The Kindness Factor, Part III

Part III

The Role and Significance of Kindness

I believe the kindnesses displayed by the three major female characters outlined above (Part II) play an essentially transformative role for ME’s character and the story line, allowing Martin to reject and transcend his past in order to accept his future.  Kindness begets kindness (or so said Sophocles). It transforms the arena where it is revealed, and it transforms the doer. It keeps us grounded in who we naturally are and it serves as a reminder to those unkind among us, to return to what was once their natural state. (Recall that the root of kindness is from Old English “natural,” something “innate”. Recall Elwood P. Dowd’s comments on overcoming time and space and life’s obstacles to reach a new reality, by being kind. (Part I))

In S2, E6, Martin’s parents appear in the show for the first time. They have arrived to suck out the half-share of the family farm Martin’s father Christopher wants to lay claim to.  Joan, who cannot buy him out and will have to leave the farm, is in despair. It is in this episode that Martin’s mother Margaret informs her son that he is the problem, and that “40 years of my life was wasted because of you.” Delivered in a matter-of-fact tone, this is probably the most devastatingly cruel and unkind remark made in the entire show.  No child should ever have to hear it. Yet Martin takes it stoically. Says nothing.

When Margaret returns alone to Portwenn in S6 E6, she announces Christopher Ellingham’s death. Margaret tries to manipulate Martin claiming his father loved him but couldn’t tell him. In that same episode, she feigns contrition and says she wishes to make amends with him, as “we are all the family we have left.”

Martin decides to stand up to Margaret, and taking James in his arms replies, “I have a family. I have a wife, and I have a son, and I have Ruth .”  What he is saying here is that he has decided that what he wants is the genuine family he has been rejecting through Series 6 (subconsciously), not the birth family he’s had. He is saying he is ready, finally, to move out of his comfort zone and accept the sticky emotional ties of wife and child and aunt and all that that has to offer in unconditional love and emotional affection. He may also know too, at some level, that choosing to love them, he will no longer “be in the way” or a “problem,” as Margaret told him he was for her, since his birth. (S2 S6.)

By S6 E7, the sports day scene has occurred and Louisa has had her car crash. By S6 E8, Margaret is forced to depart after Martin refuses to give her any money and tells her he doesn’t want to see her anymore. In the face of Martin’s dismissal of her, Margaret makes off with Martin’s valuable clock, the only way she will ever extract any money from him. Louisa confronts her in the airport and reinforces (in her own way) Martin’s insight that Margaret is not good for Martin and she is not the “family” he wants.

Over several episodes, here in these moments of rejecting his mother, he is choosing to reject his family of birth, choosing to leave hate, selfishness, rancor, manipulation and unkindness, and to acknowledge that these were his birth family’s attributes. Finally realizing the depths of his mother’s narcissism, her conniving and dishonest ways, her unkindness, he now sees the differences clearly. He sees the hatred his own childhood was steeped in, and in those scenes, he chooses instead its opposite: love, care, kindness, generosity.

Those scenes with his mother (S6 E6, E7, E8) bring full circle the metaphor of the women-of-kindness in this show, and close out the cruelty of his upbringing, the manipulative narcissism of his mother and the cold disdain of his absent father.  In these encounters, he is showing that he has found the courage and strength he needs to acknowledge his past and change himself in order to keep his family of choice. I believe the source of courage and strength Martin finds comes from the three kind women he prefers over his mother.

The role of kindness exhibited especially by the three women, shows Martin a different way of being in the world, one that while risky, not so “secure,” and definitely outside his comfort zone, is also a world that can contain love and affection, providing an emotional and psychological “safety” he has never known.

Santa wrote in her October 28 post that she believed Martin is attracted to Louisa because she has parts of what he is missing.  She referred to Martin’s interest in Louisa as a longing for that “split-off part of him” that is gone or buried. Santa wrote: “The essence of Louisa is that high level of emotion that is the antithesis of Martin’s way of being in the world… at bottom, she seems to be a deeply loving person…I’m pretty sure that is a large part of what draws Martin to her.

On one level, being emotionally able to be socially kind is a part of himself that he is “missing”—or that he may yearn for (subconsciously). That is, the openly generous, affectionate side of himself Aunt Ruth described that he had as a little boy, but now replaced by gruffness and minimalist, shut-down behaviors.  But on another level, that quality of gruffness and off-putting behavior masks a deeper gap that goes to the heart of his problem: an inability to be close and intimate with another.

By aligning himself with Louisa and the Aunts, he is seeking and finding a way to return to it. Perhaps his special attraction to Louisa is to find/absorb/re-learn an aspect of himself that has been part of the split-off side of Martin—the “authentic self” that Santa talks about. By modeling the way Martin wants or might prefer to be in the world (if he could only learn), Louisa’s warmth and emotional generosity, along with the Aunt’s kindnesses, act as transformative agents to regenerate some of his missing parts.

