Monthly Archives: December 2017

A comic’s look at dramedy

I am admittedly finding less and less to write about in regard to this show. Although the blog will remain open for a while longer because the time I paid for isn’t up until several more months have passed, I am straining to find anything of value to write about. As you know this blog is not a recap sort of site, nor is it a fan site for any of the actors. I have always written posts that have been inspired by ideas that arose from the show, and I think they have found ways to address a myriad of worthwhile subjects over the years. However, this last series has not introduced much in the way of new topics for discussion, and those I found, I’ve already written about.

One of the subjects we have had some moderate dispute over is whether this show was meant to be a drama or a comedy — or a combination of both, a dramedy. After listening to the most recent interview with Philippa Braithwaite, I feel assured that they consider the show a combination of comedy and drama and they try hard to find the right balance. That balance is essentially where they have at times gone off track, IMO. In S6, the show went too heavily for the dramatic and lost too much of the humor; in S7, they became farcical and neglected the drama to a great extent. They attempted to use the therapy as their dramatic vehicle, but even that became farcical, and determining the plot of each episode based on the actions recommended by the therapist became too forced. Plus the fact that it was obvious that they planned to put off any reconciliation between Martin and Louisa until the final episode made much of the action less compelling, and less convincing.

Then the final episode was so cartoonish and hard to swallow that the anticipated and presumed resolution was anticlimactic to a great extent. If anyone was going to have to make concessions this time, it would have to be Louisa. And it was her turn to both admit she was also at fault and ask for forgiveness. Throughout this series there were foreshadowings during the therapy sessions that Louisa was discovering her own role in their marital woes. Martin had admitted being wrong several other times. (That is not to say that their reconciliation wasn’t welcomed; only that its arrival was too long in the making.)

Now we’ve had S8. This series ended up toning down the interaction between Martin and Louisa to such an extent that there was very little humor between them, or even in their lives. The humor derived primarily from the other members of the ensemble and was relatively humdrum. The moments that elicited a laugh were few and far between, at least for me.

I did see a good cartoon in The New Yorker magazine that illustrates the mixture of comedy and drama in a dramedy, and thought it was worth sharing with you:

What this cartoonist has depicted, much as I argued in previous posts, is that basically dramedy revolves around relationships that often lead to some injury that is more likely to hurt someone’s pride than their body. And we laugh because they deserve the injury and because we’re human. In this case it’s the man who has decided to leave and the woman looking nonplussed. It’s left to our imagination how she might react when he steps on the banana peel, but most of us would expect her to get at least a little sense of schadenfreude from it. (I love the use of the banana peel again too.) And the man might find himself feeling foolish and undignified as he carries his luggage in a self-important manner. Like this cartoon, Doc Martin is a television series that uses both serious and comic subjects that they try to offset in as close to equal parts as possible but sometimes have overshot in one direction or the other.

Another post coming soon

I thought I should mention that I am working on another post and hope to publish it soon. It’s taking a while partly because of the topic and partly because we have a lot going on at home right now. We live at the beach and have many visitors at this time of year. Of course, next week is a holiday week in the US. We love having so many visitors, but there’s less time for writing, etc. I hate to miss out on swimming in the ocean and all the other fun things to do. So please bear with me and don’t give up on reading the blog!! Thanks!

Originally posted 2014-06-26 15:41:18.

Doc Martin and the Mystery of the Folktale

When thinking about whether DM could fall into the category of Fairytale or Folktale, I started with remembering that one of the films that preceded DM was called “The Legend of the Cloutie.” The film’s premise was that a legend of the town could be associated with a house Dr. Martin Bamford wants to purchase. The legend is a local folk magic story involving a piece of cloth tied to a tree (branded a Cloutie) that has the power to remove a kind of illness as the cloth rots and falls from the tree. The film was rather silly, but there is that history of a story based on a legend.

We have to distinguish between Folktales, Fairytales, Legends, Myths, etc. As a general rule legends and traditions are narratives of an explanatory nature concerning creation and tribal beginnings, supernatural beings, and quasi-historical figures (e.g., King Arthur, Lady Godiva). These stories are related as fact and concern a specific time and place. They have a verisimilitude and should appear realistic. Fairytales are entirely fictional and often begin with such formulas as “Once upon a time …” and “In a certain country there lived … .” There are many interpretations of all of the story types listed above, most of which involve historical and psychological analyses. Psychologists have used them as a form of expression of cultural traditions and customs, and to study the unconscious. Many folktales conclude with some sort of moral message. I think that gets too deep for our purposes. We could probably tease out some moral messages in this show, but is that really why the show was created? I think this show has a serious underpinning but it stops short of teaching viewers the difference between right and wrong behavior.

What prompts us to wonder about DM and its connection to a Fairytale or Folktale is all of the ways in which it seems unreal. We can begin with the fact that the weather is never bad in Portwenn. Despite its location in England where rain is plentiful, there never seems to be a rainy day. Plus, the fact that they film in Spring and Summer means we see no cold, wintry weather.

No news from the world ever enters Portwenn. For all we know, WWIII could have started and the villagers would have no idea. Newspapers are seen on occasion, but the village is in a world of its own. No one leaves for long, and only Al returns from his trip abroad with anything approaching a bad experience. All the outsiders arrive in Portwenn without any information about what’s happening in England, much less other countries. Very few people ever want to leave.

Very few people are afflicted with serious illnesses. Anyone who gets sick, even Roger Fenn and his throat cancer or Peter Cronk and his ruptured spleen, is treated and released in short order and without complication. It’s a show about a doctor, but not really about serious medical conditions. The thrust of the show is the characters in it, especially Martin and Louisa, and not what medical case will the doctor identify and treat.

The hotel’s name is “Camelot,” which refers to a castle and court associated with King Arthur. It is the fantastic capital of Arthur’s realm. The word “Camelot” is easy to see on the front of the hotel and seems to be highlighted when Martin and Louisa’s wedding is held there. The hotel has the appearance of a castle and is not the only castle-like building used. When Mrs. Tishell abducts JH, Penhale’s first thought is she took him to a hotel that is called “The Castle.” When she isn’t there, they are told to go to another faux castle, and that’s where they find her and the baby. We are not usually surrounded by castles in today’s world.

Of course we can’t leave out the opening scene of S3E1 when we hear Louisa reading to her students outside in the harbor area. From my point of view, the way this opening scene is handled indicates a humorous mocking of the fairytale qualities we might be seeing in DM. Let’s analyze this opening scene…

We have the typical sweep of the environs of the village while the credits roll, but then we find ourselves with an aerial view of the harbor with a motor boat heading towards the village. Next we hear Louisa’s voice saying “Once Upon a Time in a kingdom far, far away.” Here is the classic beginning to a Fairytale along with an airplane and a motorboat. So far we haven’t seen her and don’t know what she’s doing.

She reads on as we watch Martin walk down the street carrying his medical bag: “the Prince arrived to search for the Princess he was destined to marry.” She reads, “the Prince was handsome and charming,” (while Martin scowls at the young girls he passes) “and fierce” (as Martin quickly sidesteps an oncoming vehicle. He looks angry and annoyed, but not brave).

She continues: “With his faithful hound at his side,” (as we see the bushy dog always bothering Martin come out of a side street and trot across to briefly walk beside Martin and then perhaps move on) “the Prince journeyed for days on end” (Martin is making his way down the sloped street probably on his way back to his clinic. His journey has been short.) “He fought dragons” (Martin passes a woman with long hair), “wizards” (Martin passes an old man with a walking stick), “and goblins” (Martin sees a young man with knit cap and sunglasses), “and just when he thought all hope was lost, he finally arrived at the Castle where the Princess was imprisoned.” (Martin walks out from the narrow street into a sunny, wide space overlooking the waterfront where Louisa sits and reads to her students. Far from a place of imprisonment.) “The Prince climbed the hill to free the Princess before she…” (Martin has just walked down the hill. It is at this moment that Louisa feels faint and collapses on the ground. The children scream, Martin notices what’s happened and jumps over a bench to reach Louisa. Somewhat gallant, but not the stuff of Fairytales.)

Louisa comes to with Martin checking her. She appears to be awakening out of a dream, but all too quickly reality hits, Martin once again derides her school, and she pulls herself together.

What they have deliberately done is undercut every line of the fairytale’s components. In addition, I couldn’t help thinking about the “Harry Potter” series of books that had just been completed around the time of this series. Four of the movies had also been completed by this time. That series fits the qualities of a fairytale to the letter and was highly successful. It certainly included dragons, goblins, and wizards as well as heroes. This part of the episode could easily have been written to satirize the Harry Potter story while also humorously contrasting the story of DM with anything approaching a Fairytale.

The other thing that happens here is S3 opening with a reference to Martin and Louisa being destined to marry. As we know, this series is about their near breakup followed by plans to marry which eventually lead to a decision to part ways. Once again, the prediction of marriage in the Fairytale is undercut by the outcome of the series. (I guess we could also argue that ultimately destiny does triumph because they marry later after all.)

I have come to the conclusion that although the creators of this show toy with some features of Fairytales or Folktales, there are too many ways in which it differs from those genres and in which they purposely satirize them to consider this show some form of Fairytale. It is set in a location that exists in reality, although they’ve tampered with the realism of it, and the events that take place are all too real. Moreover, there are no supernatural creatures, no magic, and no heroes that bear any resemblance to ones in Fairytales.

Originally posted 2014-06-16 21:40:51.

Another post under consideration

I am writing this to tell you all that I am looking into writing a post about how DM might contain some features of fairy tales, actually more folktales. It was Santa’s suggestion and I figured it could be fun to look at it. As you probably realize by now, I can’t write something without researching it first. From what I’ve seen so far, I may have to argue against that notion, but I haven’t decided yet. What I’ve found has not been definitive enough for me to make that decision.

I don’t know how long it will take me. I’ll do my best to come up with something soon. I’m sure you will all find some things missing from my examples, and that’s always great. Hope no one thinks I’m taking all of this too seriously!!

Originally posted 2014-06-12 20:02:46.

Dramedy, its history and its connection to Doc Martin

We’ve been spending some time considering the serious issues that DM refers to and how we should relate to those. It occurred to me that it would help if we understood how the show is constructed and what makes it fit into the category of TV shows called “Dramedy.” We all know that the term is a combination of “drama” and “comedy,” but I decided I needed to learn more about the special attributes of a dramedy. When I read a variety of sources, I discovered there is more to this designation than simply combining these two types of shows.

