Category Archives: humor

Laughter/Comedy

Following my post on “Laughter and Civility” several months ago I have been trying to deconstruct what makes us laugh and build a convincing argument that it is appropriate to identify Doc Martin as a dramedy with an emphasis on comedy. For me this was a worthwhile endeavor because I am fascinated by the various philosophical views of humor and laughter. (I also find it important to place shows in the proper categories because I believe we don’t give enough recognition to the impact comedy can have on our views of all sorts of topics.)

In writing about Doc Martin I have often referred to other TV shows that combined serious topics with intentional efforts to be comedic. These included M*A*S*H, All in the Family, The Sopranos, and Breaking Bad. In the above mentioned post one important commenter (DM) noted an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show that deserved to be included. Every one of these exceptional shows addressed very important issues while also making us laugh. While there is an argument to be made that The Sopranos and Breaking Bad leaned more toward drama than comedy, the others were definitely designed as comedies first, and I believe strongly that Doc Martin was too. My position on this does not in any way diminish the significant contributions to our discourse on socially relevant concerns addressed by these shows.

In my effort to develop a convincing argument on this subject, I used my usual academic resources and I watched the recent series on CNN about The History of Comedy, and I checked out some other discussions on YouTube. What follows is my attempt at collating all of this information and providing you with a few references to my sources.

My “go to” source is often A Handbook to Literature because it distills terminology into its basics. It seems pertinent to note that in this reference book comedy is identified as “a lighter form of drama that aims primarily to amuse and that ends happily. It differs from farce and burlesque by having a sustained plot, weightier and subtler dialogue, more lifelike characters, and less boisterous behavior.” Furthermore, the Handbook states “in general, the comic effect arises from a recognition of some incongruity of speech, action, or character…Viewed in another sense, comedy may be considered to deal with people in their human state, restrained and often made ridiculous by their limitations, faults, bodily functions, and animal nature…Comedy has always regarded human beings more realistically than tragedy and drawn its laughter or satire from the spectacle of individual or collective human weakness or failure.”

The Handbook also defines comic relief as “a humorous scene, incident, or speech in the course of serious fiction or drama…that are used to provide relief from emotional intensity and, by contrast, to heighten the seriousness of the story.” (We can easily see how in S6 Penhale’s survival exercises were inserted for that purpose. [IMO the story had gotten so somber that Penhale’s antics ended up simply being intrusive and tiresome.] In S7 Mrs. Tischell’s preparations for a romantic dinner relieved the lack of intimacy between Martin and Louisa and heightened the seriousness of that absence. And those are just two of many instances where comic relief is used in this show.)

CNN’s series of episodes that looked at the history of comedy broke it down into 9 episodes so far, with each having a particular theme. The one named “The Comedy of Real Life” seemed the most pertinent for my use and really reaffirmed what the Handbook had to say about comedy dealing with people in their human state. CNN asserts that comedy consists of real life events just twisted a bit, and that comedians bring everyday experiences to the front burner. In addition, it declares real life funny because it’s relatable and viewers realize that many of these situations have happened to them too. They quote Norman Lear as saying “there’s nothing more interesting than the foolishness of the human condition. It takes the comedian to find the moment that helps people laugh at themselves.”

In this episode they also declare that being likable is not believable and there’s no comedy in likable. Furthermore, they contend that outcasts can be lovable. Thus, flawed characters are the essence of comedy.

Insofar as subject matter is concerned, they quote Jerry Seinfeld as saying that romance gives people instant vulnerability and that marriage is rife with comedy because it strains credulity that two people want to make a commitment for life. Apart from that, relationship material is never finished because there are so many ways to be with somebody.

So when Doc Martin begins with the flight to Newquay in which Martin Ellingham quickly reveals his social ineptitude by staring at Louisa Glasson, they are immediately taking advantage of the comedic aspects associated with relationships, and the show continues to build on that quality. Soon they add conflict between these two characters as well as physical humor.

We may experience some sympathy for the pain associated with much of the bodily abuse suffered by several of the characters in the show, but the fact remains that humor is often derived from misfortune including pain. We also often laugh at someone’s clumsiness, including in real life. To substantiate this position I would refer you to President Gerald Ford and his actual falls down (or up) stairs and what fun we all had watching Chevy Chase exaggerate his clumsiness in SNL skits. This brings me to a YouTube video TED talk of a TED talk that stood out to me in that it condensed the study of what makes us laugh into a short presentation. In particular the speaker’s reference to falling down the stairs clarifies what turns that into something we laugh at. As long as the fall is benign and does not involve a violation (as defined by the speaker), the act is funny, and meant to be funny. Of course we can extrapolate from a fall down the stairs to any action that might injure someone but turns out to be harmless, e.g. hitting one’s head, being shot at, jumping through a window or climbing out of one, getting a foot stuck in a trap, slipping off a chair, etc., etc. I would add that feeling nauseated or having any sort of benign illness fits that category as well. It’s funny when the headmaster runs into the water with Martin chasing after him because no one gets hurt; it’s not funny when Holly slips on a wet rock and injures her back. (Then again the aftermath of both events are funny, i.e. Martin being dripping wet while Edith drives by and Holly staying at Louisa’s and Martin attempting to show some sympathy.)

To augment this position I give you a segment of a Dick Van Dyke Show episode If you don’t laugh while also understanding the points he’s making about comedy, I will be surprised. Moreover, I don’t think any of this has changed in the last 50 years. It’s been true from the earliest days of comedy and remains true today. I am quite sure the writers of Doc Martin and Martin Clunes himself are aware of all of this and use it to make this show satisfy the characteristics of a comedy.

The whole premise of Doc Martin is supposed to be funny. A surgeon with haemophobia who is also socially inept and clumsy and decides to move to a small town and practice as a GP is immediately filled with absurdities that would make us laugh. I like to think that the hedge of defining comedy as a lighter drama is sufficient to satisfy us all.

What’s the Matter with Edith?

As Santa said in a recent comment, S7 may turn out to be a series we would compare to S4 because we may watch Martin and Louisa Ellingham “move through most of their anger at each other to some realization of how much they wanted to be together, even if they feared rejection from the other.” Although Santa’s remarks are not about Edith, Edith is the outside force that complicates the relationship between Martin and Louisa even further in S4.

I doubt I need to remind you that Edith only appears in S4. The last time we see her she marches into ME’s office to tell him she’s not mad at him, and that once he’s back in London, she’s sure things will seem very different. She thinks she has helped him conquer his haemophobia, and now he has intimacy issues that she can help him with. As of S6, we know he has not conquered his blood phobia and he has stayed in Portwenn.

As promised, I want to take on the subject of Edith. To do this, I think we need to look at the role Edith plays in this story, and the reason for bringing her into it. If we look at the structure of DM, Martin Ellingham is the protagonist and Louisa Glasson Ellingham is the deuteragonist. When Edith joins this twosome, she would be considered the tritagonist, or the least sympathetic character of a drama. A tritagonist also occasions the situations by which pity and sympathy for the protagonist are excited. Another way of identifying her is as the “Foil,” or someone who provides a strong contrast with another character in order to highlight or underscore a distinctive characteristic of the other character. Furthermore, the readiness to act by a foil can accentuate the other character’s delay.

In S4, Edith is certainly the least sympathetic character. She does, indeed, act as a foil to Louisa and, in doing so, she fulfills all of the qualities attributed to a foil.

The fact that Edith is a physician, who functions in both the clinical and research areas of obstetrics and gynecology, makes her highly accomplished. Even so, she misdiagnoses a mass instead of diverticulitis and is loathe to admit it. As a result, we see how Edith is similar to Martin in that she is well respected in her field and she hates to admit making mistakes. We also notice the tension between them as they jostle for superiority first with this patient, then with Louisa, and also with his haemophobia.

We are predisposed to disliking any woman who might seek to replace Louisa as Martin’s love interest. With Edith, though, it’s hard to get past her bright red, spiky hair, her severe, dark clothes, and her condescending manner of talking to Martin. Then she continues to make advances toward Martin despite knowing that he has had an intimate relationship with Louisa and that Louisa has quite obviously returned to Portwenn to reconnect with him. Furthermore, Edith barges into Martin’s home or office at her own convenience, has little compassion for Martin’s blood phobia troubles, and acts totally indifferent to him when he faints. Her efforts to treat the phobia fall somewhere between self-congratulation and meddling. She wants him to return to London, and she seems to want to reignite their love life, but it all appears to be mostly because that would work best for her. Therefore, we can conclude that she is self-centered, self-assured, strong-willed, unapologetic, matter-of-fact, and unkind. She has moments of warmth, e.g. when she looks at the Buddha figurine, when she recalls the poem he once wrote for her, and when she kisses his cheek. However, those are fleeting and the kisses seem self-serving and meant to manipulate him.

Her behavior elicits pity for Martin insofar as he is buffeted by her persistence even while he is conflicted about Louisa and her pregnancy. Time and again Edith intrudes into his life to entice him away from Portwenn only to be turned down by him. I particularly liked the time when she’s waiting for Martin to join her and Robert Dashwood for lunch where she is planning for Martin to make a strong effort to convince Dashwood to offer him a position as a surgeon again. Instead, Martin is rushing to get to a patient in distress and never gets to the lunch. Edith’s priorities are not Martin’s.

