What is it about DM that is so appealing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

42 thoughts on “What is it about DM that is so appealing?

  1. Santa Traugott

    I agree with so much of this post, and you made so many thought provoking points that it’s hard to single any one out.

    But I do especially like the remark about both characters having a combination of vulnerability and strength. I think that just as we, the audience, pick up on that, it’s also what a large part of what makes Martin and Louisa so endearing to each other. A riff on Louisa — here we have a sort of “normal” woman, with sort of garden variety “issues” — far from perfect, no need to rehearse the many faults people find in her — but I have always had a lot of sympathy for her, because in a way, she’s really an underdog also. Martin’s difficulties are of a different kettle of fish than her; more inclusive, more “genetic” and his whole level of emotional functioning makes relating to him such an unusual challenge. I don’t find it at all surprising that she gets frustrated in dealing with him and periodically wonders if it’s at all possible or even healthy for her to continue with him.

    Nigel Cole’s comments in that interview were so fascinating. But besides his emphasis on the script, I also took away from it (and I’m sure you did too) his strong comment that a script is NOT a novel — that if your only fascination is with words as such, then you can’t be writing for a visual medium, because EVERYTHING else that the viewer sees is contributing to their experience, and that has to be written as meticulously as the dialogue. And Doc Martin is very clearly written and directed with as little dialogue as possible doing the story telling work directly — that is, there is very little “exposition” as such, but all the elements — dialogue, wardrobe, acting, camera shots, set dressing — are meant to be part of the exposition and the viewer has the job of integrating these into his or her own narrative. To stretch an analogy, it’s almost like a good visual drama is like looking at a series of very complex and well done paintings, only they’re animated, and the characters in them have dialogue that doesn’t so much directly tell the story, but adds another, and critical, layer of meaning.

    So, lastly, like you and many of us, I found this show compelling in a way that was almost completely new to me. Although I am a lifelong and avid reader, I had never thought seriously about how dramas are constructed, or about the visual arts, or actually, about why I appreciated particular novels. In trying to explain my fascination with this show, I came across the concept of “narrative transportation” which talks about the capacity of a novel, tv drama, movie, etc, to draw people into that world — leading to phenomenon like imagining alternative ways the story might go (fanfic) or thinking about and reacting emotionally to viewing it, etc., etc. I was glad to find that I was not alone in my reactions! And clearly, the creative team of Doc Martin are severally and individually, past masters in eliciting this narrative transportation, to a degree that cetainly seems to have surprised them, and which they probably didn’t consciously set out to reach.

  2. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Thank you so much Santa. I did leave out all of the work that goes into costuming, camera angles, and set. Those are definitely so important along with facial expressions by all of the actors. The fact that TV is visual should not be left out. Nevertheless, I have to say I am a very visual reader and consider a key aspect of good writing to be how evocative it is. By that I mean that it encourages the reader to use his/her imagination to picture the characters and the setting. Stephen King wrote an excellent book “On Writing” in 2000. In it he says something I’ve never forgotten about writing being a means of transcending time, sending messages from the writer to the reader that are received no matter how far apart in time the two are. He makes the point that writers should never be too descriptive because readers should be allowed to relate to the scene in their own way. He proves his point by describing a rabbit in a cage with the number 8 written on its back in blue ink. He describes the table the cage is sitting on, and the table cloth between the cage and the table. He describes many details of this caged rabbit, but leaves the descriptions vague enough so that the reader has to interpret what he is saying in his/her own imagination. He says because of this there will be some necessary variations, such as the various shades of red that the readers mind could place on the table cloth. What each reader imagines is influenced by his/her own experiences and predispositions.

    I think what you mean by narrative transport is similar. We bring to every book and every show our own background and sensitivities that are triggered by what we’re seeing either on the page or the screen. We want to make it personal and feel connected to the characters. We want to ask, “what would I do in this situation?” It’s hard to transfer the beautiful prose we read in novels to the screen because time is limited and action is necessary. To some degree that makes turning a novel into a film or TV series so difficult. To me, the writers of DM have managed to use language as well as visual features to achieve a most admirable show.

  3. Santa Traugott

    Isn’t that exactly why the translation of a good novel to the screen is so often disappointing? because we have such a well-developed imaginative world based on the writer’s work that comparison to another visual translation is often at least unsettling, and often disappointing? Yes — that’s what I too love about good fiction — how you can see the author’s world in your mind. I think Thomas Hardy, e.g., is particularly good at that. But, I do digress…

  4. waxwings2

    Thank you Karen for this post. Could there be a more important question for a serious blog about the Doc Martin show than this one—why do we find it so appealing? I have been asking myself this question since being drawn into it years ago. In fact, my addiction to it was so startling to me because I dislike most TV shows, and esp. TV series. They are shallow and contrived emotional levers, either gratuitously violent or moronically insipid or both, and I rarely feel drawn to continue watching any of them. Northern Exposure was the only exception, and now I can add Doc Martin. There is depth, challenge, vulnerability, real life here, not banal entertainment that simply distracts. It asks something of its viewers.

    Both Karen and Santa have beautifully summarized all the reasons for its appeal, and done so in a detailed and thoughtful manner. Thank you both. There is little one can add to the substance of what you’ve said, only amplify and embrace. So I embrace your responses wholeheartedly, and offer one other idea for us to consider that is not about the specifics of the show, but rather, about its makers.