I thought I’d look at the definition of “Dramedy” as determined by several sources and then see how we can apply it to Doc Martin. My expectation is that we will be able to look at DM in a more comprehensive way that will add to our appreciation of the show. It is fascinating to look at the history of this genre and it provides some context. I found a good source to help with that and will give a brief run-down of it. Then I found a source that helped me understand more specifically what the conventions of a dramedy are. Of course, I have no idea if anyone working on DM studied these conventions or had them in mind while working on the show; however, I think I can demonstrate how the show follows them quite closely. For me, it was illuminating to analyze the show this way.

The first modern example of combining drama with comedy can be traced to Charlie Chaplin’s 1921 silent movie “The Kid.” In 2011, “The Kid” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” It was one of the first major films to combine comedic moments with dramatic elements, and is widely considered one of the greatest films in cinematic history. Both Shakespeare’s plays and Greek plays had combined comic scenes with drama too. But we’re talking about TV shows, so I will concentrate on those.

All of the information I will use now comes from the online site I have excerpted the portions of their discussion of dramedy that I consider the most helpful.
According to (and many other sources) the TV show M*A*S*H—based on the 1970 film—signaled a clear departure from the rigid definitions of sitcom in the 1960s. Like dramas, it frequently employed cinematic elements and storytelling tools—single-character narration, documentary-style cinematography, crane shots, etc. In the structural sense, its most important convention defiance was its use of season-long (or longer) story arcs—while most episodes addressed one conflict which was eventually resolved (or at least concluded), changes in situation permanently affected the characters, up to and including the deaths of major characters, and some story arcs were stretched out over the course of several episodes or an entire season.

To describe this new type of series—too weighty to be merely a “comedy,” too light to be a true “drama,” and containing a great deal of structural elements of both—television critics of the 1970s coined the term “dramedy.” However, even prior to M*A*S*H, television comedies had begun to address serious social issues. Here “All in the Family” comes into prominence again. (I used it previously to discuss what makes DM so appealing, and now I must refer to it for other reasons related to DM.) It debuted in the season prior to the 1972–73 season (in which M*A*S*H premiered). The “situation” of each episode was often a lead-in to a rather frank and unflinching portrayal of genuine societal concerns of the 1970s—racism, rape, abortion, religious conservatism and freedom, etc. The term would also be applied to such series as Barney Miller, which, while a half-hour comedy with a laugh track and broad characters, still nonetheless showed those characters as complex and often permanently affected by their police work.

According to As the 1980s started and a new breed of television-bred producers, writers and creators such as Steven Bochco and David Chase began to get their own shows, the trend only increased. Bochco’s series “Hill Street Blues,” for instance, centered around police detectives and police work—a dramatic premise dating back to Dragnet. However, “Hill Street Blues” was often tongue-in-cheek, and many of the characters existed almost exclusively as comic relief.” Bochco and his contemporaries (such as Joshua Brand and John Falsey on “St. Elsewhere”) and ultimately successors placed comic relief characters as central to the plot, and would often involve even their more serious central characters in more comedic situations. Thus, the term “dramedy” began to apply to their works.

But it was in 1986 that another show broke through the divisions of drama and comedy in a significant way. The show “Moonlighting” was nominated for Comedy/Musical categories for the Golden Globes and for the Drama categories for the Emmys. Moonlighting had both structural and thematic elements of both. In its premise, it was truly a romantic comedy, yet it was also a serious detective drama. “Structurally, it employed cinematic elements and the four-act structure, yet some of the cinematic elements it borrowed were from Warner Bros. cartoons—clearly comedies.”

“(In 2006) the term (was) redefined to largely exclude structural elements and to focus on a subsection of thematic elements. Those comedies, which, while clearly comedic in tone, nonetheless handle the dramatic situations as serious issues are now considered ‘dramedies.'”

As you can see there’s a rich history in television that encompasses the evolution of Dramedy. Although this review focuses on American television, I believe it set the standards for TV in general.

I want to now move on to an in-depth look at the mechanics of dramedies and how they appear in DM. For this information I decided a good source is a 1996 article written by Richard Taflinger, Ph.D., associate clinical professor in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University:
Taflinger asserts “the dramedy is…the most difficult of comedy shows to produce because it must contain three things: 1) a superb cast working as an ensemble; 2) a clearly delineated sphere of activity for plots; and 3) excellent writing.” DM satisfies all of these criteria.

Most dramedies have a core cast of 6-8 characters. DM fits this scheme because its core cast consists of eight characters who form its ensemble: Martin Ellingham, Louisa Glasson, Bert Large, Al Large, Aunt Joan/Aunt Ruth, Mrs. Tishell, a constable (Mark Mylow/Joe Penhale), and a receptionist (Elaine/Pauline/Morwenna).

When it comes to the sphere of activity, Taflinger specifies:
“The sphere of activity must not only be clearly delineated but must have an essential nature of its own, one that by its very appearance gets a reaction from the audience…Since the locale is so important in the dramedy, it is more strongly emphasized behind the credits. For example, the camp and surrounding territory are clearly shown in the opening of M*A*S*H, and the neighborhood and house shown for ALL IN THE FAMILY.” The introductory credits for DM are always accompanied by the sweep of the scenery in and around Portwenn, eventually settling on a view of the harbor from above.

Taflinger argues “there are two kinds of dramedies. In the first, the human dramedy, the emphasis is on the characters battling the theme as it relates to the theme’s effects on other characters. In the second, the advocate dramedy, the characters are in two warring factions, each faction advocating a certain point of view about the theme.” He adds:
“Human dramedies usually have a subplot, the only type of situation comedy that does. The subplot is often comic, underscoring the main, more serious plot. It is also usually a conflict between people, rather than a conflict between people and the intangible forces surrounding them…In all cases, the subplots underscore comically and thus intensify the main plot.” Among the episodes of DM we have many comic subplots that would satisfy the qualification of underscoring the main plot. Starting with the first episode, we have the main plot of Martin Ellingham’s awkward arrival in Portwenn combined with the comic subplot of the awkward discovery that one woman’s HRT cream is giving both her husband and her boyfriend breasts. ME has to decide whether to stay on in Portwenn and find a way to deal with all sorts of unwelcoming behaviors by the townspeople while also having to find a way to mediate between the triangle of lovers. In the end he gets punched in the nose, but the couple’s anger gets defused and he decides to stay in Portwenn. If we wanted to, we could go through almost every episode and come up with a comic subplot that underscores the main plot.

Taflinger delineates several segments to each dramedy: complications, crises, climax, and denouement.
“The complications are based on the theme but involve character or action. They are new developments in the problem that require the characters to examine their own thinking or take an action that opposes or supports their point of view on the theme.” In DM the epsiode complication that jumps to my mind is S6 E7 when Mike is pursued for being AWOL. He’s AWOL because the army planned to alter his OCD, or fix him, and he didn’t want to be fixed. He ultimately agrees to turn himself in and hopes the army will allow him to deal with his OCD in his own time.

During a crisis,”the characters are presented with a dilemma and must do or decide something to relieve the stress.” Among the many times the characters in DM are presented with a dilemma we can include water contamination, Mrs. T’s absconding with JH, and Mrs. T’s return to Portwenn after being in psychiatric treatment.

“The climax forces the character to examine his or her beliefs and actions in support of them, and either vindicates or condemns him or her.” Here we could apply ME’s handling of Stewart or of Helen’s death, and many other occasions.

“The denouement of a human dramedy will often end with the conclusion of the subplot, thus ending the show with a laugh rather than deep introspection.” The first episode of DM is a good example of ending with a laugh, but here I see some deviation of DM from the norm because there are many episodes that end on a serious note. This is especially true at the end of S3 and throughout S6. Even here, however, the humor of the subplots keeps the episodes from getting too far away from comedy. For example, S3 E7 was filled with humorous events although the denouement was no laughing matter. In S6, we can say DM became much more of a drama than a dramedy and most episodes ended without a laugh.

Next Taflinger addresses how the characters are typically developed:
“The regular characters in a human dramedy are in occupations that allow them to meet and deal with characters who have problems relating to a societal ill…They discover and try to solve the problem; the problem thrust upon them by the nature of the societal ill with which they are concerned…They are usually compassionate, human, and try to believe that each person is an individual worthy of respect and personal regard.” We have no trouble associating this with DM. Both ME and LG have jobs that engage them in dealing with “societal ills.” ME must treat people who can’t miss work or who don’t have the capacity to properly follow his medical advice. LG must handle all sorts of parenting problems as well as her students’ family conditions. Both of them treat everyone without prejudice. The rest of the regular cast follows these precepts too.

Taflinger continues:
“There is one main character…Most plots revolve around this character, usually as he works to solve the problem, but occasionally he is the bearer of the problem.” This is DM in spades.

“Usually one of the supporting characters causes antagonistic feelings among the others, and will usually bear the brunt of any subplot. His personality grates on the nerves of the other characters, and makes them desire abatement and/or revenge.” This quality is satisfied in DM by both Bert and Mrs. T. Bert more regularly causes disruptions that result in some sort of redress, but Mrs. T has her moments for sure.

“The transients in a human dramedy have two purposes: 1) they are the source of most of the primary problems, either as the creator or the bearer of the problem; and/or 2) aid in finding and/or applying solutions to the problem. The former is most common.” Again, DM fits within this mold. The transients include psychologist Anthony Oakwood, hotel owner Carrie Wilson, doctor friend Gavin Peters, Joan’s former lover John Slater, Ruth’s stalker Robert Campbell, and so many others. They are, for the most part, the bearers of the problem.

“There is a theme in virtually every episode of a dramedy…They are personalized and personified, relating specifically to a character so that the audience can see the effect on the individual.” I see this as closely related to the transients and we certainly see themes throughout DM.

“Psychologically, the characters are as close to fully rounded human beings as can be found in situation comedy. They are capable of depression, exhilaration, love, hate, anger, serenity, sentimentality, compassion, wit and stupidity. Most importantly, they are capable of logical and rational thought tempered with intuition and emotion.” For DM we can add that they are often afflicted with a variety of psychological conditions.

Taflinger also states, “the place of work is not comfortable and quite often not even attractive, just functional.” Again, DM comports with this convention. The small building that contains both ME’s surgery offices and his personal rooms is far from attractive and cramped when he is alone. The kitchen doubles as a place for private use as well as for the use of the receptionist. Once he adds Louisa and James Henry, the space seems extremely tight, especially since they don’t use the living room very often. Saying it’s functional is almost a stretch by the end of S6.

