Why do I feel so disappointed about S8? What is it about this series that simply does not live up to the previous ones? S6 had gotten too dark for me; S7 was too farcical and cartoonish. Nevertheless, I had found plenty to write about and much that made me laugh. This time I have tried to find something that motivates me to write and been struggling. In fact, even the titles of the episodes have not lived up to those of the past. For the most part I have found them trite and lacking any insight into the episode, unlike those of the past.
After doing some thinking, I have come up with the following reasons for my dissatisfaction:
1. To a great extent it has to do with the lack of a story arc for the series. My best guess at one is Louisa deciding to change jobs. It’s the only thread that has continued throughout the series. The only other threads, if we can call them that, are Martin’s blood phobia and, perhaps, the newfound ability of Martin and Louisa to actually get through a conversation without being interrupted. These haven’t been developed enough to carry the series. For some reason the occasions that presented opportunities for worthwhile development were not taken advantage of, e.g. Louisa attending classes with a former student of hers.
2. I am also very disappointed in the writing for this series and in the disjointed plots for each episode. We have previously had episodes in which the main storyline was supported by subplots and in which there were some excellent monologues and dialogues. There were often references to other literary sources or lyrics to songs. There was wordplay and ambiguity. It made the show a fun intellectual endeavor as much as an engaging bit of entertainment.
3. They chose to include almost no affection between Martin and Louisa. In my mind the producers and writers of this show must have been aware that the fans of this show were delighted that the conclusion of S7 reconciled Martin and Louisa and they expressed their mutual love for each other and had a passionate kiss. However, in this series, apart from Martin moving back into the house with Louisa and James, their sharing of duties related to James, and some perfunctory pecks on Martin’s cheek by Louisa, there is precious little to convince us that they are enjoying life together. There are some signs that Martin has taken a few pieces of advice from Dr. Timoney: he makes arrangements for a dinner date with Louisa; he allows Louisa to be “the decider” about James going to a daycare; having a dog; and about the car; and they have a standing lunch date on Thursdays (though we haven’t seen that actually happen). None of these instances leads to any meaningful or affectionate moments.
In this series the most likely bedroom situation appears to be Martin waking up to find Louisa already out of bed. In addition, Louisa tends to be late coming home. James is already in bed, the dog is a nonentity as well, and their conversation rather perfunctory. What happened to those scenes in the bedroom when they talk about a variety of things and actually seem to care about each other like in S5? Why wouldn’t they practice some of the other advice they got from Dr. T, such as saying something complimentary to each other or hugging now and then? Both of them demonstrate concern for the other at times throughout the series, but the deep expression of tenderness and devotion is gone.
4. I am a bit surprised that Martin doesn’t welcome Louisa’s decision to terminate her headmistress position. If anything he should be very happy that she won’t have the stress of the job as well as the course work, and he has always wanted her to spend more time at home with James. Although I would imagine James would still go to daycare regularly, Louisa might be available to drop him off and pick him up as well as find days when she could keep him home. Quitting her paying job is a big move for Louisa since she has never wanted to be a “kept” woman. By considering this change, isn’t she indicating that she’s willing to relent in that area, and perhaps even showing a willingness to trust Martin as her partner? (The fact that he may be forced to take a break from his medical practice and their source of income may be up in the air has not entered into her decision at this point.)
[I want to take a time out here to mention that I have looked up what is the likely procedure for filing claims against private physicians in the UK. According to a site I found that provides the rules for Medical Malpractice Liability in England and Wales, most GPs are covered by the Medical Protection Society and it is they who “will provide advice and may undertake the defense and settlement of the case.” It would be unlikely that he would be forced to stop practicing medicine; his practice manager (Chris Parsons) has recommended that he stop seeing patients until this claim is settled. However, from my perspective this patient will have a hard time proving that ME is incapable of taking care of patients, especially after this series has been chock full of patients he has treated and whose lives he has saved. Moreover, she did not follow his medical advice and there are plenty of witnesses to that.]
5. Despite the assertion that they don’t want to repeat themselves, they have been doing just that. Here is a quick list of the many repetitious scenes they have used this series:
- A contagious disease that affects a group and ruins a party
- A professional woman self-medicating and becoming crazed. This one, in particular, bothers me. Is this such a pervasive problem in UK that we have it appear so often in this show?
- A wedding that is called off and the bride leaves town
- Bert serves tainted food or water
- Bert lies about where he’s sleeping and how his business is doing
- Ruth has to warn Al and Bert about her lack of confidence in them
- A woman uses shells and other “detritus” to create jewelry
- Mrs. T acts the fool around Martin even after recommitting to her marriage
- An older woman malingers in Martin’s surgery
6. There are glaring gaps. For example, who buys the farm? Why does James never say another word? Who the heck is Ken Hollister or Hannah Butler or Trevor Dodds? We’ve seen a lot of characters come and go, but these seem to be regular members of the town that we’ve never met before yet everyone knows them. And why isn’t Hannah more upset about the loss of her tent, much less the safety of her guests?
We would wonder about the farm because it has been in the Ellingham family for many years, it’s been a fixture in this show, and we would suppose that whoever buys it would be important to them and the show; we would expect James to say more than one word by now; and we have been introduced to many of the townspeople throughout the show, but Ken owning the pub comes as quite a surprise.
How did Martin’s foot tendon heal so quickly? And Angela Sim’s compound fracture of her clavicle? She doesn’t seem to be in much discomfort when we next see her. How did Mrs. T suddenly become more capable of functioning without therapy? Whatever happened with James and the biting at school?
7. With so many new characters appearing constantly, the show has become choppy with little connection between one episode and the next. Only Angela Sim has returned for a second episode, and then very briefly. I could have imagined her nephew Toby appearing again.
8. In their effort to have some sort of excitement in each episode they have gone to extremes to find medical conditions to take up the time. There are so many incidents in each episode that nothing is fully explored and it’s easy to lose track of what each episode was about. As mentioned before on this blog, plot requires conflict. Where’s the conflict in this series? It’s fine to show Martin and Louisa having a calm home life, but let’s have some spats that typical couples have, and they used to as well. Everything has gotten too sedate. It’s only in S7 that we see the beginning of some action that might not be resolved so quickly.
9. The dog on the bed is particularly inexplicable to me. Louisa has now gone from wanting Martin to get the dog out of the bedroom to allowing the dog on the bed; Martin has gone from throwing the dog out of the bedroom window to ignoring it. Once that takes place, the whole dog issue falls by the wayside very quickly. The only practice he continues to do with the dog is wear gloves to handle it. Is that a gag that is supposed to be funny every time? Even when the dog chews James’s teething ring, nothing about the dog develops.
10. Finally, the routine behavior of the key members of the cast has now grown stale. Some of you find Morwenna and Al more grown up and Penhale somewhat more capable. I don’t see that so much, and I definitely don’t see a change in Mrs. Tishell or Bert at all. Their comedic gimmicks are the same old stuff and they are no longer funny (or even pathos inducing).
I have held Jack Lothian in high esteem for many years and had hoped his larger role as show runner this series was going to add all sorts of enlightened storylines and humor. It is a particular letdown to me that that hasn’t happened. This blog has been my way of admiring the show through analyzing it. Writing the above is painful for me.