Category Archives: fathers

An in depth look at Louisa

When mentioning the importance of story and expressing a hope that we will learn more of Martin and Louisa’s backstories, I ended up thinking more about Louisa. There’s quite a lot about the character of Louisa that brings up questions. All we know is that her mother left her with her father at the age of 11 so that she could move to Spain and be with Javier, and her father is a gambler and has been involved in illegal activities. (Age 11 seems to be the magic age for both Martin and Louisa to have had the rug pulled out from under them by their parents.) Nevertheless, Louisa has fond memories of times with her father and is the one person who believes he is innocent of stealing the lifeboat money until she finally confronts him and forces him to tell her the truth. Although she has a lot of resentment towards her mother for leaving her at such an early age, she is willing to rely on her mother again even after she learns that her mother has entrusted the local juvenile delinquent with her baby. It seems there’s almost nothing her mother can do to utterly destroy Louisa’s willingness to give her another chance. We recognize this as a character trait because she has treated Martin that way as well. Perhaps Louisa’s tendency to give her parents and others second chances stems from a deep impulse to believe people will eventually stop disappointing her. As Alexander Pope wrote, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

We know she, Danny and Isobel went to school in Portwenn, and when she went to college in London, she met Holly. We don’t know how she decided to go there and how she was able to pay for it. Where did she get her values, her desire to work with children, her drive? (I think we can come up with explanations for these on our own, but we don’t get any from the show.) Although she appears to be quite level-headed, she has returned to Portwenn with plans to stay despite its many limitations for a single woman, especially one who wants to meet the right man and have a family. In fact, she returns to Portwenn two times from London – once after her college days and again after her first wedding is aborted and she moves to London. London is not for her! Everyone is certain that any school in London would be lucky to have her as a teacher, but when she returns to Portwenn pregnant, she says the school was not happy with her pregnancy. Never mind her argument in a later episode that it is against the rules to use pregnancy as a reason not to hire a teacher. (Presumably also not to fire one.)

She describes Martin as moral and straighforward. She, too, could be described with those adjectives, and she is described as liking people. She demonstrates personal concern and sympathy for many others, including Peter Cronk and his mother, Mrs. Tishell, Allison, and Ruth. We can’t leave out that she is feisty. She immediately challenges Martin during his interview to become the new GP in Portwenn, and there are many great moments when she defends herself or her decisions. She’s not afraid to stand up to Martin, Bert, or Mrs. Tishell. In one scene, prior to her first attempt at marrying Martin, she gives the whole group at her house a talking to.

It’s pertinent to look at the clothes they choose for her too. To a great extent much of her clothing seems to come from the line of Laura Ashley clothing. Here we are in the 2000s, up to and including 2013, and Louisa is, for the most part, still wearing little flowered dresses with pink and red cardigans. Her clothes are distinct from all the other women in Portwenn, especially any of the receptionists.

The dresses are actually quite ambiguous to me. I decided to look into this style and discovered some interesting information about them. I learned that Laura Ashley designs according to this website conjure up terms like:
Florals. Milkmaids. Folksy. Quintessentially English.

It goes on to say, “from the beginning, their designs were rooted in the past, looking to Victorian designs to create headscarves which were a success. Women loved the fantasy of pastoral lifestyle and likewise, their homewards also fitted into this aspiration.”

On the other hand, Jane Ashley, Laura’s daughter, “just so happen [sic] to go to art school with two girls from punk band The Slits and Mick Jones and Paul Simonen from The Clash and so they also did a spot of modelling for the brand.” You can check out some pictures of them here. In case, like me, you aren’t sure what punk is, Wikipedia states “Punk bands created fast, hard-edged music, typically with short songs, stripped-down instrumentation, and often political, anti-establishment lyrics…it became a major cultural phenomenon in the United Kingdom. For the most part, punk took root in local scenes that tended to reject association with the mainstream. An associated punk subculture emerged, expressing youthful rebellion and characterized by distinctive styles of clothing and adornment (ranging from deliberately offensive T-shirts, leather jackets, spike bands and other studded or spiked jewelry to bondage and S&M clothes). They add, “Even as nostalgia was discarded, many in the scene adopted a nihilistic attitude summed up by the Sex Pistols slogan “No Future”; in the later words of one observer, amid the unemployment and social unrest in 1977, ‘punk’s nihilistic swagger was the most thrilling thing in England.'” Jane deliberately mixed the traditional style of the Ashley brand with punk stars in her photographic representations, something of a subversion of the brand. (The little I know about Caroline Catz’s sense of style leads me to wonder if she, too, considers wearing the floral Ashley designs as a means of being alternative. She has been involved in producing films and documentaries that indicate her appreciation of the music of the 70s, she has worn one of the dresses used in Doc Martin to a showing of her most recent music documentary, and the picture of her at the Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards shows her in a lacy dress that looks sort of retro to me. She may collaborate on the wardrobe choices for Louisa.)

When Princess Diana was a fan of the brand, it marked a Sloane Ranger association despite the fact that the clothes were still very much affordable and from the high street. Again from Wikipedia: “The exemplar female Sloane Ranger was considered to be Lady Diana Spencer before marrying the Prince of Wales, when she was an aristocrat from the Spencer family. However, most Sloanes were not aristocrats as Lady Diana was. Considered typical of SRs was patriotism and traditionalism, and a belief in the values of upper class and upper-middle class culture, confidence in themselves and their given places in the world, a fondness for life in the countryside, country sports in particular, philistinism and anti-intellectualism.”

Today Kate Middleton is considered a Sloane but the brand has changed somewhat and wearing Laura Ashley type dresses is no longer popular amongst Sloanes. Here’s one reference in regard to Kate and her Sloane connection. (It’s kind of eerie that Kate follows in Diana’s footsteps.)