As the “Foil,” Edith is the provocateur in this series, forcing Louisa to admit to herself, if not yet to Martin, how much she wants him to be a part of her life and the pregnancy. In scene after scene, we see Louisa exhibit jealousy as well as forcefulness in response to something Edith has done or said. We know more than Louisa about Edith’s devious manipulation of Martin, especially when it comes to trying to lure him away from Louisa. Nevertheless, Louisa is aware that Martin and Edith were once engaged to marry, and she can easily see that Edith is finding ways to visit Martin fairly often. There are enough occasions when Martin is summoned to help Louisa throughout her pregnancy that we can come to the conclusion that Louisa is battling with her own hesitations about including him. The ultrasound scene and Edith’s assessment that the baby might be SGA (small for gestational age), provide an important interaction where Louisa seeks out Martin’s opinion. Martin reassures Louisa and keeps the ultrasound picture of the baby, and Louisa makes it clear that she has mixed feelings about having Edith as her obstetrician. Edith has provoked Louisa during her examination, both because she asks intrusive and unethical questions and because she has mentioned possible complications with the baby. The episode ends with Martin taking another look at the baby’s ultrasound picture and appearing quite pleased.

We also see these two women clash over Martin when an obstetrical nurse asks whether the father will be accompanying Louisa to prenatal classes. Louisa answers that the father won’t be joining her. In her case it’s because she has denied him that option, but Edith is convinced he wouldn’t participate because she thinks she knows him better. Once again, Louisa looks miffed.

Louisa doesn’t allow Martin to be involved in the pregnancy the way he would like, but Edith’s presence highlights Louisa’s fluctuating feelings and eventually leads to Martin’s conviction that he wants to be with Louisa and not with Edith. His decision to leave the hotel while Edith is giving a lecture and cannot stop him is bookended, in the next episode, by Martin’s race to catch up to Tommy’s taxi and Louisa, and the birth of the baby. Although he packs up and is ready to leave Portwenn for London, he’s waylaid by all the patients who want to see him one last time, and by Tasha’s collapse. Tasha’s condition awakens Martin’s protective instincts for Louisa and the baby, and off he goes. The initiation of labor while Louisa and he are dealing with Tommy leads to his realization that he doesn’t want to leave either Louisa or Portwenn after all.

The amorous kiss that Martin and Louisa share during the birth of the baby is a total abnegation of anything Edith was hoping for, and plotting for. With her prodding, Martin and Louisa’s feelings for each other are consummated.

Originally posted 2015-04-17 11:28:29.

Firsts

I apologize if the title is misleading and you were expecting a more important topic. This title could have been an in depth look at first times for things that happen in the show or something.

I admit I’m getting a little silly now, but I have a question to ask. Do you clean as you go when you’re cooking or wait until you’re finished and clean everything then?

There was this great bit in “All in the Family” years ago when Archie was watching Michael put on his socks and shoes. Michael put on his left sock, then his left shoe, and Archie was appalled. Archie tells Michael you should put on both socks, then both shoes. What if there’s a fire? Michael responds that at least he’d have on one shoe. I almost always think of that when I’m putting on my running shoes: sock and a shoe, or sock and a sock?

In S6 on DM when Louisa is cooking, Martin comes in and wants to find things to do. He starts cleaning the cutting board and she tells him she still plans to use it. He says she should clean as she goes and gets an “Oh Really” answer from her. She wants him to stay out of her way and tells him to feed the baby.

So now I’m always thinking about how I clean as I go when I cook. It’s so funny how something minor like that can stand out and sometimes cause conflicts!

Originally posted 2015-03-28 09:09:09.

Acting & Aging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Into the Woods”

Since it looks like this may be a good time to write about something new, I thought I’d post this little observation just for fun.

I recently saw the movie “Into the Woods” and loved the concept of all sorts of characters from fairy tales being brought together because they must travel through the woods to reach their destinations or complete their missions. The woods have always had the connotation of being dark and scary and we can recall Hansel and Gretel getting lost in the woods, or “The Princess Bride” using the woods for all sorts of fearful objects to overcome. Certainly Little Red Riding Hood has always taken a path into the woods to find her grandmother’s house. In this film Cinderella also escapes by running into the woods, Jack (of beanstalk fame) takes the cow to market by walking through the woods, and Rapunzel lets down her hair while being held prisoner in a tree in the woods.

It occurred to me that, like other examples I used in my post of  June 16, 2014, titled “Doc Martin and the Mystery of the Folktale,” having Martin and Louisa enter the woods (and even mention there’s a difference between a forest and a wood) is another way the writers of the show undercut the concept of the fairytale. In these woods our couple encounter scary animals, an obstacle they must find a way around, and an old man who makes his home in the woods and from whom they seek help but who treats them as intruders instead. Aren’t these all the ingredients of a fairytale? But here, as before, the animal isn’t ominous or threatening-it’s a pony who is just as scared of them as they are of him; the brook they must cross is dealt with by Martin giving Louisa a piggy back ride (after first trying to put her over his shoulder) while they argue (amusingly) over the idea of going on a honeymoon; and the old man turns out to need their help and ends up in a wheelbarrow being (humorously) pushed by them to safety.

They have used all the tropes of Fairytales and turned them into comedic events.

Originally posted 2015-01-17 12:17:16.

“See the garment, think the person”

When I mentioned Louisa’s fashion style in my recent post about this character, not much commentary came of it. Maybe I’m strange, but I find clothing choices quite telling and now I have learned that I’m not the only one.

It turns out that this past week in London at the Design Museum an exhibit called “Women Fashion Power” opened. (Of course, I saw this in the NYTimes.) It’s co-curator, Donna Loveday, is quoted as saying, “’It felt like it was the right time to look at the rise of women in contemporary power roles, and how they view and use fashion to facilitate their place in the world.’”

According to Times Fashion critic Vanessa Friedman, “the show includes 25 high-profile women happy to go public with their thoughts on clothing. This includes the usual suspects: fashion professionals like Natalie Massenet, the executive chairwoman of Net-a-Porter; the designer Vivienne Westwood; and the model Naomi Campbell. But it also includes Wei Sun Christianson, a co-chief executive of Morgan Stanley Asia Pacific; Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris (who also opened the exhibition); Alfiya Kuanysheva, the chief executive of the Kazakhstan finance group BATT; and Kirsty Wark, the British broadcaster.

That, it seems to me, is an enormous and meaningful change in the conversation about achievement and gender. The idea that women whose power is undeniable and exists in traditionally male sectors like banking and politics may stand up and say, for the record and posterity, that clothes matter and require (and deserve) thought is, in my experience, unprecedented.” Vanessa should know, “Friedman was the Fashion Features Director for In Style UK, a position she held since 2000 to 2002. Prior to this, she worked as a Fashion Correspondent for the FT, as an Arts Contributor at The Economist and was the European Editor at Elle (magazine) US. She has also written extensively on a freelance basis for Entertainment Weekly, Vogue magazine, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.” (Wikipedia)

Friedman goes on to say, “what women wear is an embodiment of their voice, and identifying it helps identify their agenda (as it does with men, for that matter).”

So, when I tried to start a conversation about Louisa and the clothes she wears, I wasn’t just making a silly side comment. I really consider her clothes an important feature of her as a woman. I would submit that Louisa is put in dresses that identify her immediately — we see the dress, we know it’s Louisa. (We also identify her through her hair, especially her ponytail.) What do these dresses tell us about her? Is she the rural country woman, quintessentially English because her clothes are filled with flowers and have that classic cut? Do they say independence and individualism are her hallmarks? Are they conservative in that they hark back to Victorian times, or are they merely professional and modest? In S6, Louisa has totally left the blue jeans and sneakers behind and now dresses in more sophisticated versions of her former flowered dresses or even wears a more contemporary look of leggings and jacket with scarf. She has married the doctor who always wears a suit. Perhaps this is a way to mirror him and his social status in the community.

I find it significant and noticeable. Isn’t there anyone else who thinks there is something important going on in terms of Louisa’s clothes?

Originally posted 2014-11-04 17:06:23.

Comedy and dialogue

Because I love language and dialogue and we just spent some time discussing some of the great linguistic ambiguity in DM, I thought it would be fun to look at a smattering of the best ambiguous dialogues in comedy over the last few decades. I know I won’t mention all the best ones, and I’m counting on the readers of this blog to come up with some from DM and anywhere they have come across good examples. I have previously reviewed some of my favorite comedic dialogues from DM, e.g. the fish monger’s monologue in S5E8; Mrs. T’s remarks to ME at the Castle and his comments to her there too; Louisa’s great commentary during their walk in the woods on the wedding night and many of the conversations during that episode. Most of these are not ambiguous, just excellently written and very amusing. A lot of the dialogue is sarcastic, with an edge. But what about those conversations that are ambiguous?
In addition to the scene we recently looked at where Martin tells Joan “It’s not my fault,” there are many others. Here are a few from early DM:
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-Have you noticed an increased demand for diarrhea remedies lately?
Mrs. Tishell:-Yes – in fact you could say there’s been a *run* on them.

Joan: What’s going on Martin?
Martin: I needed to talk to Mark.
Joan: You needed to talk to him or needed to interrupt him?
Martin: I needed his help to section a man under 136 of the mental health act.
Joan: Then you saw him with Louisa, and you don’t need his help.
Martin: I’ll get a community psychiatric nurse in the morning.
Joan: Yes, Yes, she should make you feel much better.

Dr. Martin Ellingham: All right, Caroline, I’m going to give you an injection.
Danny Steel: [gets down on one knee, hands clasped together] I’m saying a prayer for you, Caroline.
Dr. Martin Ellingham: [eyeing Danny] Just a little prick.

Louisa Glasson:-Why do you have to upset everyone? When you are with patients, why can´t you make an effort? Just *smile*! Try some small talk! Have a laugh!
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-Sick people don´t want a laugh. They want a doctor who knows what he’s doing.
Louisa Glasson:-They want a bedside mannner.
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-A bedside manner can´t cure you.
Louisa Glasson:-It makes them feel better.
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-Can it diagnose an illness in a scanner? Write a prescription?
Louisa Glasson:-You know what I mean. Please, for once *just* agree with me. *You* know what I´m trying to say?
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-Actually I find it hard to understand you in the best of times. Whatever you say or do makes no sense to me.
Louisa Glasson:-What are we talking about? Are we talking about…? What are we talking about?
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-I’m not quite sure.

