Acting & Aging

A few weeks ago Santa suggested a post about how older people are treated in the show. It is remarkable how many older actors have been included in DM. I suppose one reason the show has older villagers is because of the cross-section of ages that makes up the totality of any small town. In this show, Louisa is the headmistress of an elementary school, which means we have quite a few very young actors. Then we have the parents of the young children and a smattering of citizens in their teens, twenties, and thirties. Somehow Portwenn has retained a fairly well distributed group of townspeople in relation to age. But the mainstay of any town is the older citizens who have lived there many years.

Despite my previous mention of Stephanie Cole having the only actual sex scene in the show (see “Women’s Issues, Part 1,” Sept. 9, 2013) , which was significant because she is an older woman and was representing the loneliness and lack of affection that often accompanies being an older woman whose spouse has died, I have not written much about the many older characters in the show. Of course, that scene was also used for comedic purposes, especially because Martin walks in on Aunt Joan and Edward in flagrante delicto and is exceptionally astonished, so much so that he can’t get the image out of his mind and almost runs into Carrie Wilson with his car. The thoroughly modest/moral Martin is offended that his aunt would be willing to carry on an affair with a man young enough to be her son, and that Edward would be at all tempted to have sex with an older and marterteral woman. (Fun fact: I just learned that the female version of avuncular is marterteral.) Basically, Aunt Joan does not appear to be a sexually active woman, yet there she is, having sex on the kitchen table. Not bad for a woman ostensibly in her 70s! (Actually, at the time Stephanie Cole was only 66.)

After giving this subject more thought, I am convinced that we should focus on how many older female thespians appear in this show. I am particularly singling out the women because, sadly, it is much harder for older women to find roles in TV or film. We can certainly add a discussion of the men as well following this post. I’m not sure what emphasis Santa would have put on this subject, but this is my take on it. Hopefully, much of what I say about the position of older women in the show will also be applicable to the men.

As luck would have it, recently there was an article in The New York Times – “Arts and Leisure” section about Jessica Lange and her role in the TV show “American Horror Story.” I have to admit I have not watched this show at all, however, from what the article says, each year the show has found a way to refer to Hollywood metaphorically. This year its subtitle is “Freak Show” and it is about “a troupe of carnival sideshow performers” in 1952. The article goes on to say “Freaks were how older movie stars were regarded in Hollywood after their careers dried up; television was the sideshow where aging performers sought work when studio bosses stopped calling…[T]he sad truth is that the older an actress is, the harder it is for her to be cast as an attractive character, let alone a love interest.” The article notes that television is no longer considered a comedown for stars. It also goes on to say that Jessica Lange, who is 65, creates many poignant characters in this TV show and this year she “hams it up as…an aging German chanteuse with no legs – they were cut off in 1932 for a pornographic snuff film.” We eventually learn that “she went from a failed career in cabaret and carnival side shows to television stardom,” in what is assumed to be a joke about show business. One way of looking at the sex scene with Aunt Joan is as a satirical reenactment of this serious circumstance for aging actresses. On the one hand, I find it admirable that the show addresses the very real feeling of desolation many women face in older age; on the other hand, there is a certain degree of absurdity in finding Joan willingly having intercourse in her kitchen and later in a hotel room where a party for Penhale will soon be taking place. I mean, hormone replacements or not, what happened to Joan’s sense of propriety?

(We shouldn’t forget that seniors are still interested in sex. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, more than a quarter of adults aged 75-85 and over half of adults aged 65-74 are sexually active. Not only that, but “the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases in people 45 and over has doubled over the past decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).” Aunt Joan represents that part of the senior population that is still having sex.)

Most of the older actresses on DM have spent their careers in British television. (Indeed, Caroline Catz has done that too, as has Martin Clunes.) There could be many reasons for choosing to act in television; nevertheless, I find it impressive that apart from Eileen Atkins, Claire Bloom, and Phyllida Law, the older actresses have spent decades performing exclusively in television series, including Stephanie Cole. This circumstance could be related to the difficulty women have in being cast in films as well as the evolution of television to a place of prominence rather than a sideshow. Moreover, the approximately 20 older actresses (age ~ 70-90) in DM may be the beneficiaries of an enlightened production company that has faith that older women can be valuable in many roles. Surely, the older actresses must be grateful for the opportunity to participate in a successful show. I think they add a lot of depth and humor to the show while also keeping the show grounded in the reality of life in a small village and in the aging of our populations in general. I want to single out a few examples below.