So is wearing this type of dress and cardigan indicative of Louisa being a part of the establishment and settled in her rural life or is it something of a playful way to impart individualism and rebellion? Laura Ashley designs are still made today and sometimes shown with models wearing high top sneakers or other disparate footwear. Jane Ashley’s 70s combination of punk with Victorian style dresses may have been a precursor for today’s fashions.

In my opinion, the outfits Louisa wears when pregnant in the show are the nicest and most flattering to her. That sounds odd, I know, but they appeal to me as more contemporary and sophisticated. S6 used more of that sort of wardrobe too with leggings and scarves, and I think Caroline has aged well and looks more attractive in S6 than in any of the other series. Louisa has matured into a married woman with a child who struggles with many of the same difficulties other working mothers have today. S1E1 began with her wearing something like the corset Edith wears in S4. I found it quite surprising that she would wear a sort of bustier under a cardigan to a serious meeting. But then we could say it was a sign of strength and independence. It was nice to see her relax in jeans at times, even when entertaining Martin for dinner and despite knowing he would be in a suit.

Louisa is a free spirit to some extent and we shouldn’t lose sight of that. Her mother is a non-conformist and Louisa grew up fending for herself from a young age. That she figures she can fend for herself when she’s pregnant comes as no surprise. Louisa is a great female character who contains a lot of ambiguity while also being a symbol of femininity at its best. Is she too harsh in S6? Maybe. But I get a kick out of her.

Originally posted 2014-10-26 09:15:02.

Fathers and Sons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Location, location, location

We tend to think of Portwenn as a place that no one leaves, or that people return to if they leave, e.g. Al, Louisa, Joe Penhale, Ruth, Jennifer, even Sally. There have also been some who came to town from elsewhere. On the other hand, there have been some characters who have moved on, e.g. Elaine, Pauline, Danny, Roger, Eleanor, Terry, Mark Mylow, and Ted. I know that in the US it’s not unusual to move from where we grew up. One 2008 source states: More than six-in-ten adults (63%) have moved to a new community at least once in their lives, while 37% have never left their hometowns.

But it’s mixed…the same source states: Most adults (57%) have not lived outside their current home state in the U.S. At the opposite end of the spectrum, 15% have lived in four or more states.

I started thinking about this because I, myself, moved from where I grew up a long time ago and never really considered living there. My children also live away from us and, in our case, that means hours of flying time away.

There are plenty of reasons for leaving one’s hometown: job opportunities, desire to see other places, being transferred by one’s job, being in the military, attending college and then settling near there, or even being run out of town. There are also many reasons to stay: like the location, enjoy having family around, never thought about leaving, tradition or inheriting a family business.

We see a lot of the above in DM with Louisa’s family probably being the best example. Louisa’s mother left Portwenn to move to Spain when L was 11 y.o. and her father took care of her. But her father was a gambler and soon was forced to leave Portwenn under a cloud when he was accused of stealing the Lifeboat money. At that point Louisa had no mother or father around and she was in the awkward position of defending her father while being suspicious that he was at fault. Nevertheless, Louisa likes Portwenn so much, she doesn’t want to live anywhere else. She says it’s where her life is. Beyond the fact that this location is where they want to film the series and that means Louisa and the many others who seem bound to this village (Bert, Al, Mrs. T) must live there, what can we say about this setting? What makes Louisa so attached to Portwenn?

As I noted in my “Kitchen Table” post, home is supposed to be a place where you find sanctuary and where you can go as a refuge. Oftentimes it’s an actual house that your family has lived in for years, like Joan’s farm, and where you have fond memories of various family occasions. Louisa doesn’t have a particular home in Portwenn; she seems to change homes fairly frequently. Portwenn, therefore, is her sanctuary and the villagers are her family. Then, too, she has her job at the school and that seems to have deep importance to Louisa. She’s been to London and prefers Portwenn even if that means a lower salary and fewer extracurricular activities. She has very little wanderlust and likes knowing the community and being a member of it. Much like Martin, she has her routine and feels happiest when she can stick to a known regimen.

Once Louisa and Martin are married, they will continue to live at the surgery. Here Louisa is giving up having any space of her own, and that has to be difficult for her. She has to either use the kitchen table or Martin’s office for any work space. It didn’t occur to me before that Louisa tells Bert when he’s driving them to the lodge:”I don’t think I’ve ever been out this way before.” She’s lived in the area all her life, but here’s a place she’s never seen. I think we have to take this as more than just an offhand comment. Getting married is embarking on new territory and the first night is only the beginning of a whole new world for her.

I also think the scene where L is dreaming and imagines being on a picnic with M is telling. Soon the earth starts to rumble and eventually the ground opens up and is about to swallow her, but then M reaches out to save her. She imagines him rescuing her, but is she thinking in terms of turning him into someone different from who he really is, or is he rescuing her from the life she’s had in Portwenn? The direction of her life has to be a concern for her. This village has no eligible men to speak of, she doesn’t have that many female friends either, and she would like to have children. Staying in Portwenn could mean forfeiting any chance of a full life for L…until Martin arrives.

The cast and crew often talk about the setting of Cornwall and Port Isaac as one of the characters. We should look at the setting-the cliffs, the narrow streets, the small houses with low ceilings, the farms and isolation. All of this is physically confining and constricting. Daphne du Maurier is mentioned several times in a few episodes. She was known for setting many of her novels in Cornwall and for making the location a character in them. Author Sarah Waters is quoted as saying “her novels and stories are fantastically moody and resonant, and Rebecca, in particular, just feels so fundamentally right – like a myth, or a fairy tale.” In many ways, DM has that mythical or fairy tale quality, although where du Maurier used the setting to give her stories suspense and a gothic aura, the filming for DM is done so that we rarely see a day with bad weather or anything gloomy. The cliffs that seem so foreboding in a du Maurier story, have a charm and beauty in this series even though there are a few times when danger lurks, e.g. the baker falling off the edge of the cliff while trying to steal chough bird eggs.