And internalizing some of all three women’s kindnesses towards him, he has come to know some emotional and psychological safety.  He has suppressed and buried his ability to show kindness to protect himself from psychological danger and pain, but now he is realizing that it will be safe to exhume it.

Kindness is one of the big roadmaps Martin needs to follow to help him return to his original self. In those scenes where he rejects and ejects his mother, he is preparing himself to make the relationship with Louisa work. To do what he must do to acquire the tools he needs to be in full community with the new family he has made.

As referenced earlier, Aunt Ruth says that Martin was not unkind or un-affectionate to begin with, but rather the opposite as a child. Ruth’s stern and amazing lecture chastising Margaret in the café (S6 E7), makes clear Ruth’s convictions that Margaret has emotionally pummeled and psychologically brutalized her son by pushing him as far away as she could. Ruth’s analysis is that Martin’s defense against that rejection was to put up barriers.  To let them go, he must believe in a new reality. He must overcome the old reality. The main female characters he embraces as an adult are truly opposite from his parents, and it is through them that he comes to know that his barriers are no longer necessary with those who genuinely and honestly love him now.

I think the point of their kindness in this TV series is to help Martin return to his own natural state of kindness, sensitivity, generosity—the qualities that Aunt Ruth has described in him as being lost long ago, even by age 6. These qualities would increase his capacity for an “authentic” life based on the beloved community.

I tried to think of another quality that might have been so effective in helping Martin make a transition to fully accepting Louisa’s love, being less defensive and resistant to affection, and more easy in his own skin.  I could not think of an alternative.

* * * * * *

A Revolution in Kindness

About ten years ago, a book came out called A Revolution in Kindness. It was a collection of essays, quotes and questions by 180 contributors about what a society based on kindness might look like. For example, what would the world look like if people were kinder to nature, the environment, to animals? What would our health care system be like if it were kinder? Or if businesses were required to be kind? What if politicians and leaders were bound by kindness? Or industry in product safety, or parents towards their children?  The list was endless. On the back cover was a quote from Kahil Gibran:

Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.


Originally posted 2014-11-13 11:54:38.

21 thoughts on “The Kindness Factor, Part III

  1. Carol

    Wow! Well researched post Marta! I have to say that what I like best in the whole thing is when you talk about Martin getting back to his natural, authentic self. If he can reclaim that part of himself and see that it spells strength, not weakness as he’d been taught, he will show others what only the 3 women have seen-the true Martin Ellingham. And we will still have humor-he won’t completely change, partly because, in Morwenna’s words, he does have to deal with some “right morons” which is enough to make anyone shout.

    Acts of kindness are contagious. I hope that Martin catches the “disease”.

  2. waxwings

    Hello Carol,

    This is Waxwings, aka Marta D, the author of the Kindness posts. Thank you for your reply. I agree that returning to his authentic self is Martin’s struggle, and should be a goal (conscious or otherwise). I’ve tried to lay out why the kindnesses from the three women provide the vehicle—cum emotional comfort and safety for him to do so. The idea of getting back to the “authentic self” is not my idea, but one that I came across from Santa here on this blog. She deserves the credit as I hope I note throughout my three posts.

    I think Martin knows how to “perform acts of kindness,” as we’ve seen him do at least four times over several episodes, including his silent payoff to his father, for Christopher’s share of the family farm, to help Aunt Joan; and the placebo pills Martin gives to the suffering teenage girl with small breasts—to name just two examples. But I know what you are saying. What I am hoping is that the kindness around him will bolster his sense that being more open with his feelings of love and generosity towards others (starting with Louisa and moving on to his patients) is not going to lead to more pain and hurt. That is, he can find safety and refuge in the love of his new family. He can trust more; resist less. He doesn’t need all the barricades and distancing behaviors. This is the role of kindness that I believe surrounds him now.

    And yes, three cheers for Morwenna’s “right morons” who will always plague Martin. The skillful writers, we hope, will take full advantage of them, and allow much good humor back into Series 7.

  3. DM

    Bravo. You’ve done an incredible job of describing what constitutes Martin’s inner personality that has been working tenaciously at his psyche since he first arrived in Port Wenn; the force of kindness. Both of the facets you mention are meant to work together in tandem. In Part I, you touch on the kindness embodied by the “character” portrayed by the village of Port Wenn which already carries special significance in psychology as “a harbour town”. To Martin, the kindness of the village and the collective kindness of its inhabitants, remains unacknowledged, unappreciated, and unaware (if not dismissive)- in other words, in his unconscious (a common enough term originating not from psychology, but from a poet- Samuel Taylor Coleridge). This is not true for Louisa who, although never well articulated, I’ve always believed has always maintained her special connection with the village due to the kindness it represents (despite Louisa’s frequent frustration and impatience with its provincial-ness, its kindness is what seems she’s found to be its saving grace). This enhances Louisa’s role in Martin’s psyche, as a mediator of all he remains un-blissfully aware.