Another matter of importance to me is the whole idea of fending for oneself. Despite Louisa taking offense when Chris Parsons remarks at the post funeral gathering that after Martin leaves for London, she’ll have to fend for herself (S5,E2), I do not find any reason to consider the idea of “fending” demeaning. In Louisa’s case, she has understood the comment to indicate that Chris thinks it will be hard for her to handle all the responsibilities of childcare and work on her own but, as an independent and self-sufficient woman, she has not thought of Martin as being any more than their baby’s father and her significant other (mate?). She likes knowing he’s there to assist and share duties, but she isn’t dependent on it. Whatever Louisa finds offensive, the fact is that most of us use “fend” in a positive manner, even an assertion of self-assurance. As I see it, the many older female characters in DM are generally on their own and must handle their affairs without any evident help from spouses, children, or other relatives. (There are a few exceptions to this: Muriel Steel has Danny; Beth Sawle has Janet; Helen Pratt has Phil; and Mrs. McLynn has Mr. McLynn. We may or may not consider these counterparts as helpful.) In essence, they are all fending for themselves quite well.

Aunt Joan seems perfectly capable of fending for herself by managing her farm, including chickens, sheep, and vegetables. She comes up against some money difficulties when the downturn in the economy reduces the sales of her vegetables, but she is resourceful and decides to turn her home into a Bed and Breakfast Inn. The Inn never has a real chance to take off, but neither her brother and his effort to take the farm away, nor any financial troubles are able to wrest the farm from her. Not only that, but Phil Pratt and his rifle don’t ruffle her either. She also has her own opinions that she has no hesitation expressing. She’s kind, caring, and motherly while also being strong-willed, determined, and independent.

The Ellingham family has a powerful stubborn streak along with high intelligence and self-sufficiency. Ruth, like Martin, has always lived alone and has no trouble keeping herself busy. She takes up residence in Portwenn and manages to write a book. Furthermore, she continues to consult on criminal cases. Ruth, like Joan, has no antipathy towards people in general, and she interacts with Al, Penhale, Louisa, Mrs. T, and others with insight into their personalities, which we’d expect from a psychiatrist. However, she also has no inclination to share her life or home with anyone else. Like her sister, we see her take matters into her own hands in difficult situations. She deals with the Dunwiches despite the possibility of danger; she handles Robert Campbell without much trepidation; and she immediately shows sympathy for her neighbor Mr. Moysey when he takes ill. She’s been damaged by her upbringing, but she bears few of the scars that plague Martin. Fending is really quotidian for her.

Moreover, both Joan and Ruth often make us laugh. The first episode brings Martin out to reunite with Aunt Joan only to be handed a chicken in order to snap its neck. Next she brings Martin inside and plans to chop off the chicken’s head while he sits at the table. The scene immediately makes him uncomfortable and lets us know that Joan is a no nonsense woman. But Ruth is the aunt that makes us laugh the most. Her dry wit is also in evidence from the moment we meet her and it continues throughout. These two women are key to the structure of the show because of their age. Wisdom may come with age, but so does confidence and imperturbability, at least for these two women.

Besides these two main characters who contribute to the humor of the show, many of the other older women play a major role in adding humor to the show. The two women who liven up S6E4, Mrs. Eddy and Ethel, are the ones that stand out. They have gotten infected by self applied tattoos that read “Do Not Resuscitate.” They are members of a tea club that has pooled its money to buy a medical dictionary. Now Mrs. Eddy feels qualified to diagnose a melanoma. (Of course, as in so many of the cases Doc Martin sees each day, these patients have decided for themselves what is wrong with them and exasperate Doc M. And, as so often happens, they are totally wrong.) The bottom line is that these elderly women are quite aware of their circumstances and have taken matters into their own hands. They’re getting old and physically weaker so they’ve bought an ink gun off the internet and made sure that if they are unable to tell anyone directly, the medical personnel will see clearly what their wishes are. Mrs. Eddy is bright eyed, obstinate, and vigorous. Still, she doesn’t want to trust that the medical establishment will follow any medical directives in her file. Furthermore, these women have been quite resourceful, using modern conveniences like Ebay to make purchases. The tea club appears to be filled with older women who discuss important personal issues rather than sitting around sipping tea and eating cucumber sandwiches. Ethel, who makes a joke out of showing Doc M her tattoo, has also got a rodent ulcer. Once the doc tells her he can remove it, she’s ready to have that done immediately. Old women are not ones to wait. In the last episode, Ethel returns and incorrectly receives a rabies vaccine. Her complaint is of a headache, but Doc M is so distracted by Louisa’s plans to leave that he mistakes her for a different patient. In this scene, too, Ethel is demanding and outspoken. Even during these very troubling moments, she shows no mercy.

