town holding the baby because he can’t find anyone else to care for him. There are some times when ME and L clash over who should take the baby and whose job takes precedence when the day begins, but these are common problems with working couples and give us a knowing chuckle. I got a kick out of seeing ME’s method of carrying the baby because it was new to me and it seems to work very well. (Truth be told, I also laughed when ME is changing JH’s diaper and leaves him on the floor without a diaper so he can go get some cream. In my experience with male babies, you better cover them with something if they’re not wearing a diaper or you are in for a serious dousing.)

I don’t know whose idea it has been, but there’s rarely a time when JH is nearby that ME doesn’t touch him in some way – hand, foot, head. He also shares the duties of keeping JH when L can’t take him to school after they briefly separate, and he doesn’t object to dressing JH from time to time. In short, he is a caring, involved, nurturing father and never forgets about his son no matter what is happening. Mike needs to leave, ME takes JH; L has a car accident, ME takes care of JH; L needs an emergency operation, ME takes him in his car seat and remembers to tell Penhale to take JH to Ruth. He may have some trouble with the toys in the kitchen and the children’s songs on the radio, but that is pretty minor. He’s not thrilled to take JH to the music group, but it’s generally rare to find Daddys in those groups and he does it after all. I’ve seen men in those settings, although the ratio of women to men in those classes is probably 10 to 1.

All in all, ME’s fathering is exemplary rather than appalling and another way in which he is unlike his father. He may become demanding of JH as he grows older, but I would be surprised if he ever yells at him over something as insignificant as excitement over a captured butterfly, as we know his father did when he was young. He is also unlike his mother who is uncomfortable holding JH close or feeding him. What has actually happened is that JH is a very important part of the relationship between ME and L, and ME doesn’t want to lose L or JH. Despite the extra hub-bub at home, ME is very attached to JH and we see him relating to him on a very intimate basis several times, not the least of which is when he tells him he’s “sorry about all this” in the final episode. Any concern L had that ME would not want a child has been dispelled by the way ME treats his son from birth through his first 9 months.

Originally posted 2014-01-13 01:00:43.


I decided to write more about the question of whether Martin Ellingham has Asperger’s because I think that question is very pertinent to the whole issue of whether he can change. As I’ve written previously, the DM series brings up the question of whether people can change throughout the six series and there are various answers given when it is posed. On this blog we’ve been wrestling with the issue of change for quite some time and it’s very much a concern of most of us in general.

We’ve all noticed the frequency with which the topic of people’s ability to change comes up and on occasion there are contradictory positions taken by the same character. Ruth stands out to me as one of these characters because in S5 E6 she tells Louisa that people don’t change when she mentions to Louisa that Martin has told her to mark her calendar for the christening. Louisa replies that people can change if they want to and departs in a bit of a huff because Martin has never discussed the christening date with her. (Of course, Joan has previously told Martin the same thing as Ruth during series 3 and Martin has disagreed with her.) Ultimately we know that Ruth reverses her position on this and tells Martin that he will have to change to save his marriage and that he can if he works hard enough. She’s also told Al that we write our own stories and he needs to get motivated and take action to begin a new chapter in his life. I’ve also noted that Ruth must be convinced that people can change because she’s a psychiatrist and changing people’s behavior is certainly the goal of psychiatric care.

In addition I have previously mentioned that Dominic Minghella, the creator of the series, intended Martin Ellingham to have Asperger’s and says so in his blog. Here’s what the question and answer were:
“Doc Martin appears to show signs of Asbergers [sic] Syndrome. Is this intentional or just the way the character developed? I am married to a man with Asbergers [sic] and watching the series together has been a great help to us both.


Dominic Minghella
on 5 April 2012 at 9:59 pm said:
Hi Maureen,

It was deliberate. I seem to be surrounded by people with aspergic tendencies, and am probably not immune myself. It seemed particularly to suit the concept of Doc Martin: it’s almost as if he knows he has this issue and has deliberately put himself in a place where he will have to improve on his areas of weakness. Anyway, I’m so glad you and your husband are enjoying the show. And thanks for taking the time to write.
Best wishes

So I think that should put to rest whether the doctor was initially supposed to have this disorder. It also subtly addresses the likelihood that the plan for Martin was to have him work on changing himself.

In addition, I have delineated all of the typical Asperger’s traits the show has included in my post of Sept. 29, 2013 titled Psychological Conditions. The list includes many attributes given to Doc Martin.