I have been using the features of a human dramedy because that is what DM most closely fits. In advocate dramedies “the main character is one who represents a definite point of view that is usually very limited and not subject to change…These characters resent and oppose any point of view other than the one they hold. They think they are always right, and anyone who doesn’t agree with them is a fool, an idiot, or worse. They are outspoken to the point of crass rudeness, will voice their opinions loudly and long, and if proven wrong will not accept the argument but will make personal attacks on their opponent’s intelligence, background, and morals.” In addition, “opposition characters hold opinions and philosophies diametrically opposed to the main character’s. It is from this opposition that plot conflicts arise. Such characters are usually in the main character’s family, allowing ready access for battle…The involved neutrals are peacemakers and clarifiers. They are most important, however, as representatives for the audience, giving the audience someone with whom to identify and enabling the audience to see the effects of extremism.” “All in the Family” is clearly an excellent example of an advocate dramedy.

Finally, Taflinger notes, “although the dramedy is often very funny, it is not because of a deliberate striving for laughs no matter how they are gotten…It uses both serious exploration and discussion and comic intensification to examine a theme and make the audience aware of intellectually and feel emotionally about it.” DM does exactly this. There are moments when they go for a laugh, e.g. ME hitting his head or falling down stairs, Penhale acting the buffoon; however, the major thrust of the show is to use comic intensification that affects viewers on an intellectual and emotional level.

When I read about the attributes of dramedy and applied them to DM, I realized that the show really sticks to the conventions associated with dramedies. Despite my deep appreciation for this show, I am struck by how there is a formula that it follows to a great extent. The excellent character development and writing are also key elements of all human dramedies. Doc Martin is in good company, and we should not be surprised that it’s been such a success since it conforms to the same standards of many of the most outstanding TV shows in memory.

Originally posted 2014-06-05 19:01:33.

A Quick Observation: another look at the birth scene

I happened to be checking out the CC music videos that Kate has posted on her website and, by chance, one of them led into the final scene of S4 when L gives birth. I have always liked that scene and watched it again. This time, however, I realized that the interaction between M and L can be seen as a microcosm of their relationship.

L has set out on her own to see the obstetrician when Tommy, the taxi driver, loses consciousness and drives off the road. M comes after her because he knows Tommy is compromised by methanol ingestion, a medical condition he can remedy. He tries to tell L, but the phone reception is not good and she can’t hear him. When M finds the car off the road, he is markedly concerned, primarily about L. But she’s mostly worried about Tommy. The scene in the pub they go to so Tommy can be treated depicts their struggles well.

M forces Tommy to drink vodka to counteract the methanol while L looks on and finds M too rough on T. She tells M that making a mistake like T has done is only human. “People make mistakes, people make a mess of things. It’s called being human, Martin. Most of them learn from that, unlike some people.” What she is saying here is both self-reflective and accusatory. Both L and M have made mistakes and a mess of things. Have they learned from their mistakes? She clearly thinks M hasn’t, and we know he hates to admit he’s made any mistakes. She is another case in point, however. She’s seems more willing to accept her own mistakes, e.g. she takes the antibiotics he prescribes for her UTI after she realizes she’s been taking foolish chances just to be contrary. Nonetheless, she can also be intransigent and volatile.

She soon goes into labor and feels the need to sit down. When M pulls the chair out from under her, I thought it was an unnecessary pratfall, but now I’m wondering if that too is a way of indicating that he’s very nervous and that her support structure (Martin) is rather shaky. He helps her up and then his nervousness becomes prominent. He tells L to stay calm, but it’s he who can’t be calm. In the midst of this tense scene, the EMTs arrive and M yells at them too. Significantly, Martin tells them “she’s having her baby,” and L corrects him saying “no, your baby.” She’s making it clear they are in this together. We could see her comment as an admonishment to him, and it is, but I think it’s also a sign that she acknowledges now that the baby is theirs and not just hers.

M’s way of coping is to try to take control, but in this case he has no way to control events and his anger surfaces again. At this point L finds his attitude unhelpful to her and asks him to wait outside. She banishes him from the room. Properly chastened, M leaves while assuring her he’ll be nearby. He struggles to stay out yet his time away from the action gives him a chance to think.

Now L starts having second thoughts about ordering him out and reconsiders. She tells the EMT: “I’ve changed my mind. Let him in, let him in.” As if they can read each others’ minds, he bursts through the door at that moment, finding it impossible to stay out any longer. He feels compelled to tell her “I was wrong.” No sooner are those words out of his mouth than she motions him to join her. As he kneels next to her, he spills out his heart saying, “I was wrong about you, about leaving, about everything. When I saw that taxi, I feared the worst.” This sequence of dialogue reflects what’s been missing in their relationship. She needs him with her and he needs to tell her how he feels about her. They share a passionate kiss that is soon followed by strong labor pains. Nicely done…their love for each other has been renewed but there is pain ahead.

During the ensuing labor and delivery, L holds M by his suit jacket and pushes and pulls him away from her and back towards her. I now see this as a perfect depiction of their interaction throughout the series. First she pushes him away, then she pulls him close over and over again. All the while Martin is literally getting yanked around by Louisa with a look on his face that shows a combination of concern and bafflement. (I don’t want to ignore how funny this scene is and how much it mirrors what most women in labor are like to their husbands. Women should not be held responsible for their actions during labor and delivery!)

Once the baby is born, M is hesitant to hold him, but L tells him he can learn, and he responds by taking the baby and saying “Yes, I could.” The scene now seems a foreshadowing of the end of S6 when M tells L he needs her help learning how to be a better husband. During S5 Martin has made the transition to being a father and helping with the baby. If he can learn that, there is every reason to believe he can also learn what it takes to be a better husband.

(Another post coming soon)

Originally posted 2014-06-01 16:46:48.

Louisa’s Difficulties and Martin’s Hand Wounds

After Santa and a few others mentioned the last scene in S6E3 where the camera recedes (a dolly-out shot) as M continues to treat the cut on the palm of his hand, I went back to look at it. Their comments had to do with the camera work accentuating M’s isolation, which I think they are right about. Then I started thinking about how that episode has always bothered me, beginning to end. I have been a staunch defender of Louisa, but if I were to find a time when I think Louisa is depicted as lacking sympathy or sufficient concern for M, it would be in this episode. I want to discuss that and then move on to another pet peeve of mine-whether DM is medically accurate.

The episode begins with loud knocking at the front door before 6:30 a.m. L is annoyed at being awakened so early and stays in bed while M goes downstairs to see who’s at the door. It isn’t long before her alarm rings and the baby starts crying. She didn’t get much more time in bed and I would have expected her to get up with M like she does in S5 when Morwenna shows up too early for work. (I think that time it was only 6 a.m.) When L comes down to see what’s going on, M asks her if she can identify the man who has been dropped off after being found unconscious on the beach. She has never seen the man before and is in a hurry to get James dressed. We can hear James crying upstairs. She, therefore, doesn’t want to get M water for the pt. The look he gives her makes her change her mind. I would have expected her to be willing to help with the water without objection. The next time we see her, she is ready to head out to school and finds many things to express concern about to Michael before she hands him James. Here we have a mother’s difficulty with leaving her baby, while she overlooks her husband’s needs. We know M has gone upstairs to get dressed, but we don’t know what, if anything, was discussed while they were both getting ready for the day.

By the time L is ready to walk out the door, M has confronted his blood phobia’s return. L notices something is up with M, but ignores it and leaves for work. (This may not be surprising since he looks like he’s deep in thought and he isn’t much for affectionate goodbyes.) They’re really both on edge, for different reasons.

As the day continues, L is distracted by mixed feelings about leaving JH and doesn’t read Becky’s article for the newspaper. The next day she gets angry with Becky over publishing it without her permission. She’s still bothered by leaving JH with Michael. Thus, work is stressful at the same time as L is stressed by her dual roles and M can only say “I told you so.” We should give her some space for dealing with so many stresses.

The following day begins with Ruth visiting and finding M rocking JH because they had a bad night. Of course, lack of sleep puts additional stress on both parents. The day turns out to be trying in many ways with L dealing with Bert’s anger over Becky’s article and M dealing with the recurrence of his hemophobia and then rescuing Ruth from her stalker and getting his hand cut.

By the last scene, L has learned of M’s scuffle with the stalker at R’s house and says, “what a day!” She sees him cleaning his wound, and asks how his hand is. She’s not satisfied and asks again if he’s all right. He covers up by asking her about her day and putting some gauze over his wound, keeping it covered from L. L tells him about how she’s handled the Becky matter. It would be a nice exchange between them if it weren’t for the hand issue. L tells him he looks pale, but reads Becky’s article about him anyway, asks if he’s really ok, then leaves him. Of course, he says he’s fine; he says that every time. But I had to wonder why L would read an article to him that criticizes him just when he’s dealing with a wound after a long, tedious day? They first agree that Becky has a right to free speech, but it’s rather harsh to read a critical article about M at that moment. If it’s meant to be funny, the joke falls flat, including L’s judgment that Becky’s only ten and has written this piece well.

Louisa at least has a mixture of concern and lack of concern. She always meets with his resistance to tell her very much, and that can’t be easy. So I give her a less than satisfactory assessment during this episode even though she can’t be faulted entirely.

Then I started thinking about all the times M has wounded a hand and how difficult that would be for a surgeon. Their hands are exceptionally important to them.
S2: Martin gets his wrist caught in a trap while looking for Mark in the woods
S4: falls and hurts hand on broken glass
S6: hurts wrist falling down a hill in E1
gets his palm sliced by large knife during scuffle in E3

Hand wounds are often quite painful and this last one should have been. I also think it should have been looked at in the ER and L should have insisted on taking him there. Most doctors think they can take care of their own medical problems only to find out they need help. (I know because I’m married to one of those! Don’t bother a colleague-it’s embarrassing.)

In the above episode there are several medical and logical instances that are not very accurately presented. Not only does Martin seem to have a clean gauze bandage handy in his pocket to wrap around his bleeding hand immediately after it is cut, the knife isn’t dripping from blood after the event. Martin seems to have a high pain threshold throughout the series, and in this case he would have to because palms of hands have a lot of nerve endings. Following the altercation, he offers to make Ruth a cup of tea to calm her, which means he must feel good enough to not deal with his hand immediately. We also have to assume the cut wasn’t very deep because he can move his fingers and the wound stops bleeding pretty fast. Also, Martin had to have held his hand so perfectly following the cut, and the cut must have been rather shallow, or the skin would not have been aligned as well as it looks in the final scene, nor would the edges have adhered to each other so well. Furthermore, all surgeons are very alarmed by any injury to their hands. Surgeons sometimes joke that they are all cerebellum, brainstem and hands. At the beginning of S6E4, Martin no longer has a bandage on his left hand and he can hold the baby without a problem. We don’t know exactly how much time has elapsed between these two episodes, but unless it’s at least a week later, it would be surprising for him to not have it bandaged anymore. In S4, his phobia kept him from even looking at his wound and he kept the bandage on for quite a while.