Indeed the older women in this show can be best described as feisty, or gutsy, plucky, and overall lively and aggressive. Doc M quizzes Muriel Steel about orientation to day and time and she responds with an answer much more complex than expected, then he prescribes a certain medicine and she hides it in the plant; he tells Beth Sawle to take antibiotics and her sister Janet gives her her own concoction; he tells Mrs. Selkirk she’s hallucinating due to her husband’s sudden death, she objects, and it turns out to be Lyme disease; Mrs. McLynn can’t see so she uses her husband as her guide and refuses to stop driving; he tells Mrs. Averill to stop smoking and she sneaks cigarettes. All of the above include a large dose of humor in each incident while also being good examples of all sorts of difficulties with older patients that doctors have to deal with.

I don’t want to end this post without mentioning the most devious and gutsy older woman of them all, Margaret. We may laugh and find the other older women exemplars of the best kind of aging we can all aspire to; however, Margaret is in a class by herself. She is the only older woman of the group who is imperious. Our introduction to her is accompanied by her unwillingness to be at all congenial even though she hasn’t seen or talked to her son in seven years. Then, when she does finally talk to him, she says extremely hateful things. That same attitude continues in S6 when she returns, and by the end of her visit, she has cemented our impression of her as unkind, judgmental, and dishonest. She’s gutsy, but in a totally different manner from the others. In her case, her aging has solidified her abhorrent qualities.

I think we can say that the older women in this show add dimensions that wouldn’t be possible with only younger characters. Their bodies may be failing them, but their personalities are intact. For the most part, at their stage in life they are doing their best to approach the end of life with sanguinity (there’s that word again!). Apart from Margaret, they are a good way to look at aging.

Originally posted 2015-01-21 19:24:26.

22 thoughts on “Acting & Aging

  1. Santa Traugott

    I just have a few random thoughts, here.

    First of all, I wonder if British TV in general isn’t quite so youth oriented (obsessed?) as American TV. Perhaps one reason why I was struck by the number of older people in DM is the contrast with the US where I think older people are less often portrayed, and more cartoonishly when they are.

    Off the top of my head, I can think of several British series (past and present) that are specifically about older people: Waiting for God , which was set in an elderly living community; Last Tango in Halifax, which stars Ann Reid (the Cat Lady of S5) and Derek Jacobi as an elderly couple in a romance; and Getting On, a hilarious series set in a geriatric ward of a hospital. Also, As Time Goes By, of course. Also, Last of the Summer Wine. Then there are movies like Calender Girls (starring Helen Mirren and directed by the very same Nigel Cole of S6) and Last Marigold Hotel. There is quite a cadre of female actors who are getting on in years but still very active: Helen Mirren, Judy Dench, Eileen Atkins, Maggie Smith, Phylidda Law, etc. I really don’t watch enough TV to be positive about this, but I just think that British TV and cinema “does” elderly more and better. So if that’s true, then it seems like Doc Martin is not breaking any new ground.

    But older people are realistically portrayed and on the whole sympathetically, although perhaps the women are treated more sympathetically than the men? But what I like best is that the old people are not always wisdom figures, or saints, or harpies — they have dimensions and the show is not afraid to portray them as foolish, making mistakes, venal, cranky, stubborn, vain — as well as feisty and wise, from time to time. In other words, they’re people, not just stock Elderly Persons.

    But sometimes I think the writers show their relative youth. When Mrs. Averill said she was 73, I had to wonder whether the writers actually knew any people of 73. I was 73 when that was broadcast, and believe me when I say that she looks far more like 93 than 73! Also, when Martin commented on hearing of Joan’s death, “70 is a good age,” I wanted to shout for all the 70 year olds in the audience, “No, no it’s not! ” I remember well an older friend saying to me when my father-in-law died, well, 72 is really quite young. And odd as it sounds, I think that’s more and more the case.

    I remember all those times Martin Clunes has used the line in interviews about how much he enjoys being “rough on the elderly.” I have to believe there’s some truth to that — not that he actually enjoys it, but that he likes setting up these comedic situations, which violate our sense of being deferential to the elderly. He really does like to work against these conventions, I think.