    I don’t believe we would be blogging or fanfict-ing or window-peeping behind the scenes at Port Isaac, if it were not for two very special people, whose collaboration here produced a perfect storm of creativity. Without the combined minds and hearts of Martin Clunes and Philippa Braithwaite we would not have the kind of show we have. Yes, there would be fine writers and producers (the Minghellas, the Lothians, Bolts, etc) and fine actors (Catz, MacNeice, Atkins, etc) but it was the combined brilliance of the Clunes’ that brought it all together.

    Now spanning almost fifteen years, the show and the Doc Martin character had long been in development, first as the supporting Dr. Bamford character in Saving Grace, followed by two more Doc Martin movies, Doc Martin: The Movie, and Doc Martin and the Legend of the Cloutie. These were successful comedies but did not result in the worldwide popularity of the current DM TV series (now viewed in 70 countries). It was only when Clunes and Braithwaite were set free to make their own DM program that genius and brilliance combined in the best possible ways.

    Funding was suddenly pulled for the proposed new follow-on DM TV series in 2004. I understand that it was then that the Clunes’ decided boldly to dramatically change the personality of the Doc and go it on their own, and, as they say “Make something we would have wanted to watch ourselves.” They didn’t know it would succeed and were even surprised when it did, and instead of one series, they made six, (with a seventh on its way). I think their birthing and ownership of this series is critical to understanding its appeal.

    The Clunes’ had been through their individual growth slogs, career-wise, and seemed to be at a perfect place for creating what we have all come to know and love. They brought maturity, insight and know-how to its conceptualization, the courage to try something different (create a vulnerable Doc), as well as the wherewithal to do so over a long period of time. (They spaced filming each series two years apart, giving time to writers and actors and audiences to reflect and alter episodes as needed). The Clunes also knew who to tap for scriptwriting and acting once they had decided on the kind of quirky, flawed, very vulnerable Doc they wanted to portray. (Clunes himself largely crafted his own character and continued to tweak it as the show progressed.)

    The character actors who came together once every two years in Port Isaac were like family who could grow together—in community—and adapt over more than a decade. The Clunes’ “parenting” of this cast and show over all these many years gave the finished product depth, continuity and integrity—rare ingredients in a contemporary TV series. It was almost a necessity because the show provoked reactions from its viewers in a fundamentally different way than most entertainment TV programs. It made us think and feel, sometimes gently, sometimes abrasively. You had to be blind, deaf and dumb not to be challenged by the series, and to see many aspects of DM’s life in your own. The “transference” as Santa has described, is the vulnerability implicit in all the characters in DM. These are the “children” of the Clunes in the most positive sense. They originated it, and shepherded it through an entire decade. That human vulnerable-ness, encased in a comedic pie, that’s portrayed in the DM show is, in my opinion, the most important reason why the show appeals, and will keep appealing.

    When they started the series, both Clunes and Braithwaite were moving towards new heights in their own powers. They had worked very hard in their separate careers, and had gained the confidence that comes only with hard work and success. Their combined strengths and professional excellence (he a brilliant actor, she a brilliant producer) came together in this most benevolent of perfect storms we have now come to know and love as the DM show. I think they achieved a new career peak with it, and can only continue to climb higher as they go forward. It is said that the key to be being blessed, is to be a blessing. Does this not fit these two?

  5. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Marta, I think your appreciation of the effort that has been put into this show is well deserved. The best thing Martin Clunes, et. al. did was turn the doctor into someone with a disorder (or more than one) with a gruff demeanor. When I watch the precursors to DM, I see lighthearted and fairly simplistic films. Fun, but nothing to stimulate deep thought. I love Craig Ferguson and Brenda Blethyn, but “Saving Grace” was never expected to be a film that had a serious message of any kind. From what Nigel Cole says, they were all surprised when it was a hit at Sundance. Anyway, as you say, we can all be glad that the character conversion was made and the contacts with excellent writers, directors, and actors has brought the show such success.

  6. Barb

    You do such good in depth articles on Doc Martin, and I like your writing style. I agree with the things you’ve said about the show, and some I had never thought about. I’ll need to read it a couple more times to absorb it all.

    I appreciate all the thoughtful replies also. I enjoy reading them as well.

    The only thing I missed was the location. When I think about the show, I always think of the location. Although the show could possibly be as great anywhere, I think that it being in Port Isaac is important. It could be that it means more to me because I would love to live in Port Wenn village near the ocean. To see and hear that all the time would be wonderful to me, and it does attract a great many more tourists because of the show too.

  7. Mary

    I have to agree with Barb, the location really does add to the overall feel of the show and its characters…it is not only beautiful but timeless, worn by sun, wind and water. It has been shaped by nature rather than by man and man is definitely not in charge of this environment. The wind is always blowing, the hills are very steep and the cliffs are rocky and dangerous. The fishermen are not rich but strong and proud of their community as they struggle to make a living from the sea. The landscape has a purity, an honesty and lack of pretension which pervades the characters and their lives. People like Margaret cannot feel comfortable for long in such a place. There is no where for anyone to hide their flaws. This would not be the same show if it was set in a place like London.
    My other observation as to its popularity is that there is simply a dearth of good television for mature audiences that stimulates both mind and heart. Its no mystery to me that millions of people have fallen for this show. It has very strong writing, casting, refrains from using gimmicks like violence and sex as a draw, and the characters are wonderfully complicated in way most of us are wonderfully complicated….what could be more appealing to an audience?
    I also believe Martin’s horrible parents were much more to blame for his inability to get along with others more than any Asperger’s or autism component. As Martin Clunes has said many times, “there’s a sad little boy in there”.