It’s somewhat hard to reach Portwenn, although there is a small airport nearby (in Newquay) and there’s always a car or a bus. Apparently the train service to Port Isaac was discontinued in 1966, but there’s still train service between London and Wadebridge or Bodmin. The ocean and its tides are a factor too. Water access would be limited during low tide. But none of this appears to make the villagers feel trapped. Instead it contributes to the sense of community they have. They put on community contests and performances, they celebrate and mourn together. The villagers also accept the many quirks and idiosyncrasies of their neighbors — Stewart’s PTSD, Michael’s strangeness, Malcolm’s hypochondria and pigeons, etc.

When it comes to some of the other members of the village, Bert is the most committed to staying there. He can see no reason to leave and tells Al that. Sally, too, must be quite attached to Portwenn since she returns after humiliating herself and receiving therapy. (I frankly did not expect her back.) Unfortunately, she continues to behave oddly and by episode 8 the town is no longer so accepting of her. Al has tried to leave, but without much luck. However, he finally seems to have found a way to stay while also separating from his father, and his search for a girlfriend may also have been resolved. Morwenna doesn’t have the same problem with ending up with Al as her friend had when she tried to get Al a date with her.

Ruth has made the most of moving to Portwenn. She’s written a book, moved into town where she can feel safer, and agreed to turn the farm into a fishing business with Al. She has Martin and Louisa nearby and she can depend on them as much as they depend on her.

To me this village is a microcosm of what I see all around me. Wherever I’ve lived there have been some people who have lived there all their lives and have no intention of moving, and others who can’t wait to move on. Finding the right mixture of setting and community is our ultimate goal. Once we find it, it’s hard to let it go.

Originally posted 2014-02-16 22:49:26.

What kind of father is Martin Ellingham?

In several interviews over the years Martin Clunes predicted that Martin Ellingham will be an appalling father. I suppose it makes for good copy to describe the Doc as grumpy, brusque, unsociable, and also likely to be a terrible father. However, the evidence from the show really belies that prediction. Maybe the problem is mostly due to semantics because appalling is a strong word and MC was being hyperbolic when he used it. Also, he may not have seen the scripts for series 5 by that time. Nevertheless, series 5 shows Martin Ellingham to be anything but an appalling father.

Throughout series 5 I couldn’t help noticing the many occasions when ME is willing to join L in the care of their baby. We know that the baby cries a lot at night, not only keeping M and L awake, but also making enough noise to bother many of the villagers. Louisa complains about not getting enough sleep and not being able to think straight, and she is up with the baby more than Martin; however, it’s Martin who takes the baby for a ride in the car one early morning to try to calm him, and the only evidence that he is feeling any ill effects from lack of sleep is when he asks Mrs. T for some paracetamol (or analgesic). Martin also has no hesitation in taking care of the baby when L goes out with her friend one night. He changes the baby’s diapers regularly and even takes care of him when Mel, the childminder, gets mad and leaves. From the earliest moment, ME is shown holding the baby, taking the baby with him to Joan’s house and letting L take a nap, allowing L to have a lie-in while he takes JH to have breakfast with Ruth, and running around town holding the baby because he can’t find anyone else to care for him. There are some times when ME and L clash over who should take the baby and whose job takes precedence when the day begins, but these are common problems with working couples and give us a knowing chuckle. I got a kick out of seeing ME’s method of carrying the baby because it was new to me and it seems to work very well. (Truth be told, I also laughed when ME is changing JH’s diaper and leaves him on the floor without a diaper so he can go get some cream. In my experience with male babies, you better cover them with something if they’re not wearing a diaper or you are in for a serious dousing.)

I don’t know whose idea it has been, but there’s rarely a time when JH is nearby that ME doesn’t touch him in some way – hand, foot, head. He also shares the duties of keeping JH when L can’t take him to school after they briefly separate, and he doesn’t object to dressing JH from time to time. In short, he is a caring, involved, nurturing father and never forgets about his son no matter what is happening. Mike needs to leave, ME takes JH; L has a car accident, ME takes care of JH; L needs an emergency operation, ME takes him in his car seat and remembers to tell Penhale to take JH to Ruth. He may have some trouble with the toys in the kitchen and the children’s songs on the radio, but that is pretty minor. He’s not thrilled to take JH to the music group, but it’s generally rare to find Daddys in those groups and he does it after all. I’ve seen men in those settings, although the ratio of women to men in those classes is probably 10 to 1.

All in all, ME’s fathering is exemplary rather than appalling and another way in which he is unlike his father. He may become demanding of JH as he grows older, but I would be surprised if he ever yells at him over something as insignificant as excitement over a captured butterfly, as we know his father did when he was young. He is also unlike his mother who is uncomfortable holding JH close or feeding him. What has actually happened is that JH is a very important part of the relationship between ME and L, and ME doesn’t want to lose L or JH. Despite the extra hub-bub at home, ME is very attached to JH and we see him relating to him on a very intimate basis several times, not the least of which is when he tells him he’s “sorry about all this” in the final episode. Any concern L had that ME would not want a child has been dispelled by the way ME treats his son from birth through his first 9 months.

Originally posted 2014-01-13 01:00:43.

The definition of Family

In S4 E5 Joan is angry at Martin and yells at him after leaving the Wenn household that he doesn’t have his priorities right: “We’re family, Martin, that must mean something, even to you.” He answers that her behavior does not fit his definition of family, and she responds, “Your definition of family isn’t even in the dictionary, Martin!”

I was surprised, to say the least, that Joan would say something like that to Martin after Martin (in S2 E6) sold his apartment in London and used the money to pay off his father so that Joan wouldn’t lose the farm. When Martin tells his father his plan, he says he doesn’t want Joan to be grateful to him because “she doesn’t have to, she’s my family.” Joan finds out and thanks Martin, but here we are not so long after that, no more than 2 years perhaps, and Joan is accusing Martin of not being dedicated enough to family. By the last episode of series 6, Martin’s mother tries to guilt Martin into giving her money, and this after telling him she never wanted him, treating him terribly throughout his life, and returning to disrupt his life again. She pulls the “family” card and tells him they are the only ones left of their family, but he isn’t so easily persuaded and says that his family consists of his wife, his son, and Ruth. A pretty strong slap in the face for her even though it doesn’t deter her from her original reason for coming. The larger question, however, is how to define family both in general and in this show.