  2. Linda D.

    I couldn’t agree more Karen and Santa! I think that the older actors really add interesting depth to the stories. It is another great discussion topic for discussion. Too often, I dislike the way older actors are presented as silly old fools. Modern aging issues are much more at the fore front of medicine and social work in an age where people live much longer. Younger generations really respect the older ones because we now have a chance to learn more about their former years AND see them as they live to be older. We really see how many challenges older folks face! We can help but admire their courage and tenacity. The writers show respect for the issues of mature folks, just as they do with other generations on the show. There is a nice mixture of comedic moments, mixed in with some very important, real life issues.

    Santa comments that British TV may be aimed at older audiences than television written and produced in the United States. The fans of Doc Martin are hardly those who give out surf boards in a yearly TV popularity contest which hardly recognizes great writing of acting talent! That audience is HUGE but so is the fan base of Doc Martin (and British TV in general). It has a world wide fan base which is growing. Canadians love British drama and comedy! Fans of Doc Martin love the precisely because of the wide spread age demographic of the actors, and because of the very relatable and meaningful story lines which address REAL issues. Older folks recognize the problems faced by the mature citizens of Portwenn and enjoy the some what comedic experiences they have with the doc. He almost never “gets” them and is endlessly frustrated by them but being the great doctor he is, he usually comes around and finds solutions. In doing so, he learns a lot about his patients.

    I loved the Ethel and Mrs. Eddy storyline too! While it was quite hysterical, it addressed a real issue- that of ensuring DNR requests were honoured. Martin endured the stench issues of poor Mr. Cook and did his best to help. Of course, Mr. Cook’s long dead green finch “Freddy” turned out to be the culprit! Mrs. Averill’s loneliness for her missing cat and her smoking might have been dismissed but Martin diagnosed her TB by digging for answers. These stories, and the ones you mentioned above show that older folks are quite capable of addressing health issues and are not always intimidated by the doc. It does seem that women in the show come to get health advice more than men but that happens in the real world. I think that Martin learns a lot from these patients who have had such different lives and have faced many different challenges because of living in a small village in Cornwall. He has to work very hard to understand them and to meet their needs as their GP.

    Of course I agree that Joan, Ruth, and Margaret are special, very talented actors who have carried difficult roles with such talent and grace. Bravo! I have enjoyed and admired each of them.

  3. Post author

    First I want to say that I totally agree with you about your reaction to Martin’s comment about Joan’s age at her death. I was just getting into my 60s when I saw that episode and I also yelled “NO, it’s not!” It might be comforting for loved ones to think of any age as having been an acceptable age for death, but that’s no reason to consider 70 as a ripe old age. That’s gotta be another way they pull our chains. I have no solid proof of the demographics of the audience for this show, but I bet the average age is at least 60 based on what I’ve seen on Facebook, etc. There are some younger viewers, but for sure here in the US PBS has an older audience in general.

    And that also makes me wonder if that contributed to their decision to use so many older actors. They are appealing to their audience.

    I do agree, though, that there are many good British TV shows that involve older characters. You left out “Keeping Up Appearances.” You also left out Joan Plowright and Vanessa Redgrave as prominent older British actresses. (I know you weren’t trying to be exhaustive.) I don’t have enough knowledge to assert unequivocally that British TV and cinema does elderly better, but they certainly have a good number of older performers we all admire. US TV has made some effort to include older actors, both male and female. For example, Lily Tomlin (75) will be starring in her own show “Grace and Frankie” with Jane Fonda (77), she’s been in another recent TV series called “Web Therapy” and she’s still being cast in films. We also have to mention Betty White and even “The Golden Girls” from many years ago.

    “Doc Martin” may not be breaking new ground, but it does a good job of including elderly townspeople as integral to life in Portwenn and having lots of spunk. I think we all get a kick out of shows and films that use older actors and sometimes they have the most laugh lines and appear to be having lots of fun themselves. One of my favorite British films is “Waking Ned Devine” from 1998. It’s set in Ireland and just lots of fun. In 2012, I enjoyed the British film “Quartet.” US films that come to mind are “Cocoon” (1985), “In Her Shoes” (2005), which starred Shirley MacLaine (now 84 and still acting a lot), “Driving Miss Daisy” (1990) with one of my favorites, Jessica Tandy, who was about 80 when she filmed that, and “Gran Torino” (2008) with Clint Eastwood, who was 78 when that was filmed but who continues to direct as an 84 y.o.

    Martin Clunes not only has said he likes being rough on the elderly, but I remember him saying that he likes giving the kids a hard time too, and that they enjoy it. I got the impression that he was making those comments to counter the shows he has become known for and in which he is always such a soft touch. I’m sure all of those scenes are great fun for everyone.