  8. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Mary, I very much agree with your description of the setting. I was trying to determine what leads me to be so drawn to the show and setting is not a major drawing card for me. I don’t think it could be set in a big city, but many small towns could take its place in my estimation. England is filled with quaint and charming villages set in pretty places that are apart from major thoroughfares and, if the show were set there, I could imagine it still being the show it is now.

    I also agree with your other comments about the show. I, too, like having a series that refrains from violence and treats sex in a modest and private manner. Some viewers seem to disagree with us on that and want more sex scenes, but I am glad that they imply rather than overtly show much of the intimacy between Louisa and Martin. It really comports with the characters. There’s no question that M’s parents are to blame for some of his difficulties, but they are one of many forces that might have affected him. The show gives us many possible reasons for how he has come to be the man he is and all of them play a role. I believe he also has a disorder similar in many ways to Asperger’s and that the show uses that as another means of reflecting its times as well as making the character more complicated and sympathetic. It’s kind of the re-enactment of the nature/nurture controversy and he has had to contend with both. It was smart and more provocative to depict him as a product of both.

  9. Mary

    I have a tendency to lean towards the practical in my observations of human nature. Human interactions make sense to me when they work and when they don’t (which is all too often) the complications are very interesting and I get busy trying to understand them and think of ways to smooth them out. Doc Martin has given me many opportunities to do so, and even helps out a bit when I’m dealing with my own teenager’s budding relationships. My observations have been influenced by my own upbringing by emotionally distant parents, so the references to autism and Aspergers do not sit that well with me. I too have had issues in my personal relationships owing to my parents lack of kindness and affection. I think I have done a pretty good job of working them out, although its taken a fair amount of therapy and is a lifelong quest, just like it will be for ME.

    I also find it very refreshing to find an intelligent show that has so many merits. The villagers are comical, not so much because of any eccentricity but because they possess an endearing matter-of-factness which is often reflected in their storytelling. Remember the old lady to whom Martin lectures about smoking, her story about her mother who finally quit smoking at 93….”and then she died,” snaps Martin, with an ‘I-told-you-so’ look, “No,” she responds rather brightly, “she lost her pipe!”

    I have only been to a few places in England and often read about pretty little villages. But it was not just the beauty of Port Isaac that captured my attention immediately, part of its allure was the fact that it is such a hardscrabble and rugged place. There are few trees, sweeping vistas and many great rocks, the village houses seem huddled together protectively against the elements. It is a place which has been stripped bare to its spiritual essence and I don’t think this can be easily found in many places. I think it is reflective of a spartan, resilient kind of person who can thrive in such environments.

    I am a landscape painter and I do think place has a much stronger bearing on people’s psyche than most realize. Louisa is firmly rooted to her landscape and I think Martin seeks that rootedness as well and would be at a real loss without it, though he doesn’t quite realize or appreciate it just yet.
    (Remember the honeymoon couple who tell him how lucky he is to live in such a place? ) Family and community are doubly important in a landscape such as this one. The constant intrusion of squawking seagulls is also, I find, a not so subtle reminder of this link with the land.
    Maine has a similarly beautiful but unforgiving landscape, which would also connect peculiarly with the characters and story lines of a DM type show.

  10. Madelyn Grossman

    Hi Karen,

    I enjoyed reading your post in regards to what makes Doc Martin so appealing.

    I think the comparison I can make between Doc Martin and All in the Family would be the shock factor. Both Archie Bunker and Martin shocked me in the way they spoke and in their opinions.

    On occasion I have found Martin quite pompous and his opinion on women a little offensive but I have seen his innate goodness as well in the way he is so dedicated to his patients and is always willing to step up the the plate in an emergency. The complexity of this character as well as others is what draws me to this show.

    We receive just glimpses of what lies beneath the surface and this leaves me with wanting to find out more. Just recently during one of my rewatches it dawned on me that even in the last episode of season 6, Martin still thinks he had a healthy childhood and needed Ruth to spell it out to him that he didn’t. I don’t know why I didn’t notice before. He still beliefs he had a good upbringing even after the horrible things his mother said to him in season 2. It’s as if he has no recognition for feelings at all. He always goes to the physical when there is a problem, like the thorough check up he gives himself upon the return of his homophobia.

    I’m also paused in my mind on the tears he sheds in the bathroom after Louisa’s operation, is this relief that the operation was successful or something else. He looks soo sad. Also, during his conversation with his mother he looks older then she does. During almost all of season 6 he just looks so haggard.

    What do you think of the last thing he says to Louisa? “Your my patient and my wife” The fact that he first sees her as a patient and then as his wife is a very loaded sentence. I can hardly wait for season 7.

    The intricacies of each episode is amazing. I also think that Al Large is a very interesting character.

    Sorry for the long post.

  11. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Madelyn, what you say about Archie in comparison to Martin about being shocking is exactly what I was trying to get at. They both have that combination of bluntness and vociferousness mixed with tenderness at times.

    M’s inability to realize what a difficult childhood he had is part of his defense mechanism, his cluelessness in general, and perhaps taking Ruth literally again. He was healthy in body, which is how he interprets everything.

    In one of my previous blog posts I suggested that when M says “and you’re my wife” at the end of E8 he is asserting to her that she is more than a patient to him and (as others noted) recalling what she said to him in an earlier episode when she wonders why he hasn’t told her about the return of his hemaphobia and she says “but I’m your wife.” When I think back on all of S6, the biggest change in his life is that he’s married now. At the end, that seems to have sunk in finally, and I think ending the series that way is important because we are meant to understand that M is committed to her in a way that was never clear to him before. He finally gets it.