The definition of family is not easy to determine. In fact, there are many definitions listed in dictionaries, and the definition has changed over time. There are all sorts of ways to define family: conjugal, nuclear, extended, stem, domestic group with its phases. Some cultures privilege the mother’s role, others privilege the father’s role. There are viewpoints based on biological relationships versus kinship, or the social interactions that are important in our lives. What we can generally agree upon is that family is made up of people who are related to one another by blood or marriage and who should have a special loyalty to one another. We would probably all agree that the family unit grows to include long term relationships with adopted children, caregivers, friends, and even animals. For example, Mr. Cook is sad due to the loss of his green finch Freddie; Malcolm thinks of his pigeons as family; Stewart is attached to his invisible squirrel Antony; and the Flints have their stuffed animals as well as their German Shepherd.

The theme of series 2 could be called “Family Matters.” Episode 1 is about Danny’s return to Portwenn from London to check on his mother. Families are now more likely to be living apart and distance plays a role in how they function. Episode 2 concerns Mrs. Cronk’s hands being burned, leaving Peter without adult supervision at home. Neither Louisa nor Martin really wants to care for Peter, but he can’t stay alone. Peter wants to stay with Martin and that puts Martin in the position of needing to manage a twelve year old. This episode, therefore, is about the problems single parents encounter when they have no family members nearby. It is also about the rules governing childcare when people who are not the child’s parents take on those responsibilities. E3 is mostly about family and siblings. E4 is about the breakup of Caroline and Tom over what he considers a dramatic change in her behavior. It’s a misunderstanding due to her undiagnosed diabetes, but he moves out and she’s angry and distraught. E5 takes on the problem of alienation of affection, this time homosexual. Phil cares about his wife Helen but has fallen in love with a man and causes her a lot of anguish over his infidelity. E6 is huge because of the appearance of Martin’s parents after a seven year period of no communication, and because Martin’s father is Joan’s brother and their relationship is strained to say the least. Then, of course, there’s the extremely devastating comments Martin’s mother makes to him and the ridicule his father uses against him. E7 is really more about friendship, but the notion of family through marriage is involved in that Julie and Mark are engaged, yet she is less concerned about his welfare than Pauline and Louisa are about Al and Martin respectively. Julie is an opportunist and sees Mark as her ticket to evading capture, but there are plenty of cases of people being duped into marrying and having to deal with the consequences thereafter. E8 takes on the matter of parenthood with Julie being pregnant with a baby fathered by some stray man and making an effort to identify Mark as the father. It raises the question of what happens to those children born to totally reckless women who would be likely to make horrible mothers. It also refers to Julie’s mother who is looking for her because she’s dying. Perhaps her mother just wants to know where she is since she’s had such an unstable life so far. Who knows what kind of family Julie came from? E9 has Louisa’s Dad Terry returning to Portwenn after a long absence. He has a bad reputation in town because most people are convinced he stole money from the charity for the Lifeboat. Louisa’s been defending him, but it turns out he’s been lying to her and he finally admits he stole the money. Louisa has some good memories of her childhood with her Dad and also memories of false promises. Apparently he took care of her after her mother left and that, no doubt, means a lot to her. The jig is up when Louisa asks him if Joan is lying too. Terry rationalizes that he had gambling debts, but it’s the fact that he allowed Louisa to look like a fool to the whole village that bothers her the most. She tells him to leave at that point. When Joan tells Martin about the incident, she comments: “It’s a funny thing about families…loyalty is but a step away from delusion.” Not a very good endorsement of loyalty. Family members reflect on the whole family and that can cause all sorts of difficulties. We want to defend our family members and believe in them, but they can be major disappointments at times. He also has another man with him who acts like a surrogate son and who similarly makes him look pretty foolish.

Episode 3 is the one that has the most to do with family. There aren’t many families in this series that have siblings, but this episode includes a few, and also takes up the question of biology v. kinship in regard to Bert’s paternity. Al talks to Joan about his concerns related to his mother. She tells him that Bert’s been his father and that’s all that matters. At first that doesn’t clear things up for Al and Al keeps asking Bert for his birth certificate because he wonders about an affair his mother had and whether Bert is actually his biological father. Bert admits that he and Al’s mother had troubles for a while and he left. But when he gets the nerve to look at the birth certificate, it records Bert as the father, which satisfies Bert but not Al entirely. Back at Joan’s, Al once again talks to Joan about his questions concerning Bert’s paternity. He asks Joan, “What if I’ve been calling a stranger Dad for 25 years?” She tells him, “Let’s just suppose that he’s not [your biological father]. What are you going to do? Are you going to walk away from him? Or, are you going to ignore him? Or you might perhaps think about how he’s been feeling all these years, not knowing, and the fact that he’s kept loving you.” By posing these alternatives, Joan brings up the complicated enigma of the definition of family. How important is it that you are a blood relative? Bert is a much better father to Al, even though he might have some lingering doubts about his biological connection, than Martin’s father has been to him, despite no paternity fears. Towards the end of the episode Al finds Bert fishing and they remember a time when they went fishing when Al was ten years old. Al jumped in the water to get the fish and Bert dove in after him even though Al could swim better than Bert. Bert has always been there for Al. Isn’t a person who is devoted to you and nurtures you someone you should consider family, no matter what the biological reality is?