In addition, Ruth gives Robert an injection of either Largactil or Benzodiazepine. She suggests either to Martin, and we’re not sure which one he has in his bag. Both of these meds are used to treat all sorts of psychiatric disorders related to psychosis, anxiety, schizophrenia, etc. Neither would be likely to work so fast that the patient would collapse on the floor immediately following an intramuscular injection of it. It would be more likely to take a minimum of 5 minutes rather than 10 seconds to take effect. For the purposes of the show, the medicine has to work fast, but it’s not accurate.

There is always a spectrum of plausible to possible to likely in every medical condition. Naturally there are individual differences for everything too. But I think the accuracy of the medical cases in this show is very much along the lines of what Philippa says in one interview: they ask the medical consultant if something they’ve come up with is possible and if he says it is, they leave it in. The medical accuracy in this show is better than most yet still not really that stringent.

Originally posted 2014-05-22 17:23:25.

Fathers and Sons

After writing about mothering in an early post, I felt it was time I looked at fathers. In thinking about how the writers of DM have treated the relationship between fathers and sons, I have eventually settled on the idea that the unifying themes have to do with sons following their fathers into their careers and, at the same time, often highly dysfunctional fathers influencing their sons to pursue quite different approaches to life.

We don’t have that many father/son combinations in the show. Of course, Bert and Al are the most prominent because their interaction is either a primary or secondary story in many episodes. Next, in order of importance to the show, is Martin’s interface with his father Christopher. After that we have taxidermist Victor Flynt and his sons Wallace and Paddy; the undertaker Neville Pote and son Harry; psychologist Anthony Oakwood and son Sam; and Theo Wenn and his father Richard. With the exception of the Oakwoods and Wenns (because Sam and Theo are too young to have decided on a profession), all of the sons have decided to either choose the same profession as their fathers or work with their fathers. In most of these cases, the sons do not emulate many of their fathers traits, although they may admire some characteristics of their fathers.

By using this mixture of feelings between sons and their fathers, the show comports with observations made by psychologists who have studied how fathers influence their children’s careers. One of these is clinical psychologist Stephan B. Poulter, whose book The Father Factor: How Your Father’s Legacy Impacts Your Career, defines five main styles of fathering. Dr. Poulter devotes a chapter each to:
The Superachiever Father
The Time Bomb Father
The Passive Father
The Absent Father (whether physically or emotionally)
The Compassionate / Mentor Father

I don’t want to go into detail about what he says about each of these. Suffice it to say that he makes an attempt at understanding how fathers impact their children, a subject that has not received as much emphasis as so many other forces on children have received.

Provocatively, there is a year old article published in the UK Mail Online that states: “just seven per cent of children today end up in the same job as their mother or father”…and, even more significantly,”42 per cent [of parents] actively [do not want] their child to do the same job as them – compared to 11 per cent in favour.”

If we accept these stats, the sons in DM are outside the mainstream in UK. We could suppose that Al, Wallace, Paddy, and Harry are all somewhat weakened due to various circumstances. Al feels responsible for Bert and has a huge conscience and, therefore, an inability to walk away from his father; Wallace and Paddy empathize with their father and his psychological impairment; and Harry has an overprotective and overbearing father. Martin perhaps was not only influenced by his father, but also by his grandfather, both of whom were physicians. (On Facebook recently some women mentioned M’s grandfather’s gift to M of a frog to dissect. We also know his grandfather was an accomplished physician and that when M was seven, he broke his grandfather’s clock and wanted to fix it. The connection to his grandfather may have been a more important reason for his choice of medicine than his father’s practice of medicine.)

We also have to factor in that, with the exception of M and Sam, all of these sons have been nurtured by their fathers without much input from their mothers. We have the somewhat curious arrangement in this show of many single mothers or single fathers.

Al is a fascinating study in that Bert has been such a force in his life and in the community. At various times we see Al trying to separate from Bert, e.g. when he wants to study computers rather than be a plumber; when he goes to Uganda; and when he works for Ruth. Ultimately, he does find a way to develop his own business and Bert kindly congratulates him while also reassuring him that he will always be there for him. Until then, however, no matter how often Al unearths Bert’s failed plots, his conscience won’t allow him to utterly reject Bert. Thus, Al ends up helping Bert as a plumber even after he thought he was done with that, covers up for Bert when he takes over the fish frying business for Mrs. Kronk, waits tables at Bert’s restaurant, and gives up his bedroom so that Bert can earn some extra money. He even compromises his integrity and Ruth’s trust by using her money to pay back Bert’s loan, and arrives late to pitch his business idea to Ruth because Bert guilts him into attempting to fix the cheap generator he’s rented. Throughout the series we keep hoping Al will find something that will take him away from Bert even though we like Bert and consider him a good father. Bert is the epitome of how fathers can make it so hard for their sons to choose a different direction. Apart from skirting the edges of honesty and legality, Bert is a good guy and sincerely loves his son. We want more for Al because we see his potential. By the end of S6, Ruth has become Al’s savior after overcoming much resistance from Bert. There’s no question that when Ruth asks Bert whether he feels threatened by her in S5E2, he certainly does, whether he admits it or not. (Again, we must keep in mind that the interplay between Bert and Al is integral to the series. If Al were to leave, we would have a very different show. Within that constraint, Al has found a way to separate from his father and soon we’ll see what problems he has.)(I want to remind you that I addressed the issue of Al’s biological connection to Bert in my post on Family; therefore, I did not go into that here.)

Wallace and Paddy are sad souls whose home life has been a trial in many ways. The fact that they are caring towards their father and have stayed with him for so long following their mother’s departure speaks volumes for their character. Maybe we should simply be glad for them that they have mastered the art of taxidermy as demonstrated by their present to M of the stuffed German Shepherd. (We should never lose sight of the humor implicit in all of this. M doesn’t like dogs, has needed to avoid the German Shepherd guarding the Flynts’ entrance, and is now the recipient of the posthumous dog. Just what he wants, a dead dog!)

Harry is young, small in stature, and easily cowed. I could imagine his father basically setting the ground rules and dictating his future. Not that Neville doesn’t love his son. He tries to build up his muscles and he worries about his son’s health. It’s just that Harry will never have a life of his own unless Neville backs off, and there is no reason to believe that he will do that.

Martin is the major dilemma in the realm of fathers and sons. Based on the memory he has in S5E5 of his father’s angry demeanor towards him as a child, the few remarks he makes about punishment he endured as a child, and the belittling comments his father makes to him about his medical position and his financial prowess, we know Martin has had a very difficult relationship with his father. Nevertheless, he has chosen medicine like his father (and his grandfather) and seems to hope that his son will be drawn to it as well. Martin has several reasons for that decision: it’s not only a family tradition, it’s also something for which he has both aptitude and interest, it suits his disposition (especially being a surgeon, which involves less patient interaction and more autonomy), and keeps him busy so that he hardly misses social contact. He disdains Christopher’s efforts to charm the villagers and sees through the artificiality, although he naively miscalculates his father’s deviousness in regard to Joan. He clearly has very different sensibilities about family than his father, and wants to reject modeling his behavior after his father. His early willingness to care for his son shows a love and tenderness that he must never have had from his father. Those signs of affection continue as JH ages and are there through the final episode of S6. Unfortunately, we see in S5 and S6 that distancing himself from his father’s tendency to be domineering and disrespectful is not as easy as he’d like it to be. He wants to handle home life differently and tries to remain engaged with JH, but his lack of awareness about the need to communicate with Louisa and the all-engrossing preoccupation with his medical condition make that extremely difficult. So we are left with a sense that Martin’s father’s influence has been more of a force to reckon with than he has expected. (I’m not forgetting M’s mother’s influence here; only focusing on his father at the moment.)

One way we can look at what Anthony Oakwood and his son Sam bring to the show is as a demonstration of the opposite approach to child rearing. Instead of demanding too much from his son, Anthony demands too little. As a result, Sam is lost and acts out. Anthony may represent New Age openness with all of its pitfalls, but it’s obvious that Sam is attention seeking and in need of clear parental boundaries. Theo is also the victim of too much indulgence on the part of his parents. In his case, he exemplifies the child whose family thinks he can never do anything wrong. Richard is quite weak and defers to his wife. Theo’s parents appear to be distracted by their own problems and overreact because they probably feel some guilt that they have been neglecting him and because they see a way to get some money. They, too, are terrible models for their son.

We can’t overlook the importance of fathers in their son’s lives. Mothers may get the lion’s share of praise and blame, but fathers certainly should not be forgotten. DM gives us a pretty full picture of the various ways fathers impact their sons and does so in a mostly serious way. I look forward to reading your ideas on this subject.

Originally posted 2014-05-11 21:00:13.

Another post coming up

I haven’t published anything in a little while and wanted to let you know that I do plan another post soon. I have to admit, however, that I am struggling to come up with meaningful post ideas. I have been planning to write a short story with a DM reference, but not really fanfiction. If I reach a point where I’m happy with it, I will decide what to do with it and let you all know.

Please keep checking and see what you think about my next post. Thanks for being readers of this blog. Karen

Originally posted 2014-05-10 15:38:56.

Should Martin and Louisa stay together?

To answer this question we have to address the whole issue of what it means to pose a question like this about a TV show. My approach has always been to work off what’s written and try to analyze what’s on the page (or screen). The author wrote it like that for a reason and, if the work of literature or the show is a success, it’s because of how the author established the story.

As I said in my recent post about why DM has appealed to us, the match between Martin and Louisa is essential to the show. For those of you who have seen “Breaking Bad,” would you question whether Skyler should have stayed with Walter? It turned out to be a really bad decision on her part, but she went back to Walter for so many valid reasons, and that’s one of the important issues we end up thinking about. The show would be totally different if Skyler left Walt and never went back; and DM would not be DM if Louisa doesn’t reconsider and try again. The show is built around this couple dealing with all sorts of relationship difficulties, struggling to manage them, finding it hard to know what happened between them to make their attraction to each other so frustrating, and then realizing that they genuinely want to be together.