  12. Madelyn Grossman


    I agree with you that Martin’s literal understanding of just about everything is a defense mechanism but I also think it ties into how he was raised as well. No one ever took his feelings into consideration so he learned early on that feelings and emotions were unimportant. This is probably why he chose surgery which deals mostly with bodies but something inside (that 4 year old little boy) decided it wasn’t enough.

    Question, would you be interested in doing a comparison between Al’s upbringing and Martin’s? Al was orphaned at a young age and has trouble separating from his father while Martin’s parents were remote and heartless? Both had heavy loads.

  13. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I like your comment about M’s choice of surgery. We know that he stopped being able to perform surgery because he made the connection between the body on the surgical table with the person whose body it is. He became sensitive enough to find it hard to cut open the skin to do the operation. It’s interesting to consider that he decided surgery wasn’t enough because I have been saying that being a GP requires more knowledge and medical ability than surgery. We need surgeons and their skills, but the daily management of medical conditions is demanding as well. Usually these two divisions of medical practice attract very different personality types.

    One post I thought about doing and haven’t so far has to do with fathers and sons in the show. That sort of post would probably cover much of what you’re talking about, don’t you think? Maybe I’ll revive that post idea after all.

  14. waxwings2

    Karen, recent comments about Archie Bunker prompt another post on this topic of why we find the DM show so appealing. Also, you‘re thoroughness in approach to the question, and giving it the seriousness it deserves—as with a Great Books discussion!—also merits more response. For my part, I did feel that in you we had benefit of a Great Books discussion leader (Robert Hutchins meets Doc Martin!)—and that was good.

    As I mentioned in an earlier post on this, I’ve never been much of a TV watcher, and many of your first references in the blog to popular TV programs (esp. the modern ones) eluded me. So it was hard for me to reply directly. But I did get one TV analogy—Archie Bunker—and since Madelyn brings him up again I’d like to respond.

    At first, I found myself bristling just a little over your comparison with the dignified Martin Ellingham, even though I understood your anti-hero point. It was a good one. (Yes, we also like our heroes “anti” on this side of the pond.) You said that what is appealing about Archie and Martin is that both have “that combination of bluntness and vociferousness mixed with tenderness at times.” This makes them irascible and difficult, but also vulnerable. I think, in the case of the Doc, there is, for me, more the quality of a flawed human being who struggles to learn how best to live, even when in great pain, to grow, and—god forbid—maybe even find some true happiness. This is what appeals in ME. (Archie is never in danger of grappling with such challenges).

    I remember Archie always being his own worst enemy, besotted with ignorance and uncertainty, lacking confidence and afraid of a changing world. He tries to cover it over and make up for it all in great swaggering buffoonery (the comedic source of the show). His character evokes both pity and great frustration. Like the Doc, he is the vehicle for the show’s challenges, asking us to think about some important issues and social values, and in Archie’s case, also whether—as we grow old—will we too be hampered by the petty fears and doubts he finds himself in mortal combat with every day?

    More unsettling than Archie’s issues, are the questions our Doc evokes. He is the opposite of Archie in the confidence department, though like Archie, ME is startlingly lacking in self-insight, and not the least bit interested in gaining any—or engaging in self-reflection. Doesn’t see the need. That is, NOT UNTIL he crashes into LOVE and must GROW. Is it possible for him to learn and to grow, to expand who he is? To become more or a better human being? His brilliance, his commanding presence, his outward take-charge self-confidence, his stalwart, controlled emotional exterior—these strengths are all shockingly juxtaposed against his internal personal suffering, emotional distress, weakness and inability to cope (the phobia, the loneliness, the constant butt of ridicule, the distancing from intimacy). He is a contradictory, terribly vulnerable and complex man—and much to be pitied.

    This contrast (what Nigel Cole would call his fluctuation between “appealing” and “disturbing”) makes him a very, very sympathetic character. We hurt along with him as he descends into the insomniac’s hell, and, as others here have said, we are exhausted and distressed from watching him try to keep it all together. It is very unsettling to see his unraveling unfold in front of our eyes in Series 6—without the cushioning of much comic relief.

    The questions this Doc evokes for us??

    He poses the most fundamental philosophic questions that all the Great Books surely have raised: Can people change, and if so how? What brings happiness? A deeply fulfilling life? How do we know and keep what is meaningful and good? The Doc gets so much sympathy from us because he hasn’t a clue how to go about answering these questions. He is definitely a good man, but really clueless. It is SO hard for him even to understand what his problems are, let alone resolve them!

    I agree with Mary and those others here who say that his distant, selfish and cruel parents, and his terrible upbringing, (not Asperger’s) are the cause of his deep-seated problems in adulthood. From that childhood he has learned only to shut out feeling, to allow nothing in. But Louise and James Henry and meaningful life DID get in. They want to stay, but now he has trouble letting them stay, and he has no resources to figure how to help them stay, or make Louisa happy, though he desperately wants to. If that ain’t a bummer!!

    It is all so poignant and gut wrenching and tragic, yet the writers have also signaled to us that there is hope. We sense at the end of Series 6 that the Doc will find his courage and his will, and use his strength to keep what he deserves. Aunt Ruth has revealed to him the secret he refuses to know, and she has also told him what he must do to keep his family and to help Louise and JH to stay. In S6E8, he resolves to try. It is this struggle that he embraces that reveals his vulnerability, and the thing that I find so appealing in the show.

    I wonder if others feel this way, or is our benevolent DM addiction really something else, perhaps less conscious or even specific? Or maybe, as someone here on this blog has pointed out, it is whatever we bring to the show of our own biases and projections?? Surely that is true of anything we watch—or read. I would like to believe that our attraction for the show DOES have to do with Karen’s Great Books theory of excellence and the universal, age-old questions that we consciously—and subconsciously—grapple with…The DM show just makes me deal with those questions more consciously, even while I am laughing through its great comedic moments.

