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.

11 thoughts on “What kind of father is Martin Ellingham?

  1. Carol

    One scene that I absolutely love, love is in S6 I believe it is E5 when Martin is just staring at James when he, Martin, is unable to sleep. The baby is in that “baby peace” position – on his back with arms stretched out – and Martin is just staring and finally is able to fall asleep. Is he just that tired, or is he finding some peace for himself? I like to think it is peace.

  2. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Carol, I love that scene too, but I have a very different reaction to it. The episode for this scene is E6 after his mother has arrived. We know that Martin has been having trouble sleeping so it’s not surprising that he is awake at 3 am. To me Martin looks tortured, or at the very least, troubled. The camera pans down from the headboard of the bed to Louisa, then to Martin looking at James. James looks peaceful, but the implication is that the most important people to Martin are in this room and he’s worried what will happen now that his mother is there. He’s worried about her intrusion into his family and his life, especially because he has only bad memories of what happened with her in the past. I don’t think he’s closing his eyes because he’s sleepy or in peace; I think when he closes his eyes, the sense is that he is suffering and thinking how much worse off he’s going to be now that his mother is there. She’s one more problem to deal with and that’s the last thing he needs at this point.

  3. Carol

    What an interesting way to look at it. I never thought of that, but that’s very plausible as well. I guess I just look at that little baby (is he not gorgeous) and think peaceful thoughts. Poor Martin. How are we ever gonna wait until 2015 to see him again? Will they be okay??

  4. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    The baby is really beautiful and these fictional parents certainly love him and want him to have a good childhood. If we look at it that way, the future looks promising.

  5. Shauna

    I enjoyed this post so much. I find ME’s relationship with JH so interesting and endearing. There is an openness, tenderness, and a level of consistent care that we don’t see in any other relationship. As you mentioned, he always touches JH when he sees him. It seems he touches JH more than he touches L! I just re-watched S6E1. I think Martin’s suggestion to Ruth to try a vigorous rocking motion if JH isn’t sleeping shows he continues to help with the non-sleeping baby. I found it annoying when Eleanor went on about ME not helping with the baby enough. I think he is quite an attentive father. Much better at caring for JH than Eleanor was! It will be interesting to see how the relationship between father and son continues to grow during S8.

  6. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Thank you Shauna. It has been a continuing factor in the Martin and Louisa saga that Martin always thinks about James, and I can only imagine that that means they want his relationship with James to represent their link to each other as well as the softer side of Martin. In S7 Martin moves to that abominable flat because he doesn’t want to uproot James; he wants to bathe James regularly; he offers to take James whenever help is needed, etc. To a certain extent James is a means of staying at the surgery and interacting with Louisa, and we know Martin has specific ideas about the rearing of children, but they seem to take pains to demonstrate Martin’s love for his son as well as his wife. It will be interesting to see what happens if they allow James to walk. He may end up getting into all sorts of mischief and become much more of an issue between this couple. We already know they don’t necessarily agree on how he should be educated, although Martin may have reconsidered his initial position that James should be sent to a boarding school by now. This is one area where there is room for exploration (and conflict).

  7. Amy

    I’ve also been struck by what a caring and attentive father Martin is and what a good parenting partner he is. There are still many men who would not share the childcare as much as he does. So it really annoyed me that Louisa didn’t give him credit for that when asked by Dr T for three positives about Martin. Couldn’t she have said he was a good father instead of that he keeps the house tidy? He, after all, mentioned that she was a good mother.

    It will be interesting to see how much they use the character of JH in the upcoming series. They can’t keep him immobilized in a stroller forever!

  8. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    She could have said that, but bringing up his tidiness is a recurring observation of hers. Even when she was looking for him in E8 she remarks that his place is always so tidy, she can’t tell if he was there the night before. It’s actually kind of funny that she lists his tidiness as a compliment when she usually finds it annoying. Another one of those ironic and oddly out of place things Louisa says throughout S7.

  9. Amy

    True, and I think that comment was one that made her seem to cold in S7. But now I think they were trying to convey her discomfort with therapy and her own insecurity about their relationship. Perhaps if Martin had answered first, she would have softened.

  10. Joemei

    I agree with many of you that Martin did share the childcare responsibility. One scene in S5, he carried JH to the harbor to take care of a patient and left him on the bench. Many fathers would not do so, especially a physician. He is a caring father.

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