(A group of twitchers are walking next to Doc’s house. Martin is taking his bottle of daily milk.)
Twitcher 1:-Which way to the choughs?
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-At the top of the hill. And turn right.
Twitcher 2:-Thanks.
(The group continues up the road while the man watches his map)
Twitcher 1:-Why on the right there is the cliff? You mean left. Don’t you?
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-(At the door) Right. (Slams the door)

The classic example is Abbott and Costello and “Who’s On First?” Could there be a better example of linguistic ambiguity and how funny it can get? (My grandsons love it and it’s from the 1950s!) Here’s a video of it.

The Three Stooges were famous for wacky dialogue much of it ambiguous. Here’s some from their “Dizzy Pilots” script”
MOE: Where’s your vice?
CURLY (angelically): Vice? I have no vice. I’m as pure as the driven snow. (Gestures with his two hands flat, then holds them in a praying position.)
MOE: (Nods sarcastically.) But you drifted. (Hits Curly on the head.)
CURLY: Oh!
MOE: Get outta here and get the vice.

MOE: Hey you nitwit! Don’t saw the wings, you saw the garage!
CURLY: I see the garage, but I don’t saw the garage. You are speaking incorrectly. You are moidering the King’s English. Et cetera. See? Saw? See? See?
MOE: Yagh! (Starts to strangle Curly.) Shut up! You saw one side and Larry will saw the other. (Moe points.)
CURLY: Oh, I see. I saw! (Curly grabs Moe’s left arm and begins to saw.)

Then there’s “Young Frankenstein:”
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Igor, help me with the bags.
Igor: [Imitating Groucho Marx] Soitenly. You take the blonde, I’ll take the one in the toiben.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: I was talking about the luggage.

Inga: Hallo. Vould you like to have a roll in ze hay? [Dr. Frankenstein stutters] It’s fun. [She begins to roll in the hay] Roll, roll, roll in ze hay.

Just about all dialogue in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” or Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.” Look here AND here
“The Flying Circus” has a few choice examples too. Here’s an excerpt of their “Dead Parrot” sketch:
Mr. Praline: Now that’s what I call a dead parrot.
Owner: No, no…..No, ‘e’s stunned!
Mr. Praline: STUNNED?!?
Owner: Yeah! You stunned him, just as he was wakin’ up! Norwegian Blues stun easily, major.
Mr. Praline: Um…now look…now look, mate, I’ve definitely ‘ad enough of this. That parrot is definitely deceased, and when I purchased it not ‘alf an hour ago, you assured me that its total lack of movement was due to it bein’ tired and shagged out following a prolonged squawk.
Owner: Well, he’s…he’s, ah…probably pining for the fjords.
Mr. Praline: PININ’ for the FJORDS?!?!?!? What kind of talk is that?, look, why did he fall flat on his back the moment I got ‘im home?
Owner: The Norwegian Blue prefers keepin’ on it’s back! Remarkable bird, id’nit, squire? Lovely plumage!
Mr. Praline: Look, I took the liberty of examining that parrot when I got it home, and I discovered the only reason that it had been sitting on its perch in the first place was that it had been NAILED there.
(pause)
Owner: Well, o’course it was nailed there! If I hadn’t nailed that bird down, it would have nuzzled up to those bars, bent ’em apart with its beak, and VOOM! Feeweeweewee!
Mr. Praline: “VOOM”?!? Mate, this bird wouldn’t “voom” if you put four million volts through it! ‘E’s bleedin’ demised!
Owner: No no! ‘E’s pining!
Mr. Praline: ‘E’s not pinin’! ‘E’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!
(pause)
Owner: Well, I’d better replace it, then. (he takes a quick peek behind the counter) Sorry squire, I’ve had a look ’round the back of the shop, and uh, we’re right out of parrots.

I enjoy Simon Pegg’s crazy films. The language can be very vulgar, but the films have their moments. Here’s one from “The World’s End:”
Steven Prince: We need to be able to differentiate between them, them and us.
Peter Page: Yeah, I think the pronouns are really confusing.
Gary King: I don’t even know what a pronoun is.
Oliver: Well, it’s a word that can function by itself as a noun which refers to something else in the discourse.
Gary King: I don’t get it.
Andrew Knightley: You just used one.
Gary King: Did I?
Andrew Knightley: “It” it’s a pronoun.
Gary King: What is?
Andrew Knightley: It!
Gary King: Is it?
Andrew Knightley: Christ!

I’d love to see some of your examples. I had a lot of fun putting these together. Enjoy!

Originally posted 2014-10-10 12:22:56.

Let’s Tango!

I still plan to write a post on Buddhism, and I have one other idea in mind too, but I thought we could have some fun looking at how the Tango relates to the show. I do not consider myself anything more than a person who enjoys listening to music. I love musicals and I love to dance too. I can’t say that I’ve ever danced the Tango. Salsa, yes, but no Tango so far. (I tried Body Jam for the first time yesterday and I struggled with getting the steps right. I can do Zumba though.)

I decided I could use some education about it. You guessed it — I read an article in the NYTimes that got me thinking. The article is really about being uprooted and that’s why I found it quite interesting. It begins by noting that the Tango is related to men who came to Argentina as immigrants looking for work. “They’re people who have gone through the meat-grinder of uprooting and survived it; they’ve come as close to death as one can without dying. It seems that the memory of a personal catastrophe, followed by a miraculous survival, has somehow remained inscribed in the dance’s movements. Part of what makes the Tango so erotically charged is that death is always so close at hand. To this day the Tango has carried with it this uncanny mix of vulnerability and strength.” (I couldn’t let that go by without noticing that is exactly what I mentioned when describing ME as an antihero.)

I remembered that in a comment to my post on what makes DM so appealing Carol wrote about the importance of the music. I had totally overlooked the way music might play a role in our overall appreciation of the show. She stated: “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 decided I should watch the interview with composer Colin Towns to see what he said. In the interview I found, Towns recalls that it was the editor, Nick (McPhee), who came up with the idea of using the Tango. Towns thought it was a great idea because Cornwall would usually be associated with folk music. Also, “you have a really dignified man” in a village in Cornwall and “the Tango is powerful and reflects how this man would relate to Cornwall.” Oddly enough, on the KQEK website, Towns is quoted as saying: “The acoustic guitar fits very well for what I need, and the Tango (which was Martin’s idea) carries a dignity, slightly overpowering aloofness that matches Martin’s character of an established surgeon sent from the city to deal with a local community – a quirky doctor who is caring but difficult, out of step sometimes, doesn’t suffer fools, a bull in a china shop, but ultimately very human. The Tango is not Cornish but works great with the story. So yes, small community, small band – for this it works.”

Regardless of whose idea it was, I want to say that probably the most important reason the Tango was chosen for the show is because it is so alien to Cornwall and doesn’t fit the setting. Not only is this another subtle way to get a laugh, but also it reflects the incongruity of Martin Ellingham becoming a GP in Portwenn. It’s also amusing because he is anything but graceful and would never be found dancing the Tango. That goes along with the notion of ME being dignified that Towns expresses. On the other hand, the way the Tango is constructed is like the push-pull of Martin and Louisa’s relationship with the power struggle at its core. In most examples of dancing the Tango the man is the leader and the woman mirrors his steps. In DM the courtship dance between Martin and Louisa is rarely led by Martin, but the step by step movement of the Tango has potential as a counterpart to their relationship. First of all, Martin’s posture works perfectly because the proper Tango posture is your head held high, your spine straight, your core strong and chest lifted, and confidence oozing from your body language. (OK, the confidence part is a little questionable.) The steps for both parties: slow, slow, quick, quick, slow. But for the leader it’s:

Forward with your left
Forward with your right
Forward with left
To the right with your right
Feet together, moving left to meet right.

Forward slow, slow, quick, then quick to the side, then together. I think we can make that work for them as a couple.

We actually have one scene in which Martin and Louisa dance (at their wedding reception) and Martin takes the lead with Louisa having trouble following. Nothing too strange about that, huh?

The NYTimes article is more about how exile can be beneficial in that “exile gives you a chance to break free. All that heavy luggage of old ‘truths,’ which seemed so only because they were so familiar, is to be left behind…The redeeming thing about exile is that when your ‘old world’ has vanished you are suddenly given the chance to experience another.” What the writer, Costica Bradatan, argues is that “uprooting is a devastating blow because you have to separate yourself overnight from something that, for as long as you can remember, has been an important part of your identity.” Bradatan acknowledges that “to live is to sink roots. Life is possible only to the extent that you find a place hospitable enough to receive you and allow you to settle down. What follows is a sort of symbiosis: Just as you grow into the world, the world grows into you. Not only do you occupy a certain place, but that place, in turn, occupies you. Its culture shapes the way you see the world, its language informs the way you think, its customs structure you as a social being. Who you ultimately are is determined to an important degree by the vast web of entanglements of ‘home.'” However, “uprooting gives you the chance to create not only the world anew, but also your own self. Deprived of your old world, your old self is left existentially naked. It is not only worlds that can collapse and be rebuilt, but also selves. Selves can be re-made from scratch, reassembled and refurbished. For they, too, are stories to be told in different ways. Often with uprooting there also comes a change of languages, which makes the refashioning all the more fascinating. You can fashion yourself in very much the same way a writer fashions her characters.”