    I intend to keep tuning in and believe that those brilliant DM script writers will answer for us and the Doc some of those Great Books questions. This they can do in the final Series 7. (At least MC says 7 will be the last, lest it turn into a soap opera!)

    Karen, tuning in to the DM show over and over IS definitely a lot like reading a really good novel—you can’t put it down, and you can’t skip even one page, because you need to find out what finally happens in the end.

  15. waxwings2

    To those on this blog site who have grappled with (and perhaps bristled) at the idea of having our Doc Martin TV series studied through the lens of the Great Books close-reading method of analysis and interpretation, I offer something from The New York Times that appeared in today’s (May 2) edition, a piece penned by David Brooks, one of their Opinion writers.

    “Love Story: One night shared by a historian and a poetess illustrates a rarely argued but powerful reason to study the great books: it expands the experience of love.”


    One paragraph from it:

    “The night Berlin and Akhmatova spent together stands as the beau ideal of a different sort of communication. It’s communication between people who think that the knowledge most worth attending to is not found in data but in the great works of culture, in humanity’s inherited storehouse of moral, emotional and existential wisdom.”

    This strictly conversational meeting went down in history as a “love story.” We know it because it is part of the “Great Books” literary landscape from the last century, and yet it comes to us fresh and appealing in modern day times. Understanding literature, art, movies—and a great TV series like Doc Martin—through the Great Books lens expands our experiences, and gives us a mighty tool to make those moral, political, emotional judgements that define how we live. Or maybe, how best to live. This is the question the DM show is posing to us in every episode.

  16. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Thanks for all of your insights Marta. There’s not much I want to say in response because you’ve done a good job of expressing your thoughts.

    I think you might be selling Archie short a little, but it’s no big deal.

    My only small aside is that I am always on the lookout for good TV shows and wish there were more because I like the medium. It’s so disappointing that there aren’t more well written and designed shows when we have so many channels available now. One of the amusing comments that comes up several times in DM is when ME states that he doesn’t watch TV. (He has one in the house for some reason, but I guess they don’t use it.) Yet, MC and CC have mostly acted on TV and their acting careers have benefited greatly from TV. Of course, we are watching a TV show when he makes these remarks. It’s a great way to mock the medium while using it.

  17. waxwings2

    Mary, I have read, re-read and have been thinking a lot about your two recent blog posts on this question of why the DM show is so appealing. Very helpful comments you have made. I’d like to share my reactions to what you said.

    First, I have to admit that I never agreed with those who thought PortWenn was another character in the show. But you have convinced me that I need to rethink that. Like Karen, I felt that the strength of the script writing and actors could locate the story anywhere. But you have challenged my thinking on that. Portwenn’s barren, down-to-the-bone landscape is, as you say, nowhere for a dishonest person to hide. The best line: “People like Margaret (the Doc’s mother) can’t feel comfortable for long in such a place. There is nowhere for anyone to hide their flaws.” I had not realized how much the landscape had mirrored the characters in this show until you said it. It’s the perfect geologic metaphor, reinforcing and enhancing the storyline and characters. While I once thought that the show could have been successfully filmed elsewhere, the location helps bump it up from being just good to great. And yes, living in Maine for my summers, I totally agree that it is the perfect geologic counterpart to Port Isaac. (Separated when the great Pangea was ripped asunder!)

    Second, I agree with you that the villagers are real and have a matter-of-fact quality to them that is not exaggerated. We can see in them people we know in our lives. They are believable. And we believe in them! In fact, as you say, the entire show is not exaggerated or mediated by gratuitous violence or sex. It is this feeling of reality that makes us feel we are watching something honest (even though very made up in the heads of the script writers).

    Third, there is something about the filming or the film medium of this show that is markedly different from other modern commercial, professional TV shows/series. It has the feel of actual life. It is much more like a filmed documentary, than a TV show. It’s like the difference between vinyl and digital, or analogue and high def. And while it is still fiction, whatever technical medium the filmmakers have used, it enhances the sense of reality and place that is right and true. As you have pointed out, filming it in Port Isaac makes the story reflect the real life of its characters, and filming it in this different (mystery?) medium that the producers must have used makes it even more so. (If anyone knows what this is, please write in with a reply).

    Finally, I wanted to second your insight that the Doc’s problems are more a product of his early childhood upbringing and his distant and cruel parents than they are a result of a genetic medical condition from Asperger’s syndrome (even though the show tries to make this an ambiguous point). Unfortunately, I have direct experience with both and can come down on the side of the former. It’s a tough history to carry around or to overcome. Yes, years of therapy. Many of us fail. I have to keep cheering for the Doc to persist. Few Louisa’s make their appearance in our lives. And when they do, we are like the Doc in pushing them away and keeping them out. It’s a challenge. Every day.

    There are, as you say, so few shows that stimulate both heart and mind. This show does. Karen wonders the same about why there are not more like it? Probably nothing could be like it, but we could at least hope for intelligent, but will come up wanting every time. I think that’s another reason I love this show as I do: it’s a smart show and it challenges us all the time. Thank you Buffalo Pictures. Keep it up!

  18. Carol

    Hello Karen and everyone! It has been so much fun to see all of the reasons that people find this show so appealing.

