I’m in the middle of writing a longer post about women’s issues and just wanted to say that even though I totally admire the acting in this series, I think the writing doesn’t get enough recognition. As I once heard Robert McKee, the famous story-writing lecturer, say: without a script there is no movie (or in this case TV series). Although I think Dominic Minghella and all of the writers have done a great job of writing these episodes, I am particularly in awe of Jack Lothian’s episodes. My utmost favorite is the last episode of season 5 for so many reasons. The scene with the fish monger where he takes Doc Martin’s order and while wrapping the fish makes some very incisive comments about men who are living alone at Martin’s age, makes me laugh every time. Of course, the delivery is key and Martin Clune’s facial expressions make such a difference too, but the words he says matter the most, and they are brilliant: “No shame in cooking for one. Least you’re still shaving. That’s a good sign. Most men get to your age, nobody in their lives, throw in the towel. Hygiene’s always the first to go. It’s like they think ‘nobody cares about me…might as well sit around all day in my (underwear?).’ Tragic, that’s what it is Doc. You just hang on in there; what’s for you won’t go by you. Anything else?” In one quick exchange with the doctor looking at him as if he’s both annoyed and yet listening, the man has addressed Martin’s age, his change in relationship status, the way many men cope (or don’t), and once again brought up the issue of fate or whether we have the power to change ourselves and what happens in our lives. The closing question is a combination of “what else can I get you?” and “what’s ahead in your life?” Doc Martin has always gotten some clues about how to behave from listening to others and their remarks, and this dialogue certainly impacts him. Plus, I just love the humor in the fish seller going on about his observations to the doctor, who has never been the sort of person one would expect to be open to this sort of talk.
The latter part of the episode is also brilliantly written, from the moment Martin has to tell Louisa about the baby’s abduction to the ride in the car, to the scene at the hotel and finally at the secluded pseudo-castle where Mrs. Tishell has the baby. Louisa has once again left Martin because of her frustrations with mostly his lack of expression of affection and possibly even the dearth of overt signs of love and respect from him (something I plan to write about elsewhere). Martin has been struggling with being involved with the baby as a father while probably being unable to understand what he might consider Louisa’s volatile emotional fluctuations. Deciding to agree to allow Mrs. Tishell to watch the baby, even for the morning, is really something we would not expect from Martin. As a rule he has consistently ignored Mrs. Tishell no matter how many overtures she makes throughout the series, and he has turned her down before when she’s offered to take care of the baby. However, against his usual inclinations, Martin lets Mrs. Tishell take the baby with her because Morwenna is not showing any signs of being a good babysitter and Martin is sort of stuck. In the scene when Mrs. Tishell takes the baby from Morwenna we are reminded that Mrs. Tishell has never had children of her own, which makes it even more likely that she might form a delusion that the baby is hers. But it is following the combination of Mrs. Tishell going upstairs to look at her paper clippings about the Doc and taking the pills (Paroxitine, better know as Paxil, and Modafinil, generally used for greater alertness) that have been reinforcing her off kilter notions, filling a young couple’s prescription for free, getting angry at Joe Penhale for taking up her time and then giving him the wrong medication, and finally making off with the baby, that we as viewers know that she has lost her mind. The above actions coupled with the comments Clive makes to his wife, which clearly have a different interpretation for her than for him, are a very good demonstration of dramatic irony – we as viewers know about her pill popping and her infatuation with Martin while Clive has no idea and Martin is pretty much always clueless when it comes to things like this. We know that when Clive asks Sal whether she ever gets the feeling that “one day you’ll wake up and realize how much of your life you’ve wasted, how much you’ve let pass you by” she agrees because, empowered by the meds, she has now reached the conclusion that she must act. Clive unwittingly pushes her farther by suggesting the two of them buy an RV and “see the world,” which to him means driving to other parts of England. (We already know Sally has never been to London.) However, she has only one mission on her mind at this point and that is to find a way to get together with Martin. Clive’s comments once again lead her to take action and make off with the baby when he tells her “sometimes in this life, you want something, you’ve gotta take it.” So Jack Lothian’s writing has efficaciously established the sequence of events during which the dialogue markedly contributes to the action.
Soon Martin is off to tell Louisa about this new development and it is his turn to feel mighty chagrined, probably a feeling he’s rarely had. This time it’s Louisa who is on edge and dealing with difficulties at the school. Martin uses his usual cryptic means of explaining the problem, but nothing can keep Louisa from being upset once she hears that Mrs. Tishell has taken the baby. What PC Penhale says to Ruth as they watch Martin and Louisa run to the car expresses what most people would be thinking: she’s angry and worried all at once. In the car, Louisa’s comment that she’s not going to waste her energy getting wound up, she’s counting on Martin to get their baby back, makes it clear that despite their relationship problems, she believes in Martin.