    Did I do justice to why you brought up this topic? C’mon everyone out there! Write something too!!

  4. Linda D.

    I wonder why Martin said “71”. “That’s not a bad age” too! At the time, I thought he might have thought he’d have her in his life for much longer and should perhaps have more upset. He did appear to be numb. Stephanie Cole did such a great job in this role. Her story lines revealed a woman of great character who had lived a full, yet challenging life. She was full of surprises too. She showed a lot of compassion and empathy for everyone and knew Martin well. She likely knew him better than anyone. She was REAL. Through her spunky interactions and her vast life experience she was able to show him a lot about how to treat others, how to understand people unlike himself and how to maneuver through adversity. She loved him and he knew it. He had great affection for her which was rarely seen with others, except Louisa and James.

    I think we learn a great deal from elderly family members, especially as their health fails and their time on earth draws short. We see REAL courage, faith, and encouragement in action. My dear friend Alf, is 97 and lost his dear Margaret 2 years ago. She was 96. I have marveled at his capacity to endure failing health, great sadness, uncertainty,and grief. The lessons stick well. That is what we learn from older folks, be they actors or missionaries like Alfred. Our lives seem frivolous and far less significant when we witness the struggles of the elderly and see how well they push forward. In Doc Martin, I think the storylines for the older actors add much more flavor than story lines for the few younger actors. The older actors show Martin more respect.

    I adore Eileen Atkins in the show. She can do any kind of storyline -serious or comedic. Her storylines with Al are the most poignant. She sees his needs but leads him instead of telling him what to do and this has enabled him to grow in confidence and learn a lot about getting on with his dreams. She shows support for Louisa without demeaning Martin. He has come to rely on her considerable wisdom but she is not pushy. I think that is why he gets her and why he respects her views. I hope she will continue to help him and Louisa to cement their relationship and hold their family together. She is LOVELY.

    C’mon people! Let’s get some dialog going on these excellent topics!

  5. Oliver

    Martin’s memory of his aunt on the table is different from her actual expression when he walked in on her and her boyfriend. I think it’s a funny moment.

    I love the way older women are portrayed in Doc Martin and is one of the reasons why I love the show.

    When I saw the title of this blog post, I thought it would be about how the actors age two years between each series. The change in the actors’ appearances can sometimes be significant. In the real world the baby was born in 2009 but in Port Wenn time it’s only been about 15 months I think. I wouldn’t mind at all if series 7 would take place a year or two after series 6 ended. I’m probably off topic here, but I’m responding the thoughts the post title sparked in me.

  6. Post author

    Thanks for your comment Oliver. I think the two year break really does have an impact on how the actors look. Naturally the baby is over 3 y.o. at this point, but we’ve also seen Al get balder (Sorry Joe Absolom). I think Caroline Catz has grown into her physical best over time, and Martin Clunes has gone through a few evolutions, including greying. All you have to do is go to portwennonline and look at the pictures Kate posted of the main cast to see the changes in their facial features and hair. That’s why the two year hiatus is pretty risky. A lot can happen, especially with the older members of the cast. So far they’ve been pretty lucky.

    Your idea that they could jump to a time significantly after S6 ends is something to think about. They haven’t really done that before and it would leave some loose ends, but it would switch things up, which they might like to do. I guess my title was a little misleading, but all comments are always welcome.

  7. Mary F

    I found your post delightfully refreshing and thoughtful after so much time spent on the psychiatrist’s couch. Age and aging are one of the many interesting ways in which this show reflects real life and that of older women in particular.

    I find many American shows stress a woman’s youth as her best and often only major asset, and as I grow older I have become increasingly aware of how this obsession with youth has led to many older women being treated with suspicion, disrespect or trivialized. I sometimes find myself to be on the receiving end of this attitude, particularly when I am job hunting, and it can be both frustrating and distressing.

    This show is so enlightened in its portrayal of older women and how their rich life experience adds greatly to the fabric of their community. To their great credit the writers/actors have done so with intelligence, humor and grace. I am hopeful that we will continue to see a demand for just this sort of realism in television and movies which will help to bring about a change in perspective towards older women, although we still have a long ways to go.

  8. Post author

    Thanks for writing Mary. I love psychology, and this show brings up so much about psychological conditions, but my inclination is to analyze the show more than anything else. It’s all interconnected certainly.