We must begin with the fact that this is a fictional character and he may not fit the exact parameters of the disorder. Secondly, there is a spectrum that allows for all sorts of differences within the Asperger’s diagnosis. Nevertheless, I am struck by how close his mannerisms do mirror those associated with this disorder, and I’m not judging these as either good or bad. They are simply his manner of behaving and part of him. A 2008 article in Psychology Today written by an Asperger’s sufferer notes, “More aspies than not feel a tremendous amount of empathy, compassion, sadness, happiness, and so forth. What is at issue is their reticent expression.” I think we see that Martin Ellingham has empathy and compassion and can feel sadness as well as contentment. The whole article is worth reading and very much applies to what we see going on with Martin in this show. Another article explains that “Reciprocal, or back-and-forth, conversation is not in the skill set of a person with ASD.” It also states, “Parties and gatherings are rarely attended by them, except when it is with their own family. They tend not to belong to groups, clubs, or organizations, and usually do not have a social network. Living and working alone is often much preferred, and because the syndrome can be accompanied by a superior intelligence, they can excel when left to create and design independently without the distractions of the social environment.” Remarkably, it goes on to say, “Polite niceties seem phony and dishonest to the person with AS. Social convention eludes them. The term ‘brutal honesty’ has often been applied to their list of characteristics, and although their tactlessness may appear to be rude to most people, it is not meant to offend. Rather, it is meant to harmlessly and straightforwardly inform. They might point out to you, for instance, that your breath is bad when your relationship does not warrant such intimate or sensitive discussions.” Sound familiar? There’s more…the article continues: “Many, if not most, people with AS had been bullied in school and in the work place and suffer from trauma-related disorders as a result. Most often they have been rejected, ostracized, or worse, openly criticized in social settings. It hurts them terribly and causes them to feel like outcasts – the single most disturbing and painful of human experiences. Loneliness and isolation are their constant companions.” In DM Martin appears to have no concerns about being alone, but he has a definite yearning to be with Louisa. Louisa is not only beautiful and smart, she’s also an insider in this town and their association makes him much more accepted in Portwenn.

This article also addresses treatment options: “The syndrome cannot be ‘cured’ entirely but treatment for the disturbing symptoms of anxiety, depression, mood swings, trauma, sleep disturbances, OCD-like symptoms, digestive problems and phobias is available and effective…ASD treatment specialists find that social skills training, anger management skills training, trauma recovery methodologies, mindfulness techniques, and cognitive/behavioral therapies are all helpful. Dietary and nutritional consultation is extremely important as well. Self-esteem and assertiveness building, and stress management techniques are all useful for bringing about a feeling of well-being and confidence. Medicine for the symptoms that trouble people on the spectrum can be effective. However, above all else, the person on the spectrum must begin the journey of accepting himself completely and embracing the syndrome that brings them valuable talents and traits. Self-acceptance brings with it a comfort in social situations and it chases away depression and anxiety.” The list of disturbing symptoms reads like a close reflection of what Martin is dealing with in S6: anxiety, depression, mood swings, sleep disturbances, OCD-like symptoms, phobias. Moreover, when Louisa wants Martin to go on a trip with her and James and Martin tells her he can’t, he’s really being honest. Leaving home to stay overnight anywhere is anxiety provoking for him in many ways and he literally can’t do it. He just doesn’t tell her in a way that she can understand, and she interprets it as a personal affront to her. If anything it looks like the writers, etc. have decided to deepen Martin’s Asperger’s disorder in S6.

Martin’s Asperger’s is further complicated by the additional problem of having had remote, cold, and generally uninvolved parents. His mother tells him in S6 E8 that he was always a strange, awkward little boy. She never had any love for him and his unusual behavior due to his disorder was certainly something she wouldn’t have wanted to deal with. Therefore, he had the double whammy of a childhood syndrome compounded by neglectful and even abusive parents. It’s amazing he managed to excel in school, become a physician/surgeon and have any sort of social life. The fact that he was sent away to school and had some time with Aunt Joan perhaps salvaged what it could of his early years. Another story, this time written for The New Yorker in 2007, is worth reading to get a personal view of what it can be like to grow up with Asperger’s and not really grasp what makes you different until much later in life. This man had very involved parents and eventually became a successful music critic with a family and friends who are patient and forgiving, and who has various other means of coping, including therapy and medication.

In my opinion the final episode of S6 suggests that Martin is now highly motivated to make some significant changes and that, if there is a S7, he, too, can learn to accept himself by seeking help from Louisa and through therapy. Crucial to his ability to make these adjustments will be a wife who really adopts the principle she expressed in S1 E6 when she said sometimes we love those people who don’t quite fit in because of their differences. His powerful affection for his son will also be a motivating force. It seems to me that once Louisa learns about Martin’s disorder and his family background, she will be able to try to build the patience and acceptance to enjoy their life together. I can imagine some very poignant yet humorous episodes that could deal with all of the above.

Originally posted 2014-01-04 03:05:09.

Strong women leads

I just wanted to slip in a post written by Frank Bruni in last Sunday’s NYTimes about Hollywood and its mixed feelings about strong female leading roles because I am impressed with all the strong women in DM and hope to see more opportunities for women of all ages to take the lead in films as well as TV shows.

Originally posted 2013-12-28 19:18:37.


Sorry this post took me so long. Family comes first of course!