In the end, Bradatan believes that the Tango “is sadness itself that is danced.” For him that is its strength. So the Tango is erotically charged, and associated with catastrophe and survival. And now I’ve gotten way too serious, but you have to admit all of the connections we can make with the Tango also relate to other discussions we’ve had before. Martin’s uprooting has shaken his sense of identity but also given him an opportunity to remake himself. He left behind what he was familiar with, both the good and the bad, and now has established a new home in a different world where he can attempt to create a new self and write a new story. He doesn’t need to change so much as reclaim who he is. Out of the somewhat catastrophic events that brought him to Portwenn he can renew himself. Let’s Tango!

Originally posted 2014-08-19 21:21:41.

Duet of missed messages, S3E4+5

Other interests aside, my true passion is literary analysis and I am pleased to get back to that again. In this case the analysis will be of S3E5 because I want to argue that what we see going on between Martin and Louisa in this episode represents well the kind of “push me, pull you” interaction they have throughout the show, including during S6. The theme of control is also very much a factor in E5. (Please excuse the length of this post. I always try to keep my posts as brief as possible, but sometimes I find that difficult because I’m also trying to do a thorough job.)

In order to put E5 in perspective, I think we need to start by looking at E4. In this episode Carrie Wilson stirs up Louisa’s jealousy about Martin’s love life. We will see much more of this during S4 when Edith appears; therefore, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s been there for quite some time. From S1 on we’ve seen that Martin is smitten with Louisa. (Despite Martin Clunes’ claim about their initial plan, my impression is that it was immediately apparent that the relationship between ME and LG was going to play a central role in this series. I have no doubt that Caroline Catz increased that likelihood or changed the nature of it, but there was always going to be a tension between these two characters.) During S1 they create regular conflicts between this couple over their differing views of how to treat patients, ending with a harrowing effort to save Peter Cronk during which Louisa witnesses firsthand Martin’s capabilities as a doctor and a person. Martin even ends up looking compassionate to her in relation to Adrian Pitts. We applaud Louisa’s decision to defend Martin while agreeing with her that he has a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Unfortunately, he undermines his own desire to have Louisa as a love interest by the end of the series, setting up what happens between them in S2 and beyond. The final episode of the regular season of S2 ends pretty much the same way S1 ends — Martin spoils whatever close bond they appear to be developing by insulting Louisa.

By the time we reach S3, things between Martin and Louisa have stabilized to some degree. Nonetheless, Martin continues to do damage to their fragile relationship despite obviously being anxious to find a way to connect with Louisa. The writing of S3E4 is once again attributed to Jack Lothian and I find some analogy to Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” in it. (If I’m right, Jack Lothian has fun using his knowledge of Shakespeare on this show.) In general, the play and this episode are filled with constant misinterpretations amongst the characters as well as suspicions of straying attention between the men and women. Jealousy is at the heart of the play and is also important in E4. Louisa has spent much of S3 vexed by Martin’s reticence to do anything that will reignite their affair. When she sees Mrs. Wilson making moves on Martin and hears Mrs. T.’s comments that men are often vulnerable to women like her, she is provoked. Here’s where we get a scene in which Martin has trouble interpreting what Louisa is saying. As in S6E1 when Louisa’s position on having a honeymoon is totally unintelligible to him, Louisa’s reaction to his acceptance of her invitation to Penhale’s party at Carrie Wilson’s hotel makes little sense to him. Louisa has no idea that Martin has just turned down a similar invitation from Mrs. Wilson and is suspicious when M accepts her invitation so quickly. Rather than being satisfied that he has accepted, she finds his quick acceptance troubling and probably believes his unspoken motive is to go to Wilson’s hotel. This is one of many times when he has no idea what she wants him to say. Of course they are interrupted by the phone and a so-called emergency and Louisa leaves without knowing whether she’ll see Martin later or not.

It turns out that Martin has more than one reason that brings him to Wilson’s hotel. He has run over her precious dog and decides to bring the dead animal to her. When he arrives, Aunt Joan derails his initial plan and we’re not sure what will happen either with the dog or with the party. But the party goes on and Martin is still left holding the dead dog wrapped in newspaper. As he enters the party area, we begin another series of misinterpretations as Louisa’s immediate delight at seeing him there is undercut by Martin’s focus on finding Mrs. Wilson so he can hand over her dog. Mrs. W shows up and immediately offends Louisa because she thinks Martin wants to have some time alone with her. Once she finds out his real purpose, and Louisa is there to witness someone else bearing the brunt of Martin’s lack of tact, things change rapidly. Now Louisa and Martin can have a moment alone and Louisa can show concern. However, she once again jumps to conclusions when Martin asks her what she’s drinking, assuming that he’s judging her for drinking wine. Soon they are standing apart from the group and find concordance in their assessment of Mrs. Wilson as narcissistic, hypochondriacal, and extremely annoying. Once again Louisa proffers an invitation, this time to a concert, and Martin accepts immediately. He even makes a nuanced comment when she warns him the musicians are amateurs when he says “everyone has to start somewhere.” Things seem to be going well until Louisa turns her head toward the window and Martin attempts to kiss her head only to have her jump away and ask him what he’s doing. Aren’t we witnessing a tender and possibly emotional moment generated by Martin that is met with rejection from Louisa? Just then Penhale makes an announcement that forces Louisa to leave precipitously, although she mentions the concert date to Martin just before walking out the door.

The maneuvering for control between this pair is magnified throughout this episode and will continue into the next. Louisa wants to maintain Martin’s interest in her while also backing him off at times, and Martin wants to be agreeable to her while also having trouble getting out of his own way. Awkwardness abounds on both sides, but we think we are heading in a good direction until the next episode and its constant fluctuations as to who is making the right moves at the right times.

The first time Martin sees Louisa in S3E5 is while Pauline is taking a blood sample and doing a poor job of it. Louisa mentions their date and wonders what to wear. Martin does the gentlemanly thing and says he’s sure she’ll look nice. So far, so good. His day takes a detour when he discovers Pauline has given him the wrong notes for the patient he’s examining. But this scene gives us a little insight into what’s to come in that Martin asks the patient who initiates sexual activity between him and his wife. He observes that usually one is keener than the other. Beyond the truism of this observation is the hint that who the initiator is takes on importance. Initiating something also indicates an effort to take control. To me, the key to this episode and to the relationship between Martin and Louisa is the issue of control — who has it, who doesn’t, what should be done about it, etc.

When we next see Louisa, she is dressed for the concert and putting on the finishing touches. It’s clear she has taken great care in how she looks. She goes downstairs and opens the front door before Martin can get there. She could have waited for him to knock, but has preempted that. She hopes for, but doesn’t get, a compliment on how she looks. Despite his earlier flattery, he neglects to say something here and actually makes things worse by wondering if her shoes will be a problem. (We learn later that women’s shoes seem to be a preoccupation of his.) She tries to prompt him by remarking how his suit looks, but this could be seen as a sort of role reversal. They arrive at the concert where they sit on the grass. Before intermission it’s Louisa who sneaks glances at Martin and initiates contact by putting a flower in his lapel; after intermission we see Martin peeking at Louisa. It’s a nice way to balance their attraction to each other while also indicating the back and forth nature of it. His reaction to the flower is typical Martin in that he is not pleased, but he leaves it there.

The flower is still in his lapel when they go inside for intermission. At this point Martin makes one false move after another: he’s sullen and unfriendly towards Holly, then offends Joan’s friend the caterer. Louisa is surely unhappy about his behavior and Joan notices. Joan goes right to the heart of things when she sarcastically asks Martin “you being your usual charming self?” Nevertheless, they return to their place on the grass for the second half of the concert and Louisa notices Martin looking at her. The sexual tension is rising. Soon we see them leaving the concert and walking down a path to the car surrounded by other concert goers. As in S1E6, Martin wants to take Louisa’s hand. This time he follows through and appears to feel triumphant when he does. However, once again Louisa takes charge, draws him aside, passionately kisses him and receives the same response as before — Martin takes refuge in medical speak and particularly insensitive comments. CC plays the scene perfectly as she looks at Martin in disbelief and anger. It’s kind of the last straw for the date even though with Louisa hope springs eternal. Louisa, too, responds similarly to her reaction in S1E6, this time by marching off in a huff. It’s somewhat amusing to see her so convinced that her kisses will be returned in kind yet always end up with the same Martin, who is incapable of letting go. In this case she is stuck riding home in the car with him, but she gives him the silent treatment and soon tells him she doesn’t want to see him anymore. We can see the oscillating power struggle here pretty clearly: Louisa has initiated the date, initiated the compliments, and initiated the kiss, while Martin has instituted his influence by remaining “his charming self” and all that that implies, as well as having a breakthrough of sorts by taking Louisa’s hand. (I have to say that I think the best response Louisa could have had to Martin taking her hand would have been to simply let him have this moment and walk to the car hand in hand with him. Naturally, for the purposes of this show, she doesn’t do that and her reaction underscores the basic control issues always at stake between them. She is also always battling her instincts and emotions.)

Martin makes a vain attempt to explain his reaction, but she’s not looking for an explanation of his scientific interests; she wants a sign that he feels something for her. As usual, Martin is left wondering what went wrong. Both of them seem tearful and regretful. The fact that Martin spends the night unable to sleep emphasizes his desolation. We can only assume he’s been trying to ascertain what he could have done differently without the capacity to come up with any answers. He appears to be making an effort to be introspective, something he has a lot of trouble doing. (If his breakup with Edith continues to be a factor for him, we might imagine that he feels bereft that a woman he loves has once again rejected him.) This time he decides to take action and leaves his office with the intention of talking to Louisa. In effect, he is running after her; however, he chickens out and it’s just as well because Holly’s arrival would have interrupted them anyway. His plan to take control has gone unconsummated.