    Aging really is such a major part of the show because of their 10 year plus span of filming it. We’ve seen even the youngest actors in it age. I’d love to know what the actor who played Peter Cronk looks like now, for example. Of course, their scenes with so many older actors do reflect reality. The older we get, the more we have reason to see the GP. The older we get, too, the more we become demanding and willing to express ourselves forthrightly. So the joke is that Doc Martin gives it right back to all of his patients, including the older ones.

    I also like that the show brings up universal experiences like the loss of one’s wife. In Mr. Moysey’s case, he has struggled to cope and become a hoarder along with being a poor eater because he was always so dependent on his wife for food. Many men do have a tough time adjusting to their wife’s death after so many years of marriage.

    We have a good range of older people in this show, from the ones who manage just fine without help to the ones who want to be placed in a retirement home to the ones who live from hand to mouth or with their children/grandchildren. They’ve done a good job of finding a way to incorporate all sorts of aging experiences while not getting too serious about it.

  9. Santa Traugott

    The thing I like about the treatment of older people in the series is that the writers don’t succumb to the temptation of making them wisdom figures, particularly. Well, perhaps with the exception of Aunt Ruth. But Aunt Joan — she was earth mother, no nonsense, full of common sense, but she was also sometimes foolish and downright cranky.

    One thing that I got to thinking about though, is which characters actually do impart “wisdom” — that is, homespun good advice which Martin would do well to heed, and sometimes does.

    And I think it comes from unlikely characters. The tone is set in the first episode, when the buffoonish Bert not only gives Martin the advice he needs but never heed — to go with the flow — but also tells him at the end that he and the villagers don’t need to love each other, but they do need each other. There is the dry-cleaner, who points out to him that constant criticism and demands to change by one’s spouse can doom a marriage. Also the fish-monger, who graphically reminds him of the devastating effects of lonely bachelorhood. The lunatic retired priest who tells him that in in order to be happy in marriage, one has to think of making his partner happy rather than the other way around.

    Another significant character is Jim’s wife, who by her insistence on listening to her deceased husand’s wife, suggests to Martin and to us, that perhaps all useful knowledge is not just scientific or “book-learning.”

    In fact, I wonder if a major motif of the series is that “smarty-pants” (quite literally Saville Row) Doc Martin doesn’t need to be taken down a peg or two and realize that common folk of the village, have a lot of wisdom to impart. While they are not educated, and far from saints, they are wise in human relationship terms, or at least far wiser than he.

  10. Santa Traugott

    deceased husband’s ADVICE not “wife.” Grrr. Never got the hang of proof-reading, I guess.

  11. Post author

    I love the fish monger’s conversational advice and have mentioned it before. You’re so right about the people who dispense advice; they are unlikely choices. It could be to demonstrate to Martin and all of us that many people are more worldly than you think. The other thing is that it’s often funny because of where and how the comments are made. And Martin does at times take what he hears to heart. It’s a great way to throw in some common sensical thoughts.

  12. Linda D.

    I have had few more thoughts, especially having read what Santa has said. Santa, you have so much REAL wisdom and experience and you are very talented in putting your words into thoughts! I would love to meet you one day! Karen and I have also discussed being so far away from each other – me on east coast Vancouver Island and her on the east coast of the USA. But, we DO hope to meet some day!

    I’ve been watching the “award shows” on TV a bit. They really glorify fashion and looks and send out the message that to be successful, one must be thin and beautiful with perfect skin, perfect teeth and so on. I think this sends a very wrong message to young people, struggling with body image. Magazines to the same. At the same time, many of the movies depict aging and sometimes troubled or brilliant REAL people and we are fixated on these stories. It is interesting to see a glamorous actress such as Reese Witherspoon or Jennifer Aniston (this year) play these characters. We see these actresses before makeup, photo shopping, botox etc. Does this muddy the message about body image????? Does this confuse those who are just trying to figure out how to define themselves? Does it send a negative message about aging? I’m certain it does. As a teen, I remember buying in to all the hype but back then, it was not in our faces ALL THE TIME! I would love kids to have better role models among those who have lived long lives and achieved greatness in humble ways.