In interviews with Philippa Braithwaite and the DM series editor they have talked about how effective the actors are at demonstrating their thoughts through their eyes and countenance. The editor says he makes a special point of using the back and forth expression of the actors’ eyes when he’s editing scenes (often called “shot/reverse shot”). We viewers have no trouble noticing this emphasis, in my opinion, and I can think of many times when Martin and Louisa exchange glances without speaking or when Bert uses his eyes to convey something to Al or Jennifer or others. Our eyes betray a lot about what we’re thinking and feeling and actors use their eyes as a means to deliver a huge range of emotions. In fact, facial expression is any actor’s paramount skill and directors definitely put a lot of emphasis on eyes. David Bordwell, a professor of film studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and well-known for his written work on cinema, quotes the famous director John Ford as saying that an audience should pay special attention in movies to actors’ eyes. Bordwell has analyzed the use of eyes and their expressions in the film “Social Network.” Many movies have focused on the actors’ eyes as the most important window into what is happening in the scene. For example, director Michael Curtiz achieves tremendous sympathetic impact by concentrating the camera on Ingrid Bergman’s eyes in Casablanca; or horror movies indicate growing levels of fear by simply showing an actor’s eyes widening, etc. What about Janet Leigh in Psycho and the shower scene? Her eyes give us the most effective warning of what’s to come. Good acting seems to entail knowing how to use one’s eyes for all sorts of meanings and Bordwell notes: “modern players must be maestros of their facial muscles and eye movements.” In fact, actors try to avoid blinking too much. The most notable examples of Martin Clunes using his eyes to indicate an emotional reaction may be when Doc Martin is particularly concerned with communicating something to Louisa, such as “I really care about you,” or “I’m confused by you,” or “I’m really not sure what just happened.” Caroline Catz is very adept at using her eyes too and can let Martin and the audience know just what she’s thinking with a certain look. For sure the scenes when she wonders what Martin’s doing when he treats her friend Holly nicely demonstrate her facial artistry, and we can’t forget those scenes in the last episode of series 5 when she is trying to help Martin deal with Mrs. T. But I just love the scene at the church in the first episode of season 6 when she appears at the entrance to the church and first just looks back at Martin and then motions him with her eyes to walk back down the aisle. MC and CC converse with their eyes often and that interaction contributes greatly to both the humor and the intimacy of their characters’ bond. Their eyes also show their disappointment and perplexity with each other. At times they communicate more with their eyes than with words, but unfortunately we viewers see it while they often do not.

The other significant factor when it comes to eyes is how important they are in determining what might be happening medically. Nearly every time the doc examines a patient he first checks their eyes. Clearly the consulting doctor on this show has told MC to always check each person’s eyes. (I can’t help wondering how many times MC has poked someone in the eye when doing a scene.) He does this because doctors really can tell a lot by what they find when they look in a patient’s eyes. Doctors are taught to look at a person’s face first and note any asymmetry. Drooping eyelids (ptosis) can be a sign of a cranial nerve problem or Myasthenia Gravis. The first thing a doctor might notice would be any asymmetry of the pupils, i.e. one pupil might by dilated or constricted. Dilation of one pupil could mean something as serious as pressure in one hemisphere of the brain or something as simple as having rubbed one’s eye after touching Jimpson Weed. Constriction could mean something as serious as an occlusion or dissection of the carotid artery or a cerebral vessel or as simple as using the wrong eye drops (like Joe Penhale does in S5 E8). Fixed pupils (those that don’t respond to light or dark) could mean brain death, drug overdose, or the use of chemical eye drops like most of us have had when our eyes are checked. Eye redness could be due to viral or bacterial conjunctivitis, exposure to a chemical irritant, or an allergy. If the whites of our eyes (or sclera) are pale, that could indicate anemia; if there is hemorrhaging, it could mean difficulty with clotting or poor platelet levels; or jaundice (yellowing) could mean liver failure or a problem with one’s bilirubin. Then there’s the iris, or color portion of the eye, which can have dark brown rings (Kayser-Fleisher) around it that indicate poor copper metabolism (Wilson’s disease). The way the lens appears gives doctors some key information, as we see in DM when he notices Louisa’s acute glaucoma or baby Sheba’s cataract. The best way to recognize a lens or retina problem is with an ophthalmoscope, but Martin probably saw redness in Louisa’s eye, and Sheba’s cataract (or clouding of the lens) was picked up by the reflection apparent in the photo. Cataracts can be indicative of Diabetes or many other diseases. Using an ophthalmoscope would make it possible to identify papilledema (optic nerve swelling) which can indicate intracranial (inside skull) pressure which could mean a tumor, meningitis, or hydrocephalus. Lateralized papilledema, as probably seen in the baker who fell off the cliff in S2 E9, might indicate an epidural or subdural hematoma. In the baker’s case, Martin uses a drill to reduce the pressure. Accurate but highly irregular. Ophthalmoscopes also make it possible to check the blood vessels from the optic nerve to the retina and that can help determine High Blood Pressure or Diabetes.

Thus, eyes can provide great insight into both emotional and physical aspects of human life. They are an essential facet of good acting and certainly key to this show in terms of their communicative powers, as well as their value to the care of the villagers. In S6, we learn how important this couple’s eyes are to their relationship because more than in any other series, the times when Martin and Louisa lock eyes are the times when they disclose the most to each other and to us about their feelings. In addition, Martin’s despair during this series is evident in his eyes during the many occasions when he’s struggling with the challenges in his life, and on the occasions when he’s alone and he closes his eyes in anguish. Louisa’s eyes also reveal her disgust with Margaret, her own despair and anguish with her marriage, and are equally as expressive. The emphasis placed on eyes in DM provides a vital component to the episodes.

Originally posted 2013-12-28 02:59:31.

Is the internet a reliable source?

There’s no question that the internet has become a thorn in the side for doctors. As happens occasionally on DM, patients can look up their symptoms and decide for themselves what their diagnosis is and then cause all sorts of problems for their doctor when his/her diagnosis is not the same. It’s really nice to be able to look up one’s prescription medicine or disease and learn about them, although the down side is that sometimes all that information is misleading and even contradictory. It’s also essential to know the source of the information because if the website is run by the pharmaceutical company that sells the meds or a group that has been formed to promote an agenda, the data quoted could be slanted or not as thorough as it ought to be. But let’s say you know the website is unbiased and qualified. There certainly are such sites on the internet and they are valuable resources. Therefore, it is possible for the internet to provide reliable help with a medical problem as long as it meets these criteria. More than that, I’m not sure there’s any totally reliable source of information. We can’t be certain that even scientific articles are accurate.