Maybe in the real world their marriage would not last even though they both care about JH. So many marriages don’t these days. But, in my opinion, we have to be very careful about thinking about their relationship as if it’s in the real world. Of course, many people make the wrong decisions about who to marry and whether to stay together all the time. However, this is something different; this is a purposely contrived situation to probe what might happen with two people named Louisa and Martin who want to stay together, despite having many personal problems. It’s also meant to be funny to see what they are confronted with and how they decide to handle it. Series 6 began with one of the funniest episodes of all of the series in my view. The plan was to have Martin and Louisa finally get married because their romance had gone on long enough without that payoff. After their wedding fell apart at the end of S3 and viewers were angry about how that turned out, they decided not to toy with it again. But we could never have expected that everything would be just fine now and we would watch a happily married couple enjoy even one uncomplicated night. E1 included some lovely moments for us to take pleasure in, then one thing after another goes awry. Nevertheless, as I’ve written when I looked at all the humor in that episode, the antics of that night still have the newlyweds working in concert with each other and ending up as well as can be expected after a night of that kind.

We can’t think in terms of what would happen if we changed the key match in the show. After just having written a bunch about “All in the Family,” I wonder if anyone would have ever thought to say “why didn’t Edith leave Archie?” Or, “Why does Carmella stay with Tony in “The Sopranos?” Or, in “Downton Abbey,” what if Sibyl didn’t choose to marry Tom, or Mary didn’t turn down others for Matthew?

We don’t ask whether Rhett Butler should have married Scarlett O’Hara (in Gone with the Wind). The whole story would be different if he hadn’t, even if they would have been better off apart.

These stories are constructed and developed with these broken relationships because they are at the heart of the narrative; they make the story what it is. If we counsel them to forget about each other and move on, the whole story falls apart.

Yes, DM is about more than whether Martin and Louisa can be together. It began as a tale about a vascular surgeon who has to leave surgery because of his blood phobia. But from the moment he meets Louisa on the plane to Portwenn, we know there will be an ongoing tension between these two. We enjoy the other characters, the patient interaction, the scenes with Mark and Julie, or Penhale’s mishaps. We laugh at and get annoyed with Mrs. Tishell, or Pauline, or Bert and Al. The thing that brings us back to the show, however, is what will happen next with Martin and Louisa. More than that, it’s the very human mistakes they make and their marital discord that we can’t stop thinking about and talking about. The whole show would blow up if the script had them separating for good. Just look at what happened at the end of S3 when it seemed like that was exactly what the outcome would be.

Caroline Catz was asked if her character was coming back for S4 on some talk shows between series, and she tried to be coy. I never doubted she’d be back because without her there is no show, in my opinion. Without Louisa, and Caroline Catz’s tremendous portrayal of her, we have a show about a quirky doctor treating patients who he generally disdains, and being rude more often than not. It would probably be entertaining and might still be fun to watch, but loses much of the depth we all like. With Louisa, we have a show about a man who has to deal with many demons and whose love for one woman makes him see everything differently. He wants to change; he wants a family; he wants to try to be a member of the community (after a fashion). He’s an accomplished physician with much greater dimension and complexity.

I don’t mean to sound too strong on this, but I have to say that posing this question strikes at the core of what it means to write a story. There are no “shoulds” only what is, and we then study it, and learn from it, and try to make sense of it. I know I’ve come on a bit heated in writing the above. I just cannot see how we can ever admire literature or excellent films or TV shows unless we accept the premise upon which they have been written.

I’m ducking now to protect myself from whatever animosity I might receive…

Originally posted 2014-05-01 15:02:31.

What is it about DM that is so appealing?

A reader of this blog has asked me what I think is the reason so many viewers have found Doc Martin a show that captivates them. I’ve certainly asked myself that question a number of times. I’ve never started a blog about anything before even though I’ve admired other TV shows, and I’ve never watched episodes of a show many times over as much as I have with this show. My background is analyzing and interpreting novels; my professional life has been teaching how to closely read what we have called “Great Books” so that they can be fully appreciated. For me, this show has been like analyzing a well written novel with the added quality of excellent acting.

What makes a novel “great”? As a professor of literature, I’ve been asked that question many times. Certainly the use of language and all of its subtleties has a lot to do with it. Often it’s how the novel represents its time, and we have had many literary movements over the last 4 centuries. Another important element is the themes it explores: do we learn something about human nature, relationships, love, family interactions, existential dilemmas? Has the writer created a plot and characters that urge us to think deeply about the characters and their circumstances? There are many identifiable attributes that make a novel great along with some ineffable ones.

Since I began thinking more specifically about why DM has inspired me to be so intrigued, I read an article in the New Yorker Magazine written by Emily Nussbaum, their television critic. In that article from earlier this month Nussbaum discusses what made “All in the Family” so popular in the 70s. I have decided, as a result, that I should approach the question of “Doc Martin” and its appeal from both an objective and a subjective position. (I should mention that Nussbaum refers to a new book by Saul Austerlitz titled “Sitcom: A History in 24 Episodes from ‘I Love Lucy’ to ‘Community.’ ” I know DM isn’t a sitcom; however, there is plenty of humor and I can see a lot of similarities between what Nussbaum and Austerlitz write and DM.)

The objective view I would like to propose follows Nussbaum’s thoughts on “All in the Family” to a great extent. It seems quite apropos because, as Nussbaum recounts, “All in the Family” began as a British show called “Till Death Do Us Part” that was also a ratings hit. The objective view will be along the lines of what I would say about a novel. Indeed, I think that one reason I have become so fascinated by this show is because it can be analyzed like a novel. One DM fan recently posted a podcast with Nigel Cole, one of the directors of DM and the director of “Saving Grace,” the film progenitor of DM. He had a lot of interesting things to say about his experiences as a director and how he works with scriptwriters. For me, one of the most insightful comments he makes is that TV is like a novel in that it allows characters to drift and to have them fluctuate between being appealing and being disturbing or unlikeable. He used “Breaking Bad” and Walter White as the best example. Sometimes he’s attractive and caring, and sometimes he’s disturbing and exasperating; Cole likes that flexibility. I like that too and see the same sort of “drifting” in Martin Ellingham.

The subjective view will be my personal thoughts on why I have responded to the show with such long-term interest, with the hope that my reasons will resonate with those of you who read them.

Now on to the Nussbaum article and how I see it relating to DM:
Among the comments Nussbaum makes about “All in the Family” is that the selection of Carroll O’Connor as the actor was essential. According to Nussbaum, “O’Connor’s noisy, tender, and sometimes frightening performance made the character unforgettable.” When they decided to expand the Martin Clunes’ character of Dr. Martin Bamford from “Saving Grace” and position him as a doctor who comes to the village of Portwenn, they fortuitously worked with an actor who applied these same attributes. Whether intentional or not, Martin Clunes has taken a page out of O’Connor’s notebook with his portrayal of Martin Ellingham. Nussbaum states “Archie was the first masculine powerhouse to simultaneously charm and alienate viewers.” She also notes “it’s Archie’s volcanic charisma that lingers.” ME has the same mixture of charm and charisma along with a tendency to be insufferable.

While Archie Bunker gave bigotry a human face at a time when America was dealing with civil rights issues, Martin Ellingham gives socially compromised (Asperger’s like) adults a personal representative. (We can argue over what ME is afflicted with, but Dominic Minghella and Philippa Braithwaite have acknowledged he’s not “normal.”) Autism and Asperger’s have become very prominent disorders lately, and using that sort of handicap works well with the audience of the past decade. Martin Ellingham also represents the doctors of the world who try to make sense of the way people/patients handle their health and medical care in today’s environment of the internet and diminished respect for physicians.

According to Nussbaum, Archie should also be described as an anti-hero, and, as Nussbaum notes,”as anyone who has ever read the comments on a recap can tell you, there has always been a less ambivalent way of regarding an antihero: as a hero.” Martin Clunes has said British audiences like their heroes “anti.” Nussbaum believes that many viewers embrace anti-heroes, and we can easily point to “The Sopranos” Tony Soprano, “Breaking Bad’s” Walter White, even “True Detective’s” Rust Cohle; I could go on. Martin Ellingham’s abrasiveness makes him an anti-hero, while he retains many endearing qualities much like Archie (Tony, Walter, and Rust). Literature is filled with anti-heroes with this same combination of nastiness and attractiveness.

A recent interview with Bryan Cranston, who played the role of Walter White in “Breaking Bad,” elicited this comment: There’s a reason antiheroes are so popular all of a sudden. “In days gone by, there were those bad guys of poorly written material who were just bad. No reason, no rhyme — they were just bad,” Cranston said. “It’s easy for the audience to cast them aside and just go, ‘I’m not even afraid of him because he’s just bad.’ You know where he’s coming from, you know what he wants. But a more interesting, complex character is someone who I’m not sure if he’s good or bad. I’m uncertain. And that’s what strikes the heart of Nucky [on ‘Boardwalk Empire’] and Tony Soprano and my character.” ME fits that description as well.

In addition, Nussbaum addresses the way words are used in “All in the Family.” Surprisingly, one of the most influential literary theorists of the 20th century, Paul de Man, quoted Archie and Edith’s dialogue to dramatize a point about the slipperiness of meaning in words: “the idea that the intent of words was endlessly interpretable.” In the case of Archie and Edith, Edith takes Archie’s comment “What’s the difference?” literally and explains the difference to him, while Archie really means he doesn’t care. In DM, ME takes comments literally all the time, e.g. when L asks M how she looks and he answers flushed and takes her pulse. She’s hoping for a compliment, not a medical opinion. By writing the dialogue in this manner, we recognize the ambiguity of language and how hard it is for L, or anyone for that matter, to get through to M. Words often fail to convey to him what someone is trying to tell him. Furthermore, he struggles to find the right words with which to express himself. In both of these examples, we viewers enjoy the flubbed communication and mostly humorous consequences.

Nussbaum concludes her article by stating that good TV shows involve “storytelling that alters the audience by demanding that viewers do more than just watch.” She wants originality and would “rather watch a show that unsettled me than something that was merely ‘good.'” We can all attest to the fact that DM leads us to do more than just watch and can be unsettling at times. That is cause for celebration and more evidence of its excellence.

Now that I’ve probably gone overboard with my objective analysis, I’ll move on to my subjective reasons.