In the same episode, Mark Mylow’s sister Sandra comes to town and sets up her herbalist business in Mark’s house. It’s obvious that Mark is not happy to have his sister living with him. She’s intrusive and rude and at one point Mark comments to the doc, “I know you can’t choose your family, but there’s a line.., people shouldn’t cross it, that’s all I’m saying.” At that moment Sandra comes down the stairs demanding that he help her move a piece of furniture. She also takes Mark’s radio, probably because she doesn’t like when he plays the radio. It’s great that Mark notes the oft repeated observation that we can’t choose our family. We have to deal with the family we are born into, or become attached to by all sorts of ways (adoption, fostering, happenstance, etc.). Also, our blood relatives can be difficult to deal with, and DM certainly brings that point out. Ultimately, Mark stands up to Sandra and throws her out of his house, much like Martin will do to his father in S2 E6, and Louisa will do too. They’ve crossed the line.

Another part of this same episode involves the story of the Flint family. Wallace and Paddy Flint are sick, probably with salmonella, and Martin decides to visit their home because it seems to be the only way to find out the source of their illness. It’s clear there’s something very strange about their household, in particular the father Victor. Sometime later in the day Martin bumps into their father walking through town and Victor accosts him. Once he calms down, he tells Martin that if Martin had a wife and children he’d understand. Victor can get violent at home at times too and the boys appear scared of him. It turns out Victor Flint has been masquerading as his wife Doreen ever since she abandoned all of them 8 years earlier. The sons have been covering for him because they know he’s been doing it for their benefit. Once Martin finds out that Victor sometimes turns into Doreen, Wallace tells Martin that “he was just trying to look after [his father], after all of us.” His Dad first started the charade when his wife left because he thought the boys might be taken from him. Wallace continues, “he just wanted to make us like a normal family, like everyone else.” So what’s a “normal” family? It’s funny to think of this family as normal in any way, but beyond the humor is a serious subtext. As a single parent, a father may not be considered capable of taking care of his children. Moreover, Victor doesn’t think his boys will be fine without a mother. Obviously he makes things worse by trying to be both. It’s the obverse of Bert’s situation with Al. When Al’s mother died, Bert took over with no hesitation and took on the role of both mother and father competently; when Doreen left, Victor sank into a psychotic state and turned their home into a place of unpredictability. He’s taken away their sense that their home is a sanctuary.

Series 3 contains a fair amount of family related episodes, including the odd family that moves in next door to Louisa and uses relatively little discipline with their son. Not surprisingly, the boy becomes a menace in town. Then there are the Saul sisters whose family history includes a love triangle and some apparent underlying anger issues. Sister Janet is abusive under the guise of providing care. There are several others, e.g. the Colonel and his philandering wife start things off, Elaine’s father’s decision to marry someone she doesn’t like, the McLynns, the Dibbs, Penhale’s brother’s visit. All bring up many common things families must address – extramarital affairs, covering for one’s spouse, being letdown by a once envied sibling.

But it’s series 5 that finds Martin and Louisa setting up a household together and bringing home a baby. Martin seems to experience the love for his child that Roger Fenn had earlier told him about. There’s also Joan’s death followed by Ruth’s arrival, Penhale’s wife Maggie appearing out of the blue and reviving dormant feelings, and Bert and Al continuing to have tension between them due to Bert’s inability to handle money well. Al bails him out but jeopardizes his own integrity. Then Louisa’s mother surprises them when she arrives unannounced. She’s never been very reliable and that hasn’t changed. She’s the best of the four parents, but that isn’t saying much.

Families are a trial, a joy, a disruption, and a comfort. They are a social unit that has been around as long as humans have been around. They can see us through difficult times, although there are other times when they may make our lives miserable. DM shows us all the ins and outs, ups and downs, rewards and perils of having a family. In doing so, it once again engages us in thinking about these matters, something I find provocative and important.

Originally posted 2013-11-22 03:17:44.

Season 6, episode 7 and the continuing themes

At the 18:07 mark and then again at the 34:19 mark of episode 7 we see a sign on a wall in the background of the scene that reads SECRETS. That, to me, is telling and is the theme of the episode. This episode is very well conceived and executed and begins with Martin hiding his fears about his own condition from Louisa, not being willing to discuss his feelings about his parents and not revealing to Louisa why he can’t go on holiday, Ruth being unsuccessful at prying from Margaret why she’s really in Portwenn, Mike having hidden that he was AWOL from the army and then trying to run without an explanation, and the MPs at first not telling anyone why they’re searching for Mike. Both Al and Joe try to keep Mike from being taken by the MPs by deceiving them.

Secrets, deception, and hidden motives are all methods of controlling one’s surroundings, and that has been one overarching theme for much of series 6 as well as an integral feature of the show (as I mentioned previously in my post about change). This episode magnifies how hard it is for people to change and how that stagnation seriously impacts everyone’s lives. The pivotal scene related to the idea of change/control occurs when Mike has gone to his apartment to pack and leave and still has James with him. It is then that we learn that he is AWOL from the Royal Army because they wanted to “fix” him and his OCD and make him “normal.” But Mike considers the OCD to be part of who he is and doesn’t want to be fixed. Martin shows up at Mike’s apartment looking for James and wondering what’s going on. When Mike explains why he left the army, Martin asks him,”If it wasn’t a part of an order, would you like to feel more in control of your actions?” and Mike answers “Yes.” Martin tells him “the army has a duty of care to you and it’s your decision if you take it or not.” That convinces Mike to turn himself in. This conversation makes it clear that once Mike determines for himself that he is the one deciding to face his demons, he is taking control of his behavior and his life and fighting the control his OCD has over him. Of course, what Martin is telling Mike is what he should be applying to his own situation. It is clear that Martin would like to be more in control of his actions and that he should seek therapy.