One case in point is the supposed cause and effect relationship between MMR vaccines and autism that is brought up in the show. Martin expresses the position almost all doctors have that there is no link between the vaccine and the development of autism in any children. Louisa voices the concern many parents had after hearing of this potential link. Parents are looking for some reason why their child became autistic and are an easy target for such studies. Where was this link first made? Why in the British medical journal The Lancet in 1998. The Lancet calls itself the “world’s leading medical journal” and was founded in 1823. We would think that such a renowned journal would be a reliable source, but the same journal retracted the original article twelve years later in 2010 after discovering that the researcher, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, had used faulty data to support his conclusions. “In fact, as Britain’s General Medical Council ruled in January [2010], the children that Wakefield studied were carefully selected and some of Wakefield’s research was funded by lawyers acting for parents who were involved in lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers. The council found Wake-field had acted unethically and had shown ‘callous disregard’ for the children in his study, upon whom invasive tests were performed.” This false report had very damaging results when parents decided not to vaccinate their children against measles, mumps, and rubella and there was a large outbreak of measles in 2008 and 2009. Measles can be fatal.

Each year it seems that scientific medical studies that purport to show a well-proven connection between a disorder/disease and a medical treatment are reversed or modified by further testing. So, yes the internet can be an unreliable source, but it’s only more unreliable because of its easy access not necessarily because it’s so much worse than any other source. For me, the most important thing to do is check the origin of the website and ask a lot of questions. Never take any information as unimpeachable no matter where you find it.

I’ll get off my soapbox now!!

Originally posted 2013-12-19 03:10:37.

On the word “sorry”

Once again I want to share an article from the NYTimes. I just read this about how the English use the word “sorry” and thought it was worth including. It’s a laugh to think about this in the context of DM and all the serious remarks I’ve made about Martin saying he’s sorry. Also, it reminds me of the book “Eats Shoots and Leaves” by Lynne Truss about punctuation and grammar and the book “On Bullshit” by Harry G. Frankfurt about how we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves.

Originally posted 2013-12-15 22:19:57.

Another article about names and families

Today’s NYTimes has another article about how people are deciding what family name to use. If you’re still interested, check it out. The most interesting section to me is that women who consider themselves feminists, or independent and self-assured, are going back to using their husbands’ last names. This makes Louisa’s decision to take the Ellingham name pretty common these days after all.

Originally posted 2013-12-08 14:01:55.

Republishing Posts

As promised, I want to republish posts from years ago. The decision to do this stems from new readers being unfamiliar with the early posts in the blog and asking questions or making comments about issues we’ve covered.

I want to note that some of the posts were written before the end of S6 and we have now, of course, been through S6 and S7. That means that when I wrote some of these essays, I was unaware of what sorts of actions would take place in future episodes and sometimes I was motivated to return to the same subject despite thinking I had written sufficiently about it.

I thought it would be a good idea to group the posts in categories based on their subject. That should make it easier to read through the posts and comments about one subject without wondering if there were more.

It’s interesting to reread my thoughts on these subjects. For the most part, my views haven’t changed much. Occasionally I might have wanted to tweak something here or there, but I’ve left them as is. I look forward to seeing if new readers or regular ones have something to add.

I am starting with the posts about “Change” because that has been the most important theme of the show. It has come up again and again throughout the term of the show and I wouldn’t be surprised if we continue to see it rear its head in the future. Whether people can change, should change, and how to institute change, engages us in issues related to philosophy, psychology, and sociology. By the end of S7 we’ve been presented with the paradox between the importance of individuals changing to improve their lives and the recognition that “we are what we are.” It seems there is no simple answer to this matter, but we can’t help noticing that it’s been a topic addressed often in the show.

Following this post I will republish my previous 7 posts on “Change,” and you’ll see how I have continued to look at this topic and try to make sense of how it functions in the show. Please scroll down to the first post titled “Can People Change?” and read the progressive posts starting from there until you arrive at the last one which was titled “Change! What Is It Good For?”

Originally posted 2016-05-22 16:20:32.

Sometimes the Obvious Isn’t

I have let this blog languish for several months because I had run out of topics to discuss and felt safe in assuming that until they shot another series, there really wasn’t much to say. To some degree you can blame the NYTimes again for motivating me to write more.

This time they published another article on change as it relates to marriage and I thought it was worth mentioning. I know there is some previous post in which I noted that we all can’t help changing as we grow older. I don’t think that was an earth-shattering revelation; nevertheless, a recent article in the Times arrived at just that sort of conclusion. That they consider an article of this kind of continuing value, makes me think it’s worth mentioning here again.

What impressed me in this recent article is that the writer takes a stand in favor of acknowledging change, and even expecting it, as an integral facet of marriage such that married couples ought not to use change as a perpetrator of separation or divorce.

I particularly like her assertion that “being forever content with a spouse…requires finding ways to be happy with different versions of that person.” She goes on to say “several long-married people I know have said this exact line: ‘I’ve had at least three marriages. They’ve just all been with the same person.’”

So, for what it’s worth, in regard to Louisa and Martin, Louisa’s decision to stay married to Martin and accept him is truly what all married couples do. There will be inevitable changes, and rolling with them is a requirement of staying married. Heck, maybe that’s what keeps marriages fresh!