Later that day he returns to a state of deep consternation while sitting on the couch. Louisa’s rejection has been quite a blow and he is uncharacteristically lost in thought about it. Joan walks in at that moment and observes that Louisa seemed fed up with him at the concert. In her view, Martin and Louisa can never be a couple and he should simply move on. It isn’t until she’s expressed that view to Martin that she notices how upset he is. Meanwhile, Louisa asserts to Holly that her date with Martin is the end of their relationship. Their future as a couple seems doomed.

The time for despair passes quickly as events take over. Holly slips and hurts her back, putting in motion a series of incidents that bring Martin and Louisa into contact again. After they get Holly to Louisa’s house and into Louisa’s bed, Martin tells Louisa he has to check on Holly the next day. After Martin returns home Joan appears at Martin’s kitchen door again and reaffirms that in her mind Martin and Louisa are like chalk and cheese, and that “we are what we are, we can’t change.” But Martin disagrees and is sure he can change. He equates change here with talking rubbish, by which he means acting more concerned about others, but the important matter is that he is asserting his ability to control his behavior and he sets out to prove it. An accident, or event that we can’t control, has led to Holly needing a place to stay and forced Louisa to offer her home. It has also meant that Martin is forced to tend to Holly at Louisa’s house and that Holly cannot leave despite being scheduled to rehearse somewhere else. No one has control over any of these situations.

The change in behavior that Martin attempts only makes Louisa think he’s acting weird. Martin reacts with one of the most emotional outbursts he has with Louisa because he feels like nothing he does satisfies her. He tells her, “I don’t know what you want.” EXACTLY!

The next morning Louisa returns to find Holly out of bed against doctor’s orders. Holly’s determined to assert control and leave, but soon she falls again and this time her injury is life-threatening. Martin arrives in a hurry and the previous altercation between Martin and Louisa is put aside so they can work together to treat Holly. Holly’s accidents have been the catalyst to bring Martin and Louisa together twice, demonstrating how Fate is beyond our control. This time it takes both Martin and Louisa to handle the situation and there is a kinder, gentler exchange of who’s in charge. Martin’s aversion to blood makes him nauseated and Louisa asks if she should take over; Martin recovers and manages to remove the piece of glass lodged in Holly’s back; Louisa tries to help by filling a syringe but drops the vial of medicine; Martin calmly finds another way to save Holly; and they reconnect over Holly’s revivified body. As Holly is loaded onto the ambulance, Louisa makes clear that she has had a resurgence of respect for Martin. She’s shaken but tells him he’s an extraordinary man. It is here that he finally takes control and decides he can’t leave without asking her to marry him. She, in turn, can’t believe her ears and asks him to repeat his proposal. (Asking him to repeat nice things he says is another amusing recurring scenario throughout the series.) Louisa accepts his proposal and runs to jump into his arms. Their embrace is emotional on both parts and is one of several scenes like this where they are both overcome with emotion. Thus, the episode ends with the exchange of control between these two being equalized.

Included in this episode is Pauline’s addiction to gambling, another loss of control. Significantly, Martin intercedes between Pauline and her mother to give Mum a lecture on how Pauline’s gambling is an illness not a weakness, and that it controls her. He demands an admission from Pauline that she is an addict and her commitment to attend a support group to get treatment. By the end of S6, he’s made the same demands on Michael in regard to his OCD. Martin definitely recognizes that many psychological conditions are out of the control of those who have them and these people would benefit from therapy.

S3E5 contains so many of the primary forces in the show. It emphasizes the issue of control and how Martin and Louisa constantly tangle with it. In addition, their emotions are a factor with Martin exhibiting more emotion than usual. Many of the set pieces that are used in the show appear here as well, making this episode very representative of the show as a whole.

Originally posted 2014-08-01 15:57:54.

Doc Martin and the Mystery of the Folktale

When thinking about whether DM could fall into the category of Fairytale or Folktale, I started with remembering that one of the films that preceded DM was called “The Legend of the Cloutie.” The film’s premise was that a legend of the town could be associated with a house Dr. Martin Bamford wants to purchase. The legend is a local folk magic story involving a piece of cloth tied to a tree (branded a Cloutie) that has the power to remove a kind of illness as the cloth rots and falls from the tree. The film was rather silly, but there is that history of a story based on a legend.

We have to distinguish between Folktales, Fairytales, Legends, Myths, etc. As a general rule legends and traditions are narratives of an explanatory nature concerning creation and tribal beginnings, supernatural beings, and quasi-historical figures (e.g., King Arthur, Lady Godiva). These stories are related as fact and concern a specific time and place. They have a verisimilitude and should appear realistic. Fairytales are entirely fictional and often begin with such formulas as “Once upon a time …” and “In a certain country there lived … .” There are many interpretations of all of the story types listed above, most of which involve historical and psychological analyses. Psychologists have used them as a form of expression of cultural traditions and customs, and to study the unconscious. Many folktales conclude with some sort of moral message. I think that gets too deep for our purposes. We could probably tease out some moral messages in this show, but is that really why the show was created? I think this show has a serious underpinning but it stops short of teaching viewers the difference between right and wrong behavior.

What prompts us to wonder about DM and its connection to a Fairytale or Folktale is all of the ways in which it seems unreal. We can begin with the fact that the weather is never bad in Portwenn. Despite its location in England where rain is plentiful, there never seems to be a rainy day. Plus, the fact that they film in Spring and Summer means we see no cold, wintry weather.

No news from the world ever enters Portwenn. For all we know, WWIII could have started and the villagers would have no idea. Newspapers are seen on occasion, but the village is in a world of its own. No one leaves for long, and only Al returns from his trip abroad with anything approaching a bad experience. All the outsiders arrive in Portwenn without any information about what’s happening in England, much less other countries. Very few people ever want to leave.

Very few people are afflicted with serious illnesses. Anyone who gets sick, even Roger Fenn and his throat cancer or Peter Cronk and his ruptured spleen, is treated and released in short order and without complication. It’s a show about a doctor, but not really about serious medical conditions. The thrust of the show is the characters in it, especially Martin and Louisa, and not what medical case will the doctor identify and treat.

The hotel’s name is “Camelot,” which refers to a castle and court associated with King Arthur. It is the fantastic capital of Arthur’s realm. The word “Camelot” is easy to see on the front of the hotel and seems to be highlighted when Martin and Louisa’s wedding is held there. The hotel has the appearance of a castle and is not the only castle-like building used. When Mrs. Tishell abducts JH, Penhale’s first thought is she took him to a hotel that is called “The Castle.” When she isn’t there, they are told to go to another faux castle, and that’s where they find her and the baby. We are not usually surrounded by castles in today’s world.

Of course we can’t leave out the opening scene of S3E1 when we hear Louisa reading to her students outside in the harbor area. From my point of view, the way this opening scene is handled indicates a humorous mocking of the fairytale qualities we might be seeing in DM. Let’s analyze this opening scene…

We have the typical sweep of the environs of the village while the credits roll, but then we find ourselves with an aerial view of the harbor with a motor boat heading towards the village. Next we hear Louisa’s voice saying “Once Upon a Time in a kingdom far, far away.” Here is the classic beginning to a Fairytale along with an airplane and a motorboat. So far we haven’t seen her and don’t know what she’s doing.

She reads on as we watch Martin walk down the street carrying his medical bag: “the Prince arrived to search for the Princess he was destined to marry.” She reads, “the Prince was handsome and charming,” (while Martin scowls at the young girls he passes) “and fierce” (as Martin quickly sidesteps an oncoming vehicle. He looks angry and annoyed, but not brave).

She continues: “With his faithful hound at his side,” (as we see the bushy dog always bothering Martin come out of a side street and trot across to briefly walk beside Martin and then perhaps move on) “the Prince journeyed for days on end” (Martin is making his way down the sloped street probably on his way back to his clinic. His journey has been short.) “He fought dragons” (Martin passes a woman with long hair), “wizards” (Martin passes an old man with a walking stick), “and goblins” (Martin sees a young man with knit cap and sunglasses), “and just when he thought all hope was lost, he finally arrived at the Castle where the Princess was imprisoned.” (Martin walks out from the narrow street into a sunny, wide space overlooking the waterfront where Louisa sits and reads to her students. Far from a place of imprisonment.) “The Prince climbed the hill to free the Princess before she…” (Martin has just walked down the hill. It is at this moment that Louisa feels faint and collapses on the ground. The children scream, Martin notices what’s happened and jumps over a bench to reach Louisa. Somewhat gallant, but not the stuff of Fairytales.)

Louisa comes to with Martin checking her. She appears to be awakening out of a dream, but all too quickly reality hits, Martin once again derides her school, and she pulls herself together.

What they have deliberately done is undercut every line of the fairytale’s components. In addition, I couldn’t help thinking about the “Harry Potter” series of books that had just been completed around the time of this series. Four of the movies had also been completed by this time. That series fits the qualities of a fairytale to the letter and was highly successful. It certainly included dragons, goblins, and wizards as well as heroes. This part of the episode could easily have been written to satirize the Harry Potter story while also humorously contrasting the story of DM with anything approaching a Fairytale.

The other thing that happens here is S3 opening with a reference to Martin and Louisa being destined to marry. As we know, this series is about their near breakup followed by plans to marry which eventually lead to a decision to part ways. Once again, the prediction of marriage in the Fairytale is undercut by the outcome of the series. (I guess we could also argue that ultimately destiny does triumph because they marry later after all.)

I have come to the conclusion that although the creators of this show toy with some features of Fairytales or Folktales, there are too many ways in which it differs from those genres and in which they purposely satirize them to consider this show some form of Fairytale. It is set in a location that exists in reality, although they’ve tampered with the realism of it, and the events that take place are all too real. Moreover, there are no supernatural creatures, no magic, and no heroes that bear any resemblance to ones in Fairytales.