When Al takes Mike to the nearest Army post to turn himself in, it is dark and the scene looks ominous with a German Shepard as well as 3 soldiers guarding the gate. Al does what he can to be encouraging, but the setting establishes that what Mike has ahead of him is daunting. Nevertheless, Mike takes the steps toward the gate with some resolve and will, we believe, address his problem with OCD (and with his departure from the Army). This dark and foreboding setting is of a piece with the many other dark scenes in this 6th series. I’ve been troubled by the frequency of Martin sitting in the dark staring into the night and thinking. We can only assume that he’s trying to figure out how he can reestablish control over his phobia and his life. His insomnia is also a side effect of being depressed and he needs help with his depression too. OCD often arises out of an effort by the person to institute control over his/her environment, but ultimately takes control and leaves the person with the sense that he/she is out of control. Phobias are similar in many ways. If one thinks that avoiding a particular thing, e.g. spiders, blood, the outdoors, will prevent them from feeling anxious, and that avoidance leads to a reduction in the anxiety, then the avoidance behavior becomes reinforced. Breaking that cycle is what therapy is meant to do.

During this episode, Martin is shown pondering what’s been happening on several occasions. After Louisa’s accident there are two occasions when he involuntarily falls asleep and awakens to find himself disoriented and disheartened. It’s not surprising that he falls asleep at odd times since he’s been pretty sleep deprived for a while. Lack of sleep along with the depression may also be the reason his behavior at Sports Day is so different from other events Louisa has asked him to attend. Usually when Louisa enjoins him to do something, Martin agrees and tries to handle it as well as he can (e.g. headmistress panel, dinner out, taking James to music time, etc.), but this time he’s not as conciliatory and she finds it embarrassing and infuriating. The whole idea is rather ridiculous since he’s never been good in front of a microphone (think very first episode when Caroline wants him to speak to the town, or Aunt Joan’s funeral) and Sports Day in elementary school was probably painful for him as a child. Louisa should never have asked him to be the special guest and he should never have agreed to do it. Unfortunately, this mistake ends very unhappily and inspires both of them to give some thought to their relationship. We can’t be sure what he is thinking while sitting in the car with James outside the hospital, but he appears to have a sentimental moment when he takes James out of his car seat and holds him up. I could imagine he’s thinking how foolish it was for him to have handled the awards the way he did and prompt Louisa to be so angry with him. Of course that’s speculation. Whatever he’s thinking, it’s serious business and it doesn’t appear that he has any idea that Louisa will decide to leave. As usual, they handle this difficult circumstance the way we’ve become accustomed to: he applies his medical knowledge to her condition while she departs.

It seems to me that he needs regular “wake up calls” to jolt him out of his typical mode of behavior, and she needs to understand that his silence and inability to talk about his problems and thoughts is not in any way related to how he feels about her. Since we know that Ruth will reaffirm his ability to change in the final episode, I expect to see another effort on his part to appeal to Louisa’s better instincts and that Louisa will hopefully recognize that he needs her, loves her, and wants desperately to be a good father to James. He will admit in some way that he struggles to control his behavior, and possibly she will agree to stop leaving. These changes may not be easy to make, but we can hope they will try.

Originally posted 2013-10-17 23:22:38.

What is happiness?

The writers of Doc Martin may not be trying to get into the philosophical definitions of happiness, but the fact that finding happiness is very important in the show certainly makes me want to interrogate it. At the end of season 3 when Martin and Louisa decide not to marry, Louisa tells Martin that he wouldn’t make her happy and Martin responds that she wouldn’t make him happy either.Then in season 6 episode 7 Louisa again tells Martin that she isn’t happy and that she isn’t making him happy. He is flummoxed and can’t understand why people always care so much about being happy. That comment, in turn, bewilders Louisa and she simply gets up to leave. Putting aside the problem I have with Martin saying Louisa wouldn’t make him happy when he’s spent so much time and effort wishing he could have her in his life, and being miserable when it looks like she has rejected him, we can’t help wondering what would make them happy.

If Aristotle is right and “eudaimonia (Greek for happiness) actually requires activity, action,” and that “eudaimonia, living well, consists in activities exercising the rational part of the psyche in accordance with the virtues or excellency of reason. Which is to say, to be fully engaged in the intellectually stimulating and fulfilling work at which one achieves well-earned success,” then Martin’s concept of “happiness” is likely to stem from practicing medicine. However, in recent years the psychologist C. D. Ryff has highlighted the distinction between eudaimonia wellbeing, which she identifies as psychological well-being, and hedonic wellbeing or pleasure. Building on Aristotelian ideals of belonging and benefiting others, flourishing, thriving and exercising excellence, she conceptualized eudaimonia as a six-factor structure:
-the establishment of quality ties to other
-a sense of autonomy in thought and action
-the ability to manage complex environments to suit personal needs and values
-the pursuit of meaningful goals and a sense of purpose in life
-continued growth and development as a person
Under this scheme, both Louisa and Martin would struggle to feel a sense of well-being. In particular, Louisa seems to hate not having a sense of autonomy, and she has previously wondered about her sense of purpose. During series 6, we see that she is happy as a mother and is depicted as taking great joy in having a child, and she appears to have a purpose when it comes to being headmistress at the school. What she doesn’t have is the affirmation or reassurance that she is succeeding as a wife and companion. Her autonomy is perhaps compromised most by her inability to get Martin to do almost anything she suggests. He won’t go see a psychiatrist, he won’t talk to her about his concerns, he doesn’t like to participate in most activities, and he doesn’t want to take a holiday with her. Martin seems lost when it comes to feeling in charge of his situation and has not really reached a place of self-acceptance. Obviously his upbringing has a lot to do with this. He feels most comfortable at home and in his routine. On the Ryff scale, he has autonomy but not much else. He does seem to have achieved some sense of well-being from having a wife and child, although at times we’re not sure about that.

I think Martin is right to question why happiness is such a significant feature of life to most people. We can’t be happy all the time. What we need is an overall sense that our home life is satisfactory, that our social lives are fulfilling, and that we have a sense of success in some aspect of our lives. The home life is the one in doubt in this series and Louisa cannot find that place where she is in a comfort zone, while Martin hasn’t really pondered whether his home life is how he’d like it to be. Surely having his mother in the house has changed their home life tremendously. It was somewhat rocky before, but now they have very little time alone and his mother is demanding and quite judgmental. I don’t care who you are, when your mother criticizes you, it hurts.