    So, I was thinking about our topic. What DEFINES a person? In Doc Martin, with regards to the older characters, it is their LIFE EXPERIENCES and their CHARACTER! In Portwenn, the elders have led difficult lives. They have had none of the niceties or advantages of big city life. Most have never been out of the immediate area. They worked hard, did without, lost spouses and sons to the sea etc. When things happen, they don’t always have the knowledge or support they need but they get on trying to solve their issues as best they can and not always successfully. What has sometimes seemed comical to us, is really quite poignant. The writers have really used older actors/characters in almost every episode! They can be so much more complex and interesting than younger folds who are just starting out. Of course, we’ve enjoyed Martin’s interactions with Melanie, the girl who was bullied because of her lack of breasts, Ross, who grew breasts, Peter Cronk, and he could learn from them in similar ways. As you say, Martin would do well to extrapolate the meaning of actions which he would call “stupid and dangerous” without thinking about WHY they felt the need to do it. Mr. Moysey’s extreme loneliness led to him becoming a hermit, a hoarder, and very ill from a diet of canned spaghetti. The “cat lady” was really very dedicated to rescuing cats and was well meaning in her attempts to do so. She was so much more than a rumpled, old woman who irritated people while asking for funds. Her “issues” and foibles were to do with poor vision. Doc Martin was quite soft with her – for some reason that was not clear in that episode. But, my point is that she was not defined by appearance or antics. There are lessons to be learned by the doc and others from all the older characters. The writers have done a good job of planting “seeds of wisdom” The audience can learn from them too. These REAL lessons – not photo shopped in any way make Doc Martin very unique with regards to integrating older actors in meaty roles. I find that after watching and considering every episode, it is important to analyse the messages and connections. I too like that so many of the older characters do not impart wisdom directly to Martin but instead, give him food for thought which makes him a better doctor, especially in a small village of aging people. Bravo Doc Martin writers!

  13. Sandy

    I enjoy the older actors, they give DM as good as they get! I agree with Santa’s point about British TV vs. American. There is a realism and diversity of characters that comes out, making the senior moments real gems. I wonder too about the viewing demographics, I agree that PBS tends toward an “older” audience, but now with DM being on Netflix if the youth of America will find the show.
    P.S. I will hopefully participate in more detail with other post. I find that it is difficult to compose using my IPad.

  14. Santa Traugott

    Thanks for the kind words. One of the great things about the internet is being able to connect with people at great distances who can share and illuminate our interests and passions! To complete the geographic picture, I am in the Midwest, though Vancouver is a place I have always wanted to visit. Maybe one day!

    So the older people in the series are all across the social spectrum — from Shirley (Boho with a shotgun, arsenic poisoning) to Danny’s mother, to the McLynns, the cat lady, the Major and his wife, Mr. Moyse, Aunt Joan’s unwelcome guest with the hairball, the old man with the finch, the spooky old bat — they’re a very diverse lot, aren’t they. What I have always liked about Doc Martin is that he is an equal opportunity offender, with respect to both social class and age — these differences don’t mean anything to him, in that he doesn’t vary his manner in the slightest, no matter who he is dealing with. (Of the villagers, that is — I know I’ve mentioned that his manner changes when he’s dealing with people he considers his professional equals, like Edith and Robert Dashwood and Chris Parsons.)

    I think we can also look at this more broadly. For example, can you think of another series where children are so much featured, and treated in such a multi-dimensional way? That is, they are not all of one type. There’s Theodore Wenn, Delfine, the Oakwood child, but also Peter Kronk. Many episodes revolve around something happening at the school, or a sick child. To say nothing, of course, of James Henry. Interestingly, these children also sometimes are given something significant to say: the little girl asking Martin, as he says goodbye to Louisa in the schoolyard, “why are you so sad?”

    Then there are the adolescents — the gaggle of girls, Melanie, the girl who wanted birth control pills, up to and including the giggling honeymooners.

    So in fact, the show is unique in the range of characters it portrays, and that holds true within each broad class (age, social status, gender) as well.

    I’m grappling with a thought about this, which I don’t think I’ve got quite right yet, but it’s this: Martin Ellingham is to this village almost as a meteorite landing in the middle of a field, in the extent to which he is quite literally, alien. Martin Clunes has said that they (he) have made almost everything about Martin Ellingham “wrong” — his haircut, his clothes, his car — for the village. And that’s a way of saying “alien,” I think. And he holds himself aloof, and conducts himself like an alien — as several have pointed out to him. Mark Mylow, e.g., bitterly telling him how he has never come over for a drink.

    Surely one of the major motifs of the series — I don’t know how consciously — is to chip away at this wrongness, and deliberate alienation. Many of his interactions have a lesson to teach him, about connection and family and common sense. Can he become more human and less alien? And maybe that’s why there’s such a broad range of characters — because the messages come at him from every part of the broad spectrum of humanity represented in PortWenn. Sadly, to date he appears to continue regarding Portwenn as the village of the damned, but maybe there will be a cumulative effect over time.