    The kindness which Martin is consciously aware is personified for Martin by those three vital females which you’ve focused upon in Part II, to which he finds himself inexorably drawn to. I think it’s important to point out too that theirs is an authentic kindness too, not the saccharine formulation for which it is so often mistaken or otherwise depicted. I’m sure that your list of kindnesses is not meant to be exhaustive either, as I can think of at least another three instances for Louisa in just the one episode of Haemophobia (including a critical one that succeeds in perforating his awful carapace).

    Integrated together, these embodiments of kindness serve as a patient, reassuring guide- a transformative guide for Martin- that leads him further and further away from the false self he’s had to erect for himself, and to draw him ever nearer toward his ultimate true self. You’ve said it all so well, and without all the gobbledygook here- a very wonderful job on your part for intuiting so much and saying it so well!

  4. waxwings

    Yes, thank you DM for your take on all this.

    I am always pleasantly surprised by the expanded perceptions the essays on the DM Lover’s Blog always elicit from its thoughtful readers. I am heartened that this one on the subject of kindness has struck a resonant chord as well.

    You are right, my list of examples for the three women’s kindnesses are limited (I picked only six for each) and hope you and others will feel free to share your examples.

    I liked your explicit separation of the kindnesses shown by the “harbour” village folks as not being appreciated or even acknowledged by ME, while the kindnesses of the three women are “inexorably” felt and internalized. They draw him in like the Greek Sirens. His awareness of their kindnesses works tenaciously on his psyche to pull him into collision with his early childhood experiences. They force him to confront his old illusions. They also force him to confront what has been his usual reaction to affection and love — his resistance and self-protection against becoming vulnerable to love or even wanting it. To give in, to let down his guard, would be to risk going to what has been, for him, a very dangerous place. It has been from wanting love that he has known mostly pain and suffering, first at the hands of his selfish parents, and second, through the rejection by selfish, evil Edith. What does he do? For our Doc, it’s back to the blood phobia, and into a further recess of the dark closet under the stairs, aka, Series 6….

  5. Linda

    Wow! What a great post Marta! Kudos on the fine research and a great idea! I am all about the transformative nature of kindness. I think that the kindnesses shown to Martin Ellingham have been his greatest blessings. For one who had known no love, affection, or kindness from his parents, the caring of Louisa and his aunts has to have had much to do with his changing view of himself in the world. No doubt it changed him as a man and as a doctor too.

    I have loved the moments when he softened up and offered kindness to his patients. He really began his time in Portwenn on a note of kindness when he tried to get Lady Susan Brading and her husband to admit they still love done another after the Ross fiasco. Once he understood Colonel Gilbert Spencer’s plight, he allowed him to be the one to tell his wife. Of course, this led him into a heap of trouble which made his early days very difficult! Another example of Martin’s kindness was when he took the fall for the tainted water scandal and allowed Bert Large to save face. He also spoke up for Al and encouraged Bert to find a way for Al to study computer science. He offered Stewart James a placebo for Anthony once he understood the situation. In this same episode, the villagers and Mark showed their kindness and understanding for Stewart and taught Martin an important lesson.

    Martin was kind to Elaine and talked to her about her Dad’s moving on with Carmen. Elaine took this lesson to heart and showed up for the wedding. This warmed her father’s heart and led to Martin re-hiring her as his receptionist.

    Martin showed Roger Fenn kindness when he was diagnosed wth cancer and Roger was wonderful to Martin when he learned why Martin had to give up surgery. I wish the writers had kept Roger Fenn in the story because he and Martin respected one another and shared a friendship with Louisa. I think it would have led to many wonderful moments if Roger had stayed around!

    We all remember when Dawn Lamb came marching into the surgery to accuse Pauline of stealing from her. Martin recognized Pauline’s gambling addiction and called off her mother who was very unkind to Pauline. I wonder if this was not a reminder for Martin of how he was treated by his own mother?

    Well, I am a bit off topic here and do want to consider more about Martin’s three ladies and their kindness toward him. I think this is such an important topic and I am sure Marta will generate much great discussion! In a world where kindness is sometimes over-looked, I think it is VERY appropo to examine it’s enormous effects in all the series of this show!

  6. waxwings

    Great list of examples you’ve come up with. I did not have some of these for Martin. I had forgotten them. I did have a few of them on my total list of 80 kindnesses for all characters, and now I will have to revise my number upwards with your selections.

    These examples are not really off-topic, as they show that Martin is very capable of kindness (a point made in Part I of this essay). They also add to the idea of the “ring of kindness” that is at work in the village of Portwenn. They show that ME is not so far removed from his fellow villagers in either spirit or in deed. This is a good insight, as is your feeling that the women’s kindness influenced his own feelings and responses positively. Thanks for your post.