(I hope to publish another post very soon.)

Originally posted 2017-04-22 13:15:06.


Following my post on “Laughter and Civility” several months ago I have been trying to deconstruct what makes us laugh and build a convincing argument that it is appropriate to identify Doc Martin as a dramedy with an emphasis on comedy. For me this was a worthwhile endeavor because I am fascinated by the various philosophical views of humor and laughter. (I also find it important to place shows in the proper categories because I believe we don’t give enough recognition to the impact comedy can have on our views of all sorts of topics.)

In writing about Doc Martin I have often referred to other TV shows that combined serious topics with intentional efforts to be comedic. These included M*A*S*H, All in the Family, The Sopranos, and Breaking Bad. In the above mentioned post one important commenter (DM) noted an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show that deserved to be included. Every one of these exceptional shows addressed very important issues while also making us laugh. While there is an argument to be made that The Sopranos and Breaking Bad leaned more toward drama than comedy, the others were definitely designed as comedies first, and I believe strongly that Doc Martin was too. My position on this does not in any way diminish the significant contributions to our discourse on socially relevant concerns addressed by these shows.

In my effort to develop a convincing argument on this subject, I used my usual academic resources and I watched the recent series on CNN about The History of Comedy, and I checked out some other discussions on YouTube. What follows is my attempt at collating all of this information and providing you with a few references to my sources.

My “go to” source is often A Handbook to Literature because it distills terminology into its basics. It seems pertinent to note that in this reference book comedy is identified as “a lighter form of drama that aims primarily to amuse and that ends happily. It differs from farce and burlesque by having a sustained plot, weightier and subtler dialogue, more lifelike characters, and less boisterous behavior.” Furthermore, the Handbook states “in general, the comic effect arises from a recognition of some incongruity of speech, action, or character…Viewed in another sense, comedy may be considered to deal with people in their human state, restrained and often made ridiculous by their limitations, faults, bodily functions, and animal nature…Comedy has always regarded human beings more realistically than tragedy and drawn its laughter or satire from the spectacle of individual or collective human weakness or failure.”

The Handbook also defines comic relief as “a humorous scene, incident, or speech in the course of serious fiction or drama…that are used to provide relief from emotional intensity and, by contrast, to heighten the seriousness of the story.” (We can easily see how in S6 Penhale’s survival exercises were inserted for that purpose. [IMO the story had gotten so somber that Penhale’s antics ended up simply being intrusive and tiresome.] In S7 Mrs. Tischell’s preparations for a romantic dinner relieved the lack of intimacy between Martin and Louisa and heightened the seriousness of that absence. And those are just two of many instances where comic relief is used in this show.)

CNN’s series of episodes that looked at the history of comedy broke it down into 9 episodes so far, with each having a particular theme. The one named “The Comedy of Real Life” seemed the most pertinent for my use and really reaffirmed what the Handbook had to say about comedy dealing with people in their human state. CNN asserts that comedy consists of real life events just twisted a bit, and that comedians bring everyday experiences to the front burner. In addition, it declares real life funny because it’s relatable and viewers realize that many of these situations have happened to them too. They quote Norman Lear as saying “there’s nothing more interesting than the foolishness of the human condition. It takes the comedian to find the moment that helps people laugh at themselves.”

In this episode they also declare that being likable is not believable and there’s no comedy in likable. Furthermore, they contend that outcasts can be lovable. Thus, flawed characters are the essence of comedy.

Insofar as subject matter is concerned, they quote Jerry Seinfeld as saying that romance gives people instant vulnerability and that marriage is rife with comedy because it strains credulity that two people want to make a commitment for life. Apart from that, relationship material is never finished because there are so many ways to be with somebody.

So when Doc Martin begins with the flight to Newquay in which Martin Ellingham quickly reveals his social ineptitude by staring at Louisa Glasson, they are immediately taking advantage of the comedic aspects associated with relationships, and the show continues to build on that quality. Soon they add conflict between these two characters as well as physical humor.

We may experience some sympathy for the pain associated with much of the bodily abuse suffered by several of the characters in the show, but the fact remains that humor is often derived from misfortune including pain. We also often laugh at someone’s clumsiness, including in real life. To substantiate this position I would refer you to President Gerald Ford and his actual falls down (or up) stairs and what fun we all had watching Chevy Chase exaggerate his clumsiness in SNL skits. This brings me to a YouTube video TED talk of a TED talk that stood out to me in that it condensed the study of what makes us laugh into a short presentation. In particular the speaker’s reference to falling down the stairs clarifies what turns that into something we laugh at. As long as the fall is benign and does not involve a violation (as defined by the speaker), the act is funny, and meant to be funny. Of course we can extrapolate from a fall down the stairs to any action that might injure someone but turns out to be harmless, e.g. hitting one’s head, being shot at, jumping through a window or climbing out of one, getting a foot stuck in a trap, slipping off a chair, etc., etc. I would add that feeling nauseated or having any sort of benign illness fits that category as well. It’s funny when the headmaster runs into the water with Martin chasing after him because no one gets hurt; it’s not funny when Holly slips on a wet rock and injures her back. (Then again the aftermath of both events are funny, i.e. Martin being dripping wet while Edith drives by and Holly staying at Louisa’s and Martin attempting to show some sympathy.)