Originally posted 2014-06-16 21:40:51.

Dramedy, its history and its connection to Doc Martin

We’ve been spending some time considering the serious issues that DM refers to and how we should relate to those. It occurred to me that it would help if we understood how the show is constructed and what makes it fit into the category of TV shows called “Dramedy.” We all know that the term is a combination of “drama” and “comedy,” but I decided I needed to learn more about the special attributes of a dramedy. When I read a variety of sources, I discovered there is more to this designation than simply combining these two types of shows.

I thought I’d look at the definition of “Dramedy” as determined by several sources and then see how we can apply it to Doc Martin. My expectation is that we will be able to look at DM in a more comprehensive way that will add to our appreciation of the show. It is fascinating to look at the history of this genre and it provides some context. I found a good source to help with that and will give a brief run-down of it. Then I found a source that helped me understand more specifically what the conventions of a dramedy are. Of course, I have no idea if anyone working on DM studied these conventions or had them in mind while working on the show; however, I think I can demonstrate how the show follows them quite closely. For me, it was illuminating to analyze the show this way.

The first modern example of combining drama with comedy can be traced to Charlie Chaplin’s 1921 silent movie “The Kid.” In 2011, “The Kid” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” It was one of the first major films to combine comedic moments with dramatic elements, and is widely considered one of the greatest films in cinematic history. Both Shakespeare’s plays and Greek plays had combined comic scenes with drama too. But we’re talking about TV shows, so I will concentrate on those.

All of the information I will use now comes from the online site TVIV.org. I have excerpted the portions of their discussion of dramedy that I consider the most helpful.
According to TVIV.org (and many other sources) the TV show M*A*S*H—based on the 1970 film—signaled a clear departure from the rigid definitions of sitcom in the 1960s. Like dramas, it frequently employed cinematic elements and storytelling tools—single-character narration, documentary-style cinematography, crane shots, etc. In the structural sense, its most important convention defiance was its use of season-long (or longer) story arcs—while most episodes addressed one conflict which was eventually resolved (or at least concluded), changes in situation permanently affected the characters, up to and including the deaths of major characters, and some story arcs were stretched out over the course of several episodes or an entire season.

To describe this new type of series—too weighty to be merely a “comedy,” too light to be a true “drama,” and containing a great deal of structural elements of both—television critics of the 1970s coined the term “dramedy.” However, even prior to M*A*S*H, television comedies had begun to address serious social issues. Here “All in the Family” comes into prominence again. (I used it previously to discuss what makes DM so appealing, and now I must refer to it for other reasons related to DM.) It debuted in the season prior to the 1972–73 season (in which M*A*S*H premiered). The “situation” of each episode was often a lead-in to a rather frank and unflinching portrayal of genuine societal concerns of the 1970s—racism, rape, abortion, religious conservatism and freedom, etc. The term would also be applied to such series as Barney Miller, which, while a half-hour comedy with a laugh track and broad characters, still nonetheless showed those characters as complex and often permanently affected by their police work.

According to ITIV.org: As the 1980s started and a new breed of television-bred producers, writers and creators such as Steven Bochco and David Chase began to get their own shows, the trend only increased. Bochco’s series “Hill Street Blues,” for instance, centered around police detectives and police work—a dramatic premise dating back to Dragnet. However, “Hill Street Blues” was often tongue-in-cheek, and many of the characters existed almost exclusively as comic relief.” Bochco and his contemporaries (such as Joshua Brand and John Falsey on “St. Elsewhere”) and ultimately successors placed comic relief characters as central to the plot, and would often involve even their more serious central characters in more comedic situations. Thus, the term “dramedy” began to apply to their works.

But it was in 1986 that another show broke through the divisions of drama and comedy in a significant way. The show “Moonlighting” was nominated for Comedy/Musical categories for the Golden Globes and for the Drama categories for the Emmys. Moonlighting had both structural and thematic elements of both. In its premise, it was truly a romantic comedy, yet it was also a serious detective drama. “Structurally, it employed cinematic elements and the four-act structure, yet some of the cinematic elements it borrowed were from Warner Bros. cartoons—clearly comedies.”

“(In 2006) the term (was) redefined to largely exclude structural elements and to focus on a subsection of thematic elements. Those comedies, which, while clearly comedic in tone, nonetheless handle the dramatic situations as serious issues are now considered ‘dramedies.'”

As you can see there’s a rich history in television that encompasses the evolution of Dramedy. Although this review focuses on American television, I believe it set the standards for TV in general.

I want to now move on to an in-depth look at the mechanics of dramedies and how they appear in DM. For this information I decided a good source is a 1996 article written by Richard Taflinger, Ph.D., associate clinical professor in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University:
Taflinger asserts “the dramedy is…the most difficult of comedy shows to produce because it must contain three things: 1) a superb cast working as an ensemble; 2) a clearly delineated sphere of activity for plots; and 3) excellent writing.” DM satisfies all of these criteria.

Most dramedies have a core cast of 6-8 characters. DM fits this scheme because its core cast consists of eight characters who form its ensemble: Martin Ellingham, Louisa Glasson, Bert Large, Al Large, Aunt Joan/Aunt Ruth, Mrs. Tishell, a constable (Mark Mylow/Joe Penhale), and a receptionist (Elaine/Pauline/Morwenna).

When it comes to the sphere of activity, Taflinger specifies:
“The sphere of activity must not only be clearly delineated but must have an essential nature of its own, one that by its very appearance gets a reaction from the audience…Since the locale is so important in the dramedy, it is more strongly emphasized behind the credits. For example, the camp and surrounding territory are clearly shown in the opening of M*A*S*H, and the neighborhood and house shown for ALL IN THE FAMILY.” The introductory credits for DM are always accompanied by the sweep of the scenery in and around Portwenn, eventually settling on a view of the harbor from above.

Taflinger argues “there are two kinds of dramedies. In the first, the human dramedy, the emphasis is on the characters battling the theme as it relates to the theme’s effects on other characters. In the second, the advocate dramedy, the characters are in two warring factions, each faction advocating a certain point of view about the theme.” He adds:
“Human dramedies usually have a subplot, the only type of situation comedy that does. The subplot is often comic, underscoring the main, more serious plot. It is also usually a conflict between people, rather than a conflict between people and the intangible forces surrounding them…In all cases, the subplots underscore comically and thus intensify the main plot.” Among the episodes of DM we have many comic subplots that would satisfy the qualification of underscoring the main plot. Starting with the first episode, we have the main plot of Martin Ellingham’s awkward arrival in Portwenn combined with the comic subplot of the awkward discovery that one woman’s HRT cream is giving both her husband and her boyfriend breasts. ME has to decide whether to stay on in Portwenn and find a way to deal with all sorts of unwelcoming behaviors by the townspeople while also having to find a way to mediate between the triangle of lovers. In the end he gets punched in the nose, but the couple’s anger gets defused and he decides to stay in Portwenn. If we wanted to, we could go through almost every episode and come up with a comic subplot that underscores the main plot.

Taflinger delineates several segments to each dramedy: complications, crises, climax, and denouement.
“The complications are based on the theme but involve character or action. They are new developments in the problem that require the characters to examine their own thinking or take an action that opposes or supports their point of view on the theme.” In DM the epsiode complication that jumps to my mind is S6 E7 when Mike is pursued for being AWOL. He’s AWOL because the army planned to alter his OCD, or fix him, and he didn’t want to be fixed. He ultimately agrees to turn himself in and hopes the army will allow him to deal with his OCD in his own time.

During a crisis,”the characters are presented with a dilemma and must do or decide something to relieve the stress.” Among the many times the characters in DM are presented with a dilemma we can include water contamination, Mrs. T’s absconding with JH, and Mrs. T’s return to Portwenn after being in psychiatric treatment.

“The climax forces the character to examine his or her beliefs and actions in support of them, and either vindicates or condemns him or her.” Here we could apply ME’s handling of Stewart or of Helen’s death, and many other occasions.

“The denouement of a human dramedy will often end with the conclusion of the subplot, thus ending the show with a laugh rather than deep introspection.” The first episode of DM is a good example of ending with a laugh, but here I see some deviation of DM from the norm because there are many episodes that end on a serious note. This is especially true at the end of S3 and throughout S6. Even here, however, the humor of the subplots keeps the episodes from getting too far away from comedy. For example, S3 E7 was filled with humorous events although the denouement was no laughing matter. In S6, we can say DM became much more of a drama than a dramedy and most episodes ended without a laugh.

Next Taflinger addresses how the characters are typically developed:
“The regular characters in a human dramedy are in occupations that allow them to meet and deal with characters who have problems relating to a societal ill…They discover and try to solve the problem; the problem thrust upon them by the nature of the societal ill with which they are concerned…They are usually compassionate, human, and try to believe that each person is an individual worthy of respect and personal regard.” We have no trouble associating this with DM. Both ME and LG have jobs that engage them in dealing with “societal ills.” ME must treat people who can’t miss work or who don’t have the capacity to properly follow his medical advice. LG must handle all sorts of parenting problems as well as her students’ family conditions. Both of them treat everyone without prejudice. The rest of the regular cast follows these precepts too.

Taflinger continues:
“There is one main character…Most plots revolve around this character, usually as he works to solve the problem, but occasionally he is the bearer of the problem.” This is DM in spades.

“Usually one of the supporting characters causes antagonistic feelings among the others, and will usually bear the brunt of any subplot. His personality grates on the nerves of the other characters, and makes them desire abatement and/or revenge.” This quality is satisfied in DM by both Bert and Mrs. T. Bert more regularly causes disruptions that result in some sort of redress, but Mrs. T has her moments for sure.

