In Doc Martin there are many people who appear on Martin’s doorstep unannounced. Or Martin appears at someone’s home unexpectedly. I love it when Louisa asks Martin if his mother has ever shown up out of the blue before. Louisa does it all the time!
This sort of event is called an “Inciting Incident” by Robert McKee (you know, the writer of Story, the book I’ve referred to before). We also see these incidents on occasion with other characters, e.g. Joan, Edith, Ruth, Mrs. Tishell, and Bert.
McKee notes that an Inciting Incident must radically upset the balance of forces in the protagonist’s life. Next the protagonist must respond to the Inciting Incident. “The protagonist responds to the sudden negative or positive change in the balance of his life in whatever way is appropriate to character and world.” However, our protagonist will always want to restore balance. Lastly, the Inciting Incident “propels the protagonist into an active pursuit of this object or goal…But for those protagonists we tend to admire the most, the Inciting Incident arouses not only a conscious desire but an unconscious one as well. These complex characters suffer intense inner battles because these two desires are in direct conflict with each other.”
In DM the person who appears out of the blue on Martin’s doorstep, or to be more accurate, Martin’s kitchen door, is Louisa. Every time she does this we can call it an inciting incident because she always upsets the balance of his life. There are several times when Louisa appears that make the largest impact on him and I thought I would use these as the best examples.
In S7 the location is different because now she is living in the surgery building. By E3, however, she has appeared unexpectedly at Martin’s front door and completed the act of unbalancing his life again. By the end of E3, he is poised to leave at the front door to the surgery when she stops him hoping to reach out to him in her own noncommittal way. When he doesn’t stop long enough, she runs after him and leaves him much more hopeful by offering to do couple’s counseling with him. This series is the “Louisa in Charge” show, although maybe she’s been in that position the whole time.
For this post I wanted to highlight the times when Louisa’s unanticipated appearance incites imbalance and results in Martin pursuing a return to equipoise. I’m sure the examples I choose will not necessarily coincide with ones you would have chosen, and I hope you will add your views to mine. Also, I am aware that Louisa has shown up unannounced on other occasions outside the surgery, and some of those occasions could be considered destabilizing as well. Here I’m trying to pick out the times that are of major significance.
The first consequential time Louisa appears unannounced at his door is when she brings Allison by to apologize. When she knocks on the back door, Martin is mislead into thinking that she has come alone and is pleasantly surprised. She succeeds in making clear to him that she thinks Allison owes him her child’s life. She sends Allison out so that she can have a few moments alone with him. During that time she tells him she wants to stay, to which he responds affirmatively, thinking she means for a visit. What she really means is she wants to remain his patient, and he’s a little disappointed in the misinterpretation; however, she also approaches him and they have a close, personal encounter with a discussion of what they see for themselves in the future and she expresses her own doubts about her plans. Everything that happens after she shows up puts him off balance. He has to answer Allison and accept her apology; he agrees to allow Louisa to stay, whether it’s for a visit or as a patient (although we know he would welcome a visit); and her decision to step close to him and ask him about his plans for the future forces him to confront those in a way he hasn’t before.
The next time that I would call an inciting incident is when Louisa shows up wearing her wedding gown but carrying a letter telling him she has decided not to marry him. She apprises him that the letter says she loves him, but that he wouldn’t make her happy. Although he has also come to the conclusion that marrying isn’t the best decision at this point, her appearance flusters him. He follows her outside, digesting what they have just chosen to do, and watches as she walks away. His pursuit of Louisa has upended his life, but now their decision to part ways is just as disruptive to him. It’s a life-altering moment that once again must make him think about what he will do with his future.
I have to follow that unannounced appearance with the one that begins S4 when Louisa returns to Portwenn pregnant. Here he is just getting his life back in order, with a tinge of regret and forlornness, when in she pops to turn everything upside down again. As in the last scene of S3, Martin watches as Louisa walks away, carrying her suitcase and his baby. It doesn’t get any more unsettling than that!
The last occasion when Louisa shows up out of the blue to cause a marked upheaval is her arrival back in Portwenn in S7E2. I think we are supposed to believe that Martin was expecting her back; however, her arrival pushing James in his stroller while pulling her bag behind her is timed to put him off balance. It’s rare to find the waiting room as crowded and chaotic as in that scene. With so many townspeople there, and Martin unaware that Louisa is back, the shock for him is evident. He recovers fairly quickly, and he wants her there, but we know that Louisa’s return is going to unbalance his life once again.
Margaret’s appearance out of the blue is certainly one that we should count. Previously Joan has thrown him when she appears with a casserole after his disastrous concert date with Louisa. Then there’s Ruth coming to Joan’s funeral and bringing a new force into his life. And we can’t forget Edith and all of her unplanned visits.
Martin has been known to arrive unannounced at times himself. He surprises Joan in the first episode and has shown up at Ruth’s door without warning as well. I would call these inciting incidents too because they lead to significant changes in his life.
There are other times I can think of when the unplanned arrival of one person or another drives the plot, e.g. John Slater, Danny, Eleanor. All of these are inciting incidents that are frequently used to great effect by bringing imbalance to the main protagonists.
Originally posted 2015-09-25 11:36:19.