Perhaps the most important reason I felt compelled to start a blog about DM is that watching the show brought up so many philosophical topics about the human experience. It made me want to interrogate what it means to be a mother, how to define family, what names signify. It dramatized many women’s issues and the prevalence of psychological conditions of all kinds. It inspired me to think about whether people can change and what brings us happiness in life. In short, the show has given me another opportunity to put my brain to work in the same way that a good novel has always done for me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read Melville’s Moby Dick or Flaubert’s Madame Bovary or Mann’s Death in Venice. Re-watching “Doc Martin” is no different. Every time I reread these works of literature or re-watch an episode, I see something I missed, something new that excites me if only because I never noticed it before.

Moreover, I love the combination of these serious topics with the humorous delivery. I would argue that all of the shows I’ve mentioned above contain that same sort of gravity accompanied by scenes that make me laugh (as do the novels I’ve mentioned). It doesn’t get any better than that. If we can be provoked at the same time as being entertained, it’s the best of both worlds to me. I revel in ME’s pratfalls, awkward comments, dialogue with his receptionists, inability to admit fault, conversations with Stewart, etc., etc. I have published several posts on the humor in the show, so I doubt anyone reading this will be surprised that I consider humor very valuable to the show. Of course it helps that Martin Clunes is well known as a comedian and wants the show to have a comedic underpinning. Caroline Catz may not have spent as much time doing comedy as MC, but her timing and expressions convince me that she is just as capable in that field of acting as she is in drama.

Which brings us to the quality of the acting and the characters themselves. The main characters have been developed as multidimensional, and that in itself is fascinating. We can’t pigeonhole them. Not only do Caroline Catz and Martin Clunes have a good chemistry between them that comes across during their scenes together, but also they are both accomplished at portraying an equipoise between vulnerability and strength; uncertainty and forcefulness. For me, that quality is truly captivating and draws me to their characters. ME is an underdog due to his social and psychological issues, and we generally root for the underdog.

The other attribute of these actors that I think helps is that they are physically attractive and appealing, but accessible and have unique features. We can relate to them as being part of the real world because they appear natural, unaltered, and approachable. They reflect that no one is perfect. I know that there are many women and men who have developed an infatuation with MC and CC and will probably object to my position that they have flaws. I’m willing to take my lumps for this comment.

Beyond the two primary characters, we have so many other regulars who are intrinsic to the show – Mrs. Tishell, Aunt Joan, Bert, Al, Pauline, Morwenna, Mark, Joe, Aunt Ruth – and who add depth and levity. They are types to be sure; however, they aren’t stereotypes. Through the great development of each of these characters, something that makes them come alive and seem real, we have a unified team that carries us through the series. Then other “visiting” cast members can enter and exit without changing the overall atmosphere. Substitutions of main cast members have occurred with amazingly little disruption: Aunt Ruth has replaced Aunt Joan, Morwenna has replaced Pauline, and Joe has replaced Mark. Each time I have been stunned at the seamlessness with which I accept the newcomers. The new characters bring something fresh to the show such that I can move on without too much regret. (I do miss Roger Fenn and think it would be nice to have another man in the village who could have some sort of relationship with Martin.)

Ultimately, the reason I like the show so much is because of the writing. As Nigel Cole said in his interview, and as I’ve quoted Robert McKee as having said, the script is everything. Cole asserts that once a script has been work-shopped and the director and writers have worked together to get the script right, there’s no way to make the filming better than the script. He’s seen directors make things worse, but never better. According to him, the director’s job is to bring the script to fruition. I re-watch many episodes because I want to hear the dialogue again. I want to hear the fish monger’s speech to ME, Mrs. T’s diatribe on L and M’s relationship, M’s discussions with Louisa, or Pauline, or Margaret, or Ruth and others. It’s a joy to hear how the words have been maximized for the best impact. I know how hard it is to write that well and truly admire this achievement.

I can’t deny that I also enjoy the romance between ME and L as well as the scenes with JH. Without the attraction between Martin and Louisa, the show would be missing an essential attribute. There generally has to be a love interest in every successful show (or novel), someone with whom there is friction as well as enticement. The match between ME and L has worked very well for the series. L has been allowed to stand up to M on many occasions while M continues to baffle her throughout. Still, we see their desire to keep trying to be a couple, never entirely happy either apart or together. I like that tension, although I’m ready for a little less of it now. In addition, the tenderness with which both ME and L treat JH is endearing. I’m glad ME is given the freedom to be caring and loving towards his son. I’d like to see more fathers interact with their children in such an intimate fashion in real life, and it makes me a little sad that until recently most men never took that sort of interest in their babies.

The fact that the show depicts many medical conditions and uses them as a means of demonstrating what kind of person ME is also appeals to me. I have been surrounded by the medical profession for many years and get a kick out of the interplay between doctor and patient.

The setting is not as important to me as the other elements. That part of England is beautiful, but it’s not what captures my imagination. I could see any small village working as the backdrop for the series. The location works well because of its remoteness and the surrounding area has the convenience of somewhat larger towns with facilities the citizens of Portwenn can use. It’s just not the compelling force that drives me to watch the show.

I’m sure I’ve left out some features that I may kick myself for forgetting. I look forward to reading your feedback.

Originally posted 2014-04-26 18:43:26.

And Now for Aunt Ruth

I realize it has taken me a very long time to follow up my post on Aunt Joan with one on Aunt Ruth. Family demands have been the reason. A colleague of mine once told me that family keeps interfering with one’s work. This blog isn’t exactly work, more a labor of intellectual entertainment. Still, I try to keep up with it.

Ruth’s relationship to Martin has been very different from what Joan’s has been. While Joan had taken Martin under her wing and helped provide love and a refuge from his horrible parents, Ruth has never spent much time with M on an individual basis. She has memories of him as a child, and she speaks to him every year at Christmas time, but there’s no evidence that she and Martin have any close ties. Their ability to communicate is based on their choice of professions and on their similar approach to personal interactions. She’s the middle child between charming but artificial and demeaning Christopher and warm and totally disarming Joan, and she has a little of both of them in her. They’ve all grown up in a family that Ruth describes as “distant mother, overbearing father.” We also know she was never allowed to call her father “Daddy.” Ruth mentions to Bert that because of her profession, she’s always on the lookout for personality disorders, that it’s an occupational hazard. Well, there were many members of her own family who had personality disorders. It may seem too stereotypical to say that she went into psychiatry because of her own emotional difficulties, but it’s something to consider. The fact that she decided to enter a side of her profession that deals with very disturbed individuals, the criminally insane, tells us that she chose an area of psychiatry in which there is less talk therapy and more medication therapy. She must approach her cases with a degree of detachment greater than most psychiatric care and her personality is suited to that. I would argue that her general manner of interpreting situations is clinical, quick to identify essential factors, and objective, although there are moments when she has breakthroughs of emotion. Throughout this show, we are presented with the dichotomy of emotional responses against rational ones and asked to weigh which one works best. The character of Ruth brings that comparison more into the foreground.

In contrast to her siblings, Ruth has never married or even had much of a love life. The only indication that she’s had any sex in her life is when she tells Louisa that she had a “succession of quasi-sexual encounters at a very young age.” That doesn’t have a positive implication and she may have been scarred by these in some way. It’s a leap to say too much about that, but the message is that she really doesn’t know much about love and intimacy.

Everyone in the family seems to dislike Christopher, so they all have that in common.

Our introduction to Ruth is when she arrives for Joan’s funeral in her blue, old model Mercedes. She approaches Martin, who is standing with Louisa and the baby, and says “condolences and that sort of thing.” She has suffered a loss as much as Martin, but she treats Joan’s death as if Martin has lost a lot more than she has. Martin does not reply in kind, which seems to indicate he, too, considers Joan’s death more of a loss for him (or that he always finds it hard to express sympathy). Ruth has heard about Louisa and the baby from Joan, but Louisa has never heard about Ruth. When Martin asks Louisa to accompany Ruth into the church, we get more of Ruth’s cynicism and frankness. She tells Louisa not to lie about having heard about her, or, if she chooses to lie, she should do it with more conviction. Once seated in the church, Ruth tells Louisa that she isn’t much good at small talk, that her “upbringing gifted her with a chronic case of social awkwardness,” and that she “either alienate(s) or overshare(s).” She also has no hesitation in asking Louisa if she plans to try to marry again, and says she looks the type. Her question is great because it exhibits her social awkwardness while also expressing something we viewers wonder too. After the funeral we learn that Joan has chosen to leave the farm to Ruth even though it was Martin who salvaged it for Joan, but Ruth remarks that Joan “was determined to get me out of London.” (Ruth also notes that she only gave Joan slippers for Christmas, a remark that’s both funny and another sign that Ruth has a cynical approach to life.)

She plans to stay for a week at first, but eventually decides to stay on and write a book. Soon after her arrival in Portwenn, Martin bumps into Ruth outside the green grocer. She has not yet adapted to life on the farm, but it’s her cough and overall appearance that Martin notices, along with her evasiveness about her health. This is also when Ruth makes the important observation that she is proud of Martin for doing “serious medicine” again. I enjoy her equation of being a GP with doing “serious medicine” as opposed to whatever doing surgery is. She has a vastly different opinion of Martin’s current medical practice than either of his parents has, or what he himself has. As they part company, Ruth sends her love to the family. Her tone carries a touch of formality and another of amusement. On the show there is an ongoing difficulty with defining who comprises one’s family, and her comment is a reminder of that.

It turns out that Ruth’s evasiveness is due to her suspicion that she is dying from lupus. We learn this because she must seek Martin’s help after she cuts her finger. While treating her deep cut, M discovers that she doesn’t feel pain and eventually manages to get R to reveal her suspicions about her health. We also see her get emotional for the first time. She’s brought to tears about the prospect of dying and reacts with uncharacteristic affection when M tells her his very different and much less dire diagnosis. The enthusiastic hug she gives Martin after he tells her she has Sjogren’s and not lupus is the only time they have any physical contact. The overt affection he and Joan shared is not a part of his relationship with Ruth; however, Ruth and he share a trust and compatibility he can’t find with anyone else. Ultimately, he looks to Ruth for advice and guidance that Joan would have been less capable of giving him.

Although S5 is very much about how Martin and Louisa deal with living together with their baby, Ruth has little to say about them as a couple until E5 when M takes the baby to Ruth’s for breakfast. It is then that Ruth observes that Louisa won’t like moving to London and that Martin and Louisa shouldn’t stay together for the baby’s sake. Her comment seems to take M aback and he denies that that is the reason they are staying together. I find this a stark contrast to the way Joan relates to Martin about Louisa and the baby. Joan is anxious for Martin to tell Louisa how much he wants to be with her and the baby; she seems certain that M is quite attached to both of them. The other thing that happens during this breakfast is that Ruth feels the need to point out to M that his baby wants his attention. She seems to be indicating that he’s not attuned to his son. For me, the fact that he has taken the baby with him to give L a break, dressed him, and gone through the rigamarole of getting him in and out of the car and stroller is evidence that he’s responsive to his baby.