“The transients in a human dramedy have two purposes: 1) they are the source of most of the primary problems, either as the creator or the bearer of the problem; and/or 2) aid in finding and/or applying solutions to the problem. The former is most common.” Again, DM fits within this mold. The transients include psychologist Anthony Oakwood, hotel owner Carrie Wilson, doctor friend Gavin Peters, Joan’s former lover John Slater, Ruth’s stalker Robert Campbell, and so many others. They are, for the most part, the bearers of the problem.

“There is a theme in virtually every episode of a dramedy…They are personalized and personified, relating specifically to a character so that the audience can see the effect on the individual.” I see this as closely related to the transients and we certainly see themes throughout DM.

“Psychologically, the characters are as close to fully rounded human beings as can be found in situation comedy. They are capable of depression, exhilaration, love, hate, anger, serenity, sentimentality, compassion, wit and stupidity. Most importantly, they are capable of logical and rational thought tempered with intuition and emotion.” For DM we can add that they are often afflicted with a variety of psychological conditions.

Taflinger also states, “the place of work is not comfortable and quite often not even attractive, just functional.” Again, DM comports with this convention. The small building that contains both ME’s surgery offices and his personal rooms is far from attractive and cramped when he is alone. The kitchen doubles as a place for private use as well as for the use of the receptionist. Once he adds Louisa and James Henry, the space seems extremely tight, especially since they don’t use the living room very often. Saying it’s functional is almost a stretch by the end of S6.

I have been using the features of a human dramedy because that is what DM most closely fits. In advocate dramedies “the main character is one who represents a definite point of view that is usually very limited and not subject to change…These characters resent and oppose any point of view other than the one they hold. They think they are always right, and anyone who doesn’t agree with them is a fool, an idiot, or worse. They are outspoken to the point of crass rudeness, will voice their opinions loudly and long, and if proven wrong will not accept the argument but will make personal attacks on their opponent’s intelligence, background, and morals.” In addition, “opposition characters hold opinions and philosophies diametrically opposed to the main character’s. It is from this opposition that plot conflicts arise. Such characters are usually in the main character’s family, allowing ready access for battle…The involved neutrals are peacemakers and clarifiers. They are most important, however, as representatives for the audience, giving the audience someone with whom to identify and enabling the audience to see the effects of extremism.” “All in the Family” is clearly an excellent example of an advocate dramedy.

Finally, Taflinger notes, “although the dramedy is often very funny, it is not because of a deliberate striving for laughs no matter how they are gotten…It uses both serious exploration and discussion and comic intensification to examine a theme and make the audience aware of intellectually and feel emotionally about it.” DM does exactly this. There are moments when they go for a laugh, e.g. ME hitting his head or falling down stairs, Penhale acting the buffoon; however, the major thrust of the show is to use comic intensification that affects viewers on an intellectual and emotional level.

When I read about the attributes of dramedy and applied them to DM, I realized that the show really sticks to the conventions associated with dramedies. Despite my deep appreciation for this show, I am struck by how there is a formula that it follows to a great extent. The excellent character development and writing are also key elements of all human dramedies. Doc Martin is in good company, and we should not be surprised that it’s been such a success since it conforms to the same standards of many of the most outstanding TV shows in memory.

Originally posted 2014-06-05 19:01:33.

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.

Laughter and Civility

Our last discussion was about attachment theory, and I had been considering writing a post about that, but I have found a different reason to take up my “pen” again. Recently there was a review in the NYT of several books that have been published on the subject of civility. Therefore, I was moved to write about that. (I’m sure some of the current public behavior we have been witnessing had something to do with this urge, but, the fact that laughter has sometimes been connected to civility also made me want to write about it.)

Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered that the philosopher Thomas Hobbes had written about his theory of laughter. I think I remember it because of the example he used. Hobbes’ theory revolves around those who laugh because they feel superior to someone else as when we laugh at someone who slips on a banana peel. To Hobbes, a society built on laughter would be a society built on mockery, or people laughing at the misfortunes of others.

It surprised me to learn that Hobbes was one of the few philosophers who gave laughter much consideration. Aristotle, for example, wrote more about tragedy and how tragic characters were generally of average or better than average standing. In his view, in comedy individuals of lesser virtue are the norm and we look down on them. The bottom line seems to be that humor is often a consequence of denigrating someone.

I confess to being guilty of this, and suspect most of us are. Moreover, Doc Martin is rife with humor based on this model. Whenever ME walks into a door frame or low ceiling, slips in mud, or drives his car off the road; whenever Penhale attempts anything resembling actual police work; whenever Louisa dangles from a hospital bed or says something that is misinterpreted, we are in the arena of Hobbes’ Superiority Theory of laughter. We could add other characters, e.g. Mrs. Tishell, Bert, and Janice. Each one of these characters has been depicted in comedic settings that would be categorized as a pratfall. A pratfall is basically a stupid and humiliating action. It is something that has been a part of comedy for as long as we can remember. And the remarkable thing about it is that it often involves a perceived highly-competent individual who becomes more likable after committing a blunder, according to something called the pratfall effect. I would venture to say that all of the above characters benefit from the pratfall effect. Thus, we can summarize that we laugh because we recognize how inept these characters are while we also find them more appealing as a result.

Furthermore, I then came across a recent article by Emily Nussbaum, TV critic of The New Yorker Magazine, on jokes article It seemed perfect that the accompanying picture is of a golden banana peel with the potential that there could be a tangential connection to Hobbes’ Superiority Theory. Nussbaum lists Mel Brooks, Rodney Dangerfield, and Don Rickles as practitioners of a type of humor that she calls insult comedy. (I would put Dame Edna in this category as well.) In the process of being rude, these comics also reveal some very incisive points about society and politics.

Indeed Nussbaum comments that the political journalist Rebecca Traister described this phenomenon… as “the finger trap.” “You are placed loosely within the joke, which is so playful, so light—why protest? It’s only when you pull back—show that you’re hurt, or get angry, or try to argue that the joke is a lie, or, worse, deny that the joke is funny—that the joke tightens. If you object, you’re a censor. If you show pain, you’re a weakling. It’s a dynamic that goes back to the rude, rule-breaking Groucho Marx—destroyer of élites!—and Margaret Dumont, pop culture’s primal pearl-clutcher.”

Isn’t that exactly what happens to ME when Bert sets him up with his fake injury using ketchup? Nothing ME did at that point could have salvaged his dignity. Another time this trap appears is when Pauline takes a picture of ME sleeping with the dog on the floor and then shares the picture around town. ME gets comedically “punished” regularly, either with pratfalls or with irreconcilable humiliations. His most prevalent rejoinder is one of superiority towards those who are discourteous to him. There’s almost a “tit for tat” element played out.

I am not saying that laughing at such situations is malicious, even if Hobbes would make that argument; however, I am proposing that we should step back and think about what it is that makes us laugh.

The Superiority Theory leads us to a discussion of the subject of self-esteem, which is how one views oneself or one’s attitude towards oneself. Self-esteem has been the subject of much study with prominent psychologists like Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, placing it in an important position in human development. I think we can leave it at the place where we recognize that there are people who have anything from high self-esteem to low self-esteem, and each of those markers is associated with particular personality characteristics. (We have already analyzed ME and LE on the MMPI, and we could get into where they fall on the Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale, but that is not what I want to concentrate on in this post.) More important is whether our own self-esteem is implicated in why we laugh, or accept without much reservation, that it’s admissible to laugh when comedians are uncivil to others.

First we need to agree on what it means to be uncivil. Civility goes beyond mere toleration, but may inherently imply a mutual co-existence and respect for humankind. It may interest you to know that George Washington wrote Rules of Civility as a teenager. It is a list of 110 ways for how to behave civilly. Obviously he felt compelled to set down some guidelines during his youth, and we can only imagine he had a reason to think society needed to know them. More recently there have been articles in psychology journals that address this concern as well. In the mentioned article, civility is defined as “awareness, self-control, empathy and respect…It requires us to treat others with decency, regardless of our differences. It demands restraint and an ability to put the interests of the common good above self-interests.” Even though I have not tried to find the statistics on current uncivil behavior, I think we can agree that between the online bullying and the overt impolite conduct too many young people exhibit towards adults (not to mention the name calling and other forms of belittling practiced by adults), we can come to the conclusion that uncivil actions have only increased. Should we be troubled by the expression of uncivil comportment in our comedy?

The controversy about civility and how to deal with it has been long standing. In that same recent book review in the NYT mentioned above, Hobbes is noted as having “feared that strident expressions of disagreement would threaten the diversity of views in society (much as hate speech is now thought to do), so he advocated an ethic of ‘civil silence,’ or public discretion: People could differ privately in their opinions as much as they wanted but should not openly dispute one another. Locke, by contrast, wanted to preserve public debate, but worried that too much diversity of opinion might jeopardize productive disagreement (the sort of concern campus speech codes now reflect). So he urged an ethic of ‘mutual charity,’ which required people to cultivate at least a minimal appreciation for the views of their opponents, or else be disqualified from debate. Both thinkers, in other words, imagined bringing about a tolerant society via suppression or exclusion — the very forces you would think a tolerant society would want to avoid.”

The review goes on to note that Roger Williams, a 17th C religious radical, “asked not that everyone keep quiet or respect his or her enemies, but merely that everyone not do anything to stop the conversation from going. Williams’s ‘mere civility’ demands more of us than Locke’s or Hobbes’s civility, in that it requires we have thicker skins about other people’s rudeness or disrespect; but it also demands less of us, in that we no longer have to muster respect for, or mute our criticism of, views we abhor.” In other words, he contrasts forbearance with tolerance.

