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.

10 thoughts on “Other doors and doorways

  1. Stephany

    It is not really a door but the closing scene with the doc leaving louisa at the hospital was glaringly backlit. It must be a bookend to louisa’s entrance to the church on the wedding day, but what does it mean? He is walking confidently, confident that he can change? put his family first? can he decide to be happy? Or am I hoping for too much for season 7?

    Thank you for writing these essays, you have a fresh perspective and great insights to Doc Martin. Stephany

  2. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Stephany, I like your idea of bookends between the first and last episode of S6, but I would probably use M walking down the aisle in the church away from L in E1 compared to M walking down the hall of the hospital away from L in E8. In each case he’s walking away from L but for very different reasons. I would also characterize his posture in E8 as both determined and confident. I would suggest he has told L he will be back after she’s had some rest and that his plan is to do whatever he can to save their marriage. He told her that in the surgical suite and I don’t think that would have changed. That’s just my take, of course, and the show writers, et. al. are free to do what they want. I just base my thoughts on what they’ve shown us so far.

    I’m so glad you continue to read this blog. I really enjoy thinking about the show and writing about it. Whether they realized it or not when they were writing these episodes, they did a really tremendous job of coming up with very substantive themes and put them together so well. For me, it just begs to be analyzed!

  3. Linda

    S5E1 The last scene shows Louisa closing the door to the kitchen in the surgery. Dr. Dibbs has just been carted off to the hospital, Martin is seeing patients and she is going to feed the baby. I ‘m not sure of the significance here but it does seem important.

  4. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I really like that scene because to me it shows their connection to each other and intimacy. She tells him she’s just going to feed the baby (after all she had to go looking for the baby and he probably hadn’t eaten in a while.). And Martin is now caught up in seeing patients again despite having moved out. He steps into the hall to look at her and she returns his look with one that says “don’t worry, I’ll be all right in here.” Once again they’ve communicated with their eyes and it’s a personal moment between them. It’s also another time when Caroline Catz does a remarkable job with her eyes. It does seem to be a moment shared between them that indicates a certain improvement on their closeness.

  5. Linda

    The more I think about this scene the more I wonder if she isn’t thinking that this is how things would have been if they had gone through with the wedding in S3. I also thought there was a poinent moment when they all moved into the surgery supposedly for two weeks. At that point the front door was closed shutting out the village.

  6. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Interesting thought – I guess it would have been because she was already pregnant. No doubt Martin would be seeing patients regardless of his family and their whereabouts. Not many doctors take off time even when their babies are born and surely he wouldn’t have.

    Shutting that front door after going inside is definitely a good example. Thank you for adding it!

  7. Chai

    Your reminiscence bring to mind the very first episode where Susan Brading comes out of the (gift?) shop with such a cat-that-ate-the-canary look. Moments later her young paramour exits the same door, locks it and saunters down the street with an equally smug expression. Self-absorbed and shallow, neither of them care in the least the about the hurt, humiliation or physical distress they’ve caused the colonel. Susan’s ineffectual, “I really do love him, you know”, lacks sincerity. And Ross’ only concern is the loss of, shall we say, Susan’s ‘convenience’.

  8. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I had been focusing on M and L, but doors certainly are used for dramatic purposes at other times.

  9. Amy

    I love how you find these patterns. When I watch again at some point, I will now be looking for doors everywhere!

    I love the British expression, “Go through,” for what we Americans would say, “Come in” or “Go in.” The word “through” conjures up a passage through a doorway. Martin says it all the time to patients entering the exam room. They are not just entering a new place, but going through a passageway to get there, leaving somewhere else behind. Perhaps doorways are overall a more significant thing in British culture?

  10. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I doubt that doorways mean anything more in British culture, but I like your way of applying the invitation to “Go/Come through” to the use of doors. We have also touched on how sometimes the camera is pointed through a doorway as a means of circumscribing Martin or Louisa. The scene in which Martin sits nursing his wounded hand in S6 while the camera dollies back is particularly notable for that. As it backs away from him and out through the door he seems surrounded by the frame and more alone than ever.

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