    One thing that I haven’t seen here and is a very appealing part of the show to me, is the music. I have never heard any music quite like it and, being a musician of sorts (I sing), I feel that the music in this particular show, more than any other I have seen on TV, is like another character. I have seen an interview with the composer and he says something about a type of tango rhythm that they used that seems to be the rhythm of Martin and Louisa’s relationship (I forget exactly how he said it) but the “back and forth” movement is so important.

    I like the music so much that I have purchased most of it on itunes and have it on my phone and listen to some of it almost every day. The slow one called “Martin and Louisa” is so lovely. Romantic and moving, we hear it often in their scenes together. It’s just beautiful.

    I also love the setting. And I like what has been said here about the ruggedness and barrenness of the landscape. I think DM would find that he missed his ocean view and the accompanying sounds very much if he moved. I remember when I was first watching the show and saw the first episode of series 4 that I became quite disturbed thinking that they were going to change the show to London. (I didn’t know the whole history – series 5 had been done but I wasn’t familiar with it.) When Louisa returned at the end of the episode and I knew they would stay in Portwenn I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. I love the colors, the sparkles we see on the water, and the way the homes seem to hug the land.

    So many reasons to love this show. But I truly think that the depth of the chords it strikes in people are the things that keep us coming back again and again. All of the elements put together are wonderful, but the deep issues are what pull us back again and again, I believe. It was so painful to me to watch series 6 but watch I did, and still do thanks to AcornTV, because I want to see this thing through. I want the inner demons to be, if not defeated, at least managed.

    Phillipa Braithwaite has said she loves all of this analyzing of the show. I can understand that. What better reward than to be a part of something that changes lives for the better? We are all very fortunate that all of the “right stuff” came together to provide a “perfect storm” for us.

    And Karen, thank you for letting us get on with our discussions with each other. I heard in a sermon recently that we all need places to “disarm.” What a great place and topic to disarm us.

  19. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    We did neglect to mention the music and I will be the first to admit I don’t appreciate it as much as I should. All films and TV shows have music associated with them and it definitely matters. I think it adds to the show and would be missed if it weren’t there, but it isn’t why I watch the show. The scenery for me is like that too. I think the setting is lovely and adds to the enjoyment of the show; however, I would still watch the show if it were set in a small town in the interior of England. It’s true that ME steps outside to view the sea as a way to release some tension at times. He has a huge vista from his front stoop and can see so much from his position above the village. Could he do that with a view of fields or pastures? Probably. I won’t argue that it isn’t a factor in the appeal of the show though.

    I am so glad we can all exchange ideas on this site. I’ve obviously been having fun analyzing the show and hope I’ve provided some food for thought. I would guess Philippa and everyone associated with the show would be pleased to think their show has stimulated so much discussion. Thank you all for contributing!

  20. waxwings2

    So glad the subject of the music in this show was brought up. I too was really taken by it and think it is important.

    Wondering who created the DM music, the first time I was able to stop the credits rolling on the screen (thank you Netflix) I searched its source. It was Colin Towns, who I learned is a very accomplished British composer and talented keyboardist in all genres from jazz to classical to hard rock. He has a long credit history of soundtracks for film and TV (Cadfael, The Puppet Masters, Space Trackers and Captives). He played for a long time with ex-Deep Purple singer Ian Gillian and his band. Towns is a true star in the field of contemporary composers and he’s been composing for over thirty years!

    Wondering more about his music in Doc Martin, I got the whole soundtrack too. I realized it was unlike most film soundtracks that contain many different songs. No, its tunes were all variations on the DM theme song that we hear at the beginning and end of each episode, serving to link and unify the story lines. Like the show’s powerful location, the soundtrack reflects and amplifies the characters and characteristics found in the series. And like the Port Isaac location, it adds to the power and themes of the show through all 46 episodes.

    Thinking more about it now, I realize that again, the music reminds us how much the DM show reflects a really high level of excellence—from its actors to its scriptwriters to its directors and co-producers—and now, we should add its music. Think how often we have commented on this blog site about the brilliance of the Minghella writers (Dominic, the creator, in particular), and Jack Lothian, a real star writer, and Ben Bolt both a writer and producer/director. To those names we should add Colin Towns.’ Who chose this fabulous talent and wove it all together to make such an amazing show? That would be the show’s chief producer, Philippa Braithwaite, and its main actor, Martin Clunes.

    Is the music not more evidence of the “perfect storm” of creativity discussed in an earlier post? I think so.

  21. Santa Traugott

    I especially love the use of the Martin and Louisa love theme, that underlines many of their encounters. But significantly, not all!

    It was mostly missing in S5 — a very few bars, very quiet, when Louisa fell asleep (E2) and he took the baby from her, and I think also, briefly and quietly in the bedroom scene where they talked about the baby’s name. And then, so strongly in the Castle scene!

    My favorite use of it though is at the end of E7, S4, when Martin decides that he can’t go through with Edith’s plans (the ponytail swinging on the chambermaid making the bed really got to him, I think) and goes home to his lonely packing, and we hear the love theme as the episode ends.

  22. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Your identification of these scenes with the music is so perceptive. I’m going to go back and listen more carefully this time. The music acts subliminally, and is clearly another great feature of the show. Thank you for adding this!

  23. Mary

    The music is perfect…it enhances what’s happening on the screen without being overbearing or overly sentimental. I read somewhere that they chose to keep it simple, using guitar and piano primarily, which seems to underscore the integrity of the characters and suffuses the show with warmth. Even without watching the show, it’s a pleasure to listen to.

  24. Mary

    Yes, that was a perfect ending in which to use the love theme, after the pony-tail scene at the hotel …which seemed to quietly reaffirm the fact that Martin was in love, but not with Edith!