  7. DM

    I thought I might add one more thing to perhaps keep the conversation going with an actual (and hopefully less obscure) reference to the term common in the psychological argot ”True Self” and “False Self”. Exploring Winnicott’s concepts therein further provides an idea how the “False Self” begins to develop already in early infancy and how it can be far more insidious than what is usually understood as neglect and abuse. This becomes the basis for individuals in their much later development to seek out the safe and nurturing females (“harbours”) that you’ve summarized for us. S6 ended with Martin’s same inner part of himself having finally bubbled-up to his liminal awareness and S7 likely a celebration where it can no longer be suppressed.

  8. waxwings


    Very enlightening was this nugget from the annals of psychoanalysis on the development of the True vs. False self! Thank you for sharing it. I echo others here who like the part of this ME enigma/drama that has to do with finding the authentic self.

    As one who is woefully unfamiliar with psychoanalytic literature, I was heartened to read (and even understand) your link to the Wickipedia entry on Winnicott’s insights. You also connect the analysis nicely to ME, and include the “harbour” women he naturally embraces that could return him to his authentic, “true self.” (Reading Winnick, I felt a little like Moliere in the Bourgeois Gentilhomme, when he says, “Good heavens….I’ve been speaking prose all my life and didn’t know it!”)

    Seriously, Winnicott describes our Doc well, doesn’t he, when he identifies a dichotomy of the self that can be determined early in a child’s development, dependent on the mother’s/parents’ re-actions to the child. According to Winnicott, that child is born with a natural sense of his/her own “True Self” which continues to develop IF parentally supported and reinforced.

    The entry in Wikipedia is: “The baby’s spontaneous, nonverbal gestures derive from that instinctual sense,and if responded to by the mother, become the basis for the continuing development of the True Self.…Where however….good enough parenting….was not in place, the infant’s spontaneity was in danger of being encroached on by the need for compliance with the parents’ wishes/expectations.”

    In other words, the poor kid becomes what the parents want (meeting their overriding expectations) and suppressing any “wanting” to continue developing his “true self.” Instead, the child develops a “false” self. The danger, says Winncott, is that “through this False Self, the infant builds up a false set of relationships, and by means of introjections even attains a show of being real, while in fact merely concealing a barren emptiness behind an independent-seeming facade.” Sounds a bit harsh, but is it far off the mark?

    DM, you also alert us to the idea that such a (false) fork in the road for a child can be far more insidious than plain old child abuse. This is why I found interesting the modifications to Winnicott’s theory on that same Wikipedia page. One by James Masterson caught my attention. He wrote “that all the personality disorders crucially involve the conflict between a person’s two ‘selves’—the false self, which the very young child constructs to please the mother, and the true self. The psychotherapy of personality disorders is an attempt to put people back in touch with their real selves.”

    I know this may all be very heavy stuff for some, so let me say in defense of those who believe the character of ME was never meant to be a poster boy for such deep analysis or a personality disorder investigation. I do understand that. At heart, it’s a comedy with a lot of personal drama. (We love it for that). And the writers probably never had this complexity in mind….but what if they did? For myself, it is natural to go there, as some of us have….but I can appreciate why others may not want to follow. For those who do, DM’s and Santa’s “therapist” contributions are so very interesting. Thank you!

  9. Santa Traugott

    Winnicott, yes. Thanks for bringing him up. I think I was grappling with those imperfectly remembered concepts. Along those lines, the German psychoanalyst Alice Miller wrote: The Drama of the Gifted Child” basically about construction of the false self, in response to narcissistic parents (Margaret meets this in spades, I think!) The first edition for some reason I like better than the second.

    We ought to give some more thought to the question of writerly or artistic intention, and how much it bears on our own reading or interpretation of the text/drama. But I am so far out of my depth on that topic that I wouldn’t even know where to start. Here’s a quote on literary criticism (Wikipedia) that I just dug up:

    “Stephen J. Joyce, grandson of James Joyce, at a 1986 academic conference of Joyceans in Copenhagen, said “If my grandfather was here, he would have died laughing … Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man can be picked up, read, and enjoyed by virtually anybody without scholarly guides, theories, and intricate explanations, as can Ulysses, if you forget about all the hue and cry.” And he questioned whether anything has been added to the legacy of Joyce’s art by the 261 books of literary criticism stored in the Library of Congress.[6]”

    But let’s not forget, while the writers may not have been thinking specifically of Winnicott, or Masterson, or any psychological theories of “the self” at all, it is not only the trained psychoanalyst who can apprehend, sense, describe, different forms of human suffering. Lots of poets, dramatists, writers (and even non-humanists!) are pretty acute about what’s going on with other people. So the writers of Doc Martin may not be working from an explicit psychiatric case formulation, but if they are perceptive observers of human experience, surely they have a sense of what the results of physical and emotional abuse of a child might look like as that child grows up.

    Now, one major difficulty in the interpretation of Doc Martin, that we so enjoy doing, is that the drama of Doc Martin is not the result of a single creative idea that is worked out in novelistic or dramatic form. It has developed by fits and starts, more or less, never clear whether there would be another installment of the serial, so it feels like they may have ended up quite far at the end of S6 from where they thought they might be heading when they started. (I suppose this might have happened to other serial authors as well, e.g., Dickens, though I never thought of it that way.)