To augment this position I give you a segment of a Dick Van Dyke Show episode If you don’t laugh while also understanding the points he’s making about comedy, I will be surprised. Moreover, I don’t think any of this has changed in the last 50 years. It’s been true from the earliest days of comedy and remains true today. I am quite sure the writers of Doc Martin and Martin Clunes himself are aware of all of this and use it to make this show satisfy the characteristics of a comedy.

The whole premise of Doc Martin is supposed to be funny. A surgeon with haemophobia who is also socially inept and clumsy and decides to move to a small town and practice as a GP is immediately filled with absurdities that would make us laugh. I like to think that the hedge of defining comedy as a lighter drama is sufficient to satisfy us all.

Originally posted 2017-04-23 14:06:03.

Some thoughts on Hemaphobia

After hearing Ruth tell Martin that his hemaphobia could be related to his experiences as a child, I started thinking about the way his hemaphobia is handled in this show. As Ruth says, M’s hemaphobia is a psychosomatic condition that arose while he was doing surgery, something he loved. As a result, he quit surgery and moved to Portwenn to be a GP. Obviously, his fear of blood is not conquered by the move because we see him throw up numerous times and faint once after he is exposed to blood. As far as I can tell, these two reactions are pretty common among hemaphobics. Of course the comedic value is great because a doctor who has trouble with the sight of blood is so incongruous. More than that, though, Ruth has now brought up the likelihood that his parents and something in his childhood may be at the root of this disorder.

Many viewers, including me, have thought that series 6 was much darker than we were used to. After E1 & 2 the series takes a turn mostly because Martin’s hemaphobia returns in E3. He had thought that he had overcome it, and when he operates on the caravan owner in E1, there is no sign of it despite a tremendous amount of blood. It’s not surprising that when he takes blood from Robert Campbell and feels a surge of nausea, he’s disturbed that he has fallen back into that condition. Thereafter Martin has many scenes where he’s sitting in the dark looking forlorn and somewhat lost. He has trouble sleeping too. In short, he seems rather depressed, a condition that often occurs concomitantly with hemaphobia.

Instead of blaming Louisa and their relationship difficulties, it may make more sense to look to his parents and some childhood trauma, possibly between the ages of 4 and 6, since that’s when Ruth noticed Martin became a more withdrawn boy. He’s now had a son of his own and that in itself could have brought up subconscious memories/repressed memories from his own past. Then his mother returns and he’s horrified to have her there and around his son. We see him appear pretty unhappy when he looks down onto the beach and sees Margaret with Mike and James. I could definitely imagine some flashbacks of something that happened in his childhood appearing in series 7.

Both Ruth and Louisa want Martin to seek help from a psychiatrist to overcome the recurrence and hopefully put the matter to rest. He isn’t comfortable talking to anyone in his close circle, and he’s had difficulty confiding in the psychologist he went to before. He tried to desensitize himself without success. Really there are not many other options other than trying psychiatry or hypnotherapy. I’d love to see them try hypnosis on him, but it’s hard to believe it would work with him. Who knows, we might be surprised! Now that he’s banished his mother from his life, perhaps he can have a breakthrough with Louisa’s support. To me, she’s been trying everything she can think of and would be thrilled to be included in any effort he makes to change in any way.

Originally posted 2013-12-07 19:26:25.

More about the kitchen table

I’ve written a post about the use of the kitchen table throughout DM and how it functions as the primary setting within the Ellingham household and even circumscribes Martin’s interactions more. After watching series 6, I think the kitchen table as a setting should be revisited, especially once Margaret appears. One important feature of a kitchen table is its central connotation of a gathering place for the family. We eat there together on an informal basis, but we also consider it a place to reconnect and talk to each other. One reference calls the kitchen table “synonymous with family time and real conversations.” It’s because of this sort of association that Margaret’s frequent appearance at the kitchen table becomes a co-opting or appropriating of that important space, and her stay at Martin and Louisa’s home is even more intrusive as a result.

Margaret arrives in Portwenn about midway through S6 E6. After startling M with her presence at the front door, she walks directly to the kitchen and sits at the kitchen table. M immediately asks her about his father’s death and funeral and Margaret right away appears disingenuous. She attempts to act sweet and caring, but her true disposition comes through nonetheless. We are pretty quickly suspicious of why she decided to return. It’s quite clear that M does not want his mother to stay with them, but L offers anyway and Margaret readily accepts. She’s still sitting at the kitchen table when they return from switching J to their room and making up a bed for her. At this point, she is checking herself in a compact mirror in a symbolic nod to her narcissism. The next morning Margaret is already in the kitchen when L comes downstairs with J. Marg. sits at the table while she and L make small talk. She hasn’t been in the house one day yet and she can’t help showing her mixed feelings about M. She asks L if M listens to her, which could also be a way for her to determine what role L may play in her plan to extract money from M. She also reveals that she and M haven’t been close and she doesn’t entirely blame M; she says she is also to blame. She tells L she’s glad that L can see her side when L says she understands, another attempt to win over L. But her normal disposition appears when she has no interest in feeding J and wants to have her coffee first. M has absented himself the previous evening and gone to bed early and he absents himself again the next morning when he stays in his office rather than joining the family in the kitchen. L goes looking for him and he comes into the kitchen and feels compelled to take a plate from the table. Margaret grabs his arm and he drops the plate when he recoils from her touch. Her only comment is that at least the plate wasn’t a good one, another slur towards M. M has no interest in spending time with Margaret, but she wants to talk with him. Her next comment to L is that he looks tired. When L notes that M hasn’t been sleeping well, Margaret tells her he didn’t sleep well as a child either and “always cried himself to sleep in the end.” Margaret seems to realize that this recollection is disturbing to L and explains that this treatment was normal for those days and now she would do things differently. Once again her comments sound unconvincing. A few minutes later, Mike arrives and is introduced to Margaret. He shakes hands with her while she remains seated at the table. Margaret only stands when L is walking out the door and she wants L to think she is interested in holding J. She hands J to Mike as soon as L leaves.