E6 opens with Martin, Louisa, and James Henry having dinner with Ruth at the farm. Ever practical Ruth immediately asks who will look after the baby while L is at work. L answers that her mother will be taking that on, but M expresses doubts about her reliability. Ruth then wants to know about the back-up plan, which prompts L to ask if R is offering to help. Of course, R has no desire to help with the baby and the conversation deteriorates when M and L disagree over whether L could take him to work on occasion. There’s no escaping the tension between these parents. Dinner is followed by a trip to a shed where R wants to show them some items J was keeping: a clock that M remembers from his childhood and pictures of M as a young boy. This venture marks the first time L hears anything directly from R about M, and that M tells her anything directly about his childhood. M informs L that he went to boarding school at age 6 3/4 and took a taxi, then a train, then a bus. When L remarks that M doesn’t look very happy, R tells her he was happier at school than at home.

Later in E6 there’s more tension when M brings L a pamphlet about a boarding school at which he wants to hold a space for James. M has chosen a particularly bad time to bring up the boarding school idea because L is about to leave JH and go to work, and the whole idea horrifies her. They drop it for the time being but there’s more trouble ahead because when L gets home after a rough day, she discovers that M has moved the chocolate digestives and that he would like her to lose some weight. Ruth arrives just as L accuses M of calling her fat. Walking into this maelstrom puts Ruth in a difficult position. She has come to bring Martin the key to the clock and to bring L more pictures of M, and she certainly doesn’t wish to get in the middle of their discussion. Nevertheless, she can’t help noticing the school brochure and knows the previous headmaster had to leave because of embezzlement charges. Ruth innocently mentions another boarding school, which prompts L to snap about the whole idea of sending JH to boarding school at all. Thus, R is once again caught in the middle and the psychiatrist who habitually judges other people appears stunned and off balance.

Soon after, Louisa runs into Ruth in town and they talk about the pictures of M. Louisa is troubled that Martin always looks so sad, but R says it was always pointless to ask M to say cheese. She follows that with a comment that people don’t change, an echo of what Joan once said to M, and mentions the christening date. Once again L chooses to lie (without conviction) to R, and acts as though she knows about it. There’s no doubt that R notices. So far Ruth has accidentally inserted herself between Martin and Louisa all too frequently.

It’s hard to say whether Ruth has strong feelings about Martin and Louisa, but she has her doubts. She must notice that they both care about each other, but she also recognizes the significant differences between them. Since Ruth’s general approach is to be objective, and because of her own deficiencies when it comes to male/female relationships, I think she must be concerned that M and L are struggling as a couple. However, we have now reached E8 and M and L go through all sorts of challenges in this episode with R very much along for the ride. R gets involved only because she happens to see Penhale lose control of his car and jump the retaining wall. She then accompanies M and Penhale to the pharmacy to get JH from Mrs. T and get Penhale the correct eye drops. R is valuable because she explicates the medicine, finds the note Mrs. T has left, and reminds M that he needs to tell L what’s happening. She and Penhale accompany M to the school to get L and then join the search for Mrs. T. R is not much comfort at this time as she can’t help giving a clinical analysis of Mrs. T’s condition which includes a degree of uncertainty about the safety of JH. But in the hotel, R takes control, tells M and L to stop bullying the desk clerk and tells the clerk “a child may be in danger so grow a backbone, check that damn machine, and tell us if anyone has checked in with a baby or not.” She helps them look for Mrs. T. in the hotel, reminds them that Mrs. T. is not thinking rationally, and tries to calm M when he gets a phone call from Mrs. T. At this stage, R’s sensible approach keeps M and L from getting too heated about the circumstances.

Once they reach the place where Mrs. T. is holding the baby, R joins them at the entrance door. Here she is both a voice of reason and the person they can both react against. She continues to make an effort to keep them from getting too worked up and argues with both of them at times: she argues with M about what to do and she argues with L over how to respond to Mrs. T. R continues to be clinical while L just wants her baby back. R stands next to L while M talks to Mrs. T., and there are several occasions when she and L appear to have the same reaction to what they are hearing. However, the two women clash significantly about what M should tell Mrs. T. Louisa argues for a much stronger expression of M’s feelings for Mrs. T. than R recommends. M takes L’s advice and tells Mrs. T. that he had Penhale come with him “because he wanted to share our wonderful love.” Since Mrs. T. still hesitates, L tells M to say something even stronger and shushes R when she says that L knows nothing about psychology. M follows L’s advice again, and although R has one more warning about L’s errant advice, M’s expression of love works and Mrs. T brings down the baby. What has really taken place is L guiding M to tell her his true feelings. Through L’s success, we have witnessed emotions, in the person of L, winning over reason, in the person of R. Ruth’s final act is to usher Mrs. T. away from M and L and leave them to finally talk things out with each other.

We still have S6 to get through, and Ruth has a larger role in this series. My overall sense of Ruth’s assessment of Martin and Louisa in S6 is that, despite her continuing doubts that they belong together, she now wants to help them stay together. She expresses reservations before and during the wedding, but offers to help with JH so they can have a night alone, is available to both of them for talks and assistance, and has become a very important member of their family. She is protective of Louisa when Mrs. T. returns and tells L she will check on Mrs. T. when she gets back to the pharmacy. She wants to help M deal with his hemaphobia by recommending a good psychologist, and she is protective of him when his mother returns. The scene when Ruth tells Margaret she’s worried about the pain Margaret can still inflict on Martin, and to go home, is priceless. And, of course, the last episode makes us abundantly aware that Ruth is the person Martin can turn to in his anguish. She sets him straight about his insomnia and blood phobia, motivates him to confront his mother, encourages him to go after Louisa, and is where Martin wants Penhale to take JH when they arrive at the hospital. She hasn’t become any more emotional, but her common sense approach has softened just enough to show true affection for M and L.

Originally posted 2014-04-06 21:07:27.

What do Aunt Joan and Aunt Ruth think about Martin and Louisa?

I have been asked to address how Joan is depicted as viewing the relationship between Martin and Louisa. It’s an interesting question because she is somewhat mixed about it. I thought while I’m at it, I might as well look at Ruth too.(I noted Joan’s uncertain response to their decision to be together in my post “Mothering,” but didn’t go into any detail then.)

As I’ve begun thinking about this topic, I realized that Joan is the only one who M accepts hugs from and who he offers to hug, and fairly regularly. He tolerates hugs from her even while recoiling from physical contact with most others (with the prominent exception of Louisa of course). As I’ve said in a previous post (Mothering), Joan is really a surrogate mother for M. He has chosen to come to Portwenn after his hemaphobia forces him to leave his position as a vascular surgeon primarily because Joan is there. He needs Joan’s TLC, whether he consciously recognizes it or not, and she’s pleasantly surprised to know that he’s chosen Portwenn. During their reunion we learn that the last time she saw him was 30 years ago when he was 11 yo and he was still wetting the bed. We also learn that she and Martin’s father (her brother) don’t get on. She asks Martin to forgive her for cursing her brother and then calls him a “bloody idiot.” Thus, despite the long break in their interaction, Martin has never forgotten his aunt and, from the way she reacts to seeing him, she still has a soft spot in her heart for him, and they both hate Martin’s father. I think this aspect of their relationship is important in connection to determining how much Joan’s approval of Martin’s pursuit of Louisa means to him. We also could imagine that being drawn to Louisa so quickly contributes to making him decide to stay in Portwenn. Indeed, one of the last scenes in E1, after he’s had a terrible initiation to Portwenn and has told his agent Chris Parsons that he intends to leave, has him passing by the school again and staring at Louisa through the window. Soon after, he stands at the front window to his surgery building, looks out towards the school across the way, and takes out a saw to cut down the “For Sale” sign outside. Both Joan’s presence and Louisa’s appeal, in addition to the comments Bert makes and the likelihood that Martin hates to give up on anything, contribute to him deciding to stay in Portwenn.

The other thing that’s important about Martin’s first meeting with Joan is how much emphasis she puts on his love life. First she wonders if he left London and performing surgery because of some difficulties with a woman or lack of any female contact, next she remarks that he’s pale and needs to eat better if he wants to find a woman. So right away we know that Joan cares about Martin having a woman in his life. Later in the first episode there is a scene where Martin stares at Louisa while she is working with the students. Nearby Joan is unloading some vegetables from her truck and notices Martin “skulking.” She deduces that he and Louisa have not gotten along, but he denies that he is skulking, and says that he just happened to spot Louisa. Still, we as viewers are now aware that Martin is interested in Louisa and that Joan notices. Soon we also know that Louisa is interested in Martin. She flirtatiously approaches him at the street fair and they have a short introductory conversation. The interplay is established, and it’s pretty obvious that how their relationship develops will be a key plotline. With that in mind, Joan’s reaction to it carries importance.

The way the writers, et. al. have involved Joan in the development of the relationship between Martin and Louisa is by making her the intermediary between the two. Oftentimes she functions as the confidant or vessel for their comments about each other. Some examples include:
In S1,E2, Louisa and Joan have words about Martin and his unsympathetic behavior toward Roger and others. Louisa at this point thinks Martin is not treating the people of Portwenn nicely enough.

In S1,E4, Louisa first asks Martin to join her at the community dance, but he turns her down. Louisa offers to give Mark the ticket instead and Mark mistakenly assumes that she has asked him for a date. When Louisa arrives, Mark asks her to dance and she dances with him to have fun. Despite having chosen to skip the dance, Martin shows up there in order to find Mark. When Martin walks in, Mark and Louisa are dancing and then appear to be having an intimate chat. Martin decides not to bother Mark and Joan notices Martin leaving. She immediately picks up on Martin’s disgruntlement about Louisa and Mark. She notes that he really wanted to interrupt Mark. Joan’s attitude indicates amusement at Martin’s apparent interest in Louisa, but her remarks should also be interpreted as trying to encourage him to not back down. (In fact, she encourages him to pursue L on several occasions, especially when Danny appears.)