    I think what enables us to talk about Martin Ellingham in this way is that there is someone(s) who has a pretty well worked out theory about who this character IS, his whole “back story” and there has been a commitment to keeping his portrayal, from episode to episode, consistent with that theory or vision. Who ever this person (or persons) is, they now know this character, or at least I suspect so, on a pretty deep intuitive level, and are working from that place. And they don’t have to be psychoanalysts to “get” what is troubling him.

    At this point, I suspect that the person who gets this character best is probably Martin Clunes, and that a lot of the writing and rewriting that BP insists on may well be to get the written character closer to that vision.

  10. Post author

    I have been traveling a lot and without much time to write comments. I will try to write more Tues. or Wed. In the meantime I want to say that my view would be very close to what Santa has written and I think many authors would tell you the same as James Joyce. There’s no doubt that they are all well read and great observers of human nature, but there’s also little doubt that they never expected their novels to be examined as closely as they have been. I could find many examples of the expression of similar sentiments by all sorts of accomplished writers, both contemporary and classic.

    I also agree that there is a fairly thorough back story that has been developed for ME and that Martin Clunes has been involved in creating it. But Santa is also correct to say that any TV series is developed as it is extended and the writers, et. al. have to keep forming the characters as they go. Unlike a novel with one author, there’s input from all sorts of sources, including the audience. What works stays in, what seems to be less successful is removed or reduced. So how ME has grown as a character owes much to the story line as well as the kind of person they imagine him to be, and it probably gets adjusted fairly regularly.

    I am definitely in the camp of believing we are delving much more deeply into the psychoanalytical aspects than the writers and creators did. On the other hand, I am a strong believer in writers being extremely good at noticing human behavior without any formal training.

    Thanks everyone for all the great comments. I hope to add something worthwhile soon.

  11. Santa Traugott

    Responding to Karen’s last (Nov. 16) comment: I’m not so sure, Karen, that I agree with Stephen Joyce’s comment. I mean, while it is certainly true that Dubliners and Portrait of an Artist can be loved by readers without delving into what Joyce was “really” driving at, etc., I don’t think those 261 books of lit crit are irrelevant or superflous (some are, probably).

    Again, I really know nothing of this topic, except from the point of view of an avid reader and an occasional book reviewer for my book group. But I think to say that the writers intended to give us an in depth portrait of a particular kind of pathology is different than saying that reference to a theory about how a personality is constructed helps us to better see the character that is on the page or screen.

    I think it is legitimate to say that, whether they know it or intended it, or not, the writers have created a character whose interpretation is enriched by analogy with other psychological constructs.

    But, as I’ve said, I’m just groping around the edges of what I suspect is a very large substantive debate over time.

  12. Post author

    Quickly…I would never say that all of the effort that goes into literary criticism is irrelevant or superfluous. After all, if I were to say that I would be disparaging my own professional life. What I meant to say is that when James Joyce wrote his novels and put a great deal of effort into being innovative and unique in his work, it did not occur to him that he would inspire generations of readers to spend hours, even lifetimes, on interpreting what he wrote. He was inspired to write in his distinctive and idiosyncratic way, and might have written even if no one ever read it. In fact, in many cases, writers have become famous and admired posthumously. What I was trying to say is writers, in general, tell their stories without spending as much time making sure they have researched and studied every line and every character trait as we have. They care deeply about how they express themselves, and there is much to dig into for us as readers, but they are often not aware of all the interpretations and meanings we can find in their words or actions.

    Please know that I would not have started this blog or spent much of my own time analyzing this show (and novels) if I didn’t believe strongly that there was value in it. What we address through our interrogation of all these ideas includes many topics of serious consequence to us all. I would never belittle that. I enjoy immensely the exercise of critical thinking and reading. My only hesitation is in attributing too much of this sort of analysis as part of the original intent or purpose of the writers/creators of the show.

  13. Santa Traugott

    Good clarification. I was struggling to put together that comment with my understanding of you as someone whose life’s work is exactly in this area!

    You earlier remark that in this, and other serializations, characters probably must change to a degree in order to meet demands of plot which, in the nature of the television production business, probably can’t be foreseen in advance, is also very apt. So Doc Martin does have earmarks of having been written in order to keep things going on in an entertaining and audience pleasing (i.e., remunerative) way, and if that means stretching plot points and tinkering with the character, well, so be it. I think Doc Martin does try as much as possible to keep plots and dialogue consistent with their understanding of character, but obviously not perfectly consistent over time. WE have only to look at the sharp difference between the characterizations of Doc Martin in Seasons 1 and 2 to see this played out.

    I seem to remember both Phillipa and Martin Clunes making remarks about how surprised they are that the American audience, especially, takes the show so seriously and undertakes so much analysis, to your last point.