The kitchen table has been the setting for L’s first introduction to M’s mother and L never sits down with her, nor does M. Margaret’s presence at the table changes it to a place of awkwardness and disquiet. Her attempts to use it as a place for conversation have failed miserably and instead it becomes an unpleasant setting. In fact, there is never a time in the last 3 episodes when M or L sit at the table with Margaret.

E7 starts with L bringing M a breakfast tray into his office, deliberately avoiding the kitchen and kitchen table. She’d like to have breakfast just with M. But M is totally unreceptive to either eating breakfast or her effort to convince him to take some time off and spend it with her and J. L returns to the kitchen where Margaret sits at one end of the table and J sits at the other. L has to ask Marg. to move her cup so that she can extract her paperwork, then she gets ready to leave early. By this time M has come into the kitchen but their only interaction has to do with Sport’s Day and his promise to hand out the awards. L leaves M with Marg., but M is occupied with putting J in his stroller. Once again Marg. shows her lack of involvement in M’s childhood by falsely remembering that he once won an award for sports. M corrects her by bitterly telling her it was for chess. Next Marg. tells him he looks awful and asks if he’s lost weight. She follows up that comment with “What will your patients think when they see their doctor looking so poorly?” Once again she has both criticized and demeaned him while sitting at the kitchen table. M walks out and Marg. coldheartedly returns to reading the newspaper and ignoring J. But the damage has been done and M immediately weighs himself in his office.

Margaret’s day doesn’t get much better when she is confronted by Ruth while taking J for a walk. She angrily returns to the kitchen with J, pushing the stroller haphazardly and alarming Mike who is waiting. She is rebuffed at M’s office door when she tries to talk to M. Of course that day is filled with many troubling events including the military sending officers to find Mike who’s gone AWOL and L being hit by a car. There are scenes in the kitchen with Mike, but none involving Marg. sitting at the table until the next day when M brings L home from the hospital. When they arrive home and walk through the kitchen door, Margaret is sitting there drinking some wine. She looks nicely dressed and it’s hard not to imagine that she has plotted to use this opportunity to get M alone. But she can’t help herself and first tells L that she looks dreadful. L takes the high road and doesn’t answer her, although there’s no question that Margaret is only adding insult to injury. This time L leaves M with his mother and says she’s going to bed. Margaret is so lacking in sensitivity and insight that she wonders if M would like to go out to supper. Not only is M in a state of dismay over L’s intention to leave with J the next day, but also he is holding J. It’s hard to know what Margaret is thinking, except we know that it’s only about herself. Margaret’s moral bankruptcy that Ruth mentioned earlier is certainly in evidence here.

In E8 M first sees Margaret when he comes back from visiting Ruth and he finds Margaret sitting at the kitchen table reading. Margaret once again gets Louisa’s name wrong and notes that she saw L leaving earlier. She slyly tells M he’s lucky she’s there for him which prompts M to finally ask her why she came. Margaret puts her book and her glasses on the table and tries the “mea culpa” route of admitting that she made mistakes and said some very unpleasant things the last time she was there. Indeed, she was sitting at the kitchen table that time too. She claims she wants to apologize and also tell him that his father wanted Martin to know that he loved him. M is unconvinced by these remarks and moves around the table to stand directly in front of Margaret. He’s standing while she’s sitting and this puts her at a distinctly inferior position. Ruth has certainly made M more alert to his mother’s approach and at this point, M doesn’t believe anything Margaret says. Margaret attempts to rescue herself but only digs herself deeper into her lies and M calls her on the lying. Finally she must reveal she’s there because she has no home or money and wants M to help her. She even thinks he owes her because she’s his mother. However, M tells her he has no intention of giving her any money and wants no further contact with her at all. His reaction brings out Margaret’s vindictiveness and she stands up to tell him that he always was an awkward, strange little boy and she’s not surprised his wife walked out on him. This time her cutting words don’t achieve their intended outcome and he simply tells her that he wants her gone when he gets back from seeing a patient.

The next time we see Margaret she is at the airport leaving as ordered, although she has taken M’s clock, which was the one thing of value he had from Joan. The kitchen table has finally been vacated by the dastardly intruder.

Originally posted 2013-12-07 16:13:24.

The Inevitability of Change

This seems like as good a time as any to mention a couple of articles about personality I’ve recently read. They take up the subject of whether we can change our personality, a subject that has occupied a lot of space on this blog.

Naturally, we have discussed this a great deal because of its apparent importance in Doc Martin. In the show, we have many occasions in which various characters argue people can change, people don’t need to change, people must change, and finally that we are who we are. (Please see the many posts on change on this blog for a fuller engagement with this topic.)

I have also noted that it would be rather strange for a therapist to believe that people can’t change because there would be no use for therapy if that were true. Since Ruth Ellingham is a therapist, and even more importantly one who treats the criminally insane, she would be expected to believe strongly that therapy can make an impact that reduces the likelihood of more criminal behavior, ergo it can change a person’s tendencies. Her conviction in the value of her vocation is reinforced when she reacts to Caroline’s query as to whether she truly believes therapy works by saying she wouldn’t have spent her life doing it if she had any doubts.