  15. Post author

    Santa, I am going to add my thoughts on your last paragraphs and don’t want you to think I am just being argumentative. After giving some consideration to this notion of Martin being like a meteor, or I guess like ET, after moving to Portwenn, I have to say I have very different interpretations of this. I agree that he is supposed to be a so-called “fish out of water” in this town and that his clothes, car, and possibly even his hairstyle, accentuate that. However, he speaks the same language, knows the town from having spent summers there, has come as their GP, not as an artist in his atelier or a poet scribbling in his loft, and from the very beginning he has literally run to help anyone with a medical problem that appears to be urgent. Also, as a GP, he is in the difficult position of knowing a lot about the villagers personal matters yet trying to keep it all in confidence. As I’ve written about a long time ago, doctors in small towns have the paradoxical situation of needing to have a relationship with their patients while also needing to have privacy of their own. In Martin’s case, he lives in the house that also is where he works. His kitchen doubles as a place his receptionists often use and they perform some procedures close to it too. It’s not that simple to find a compromise between socializing and being professional. I realize that Martin has anti-social tendencies and, even more to the point, his behavior is part of the humor of the show.

    In terms of the show making an attempt to socialize him and humanize him, I have some differences about that too. As Marta’s post about Kindness described, he has always exhibited an ability to be kind. In addition, his love for Louisa (and Joan and Ruth) makes him quite human. He falls all over himself trying to get to know her. He’s not meant to become a vibrant member of the community; however, now that he’s married and has a child, he has more interaction with others than just as a GP. For me he’s slowly gotten to know the people of Portwenn because he’s been living there for 5 years now. He knows who he can rely on for help and who he wants to avoid at all costs. They also know him better and accept his quirks.

    I don’t want to be too reductionist, but I don’t see any reason to make more of this than we have to. For what it’s worth, his haircut is practical, easy to manage, and fits his personality of being prim and proper. I find that the least of his differences from the community.

  16. Post author

    One more thing that I think is important: at least two young boys in the town relate to him as similar to them. They say they don’t have many friends, they have trouble being around other people, and they don’t talk much. In that regard, he is a helpful adult model for them even if he doesn’t make an effort to get to know them well. Those families would welcome him as more than a GP.

  17. Amy Cohen

    I also was put off by the 71 as a good age to die remark, being less than a decade from that myself. And I was so sad that Aunt Joan/Stephanie Cole wasn’t going to be in the show any more. I’ve not seen anything that explained her departure. I can’t imagine that the writers/producers wanted to kill her off.

    Fortunately, they did a great job creating the character of Aunt Ruth.

  18. Post author

    Amy, thanks for continuing to read the posts. You are making a valiant effort at reading everything and responding to it all.

    As for 71 being an acceptable age to die…Well, I definitely beg to disagree!! I, too, am not far from reaching that age and I am doing my darnedest to stay in shape and remain youthful. Of course, heart disease is something that strikes at many ages. I hope to stave that off as long as possible!!

  19. Santa

    Two further thoughts on aging: One, I couldn’t find a previous mention in the replies, but one place they were tone deaf as to age was with the cigarette smoking old lady with the cough and the tubercular cat. She said she was 73, and to me, she looked much more like 93!

    And two, it’s pretty clear that Martin Clunes is himself aware of his age and how it impacts Doc Martin. In one of the promo interviews for S7, he said that the action usually picked up quite close in time from where the last series ended, and they just hoped that people didn’t notice how much the actors had aged in the intervening two years. And there’s a recent interview in which he remarked that by the time they finished two more series, he himself would be almost 60, and it would be time to bring DM to a close. It makes me wonder if this time, they might not break with tradition and start the action a few years down the road.

  20. Amy Cohen

    Perhaps you misread my comment—I said I was put off—i.e., annoyed—by Martin’s comment that 71 was a good age to die. I am with you.

  21. Post author

    I saw that quote too, but it was part of an interview in which the interviewer remarked that MC looks much younger than 54. For my money he looks every bit his age and his grey hair has certainly been a marker for how much he has aged since they began. Even Obama’s hair hasn’t greyed as much, and he’s under much more stress!! The conceit of the show is supposed to be that only maybe 3-4 years have passed when really 12 have. CC has aged well, but she can’t sustain this conceit either. After another 4 actual years what will they look like? The best bet is for them to fast forward a few years, however, they’ll have to spend a lot of episode time making sure we all get caught up with what’s happened during those intervening years. They’ve got their work cut out for them.

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