    But still — I think it’s a fascinating point to consider: how is it, or by what means, do artistic productions, such as Doc Martin, or Portrait of the Artist, provoke or warrant these flights of interpretation, that are, I grant you, beyond what the writer intended, but that I, at least, and presumably you, feel are legitimate areas of inquiry? I can’t quite get my mind around this, to formulate a crisp enough question, but if feels like an important topic Or maybe I should just go to bed.

  14. Mary F.

    I think there are lessons we can learn by analysis and observation of all kinds of dramatic art and literature, far beyond what the original artist may have intended. It is one of the beautiful and curious ways in which our minds work. One original creation can spur many thoughts and help us to better understand the human condition. When you look at a great painting it is remarkable how many interpretations it elicits, how many conversations it sparks and how often it can enrich our life every time we view it, generation after generation. I really don’t think we need to apologize for persuing a line of thought that perhaps is not what was originally intended. It seems distinctly American sometimes to steer away from “flights of fancy”. I a0m not nearly as analytical as Santa or DM or Karen but I have learned much from following these discussions and peeling back the layers of this onion has been and continues to be most enjoyable.

  15. DM

    Very astute, Waxwings, from everything you have written! My thought was only to help expand on your premise of kindness by considering what might define it’s true opposite, indifference (akin to the aphorism, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing”). As to the origin of the “False Self”, using Winnicott’s term, it’s said to arise from the cold indifference of the mother(er) to devastating effect and apart from any neglect and abuse. My thought was to perhaps help reconcile the irony you’ve described and reinforce the dichotomy you sensed perhaps subliminally between the indifference and kindness subjected upon our protagonist as “a part of himself that he is “missing”— or that he may yearn for (subconsciously)”, as you’ve written. I may at times pretend to *literarily* analyse a character, but I wouldn’t pretend to *literally* do so 😉 – particularly for so much of what’s not given on the page. That’s more of what everyone has come to enjoy “Doc Martin” is about and who may wonder about where it’s going next connect with, and who thus have come across Karen’s blog wondering about who else is wondering the same things!

    Exactly, Santa! Winnicott is helpful to appreciate just how vulnerable and fragile the human condition is, without trying to make the story and character of “Doc Martin” about tragic neglect and abuse. I offered Winnicott’s concepts only because of so much conjecture about Martin’s childhood and my thought was that accurate speculation would be preferable to inaccurate speculation. You are quite right about not prescribing a “psychiatric case formulation” either. Nobody can read the writers’ minds– I expect to the great chagrin of literary and film critics everywhere! (in addition to your example and Karen’s earlier example of “Steppenwolf”- the still popular novel in the UK of “Watership Down” is another example of misconstrued meanings to the bafflement of its author who insisted, “It’s just a story about rabbits that I had told to my children”!) Since we generally don’t have the writers’ crib notes anymore than we have crib notes or user manuals for the human condition- I’d come back to the argument for the power of symbolism being at work.

    I agree that the progeny of multiple writers across multiple series for “Doc Martin” is different from that of a novel’s solitary author or even one willful film director. This is generally why it is useful for a story to have an underlying narrative theory to hew to. Writers come and go, as do actors and even characters. Sometime next year a new “Star Wars” movie will come out with minor involvement from its creator, George Lucas. What makes the transition to a new set of creators viable is Lucas’s having established the story with an underlying narrative theory. His acknowledged influence was the work of Joseph Campbell who studied many stories across time, culture, and genre. To anyone wishing to understand what makes so many stories in literature or film so appealing and compelling, I’d recommend reading his work and noting how symbolism is often used throughout stories.

    You’re probably right that Mr. Clunes’ vision serves to unify the writers’ product, although I’m not inclined to ponder much about the programme’s actual creators in deference to their creation (although it must be meaningful for such a fantastic actor to play the role of a character who, as I’ve said elsewhere, becomes so trapped within his role as a doctor that he’s still unable to play another). Yet were he the only lynchpin for the story of “Doc Martin”, it would be quite a coincidence that he has been so consistent with the underlying theory identifiable for “Doc Martin” (yes, including S6- although I recognise I’ve yet to win over many with what I’ve said thus far on that topic!). Furthermore, hewing to such a narrative theory must make all those foreign adaptations of “Doc Martin” far more viable (considering that even in another language, they’re much more relatable than a galaxy located- far, far away).

    Returning to what Waxwings wrote and perhaps what you Santa also allude to, “And the writers [of “Doc Martin”] probably never had this complexity in mind….but what if they did?”. Rhetorical or not, the most eminently qualified person to answer that question is: Dr. Martin Ellingham. Over the years we’ve witnessed a number of uncanny (and nearly instantaneous!) diagnoses by Dr. Ellingham of some rather exotic or esoteric diseases. This ability involves far more than a mere encyclopedic memory. It involves applying two predominant and opposing principles that guide real diagnostician practicing real medicine: the Zebra Criteria and Hickam’s Dictum. The first advocates simplicity to understand a presentation since “when you hear hoofbeats, first consider horses and *not* zebras” whilst the second advocates that to understand the presentation we *not* limit complexity since “patients can have whatever diseases they damn well please.” In other words, to understand the presentation, we have to consider both. I suspect that in order to fully understand the story being presented to us about “Doc Martin”, we might consider both.