Marriages all have ups and downs, although this marriage has not been allowed to have many ups so far. Talk about no honeymoon!! Poor communication is often the reason for marital discord and boy is this marriage dealing with that! Ruth can talk to both of them and they are lucky to have someone like her to turn to. They need an intermediary and an opportunity to work together in some way. Go take a walk with James, take a drive somewhere for a couple of hours, go have that picnic Louisa dreamed of (without the earthquake), build something together, whatever. Even if something crazy happens it would still be something they did together and would not take Martin outside his comfort zone. I think they could both be “happy” after that. Louisa’s injury has a chance of bringing them together. We’ll see what happens.

Originally posted 2013-10-15 17:31:57.

Women’s issues, season 6

I want to move on to other topics, but women’s concerns are very much evident in season 6 so far. In episode 1 we have the wedding-finally. Louisa arrives late and is now getting married the way she wanted to originally insofar as she doesn’t have any bridesmaids and she really doesn’t need anyone to walk her down the aisle. Martin doesn’t have a best man, so they are matched evenly there. Of course, since it’s their wedding day, Louisa is making an effort to accommodate Martin. She does ask him to remain at the reception just a bit longer and he obliges. When they learn that the village has planned an overnight surprise and Aunt Ruth is happy to babysit, Louisa again implores Martin to accept and he does. Naturally the night does not go smoothly, although it has its lovely moments. One of the best is when Louisa turns to Martin and says, “Hallo, husband,” and he replies “Hallo, Mrs. Ellingham.” They kiss and Louisa says “Anything you say.” Not surprisingly, Martin takes her literally and replies, “I didn’t say anything.” But the point is made — Louisa is giving herself to him, something he’s been wanting for a long time. However, when the night becomes a series of mishaps, we enjoy a variety of exchanges between the two that are amongst the funniest of the series. Louisa is unable to keep Martin from looking for a telephone to get their clothes, but she immediately knows Martin is going the wrong way. In terms of her strength, she clearly disagrees with him about where the road is, she refuses to wade across the stream, and when he carries her, she brings up her true desire to have had a honeymoon. Her explanation for backing down during the planning stages baffles him, but most women can really relate to what she says. She went along with his choice of wedding and honeymoon arrangements because she wanted him to be happy. Nonetheless, she would have liked to have taken a honeymoon. She has mixed feelings.

As the night plays out, we see her make fun of Martin and his awkwardness in the forest (or wood), one of the funniest moments in the series, and also show concern when he falls. They are both protective of each other throughout the eventful night, but it’s Louisa who suspects the sound they hear is someone yelling at foxes, who takes the flashlight from Martin so they can read the signs outside the caravan, and who grabs the gun and tells the vagabond to apologize to her husband and fix the fence himself. She plays a very important role in getting them through the night, even helping with the surgery, and tries to look on the bright side as morning arrives. She tells Martin their wedding night will be a night they won’t ever forget — all of it. We can’t help but like her gumption and her positive attitude.

In episode 2 Louisa’s position of authority is evident in the way she leads the school assembly, and in her insistence that Martin go to the concert as planned and then try to be sociable. Later, after the dinner party goes pretty wrong, Louisa decides to confront Dennis, the President of the Board of Governors for the school, and talk things out. She won’t be shutoff by Dennis and unplugs his electrical tool so that she can be heard. This is bold stuff!

It’s nice to see a softer side of Louisa when she tells Martin she’ll miss him as she’s leaving in the morning and when she reminds him that it’s their 2 week anniversary later in the day. He doesn’t respond in kind, but there are a couple of nice moments.

Episode 3 finds Louisa dealing with the most troubling of issues working women confront these days — leaving one’s baby with a nanny. There was a time when children of wealthy families were usually brought up by governesses and the mothers didn’t seem to be conflicted about it. Now, however, women want to feel competent both at work and as mothers. The problem is when you’re at work, you want to be at home with your child and yet you still want to have a job. It’s especially hard to know that someone else is watching your baby grow and develop and you may be missing some of the developmental milestones. As with Louisa, mothers both resent and appreciate the care a nanny provides. In a sense, Louisa has a good set-up; she can simply run home when she wants. But we see that her work suffers to some degree because she’s distracted. There’s really no good solution and it’s not surprising that Louisa’s mood is affected.

The other strong woman very much a part of the 6th season is Ruth. Once again we enjoy her wit and good nature during the first 2 episodes. In the 3rd she has center stage and handles a very difficult situation with aplomb and steadiness. She’s not a woman who is easily shaken, even by a psychopath! As in the case of Michael who stole her hubcaps and pointed a shotgun at her, Ruth stays calm and knows the best thing to say at the right time.

So the women continue to impress and I expect the next few episodes will only reaffirm the stature of the women in this series.

Originally posted 2013-09-19 21:03:33.

What’s in a Name?

In this post I want to consider what Doc Martin’s writers have done with names in the show. Doc Martin himself is, of course, not happy with being called Doc or Doc Martin; he’d rather people use Dr. Ellingham. But throughout the show, most of the town call him Doc or Doc Martin with the exception of Mrs. Tishell who honors his request and uses his last name. And she, in turn, is generally referred to by everyone as Mrs. Tishell. Indeed no one uses her first name until her husband Clive returns. Edith only refers to Martin as Ellingham, and that seems to be her way of being both familiar and equivalent. To me, it is also the mark of someone who distances herself from the others in his life. (In a nice twist, Edith doesn’t remember Joan’s name and calls her Jill.) Louisa, on the other hand, prefers to use Martin when talking to him and we can’t help but see her as closer to him as a result. Louisa has been involved with deciding whether he becomes the new GP which gives her greater standing to use his first name, and she refers to him as Dr. Ellingham when in a formal setting. So we have the title of Doc, the first name of Martin, and the last name of Ellingham all being used in relation to the doctor. (I can say that in my experience, my husband wanted patients and staff to call him Dr. plus full last name because he had earned it and he felt it was the correct way to address him. His office manager/receptionist did use his first name when speaking to him directly, however.) Martin’s receptionists all default to Doc.