  25. egwrd

    I believe that what makes this show so unique and yes, addicting, is the relationship of DM and Louisa. What makes the relationship so amazing is the acting of CC and MC. Their chemistry is absolutely fantastic, through the romantic scenes and the difficult scenes. The scene in the last episode of S6, when L is getting ready to leave and she is in the bathroom and M is in the bedroom, is so incredibly tension-filled and sad you just absolutely feel their emotions. It is totally heartbreaking. That is what makes the show superb.

  26. egwrd

    I completely agree with you about the music. It is fantastic and adds so much to each episode.

  27. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I don’t think we can say too often how well these two actors handle their roles. Their kisses seem extremely authentic and their arguments appear natural and believable. I give credit, too, to the writing while acknowledging that the actors likely have contributed to keeping the dialogue so typical of the characters and so real.

  28. Linda

    I agree with everything you have said. The scene upstairs on two sides of the bathroom door was a heart stopped. We wanted to reachout and slap him to get him to say ANYTHING to stop her from leaving. I was perplexed by the scene in the toilet stall after the operation in S6 E8 too. Were the tears because he realized Louisa could have died and he felt guilty for causing her accident? Were they tears of relief that he had successfully operated on her? Was he thinking about asking her for help in the operating room while admitting he had a lot to learn about being married? Was he overcome because he thought she and James might have left for good? Or, maybe all of the above. These were the first and only tears he has shed and it was a powerful moment for sure. He has rarely shown emotion so powerfully. God knows, we have all wanted to see him get emotional and show feelings! I think he might have FINALLY had a bit of a breakthrough – as he realizes how important Louisa is to him. Maybe it represented him overcoming the event that stopped him from operating and caused his first blood phobia. Remember he said he looked down and realized for the first time that his patient had a loving family and she was important to them. He understood how his skills might affect her and her family. That’s when he ceased to operate like a robot! His final line to Louisa was hard to understand wasn’t it? I can’t decide if it was cold or loving. What did he mean? She had thanked him for coming after her and I guess that he would have gone after any patient because of the injury but that he had gone after her because she was his wife. He was prepared to do anything to find her and bring her home. If he had to, he WAS willing to go to Spain. But, was he just afraid of rejection so he stopped short of kissing her? He was giving her space but is that what she really wanted? I can’t decide. Louisa was great in this scene – standing up for herself while being gentle on Martin. We were all left to wonder what she might be thinking and what she will do. Great acting and writing!

  29. carol avery

    I am relatively new to DM, having just watched it for the first time 4-5 months ago but am hooked line and sinker by it. I loved reading your comments and analysis from a structured literary point of view. My take on DM is that it is 21st century Dickens. DM is David Copperfield (“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life…”) The human pathos, the strong unforgettable characters, the humor, the drama arcs – and even the episod-ization of it all remind me of Dickens so strongly.

    I’ve tried to suss out the difference in the writing of Lothian vs Stoneman and even vs Bolt – but have been completely unable to do so… don’t you think there is a strong element of writing by committee? With the same key principals of course but committee nonetheless..?

  30. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Thanks for your comments Carol. To some degree your view that DM reminds you of Dickens may be related to all the elements this show has in common with good literature. The excellent writing, use of language, the complex characters and sense of how to develop the story all make for a satisfying intellectual experience. I very much agree with that. In my opinion, good writing has some universal features, and these writers have tapped into that.

    You may not have read my post on Jack Lothian’s writing, but one thing I said is that I tend to like the episodes attributed to him the best. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the writers collaborate. What often happens is that the team of writers, directors, producers, and possibly actors get together at times to hash things out. I don’t think they all get together at any one meeting, but some probably do. From what I understand about the process, the shows that are written by several writers, like this one, first develop the arc of the story and then ask the writers to come up with ideas of how to get there. Then each writer is asked to take on certain episodes and there are additional meetings to talk over the results. By the time the episode is shot, the writer, director, actors, and others have had a table reading during which they discover what might need tweaking and then gone on to rehearsal where there may be additional tweaking. So the final outcome is definitely accomplished by committee.

  31. carol avery

    Hi – No doubt, the excellent writing and thought behind the show and characters is what hooked us onto DM, as it does to a good book and literature/art in general. You had mentioned Shakespeare in an earlier post, and while certainly there are broad similarities w/ some scenes in a few DM episodes and Shakespeare, I truly feel Dickens is more of its progenitor and literary ancestor in quotes, characters, small town setting, plots twists and dialogs. … and I mean this in a loving admiring way! Where else in popular entertainment does one get the quality of a work by Dickens? DM is fabulous. I love the fact that in his day, Dickens was a popular author, serializing his works for the masses in magazines and journals – and not being artsy-fartsy or high-brow.

    I’ve heard MC say in a video interview that “they” all get together for 3 days or so to develop the entire season’s story arc and plots all at one go. Then they get the medical advisor in to add the medical detective stories. Then they farm out the individual episodes to an individual writer to get going on the script for an episode. Just would love to know who the “they ” is. On Digital Spy the word is Ben Bolt has left the show — he was credited w/ scripts once or twice and as the primary director since day #1 (even before Day #1 if you count the prequels) – if this is true, I’m very sorry to see him go.