  16. Post author

    As always, DM, you take us to all sorts of places with your comments. We have psychoanalytic theory and its variations in dialogue with Martin’s childhood; we have speculation about narrative theories and Joseph Campbell; and we have the diagnostic techniques employed by doctors. You seem to want us to find a way to meld all of this into some form of explanation of how the writers of this show might have devised the characters, especially Martin Ellingham. That’s a tall order.

    I am pretty well versed in Freudian theory and not so much in Winnicott. Trying to apply one theory over another gets us into territory that challenges us to recognize where the theories overlap and where they differ, especially in regard to how children develop. From what I can tell, Winnicott admired Freud’s theories, was influenced by Klein and Lacan, and couldn’t help being affected by having taken care of his depressed mother. We might also like to consider Jean Piaget and his schema or mental framework, or B. F. Skinner and his reinforcing consequences. Once we get started on applying theories of developmental childhood, why stop with Winnicott?

    I once read all of Joseph Campbell and I have some respect for his views on myth and its universality. But he is talking about myths. I agree that his application of metaphors that occur in every culture could lend itself to our discussion, it’s also true that we could say that there are no new stories, only the retelling of the same stories in different ways. Do the writers need to be conversant with Joseph Campbell’s theories? Really Joseph Campbell looked at writers, especially James Joyce oddly enough (considering Santa referred to Joyce), and conceived his theories based on their work. We have in “Doc Martin” all the elements of what we think of as good storytelling; therefore, it conforms to what we might find in Campbell and Jung, and possibly many others.

    I had to laugh when you brought up the Zebra Criteria because my husband uses it so much when he’s teaching interns and residents. They have a tendency to diagnose all sorts of esoteric disorders/diseases without first considering the common ones. He also likes to say, “common things happen commonly.” The sequence is usually to rule out the most common problems and then move on to the less common diagnoses. I have to guess that in this program they use some very rare disorders because their medical consultant is having some fun as well as finding medical conditions that make ME appear exceptionally accomplished as a diagnostician. So, yes, let’s have some fun with both the zebras and the horses. We have many months left before they offer us more to review. You know I am always ready to jump into the river and drift away with all of you!!

  17. Santa Traugott

    I’ve lost track of the post in which Karen made the very good point that there are multiple instances in which Martin Ellingham is definitely NOT kind. She gives us a couple of examples, among them (as I remember) Martin’s callousness toward the husband of the woman who died of a stroke just as he got to her bedside (Phil?); one that stands out in my mind is when he trod on the foot of a boy on the beach during Mr. Strain’s mad scene, and told the boy to “stop whinging, you’re not hurt” or some such words. He takes an instant dislike to Delphine’s mother (the feeling is mutual) which seems to color his treatment of Delphine. AT the end of S1, he gets angry with Louisa for what he thinks of as making too much of Peter’s injury, and walks away in a huff, which turns out probably to be a mistake, as Peter’s spleen has been damaged.

    I think that Martin Clunes was only half-joking when he sometimes describes his character as “vile” and “horrible.” He is often cantankerous, judgmental, unsympathetic, impatient, dismissive, etc., etc. Perhaps there really are “20 things about [him] that are crap.” I see these instances as ways in which the writers have tried to convince us that he is not an entirely sympathetic character — because otherwise, the “fish out of water” scenario they started out with, is less convincing.

  18. waxwings

    I don’t know where this reply will land up on the page, but I am responding to your latest post of November 18….

    In reference to your suggestion that defining the true opposite of kindness as indifference, I would say that indifference might have been a blessing had it been applied to ME’s childhood. Well yes, his parents tried to ignore him and banish him as much as possible from what I take the story line to be. But O that his mother had been indifferent, rather than the pro-active, selfish and nasty disapprover and kill-joy she was, and certainly his father was.

    I have been thinking about what you said using the aphorism for unkindness as ”All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.” Were Martin’s parents the “good people” who ignored him, did nothing for him? Not exactly. I am intrigued by considering how his Aunt Joan was the one who was not indifferent, and who did not want to ignore or belittle or criticize him. She showed him affection and love early in his boyhood, and it was his parents who proactively and literally removed that affection from him by preventing his summer stays at the AJ’s farm, after age 11. Starving one of love and affection is what is evil for a child or anyone. Were ME’s parents Indifferent? If so, they would have left ME spending his summers with his Aunt Joan. They wouldn’t have cared what he did.

    In that same vein, I would take up the thread of our collective conversation here about Winnicott and the sometimes subtle parental insult to the developing self hood of a child, taking it up a peg to the more proactive damage parental narcissism plays on the child. This is the Alice Miller link that Santa references.