Nevertheless, she, in particular, gives us mixed messages by telling Louisa that people don’t change, only to later tell Al he writes his own story, and then tell Martin that he must change or lose Louisa.

In addition I have claimed that we all change over time whether we try or not. All sorts of things in life impact us, especially family and having children.

Well now we have these two articles that inform us that we not only can change our personalities, especially if we have therapy, but we inevitably change over time. (In the second article personality is defined as “‘an individual’s characteristic patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior, together with the psychological mechanisms—hidden or not—behind those patterns,… quoting psychology professor David Funder’s definition.'”

Indeed, as of this year we now have a report that states “in an analysis of 207 studies, published this month [January] in the journal Psychological Bulletin, a team of six researchers found that personality can and does change, and by a lot, and fairly quickly. But only with a therapist’s help.”

For the record, there are some who differentiate between traits that are genetically programmed and traits that are socially induced. Either way, it now seems that there is sufficient evidence to indicate that we can change our personality, or at least how we “present ourselves.”

The other article is much less equivocal about change. It states: “The longest personality study of all time, published in Psychology and Aging and recently highlighted by the British Psychological Society, suggests that over the course of a lifetime, just as your physical appearance changes and your cells are constantly replaced, your personality is also transformed beyond recognition.”

We must conclude, therefore, that whether Louisa or Martin believe it or not, they are changing with every year, and even without therapy. Furthermore, Louisa may not have to actively mold Martin into someone whose personality doesn’t offend her; he may convert to that person gradually over time anyway. And Martin may discover that Louisa is changing her approach as they continue to live together without any intervention on his part. Hell, she may have already changed tremendously by the end of S7!

Originally posted 2017-03-05 15:56:26.

Being There


I have found an article that I had to add to our discussions. It’s been a long time since I felt the urge to write anything, but the NYTimes pricked my interest once again. In an opinion piece in last Sunday’s Review section I read an article that brings another perspective to the posts we’ve had about Mindfulness and Happiness.

Is happiness achieved through being in the moment or through dreaming and letting our imaginations transport us to places filled with pleasant thoughts and memories? Even though I have never tried the practice of Mindfulness myself, I can look at this situation from both sides. If we lose the moment, we can never get it back, and even if the moment involves washing dishes, as the writer of the piece does, there’s a certain Zen sense about the act. On the other hand, allowing one’s mind to wander to places that are filled with cheerful memories or scenes is certainly one way the mind can get us through a mundane day, or even a terrible day.

It’s hard to argue with the article’s declaration that: “On the face of it, our lives are often much more fulfilling lived outside the present than in it. As anyone who has ever maintained that they will one day lose 10 pounds or learn Spanish or find the matching lids for the Tupperware will know, we often anticipate our futures with more blind optimism than the reality is likely to warrant.

Surely one of the most magnificent feats of the human brain is its ability to hold past, present, future and their imagined alternatives in constant parallel, to offset the tedium of washing dishes with the chance to be simultaneously mentally in Bangkok, or in Don Draper’s bed…” Our lives would definitely be a lot less joyful if we weren’t able to fantasize.

I understand that Mindfulness Therapy does not preclude the ability to use our imaginations, and it’s important to remember that the idea of applying it is usually accompanied by a need to find a treatment for troubling and intrusive thoughts. Wikipedia, that somewhat suspect but relatively reliable source states: “MBCT (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy) functions on the theory that when individuals who have historically had depression become distressed, they return to automatic cognitive processes that can trigger a depressive episode. The goal of MBCT is to interrupt these automatic processes and teach the participants to focus less on reacting to incoming stimuli, and instead accepting and observing them without judgment.” We aren’t talking about the day to day humdrum of life; mindfulness is a way to help people in distress.

In looking back on a previous post about Mindfulness published on 12/17/2014 and titled “A Look at Mindfulness,” I was reminded that Santa referenced an article she found on Huffington Post. In that article they state: “Earlier this year, a review of 47 studies showed that evidence of a positive effect of mindfulness on managing anxiety, depression and pain had been proven across a number of clinical trials.”

The author of the op-ed in the recent NYTimes is applying her skeptical view to her daily activities rather than to any serious psychological conditions. She may have a point in relation to the overuse of Mindfulness in our quotidian lives, but when it comes to dealing with the debilitating symptoms of anxiety, depression and pain, we might challenge her doubts.

Nevertheless, a bit of cynicism is acceptable. Anything, or any therapy, that becomes too embedded in our daily lives deserves to be questioned to some degree. Every protocol has its day, and its value, but we know nothing works for everyone. Can we really expect to see Martin Ellingham engaged in periods of Mindfulness in this show? What we tend to get in Doc Martin in terms of therapy are snippets of honest to goodness hints of techniques that could work, but they are truncated by improper execution. We cannot anticipate more than that.

In closing I think it’s fun to note that one of the memorable quotes from the movie of the same title as this post is “Life is a State of Mind.” The main character of the movie is a man who lives totally in the present while those all around him project all sorts of things onto him. His state of mind is entirely different from everyone else’s and he appears happy while they are wrestling with all sorts of decisions. I’m not arguing that he’s in a state of Mindfulness, yet being in the present can have its limitations.

Originally posted 2016-11-30 22:12:12.