  32. carol avery

    You can watch an interview with Colin Townes – it’s online – discussing his music for DM. I loved the fact that, after being told the premise of the show, his response was “tango, it can only be a tango”! Enough said

  33. anna

    I agree with fundamentally all of the below – superb writing (given enough time), wonderful directing, truly superlative acting, excellent music, beautiful placement, but one unmentioned aspect to me is also the idea of what makes so many love stories popular – that there is some piece of many of us that desires to be loved in such a fierce fashion. While we acknowledge (as does the show!) that pure love itself is insufficient to make things simple or even at all pleasant, and while, again, we ourselves would not necessarily in reality want to be at the end of that laser focus….there is something in knowing that someone out there considers you that all-encompassing, considers you necessary to their existence that way. It’s at the root of so many revered love stories (both succesful and un) – rhett and scarlett, penny and desmond in LOST, etc. We need the acting, direction, writing, and so on to do the excellent job of presenting this story to us, but the purity and frailty of such a overpowering love has been selling stories for centuries.

    I’ve been re-watching the very last scene of S6 – “you’re my patient…and you’re my wife”. This is another way of saying “you encompass everything that I value. All of it. And only you.” (as at least in our general society, and certainly ME’s world, there can be only one wife).

  34. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Anna, there’s no doubt that the love story is critical to most exceptional literature over the centuries. I can barely think of an excellent novel that doesn’t have a love story at its center. We do have the Vonneguts and the Twains, etc., but most outstanding novels need a love story.

    Once again, I think your comment about the last words ME says to L are very insightful. Being a doctor is extremely important to this character and his identity, and having Louisa as his wife has become the other very important part of his life. Your view that his remarks encompass everything that he values works well.

  35. Santa Traugott

    I agree wholeheartedly with this. The love affair in this series is a powerful “hook” — it taps into something that is more than aesthetic appreciation. Perhaps it is the deep wish, usually latent, to be loved in this “fierce” way — or maybe to be loved once again unconditionally as our parents (hopefully) loved us. Or maybe, it is an identification with the lover, wanting so much to experience, vicariously, his (or her) success in gaining his heart’s desire.

    Fairy tales are much on the minds of those who’ve created this series. For example, the opening scene of S3, and the last scene of S5. And Martin Clunes has often warned his viewers that this is “not” a fairy story, but in so doing, I think he acknowledges its deep resonance with that genre.

    I guess fairy stories come to mind because both fairy stories and good romances seem to be dealing with these powerful, almost mythic themes.

    OK, I’m getting in well over my head now, but just to say, I appreciated your comment.

  36. anna

    Thank you! I agree it’s not a fairy tale (I mean, if Clunes says so, I agree he has more to say about it than I do, but I also agree that it isn’t presented that way). But I think it’s a far more mature, and at the end of the day, far more compelling story to have great love turn into great contentment, rather than the “happily ever after”, which we all know just isn’t how life works. And sometimes great love still simply isn’t enough, but it surely does reflect something for many people. (Ok, fine, and for me *personally*, MC’s throaty voice on some of those last lines gets me in a more visceral spot, but that’s a different issue!)

  37. Amy Cohen

    I have nothing new to add—you and the commenters have said all the things that draw me to the show. It’s not one thing—it’s all those things combined to make a show that makes me laugh and makes me imagine the characters as real people even though I know they’re not. It takes good writing and good acting to create characters we care about so much. But for me the number one thing that draws me in is the relationship between M & L and my hope that they can survive as a couple. Without that tension, I think I’d grow tired of the medical stories, the secondary characters, and even the setting (which I love). In rewatching episodes, I admit that there have been times I’ve fast-forwarded through a Penhale scene or a Bert scene (if neither M or L is in it) to get to the scenes that involve Martin and/or Louisa.

  38. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    The M&L story certainly became the central theme, and pretty quickly. That MC claims they didn’t see that coming is baffling since it was written to accentuate their relationship ups and downs. I got a kick out of the secondary characters in the first few series, but in S6 and 7, not so much. I wonder how they will try to recuperate the other storylines in S8. Most of us have lost interest in them now.

  39. Amy Cohen

    I’ve heard that said about other shows as well—that we didn’t realize the love story would be so important. And for many shows, once the love story is resolved, fans lose interest so then the writers break them up again. Don’t writers realize that what most people are interested in are romantic and other relationships? Do they really think that people will get as engaged in just a collection of individuals who don’t develop relationships? Even sitcoms seem often to end up with the main characters in romantic relationships with each other.

    As for the secondary characters. well, they’ve set us up to see of Penhale can make it with the nanny and whether Al can make it with Morwenna. And whether Mrs T and Mr T can make it together. So maybe S8 will be all about the couples with the usual medical crises woven in to test them. If I am right that it is the romance and relationships that keeps viewers engaged, that could be a good final season.

    Now if they put Ruth with Bert, I will know they’ve jumped the shark and I’d better find a new addiction.

  40. mmarshall

    You don’t say much about the setting, but I’ve been thinking lately about the beautiful, pastoral setting of the show with the village nestled in the crooks of the rocky seaside and so much of the way of life there being affected by the harbor and the sea.. The homes seem built-ins of the rocky landscape with some cemented stone structures that could date back hundreds of years. The time-worn endurance of the town contrasts the unsettled nature of its main-character inhabitants. These folks have not yet found their place in the landscape, their purpose or reason for being that gives them the satisfaction, contentment or happiness they long for. Louisa says she wants a family and children, rather defensively to Bert at one point — “I want lots of them!” — when he pushes her for why she hasn’t married. The Doc seems unsettled after his being uprooted from being a surgeon and is searching for a reason to stay a GP as well as stay in Port Wenn. Bert and Al are wandering from one money-making venture to another. Mrs. Tishell is searching for love in her life. The young adult receptionists are searching for their life work and purpose. They aren’t rooted or grounded, but still itinerant meanderers through the patient, wise, well worn hills that surround them. That’s what I see in the setting.

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