    Miller, a German psychoanalyst, has catalogued, ad infinitum, in her many books, particularly “Prisoners of Childhood, How Narcissistic Parents Form and Deform the Emotional Lives of their Gifted Children) 1979—the very damaging behavior traits exhibited by Margaret in ME’s early life. (Certainly it wasn’t indifference. It was something much more actively inflicted on our hero.)

    I first became familiar with Miller’s work through good friends who are the American translators of her subsequent book, “For Your Own Good: The Hidden Cruelty in Child Rearing and the Roots of Violence.” They gave me a copy when it came out in 1983, more than 31 years ago. It expands and takes to the next level the idea of parental narcissism’s effect on the child. “For Your Own Good” is a litany of how cruelty (emotional and physical) can indelibly mark the child for life, stunting and deforming their adult behaviors. (Even the book’s title reminds me of the removal of ME by his mother from Aunt Joan’s loving care at age 11 so he would not be “exposed” to Joan’s extra-marital love affair with John—“for his own good.”)

    Miller’s book is a very painful book to read or stay with for any length of time. I sometimes have this same painful sensation when watching ME’s agonized midnight scenes from Series 6, which many on this blog have also noted with much chagrin. We will never really know what the writers had in mind when they created those scenes, but it is impossible to watch them absent our own experiences and/or the insights of others (into early childhood trauma). Knowing how contentious a subject Series 6 is, I have been reluctant to continue down this psychoanalytic path, even (in)citing Miller. She is about as far out (or as close in) as you get. Plus I feel way over my head with DM’s and Santa’s and Karen’s knowledge in this field. But we simply can’t escape from understandings we have internalized along the way when we watch a show as interesting as Doc Martin.

    Perhaps we must come back to the exasperated author of “Watership Down” that DM mentions, and believe that the writers of Doc Martin might be laughing it up on nearby Lands End right this minute repeating what Richard Adams said about his book: “It’s just a story about rabbits that I had told to my children!”

  19. Post author

    I see these occasional acts of nastiness also as forcing us to accept that Martin is no saint and is often not trying to fit in or be likable. I can’t help staying with the overall theme of finding humor in the awful ways he treats others at times, and it accentuates how clueless he is to polite social interaction. In addition, his behavior tends to magnify how naive, innocent, and somewhat unaware the villagers are. It’s pretty obvious that Martin has no interest in being involved in Mark’s wedding or in having a pint with Penhale, but they try anyway for some odd reason. It’s a human trait, I think, to make overtures to difficult people because they intrigue us and challenge us to break through their defenses. In this case, the constables want to be confidants of Martin because they consider their position in the village somewhere in the same status as his. They are responsible for protecting the villagers from criminals and dangers to their safety, while Martin is there to protect them from medical invasions. He clearly does not view them in that way at all. On the other hand, they come in quite handy at times and model some successful methods of dealing with others, e.g. when Mark finds Peter on the road or when Penhale helps Martin extract Louisa from the plane.

    We also see him slam the door in several people’s faces besides Mylow and Penhale, e.g. the water company rep., the doctor’s friend, his mother. In these cases he’s cutting off all conversation abruptly and discourteously, and we applaud him. It gives us a chance to lean back and think that’s how we’d like to handle such disingenuous people, if we only had the guts. That adds to the humor too, of course. I especially liked it when he rejected Edith and her theories about his decision to leave the hotel. (Leaving a hotel is not a medical problem.) They know we’ll all be cheering when he says that. Does that make us willing participants in unkindness?

    So it’s a mixed bag of offenses that maintain Martin’s disinclination to be sociable, his inability to comprehend why stating the facts is hurtful in any way, while also providing another form of humorous exchanges.

  20. Post author

    Thanks for your insights Marta. I am not familiar with Miller and her work, but from the title I gather she makes connections between how children are treated in their formative years and the development of violent behavior, amongst other things. Child abuse is a huge topic and seems to fall on a continuum from neglect to outright physical beatings. What we know about Martin Ellingham’s upbringing certainly fits somewhere on that continuum, so I think it makes sense to consider what parental abuse can do to a child. I wonder if part of the reason they include various side comments from Martin about the way he was treated as a child is to complicate any diagnosis of Asperger’s or what have you. They don’t want to put a label on what might be the cause of his unconventional behavior so they give us all sorts of possibilities. It’s another ambiguity among the many others in the show.

    The fact that Martin is clumsy, uncoordinated, and devoid of any appetite for retaliation makes him more buffoon than revenge seeker. We see villagers take advantage of him and mistreat him while he blusters but basically accepts it all. His lack of real aggressiveness may buttress your assertion that Aunt Joan’s kindnesses to him, and as an example for him, might have had a lasting positive effect on him despite the treatment he got from his parents.

    The many faces of Martin Ellingham could be the title of another post.

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