Of course, the first place they look turns out to be wrong and this is where I started to think that Lothian was using Shakespeare as a source. I’ve always heard that most writing refers back to Shakespeare in some way, and this episode certainly fits that adage. (By the way, I recently heard Kevin Spacey being interviewed about his role in House of Cards and he said his character was based on Richard the III who speaks to the audience in Shakespeare’s play.) Here we not only have the misdirection during which there is much fumbling, but also the ultimate realization that the baby has been taken to a faux castle complete with billowing banner. Next, in case we haven’t already noticed the references to Shakespeare, we have Mrs. Tishell reciting excerpts from Romeo and Juliet, reaffirming her unhinged state of mind. We can see Joe Penhale as the comic relief or well-meaning fool that often plays a role in Shakespeare’s plays. I can’t help mentioning the funny conversation Ruth and Joe have as they walk quickly toward the castle. Joe is once again fantasizing about how he will be the hero and save the day while Ruth tries to inject some reason into his dreamworld by telling him he’s not playing in a Hollywood film and he’s not Clint Eastwood. (I don’t know if the original plan was to make this the last episode of the series, and I’m glad it isn’t, but it could have been because all of the major characters are gathered here: the doctor, the headmistress, the constable, and the psychiatrist along with the chemist; there’s drama, there’s rising action, and it has a satisfying ending.) Nevertheless, Joe once again is the fly in the ointment when he climbs the side of the building in an effort to help only to nearly foul up their efforts by revealing himself prematurely.
But it’s the repartee between Mrs. Tishell and Dr. Ellingham that is the centerpiece of the episode and Mrs. Tishell’s diatribe about Louisa and Martin’s relationship cannot be beaten. In one set of comments, she summarizes the essence of the entire show, seasons 1-5: “One moment you’re together, then you’re not. Then you’re getting married, then you’re not. Then she’s gone and then she comes back. Then you’re going, but you don’t, and then you have a baby and you’re living together, and then you’re not, and then you’re going away again, and then you come back here…I just can’t stand it anymore!!” She could be talking for the viewers! Clearly the relationship between Martin and Louisa has been the most important driving force that captivates us. For those fans who were upset when Martin and Louisa’s plans to marry fall apart, the ups and downs of the relationship have been trying. It’s hard not to wonder what could have made things work out better, and that’s one of the hallmarks of good writing.
Just like in season 3, episode 7, Louisa and Martin’s wedding day, everything seems to go wrong in this last episode of season 5. (Since Jack Lothian wrote both episodes, I think we can safely say that this episode is an intentional reprise of the earlier one.) The townspeople are sick with a virus causing Louisa to ask Martin to take care of James Henry and leading her to have no alternative but to rely on Bert to make lunch for the school. Naturally, Bert isn’t up to the task and Louisa has a mess on her hands. Into this difficult day steps Martin with the news that Mrs. Tishell has taken the baby. I think most women would be at their wits end, but Louisa manages to stay relatively calm. Luckily this time she is rewarded by a welcome outcome and the words she has wanted to hear Martin say for so long. Once again there’s no question that the scene owes a lot to Shakespeare and the conceit of a character talking while another is listening. Martin is talking to Mrs. Tishell looking down from above, but his words are meant for Louisa who stands in front of him out of Mrs. Tishell’s sight. Louisa prompts him to say that he’s a difficult person, hard to talk to sometimes, and an idiot (all things he has never been willing to admit before, and a sign that Martin is now finally willing to express his true feelings). Once he lets go, he really opens his heart and we all sigh along with Louisa as he tells her:”I think I’ve known how I felt since the first time I met you, from the first time I saw you…And I do hate Portwenn…But it’s where I want to be because you’re here, because of you, ’cause if I’m with you nothing else matters. What I’m trying to say is, I love you.” Those words are simply perfect because they also capture the trajectory of the show, express the love we viewers have been convinced was there all along, and settle the issue of whether Martin will stay in Portwenn or go to London. (By the way, this isn’t the first time Martin tells Louisa he loves her. The first time he says it, he’s drunk in season 2, episode 8.) But the episode isn’t over yet. Mrs. Tishell comes down and the baby is safe; however, she has a final declaration for Martin that he doesn’t understand what love is. Well, isn’t that the most important question? And doesn’t he dispel the notion that he doesn’t know what it is when he tells Louisa that nothing else matters and he sincerely loves her? He’s willing to stay in Portwenn and drop all his previous convictions just to be with Louisa. His final words are interrupted by Joe, typical of what happens throughout the show when Martin and Louisa try to talk to each other, but they are “I will always…” How would you finish the sentence? “Love you?” Almost certainly. (Can’t help thinking of the Whitney Houston song.) In other episodes we would not be surprised to hear Martin say something off the wall, but this time he’s figured out where he’s been going wrong and isn’t likely to make that mistake.
Jack Lothian is credited with writing several other episodes I deeply admire, e.g. season 4, episode 8 when Louisa gives birth and season 5, episode 3 when Louisa and the baby have moved into the surgery with Martin and Louisa tells Martin she wants to move to London with him. The highs and lows of his episodes and his ability to write very realistic and heartfelt dialogue are outstanding. The dialogue is also funny, which makes it even more appealing. Of course, the actors add their fabulous deliveries and expressions to the words, and that makes the scenes a tremendous success.
The writing on the show is generally excellent and I want the writers to know that I thoroughly appreciate what they’ve done.
Originally posted 2013-08-26 16:01:58.