Then in S1,E5, John Slater returns to Portwenn. Joan tells Martin that she wants to renew her love affair with him, and Martin is against it. He knows John has a life-threatening heart condition but tells Joan he just doesn’t think that starting up their relationship again is a good idea. She tells him she doesn’t need his blessing, but she would like it. I expect that if Joan would like his blessing, Martin would like hers as well. She also tells him that she gave up John for him because his father wouldn’t let her continue to see Martin if she carried on her affair with John. This revelation also explains why John is somewhat spiteful towards Martin. By the end of the episode, Martin admits that he would have said anything to put Joan off John and he tells her about John’s condition. The scene ends with Joan crying and Martin putting his arms around her, something he rarely does with anyone, even Louisa. As a result of these exchanges, we know that Joan and Martin are very close and neither one would want to disappoint the other.

The next time Joan has anything to say to Martin about Louisa takes place in S2, E8 when Joan stops Martin to thank him for giving up his flat in London so that she can keep the farm. They are once again situated on the street near the school and, though I missed it previously, Joan notes that Martin is afflicted with the “Ellingham curse,” which she defines as “never talking about anything…keeping your emotions hidden.” (We can certainly vouch for the “Ellingham curse” coming back to haunt Martin’s marriage.) She follows that with a hug and then mentions that rumors abound that Danny is very keen on Louisa. She literally tells Martin to “do something, say something.” There’s nothing subtle about Joan’s awareness that Martin is attracted to Louisa, and perhaps that Louisa is attracted to him too. Of course, at that exact moment Louisa exits the school with some students, and Joan strongly encourages Martin to approach Louisa. He clearly wants to, but also looks a bit like a little boy taking advice from his mother. Martin manages to speak to Louisa, although she wants to talk about Mark Mylow and the trouble with Julie. However, her final comments about Mark are filled with innuendo as she tells M that she admires Mark for not holding back. Martin is tongue tied again at this point until he decides to ask her if she’s going to “go for it” with the architect. Naturally he ruins the moment by sarcastically asking her if she’s waiting for a “signal from on high.” So Joan’s effort to get Martin to intervene between Louisa and Danny somewhat backfires. Martin’s comments may, however, have had an impact on Louisa because later in the episode she turns down Danny’s marriage proposal and tells Martin that she wants to have a drink with him and talk. Joan has surely been instrumental in getting these two together even if it’s in an indirect way.

In the final episode of S3, Louisa seems to think Joan is an instigator of Martin’s endeavors to find a way to link up with her, as she immediately presumes Joan has suggested to Martin that he give her a birthday card. It’s an amusing way for Martin to attempt to recover from telling Louisa she’s a stalker. He also wants to ask her to have dinner with him, but Louisa’s father’s appearance eliminates that option. Joan becomes the source of Martin’s information about Louisa’s father and is the person who saw Terry steal the lifeboat money. Joan’s integrity is so beyond reproach that once Louisa asks him directly whether Joan is lying, Terry cannot look Louisa in the face and maintain his position that he wasn’t responsible for the theft. Joan is a pillar of the community, and, as such, wields special influence. I doubt that’s lost on either Martin or Louisa.

It’s when we get to S3, E4 that Joan’s comments begin to get contradictory. Her conversation with Martin after he’s walked in on her and Edward having sex on the kitchen table is remarkable in that she attacks M for disapproving. She comes to see Martin to talk to him about her relationship with Edward, but this time (as opposed to when John Slater showed up) she does not seem to want his blessing. Even more significantly, M wants to diagnose her attraction to Edward as due to her HRT implant and she tells him “this is not a medical problem.” (Sounds a lot like what Ruth tells Martin in the last episode of S6. When it comes to emotional situations, Martin is always going to look for a medical condition first.) In terms of Joan’s influence on Martin and his love life, it’s when she tells M that Edward’s attentions make her happy that we get down to what’s essential. She, like Louisa later, considers happiness important and she accuses Martin of wanting “everybody to be as lonely and miserable as you are.” Of course, Martin immediately denies that he is either of those things, but we know Joan thinks he is. Ipso facto, for Joan life is better when you have someone in it who makes you happy.

We really get down to business in the next three episodes during which Martin and Louisa go through some ups and downs with Joan involved in a fairly serious way. First, Martin and Louisa bump into Joan when they get to the concert and she seems quite pleased to see them out together. They only see her again when the concert breaks for intermission and Joan discovers that Martin has insulted her friend, the caterer. Joan looks decidedly let down when Martin takes a bathroom break, and she can tell Louisa is unhappy about the recent interaction. Joan first looks at Louisa as she leaves, then back in the direction of where Martin went and sighs deeply. We get the sense that Joan would like things to go well between the two of them.

Of course, the date ends badly, Martin can’t sleep because he’s so unhappy that Louisa has told him she doesn’t want to see him again, and when he decides to “do something, say something” by going to Louisa’s house to talk to her, he gets cold feet and can’t follow through. It’s the middle of the day but Martin is the one who’s emotional now. He’s reached a low point when Joan walks through the back door. She notices he’s glum and wonders how the date went. She mentions that Louisa seemed fed up at the concert and, somewhat dishearteningly, tells Martin that “any outing between the two of you is an accident waiting to happen.” She’s being matter-of-fact until she sees that Martin is close to tears. She knows better than to say any more, but she appears quite sorry for him. Nevertheless, she returns later with dinner and makes some more observations about Martin and Louisa. At this point she tells him that L and he are like chalk and cheese and that L would never have made him happy. Joan seems to equate happiness here with having the same approach towards people: Louisa likes them and Martin, “well, you’re you.” This time it’s Martin’s turn to make a derogatory comment about Joan’s life. Joan is certainly hurt by this, but doesn’t back down. Thus, in the span of this episode we’ve not only been taken through a potentially good evening out between Martin and Louisa to a dismal end to their excursion, but also seen Joan go from being regretful that Martin and Louisa’s date isn’t going well to being convinced that they could never have a successful relationship. I suppose Joan is being a realist who cares about Martin enough to try to comfort him by telling him to move on. Ultimately, their conversation about the prospects of Martin and Louisa being able to get along revolves around the question of whether people can change and Martin sets out to demonstrate that he can the next day. Even though Martin’s attempt at being more concerned about Holly’s condition is unconvincing to Louisa, the day certainly ends with the outcome he was hoping for. I think we have to view this vacillation on Joan’s part as a combination of practical assessment and concern for Martin.

By the next episode, Martin and Louisa have decided to get married and have spent the night together. Naturally, all of this takes Joan by surprise when she hears about it from the postman. However, by the time Martin gets to Joan’s house to tell her, she is totally on board and thrilled for him. She’s a little put out that it took him so long to tell her, but she’s got a family ring to use as an engagement ring and gives it to him gladly. During the last episode of S3, Joan has become anxious for the wedding to go well. She makes sure the flowers get to the church, worries about who will officiate, and wonders what Bert and Al are going to do about the food. She also stands outside the church nervously looking for Martin and Louisa to arrive. I would imagine that she is very disappointed when the wedding couple don’t show.

Joan’s attitude switches to being very supportive of Louisa once Louisa returns to Portwenn pregnant in S4. Throughout this series Joan questions Martin’s lack of involvement with Louisa, often accompanies Louisa to either see Martin or to her appointments in Truro, and generally seems angry at Martin for not doing more or for acting unkind to Louisa. It’s apparent that once again Joan thinks Martin isn’t doing enough to convince Louisa that he’s interested in her and the baby. I suppose she would like to see him demand to be a part of the prenatal care and finds him too willing to accept Louisa’s rejection of his help. We see a particularly irritated Joan during the labor and delivery scene where she is obviously vexed that Martin takes so long to tell Louisa that he wants to be with her. Of course, Joan can breathe easy by the end of the episode because Martin has come through after all and is with Louisa when the baby is born.

I know this has turned into a very long post. I have to admit I got very caught up in doing a thorough analysis. I was going to look at Ruth too, but will put that in another post. I hope I’ve done a decent job with the question I was supposed to answer. Please let me know what you think.

Originally posted 2014-03-28 00:39:41.

More about NHS

In keeping with my continuing monitoring of the British Health Service, I wanted to note a few updates. I consider this somewhat important since the show is about the medical practice of a  British GP and they constantly claim they are required to be accurate (and I have many doubts about that).

For one thing, I have recently watched a few episodes of the British series called Dr. Foster. As the title indicates, a medical doctor is its main protagonist, and she’s a GP in a small town north of London called Parminster, but is really Hitchin in Hertfordshire. Within the first 3 episodes Dr. Foster makes so many unethical and problematic medical decisions that any claim to accuracy is utterly unsubstantiated. (I have also seen a medical show called Holby City while in UK and it was also totally ridiculous in terms of the medical procedures. If you look up this show it will be identified as a British medical drama as well as a soap.) These shows are no different in terms of medical accuracy than many in the US.

Nevertheless, I find it interesting to learn what’s going on in the medical profession and medical care arenas in UK. To a great extent, these days the NHS is suffering for many reasons, not the least of which is the Brexit dilemma.

An article recently discussed the changing circumstances of British medicine. Some viewers of DM have speculated that ME might want to hire a nurse or assistant of some kind. The information in this article makes the prospect of that less likely, if we are expecting them to be accurate. It seems that a large number of immigrant nurses and other medical professionals are leaving the UK due to the rocky situation. The crisis could also mean that finding a replacement for Martin Ellingham would be difficult (in the real world, that is). (BTW, for one of the first times in the 8 series, S8 actually included two adults of non-white heritage: John Rahmanzai, whose father had a love affair with Ruth many years earlier; and Dr. Ray Howell, the member of the committee holding the hearing about ME’s ability to continue as a GP.)

You might also find it worth knowing that the British have an obesity problem too. The effort ME makes on occasion to recommend better diet and exercise is perhaps a warning to all viewers wherever they are.  On this subject, there was an article about how the British need to be more interested in exercise. The brief time that Clive decides to start running to improve his health is one way the show alludes to this, although ironically Clive ends up dying perhaps due to the strain caused by the running. When I reflect on the few times when exercise has been included in the show, it seems to often be accompanied by worrisome side effects. For example, in S7E1 Steve Baker tries to get into shape for his boating commemoration and ends up blacking out at a most unfortunate moment.

And, for an odd piece of information, this article appeared recently in the Washington Post and brought to mind the two older women in S6 E4 who had decided to give themselves a tattoo that reads “Do Not Resuscitate.” Apparently that is a thing! Who Knew? Not only have people had tattoos of this kind placed on their chests, but it’s happening in both the UK and the US, or at least the show has suggested its use. In another twist of irony, having this tattoo can actually create more controversy than it settles.

At any rate, the practice of medicine in UK is not really much different from ours in US except that the citizens are all covered, probably a relief to many in Portwenn and a possible reason why the waiting room is often so full.