Despite the doctor’s own hangups about his name, he usually cannot remember any patient’s names. This is both humorous and realistic since it is not unusual for doctors to have trouble remembering patients’ names and they typically remember people by their conditions/diagnoses. (My husband can still tell you about a patient’s symptoms from years ago but could not dredge up the patient’s name if his life depended on it.) In the show, there are plenty of times when it’s funny to see the Doc use a variety of names for one person. Episode 6 of season 5 stands out to me because Doc M cannot get a handle on the school maintenance man’s name. Louisa reminds him several times that the man’s name is Mr. Coley, but Martin uses Mr. Creely, then can’t come up with a name, then calls him Mr. Munson. Of course there are many students whose names escape the Doc. Louisa, like most teachers, objects to not using the child’s name and reminds him that it’s Adam who has been throwing up or Elliott who has slapped-cheek syndrome. Martin refers to Elliott as “your boy” and his parents are insulted by the doctor’s off-hand treatment of their son and unclear answers. There are any number of other students/children who Martin refers to as “that boy” or something of that nature. To Martin, these names are unimportant; what’s important is getting the right diagnosis and treatment. On the other hand, the names of diseases, syndromes, or other medical problems are never hard for him to remember no matter how complex or esoteric. Those he remembers without even a slight hitch.

Of course, the naming of his own child turns into a major bone of contention. We don’t really get into which last name they plan to use except when Louisa notes as an aside that he will be using her last name. The fact that she and Martin aren’t married means that a last name will be another decision they’ll have to make. I find this concern quite contemporary, although the English may have more of a history with determining last names due to their royal family. In the last 30-40 years we’ve had women (and some men) retaining their last names, using their original last names professionally but not in their private lives, hyphenating their last names, or going the traditional route and using their husband’s last name.

But it’s the baby’s first name that gives Martin and Louisa troubles. It’s awkward (and funny) when Bert does the rather English thing of taking odds on what they’ll name the baby while Louisa is in labor, and Martin comes in 500 to 1. The name Martin never does enter their minds. The first thought Louisa has is to name the baby Terry after her father, a name Martin finds too common (both in terms of its social status and in terms of its frequency). Then we have the amusing scene in which Louisa deliberately calls the baby Albert, which makes Martin stop in his tracks. She frustratingly tells him they have to call the baby something: Steven, Paul, Michael, Elton, whatever. Does that mean Louisa just wants to settle on a name and isn’t too concerned what the name is? Hardly. When they find a time to seriously discuss the baby’s name, she battles with Martin over whether to use her grandfather’s name first or Martin’s grandfather’s name first. At least they’ve decided to use both grandfathers’ names. Ultimately, their conflict is resolved by Martin who reaches the conclusion that he should give in and let Louisa get her choice, but not without some discord. He’s made out the papers without telling Louisa and she justifiably (I think) resents that. So the baby finally has a name (James Henry) and Louisa feels satisfied that it’s the name she preferred.

A few other thoughts come to mind about names as they are used in the show. We have the family name of Wenn that appears to refer to the name of the town, and there is a woman whose surname is Braithwaite (a likely reference to Philippa Braithwaite, the producer and wife of Martin Clunes). Then there is the doctor’s third receptionist, Morwenna, who tells the Doc that she was named after a Cornish saint and who tells him the most popular boy names at the moment. In addition, Morwenna laughs disbelievingly when a patient tells her that her baby’s name is Boris. She realizes pretty quickly that she shouldn’t have laughed, but the point is that some names seem right and some seem wrong depending on the place and time. In fact, even Louisa asks Martin to refer to her as Miss Glasson when he’s at the school.

We can’t overlook the use of childhood names, names of endearment, or aliases. Louisa was called LouLou probably as a child and some of her friends from childhood still use it, e.g. Danny, Holly, and Isabel. Her mother calls her LouLou too. It’s more or less one of those names we never get past even if we aren’t too thrilled to be called by that name anymore. Those names sort of straddle the endearment category and the juvenile. However, sometimes turning a child’s name into something that sounds endearing doesn’t sit well and when Louisa’s mom calls James Henry “Jim Jim,” Louisa tells her right away that’s not his name. Martin’s Aunt Joan is called Auntie Joan affectionately by him many times and she calls him Marti. When she uses that shortened form of his name, we know it’s meant to be affectionate, but when John Slater, Joan’s former lover, calls Martin “Little Marti,” we recognize the condescending tone it takes on. The older man rubs Martin the wrong way, especially when he reminds Martin of wetting his pants as a boy. There is also the foreshortening of names, e.g. Mags for Maggie, or Sal for Sally, that is supposed to be a sign of affection. Then there is the complication of Mark meeting and falling in love with Julie only to find out that she has been known by several other names, and not for good reasons either. Her change of names is a sign of deceit and reveals her devious nature. The final comment about name use I would make is that stating a person’s name with a certain tone can indicate anger or frustration as when Louisa calls her mother “El-i-Nor” with a snarky edge to it. It’s all in the tone and the relationship of the name callers to their subjects.

What’s in a name? Well, family significance, status, collaboration, trendiness, even historical meaning. There’s also something to finding a name that can distinguish you from the crowd, and that fits you in some indefinable way. The most important essence of a name, however, is that it identifies you and your position. When people remember your name, it makes you feel valued. Using the proper title shows respect and not using it can be viewed as being inappropriately familiar. Your name places you in a culture and in a time period, and that sometimes can either assign prominence to you or stereotype you. (For example, I know someone whose first name is Osama, but he goes by Sam for obvious reasons.) Names are signifiers and, as such, are an important part of who we are.

Originally posted 2013-08-11 20:42:59.