Who is acting uncivilly in Doc Martin? Topping the list is the group of girls who regularly walk past ME and call him a tosser amongst other things. They are particularly bad when they mock him after Louisa leaves him and suggest he might want to date one of their mothers. Actually I have trouble thinking of any teenager in this show who isn’t disrespectful. From the boys on the beach who tell off ME to the delinquent Eleanor engages to watch James Henry to Becky Trevean and her cohort, they are all extremely impolite and disturbingly combative. Then there’s Becky Wead who writes the critical article of him in the school newspaper and Kelly Sparrock who tells him off and treats him with disdain even while he’s trying to diagnose her seizure disorder.

Apart from these members of Port Isaac’s community, we can include many others who speak disparagingly about the doc, often reflecting an obvious contempt for him. This group would include Allison, Danny and his mother, Mark’s sister, and Caroline (the radio Portwenn personality).

Among the people who are uncivil we can’t leave out Martin Ellingham himself. Could there be a more derogatory and insolent person than him? He is pugnacious towards his patients, generally suspicious of many of the motives of the townspeople, including Louisa, and, of course, has no social skills at all. His character is deliberately constructed in this manner, but we shouldn’t overlook this aspect of his personality. He cannot even restrain himself from giving the people of Portwenn a lecture on diet when he is delivering a eulogy of his beloved aunt.

The fact that these are offset by quite a few people who admire his medical ability and who manage to appreciate him despite his own uncivil behavior redeems him and provides sufficient agreeableness to his character. And Martin Ellingham is himself recuperated by some of the kindnesses he is capable of displaying.

I have previously argued that we don’t want to “fix” ME, or probably any of the characters. I would still maintain that though comedy may stem from uncivil behavior, it is rather harmless in this show. Still, the more we tolerate uncivil treatment of others, the more we may be accepting creeping incivility in our world.

Originally posted 2017-01-22 12:45:51.

About the car

(Sorry this took a while. I had a chance to go on a trip and enjoy some warm weather. Back to cold and wet again!)

For some reason I have neglected to mention the silver Lexus M drives throughout the series. For one thing, I think it should be included among the elements of the show that are indicative of class differences between M and the rest of the village. There aren’t many remarks made about the car by the people in the village, but the shiny, silver LS 430 certainly is noticeable against the pick-ups and mostly compact or worn-out vehicles commonly driven around town. (The one time that I remember somebody noting the car is in the final episode of S6 when M drives into the fruit stand to avoid running into a red van. The driver of the van angrily tells M he should use his “fancy car” rather than borrow the van.) Only the McLynns and Aunt Ruth drive cars of similar status, Mercedes.

I’m not sure why a Lexus was chosen as the emblematic car in the series. It could be something as simple as Lexus offering it for use in the show. From what I can gather, Lexus is not a popular car in the UK. Nevertheless, it is considered a luxury car and is definitely out of place in Portwenn with its narrow streets. Like the doc’s suits, it distinguishes M from the townspeople and is particularly unusual when he drives it down the dirt roads around the area and into the fields surrounding the town, sometimes literally. I’m sure that’s the point – even his car doesn’t fit in!

Its size does correspond to the doc’s height and when the airbags deploy on a fairly regular basis, they match up with the many times M otherwise bumps into things. The car also becomes a place where M sleeps on occasion. The first time is in the opening episode when M is looking for Ross and ends up in a muddy ditch. Thereafter, M dozes in the car when trying to get JH to sleep one morning in S5, and he falls asleep with JH in the seat next to him when L is in the hospital in S6. Under these circumstances the car becomes a refuge, a safe place away from home.

But much of the time it’s a location for some tension. Of course, the ride back to Louisa’s after they attend the concert and M spoils the passionate kiss L gives him is among the most tense. Her irritation with him is so palpable that he actually wants to turn on the radio. And then she delivers the blow of not wanting to see him any more. Ouch!

Some other tense moments in the car include Martin picking up his parents at the train station. It’s a mystery to him why they chose to visit and, as they haven’t spoken in 7 years, his mother is mostly silent, and he’s not much of a conversationalist, the ride to the village is uncomfortable at best. Then Danny flags them down because his car has died, and he piles his gear into the trunk. Now Martin has his estranged parents in the car along with the one man in the village he despises. Danny tries to be cheerful, an additional irritant, and he makes things even more awkward by not only thanking Martin, but also blessing him. I find all of this amusing while at the same time being testy.

Then there is the time when Martin speeds to find Louisa after Tommy’s Taxi has driven off the road. He’s worried about Louisa because she’s pregnant, and he has to deal with Tommy’s methanol poisoning. Louisa is worried about Tommy, and the ride is filled with urgency to get Tommy to a pub so alcohol can counteract the effects of the methanol. Hanging over the episode is the expectation that Martin is leaving for London and this sojourn is just a little side trip. The baby is born in the pub and the next episode begins at the hospital where Louisa has been checked for any postnatal complications. She’s free to go and Martin offers to drive her back to Portwenn with the baby. This car ride begins with Martin helping Louisa buckle into the back seat while she holds the baby, and they bicker over whether she will accompany him to London. Once on the road, they spar about the baby’s name and about Louisa going back to work, a constant battle in their relationship. Louisa reminds Martin that he’ll be returning to work, then Martin shocks her (and us) by telling her “they’d manage if you died.” Somehow all is well again once they get to Louisa’s house.

Finally we have the race to find JH when Mrs. T has absconded with him. Martin drives rapidly to the school to tell Louisa that Mrs. T has taken JH. He runs in to find Louisa while Ruth and Penhale wait in the car. Penhale brilliantly notes that Louisa is upset and probably mad at Martin when they come running out of the school towards the car. Once they take off to “the castle,” Martin reveals that Mrs. T has clippings of him in her wardrobe, something pretty disturbing for Louisa to hear. Penhale tries to calm down L only to make things worse, as usual. Ruth adds to the level of concern by explaining that no one can know what kind of psychological state Mrs. T is in and whether the child is safe. Obviously they are all on edge throughout the ride and remain so while looking for Mrs. T.

I found the incident when Martin talks to Edith while driving fast to see a sick patient pretty tense. Edith is waiting for him at lunch with Robert Dashwood from London who expects to talk to M about the London surgical position, but M brushes her off, a clear indication of his priorities. Going to lunch would be the best thing for his career move, but he cuts off Edith decisively and she is left to cover up for him. I would imagine she’s not too happy about it. Maybe it’s also a sign that Martin will not be pushed around by Edith.

Less significant but still tense moments in the car include the many times when the dogs find a way to get into the car. Martin either kicks them out or delivers them to others with a sneer. One of the few times when Martin voluntarily puts a dog in the car is when he backs over Mrs. Wilson’s Yorkie and wraps it in a newspaper to bring to her. And there is the time when Martin agrees to drive Mrs. Wilson home because he nearly ran into her on the street. He’s not pleased in the first place, and her dog is with her too. He also ends up taking Caroline home when she nearly crashes into Mark Mylow. M hasn’t figured out what’s going on with her, but she’s unsteady and can’t drive herself. She is angry at M and doesn’t hide it, but she accepts the ride as a last resort. The minute they get to her house, she exits the car without a word of thanks. The time in the car must have been pretty icy.

There’s no doubt that the car plays a symbolic role as a conspicuous feature of Dr. Martin Ellingham’s persona. It is anything but helpful to his overall image and adds to the many ways in which ME has trouble integrating with the village. Like so many of his personal characteristics, the car he brings with him magnifies his differences. Driving it and/or riding in it is no party either.

Originally posted 2014-03-07 22:07:09.

Grooming interludes

Every now and then Martin and Louisa show some interest in what they’re wearing and in looking in the mirror. In addition, there are a few scenes of them doing a few grooming activities, e.g. preparing for bed or getting the baby ready. It’s only natural to check out how you look, but sometimes when it happens on the show, it’s quite funny.

Here are some of them:
Before her interview for headmistress in S2E2, L checks her hair and face in the hallway mirror before leaving home. She practices her answers to potential questions and puts some gel in her hair while talking into the mirror. It’s sort of a way to get psyched up for the interview and gain confidence. Later, while being interviewed, she is stumped by a question she thinks she should have prepared for. Pressed for an answer, she says one of her top qualities for being appointed headmistress is that she’s a good listener. After the interview, she accuses Martin of being a terrible listener. It’s a great way for them to stand off against each other and amusing because Louisa is the one who has handled the situation best. It’s one of the many times when she puts ME in his place.

Before meeting L at the pub in S2E5, M checks his face and teeth and adjusts his tie while looking in a hand mirror (funny because he makes his teeth and smile appear comically grotesque). It makes us aware that he cares about how he looks, even if he’s pretty awkward about it.

Even though on Doc Martin Revealed Philippa says she objected when a writer included a scene with Martin taking off his jacket, in S3E2 Martin takes his jacket off to wash his hands at Louisa’s house when she’s got a stomach problem. Of course, he puts it back on after washing his hands so no one sees him without it, and Louisa’s bra gets caught in his jacket collar. There’s a brief embarrassing moment for L when she has to grab the bra. L’s bathroom is filled with her lingerie which would be discomfiting for any woman (or man for that matter). (M has previously been seen without his jacket while washing his car and in the very first episode when the plumbing has sprouted a leak and he holds a pillow over it to stop the water.)

When Mrs. Wilson begins to flirt with M in S3E4, Louisa definitely takes notice. She combats the possibility that Mrs. Wilson might become appealing to M by going to see him in his office after hours. Prior to knocking on his door, however, she stops to check herself in the mirror and makes her own comical faces, sticking out her tongue. She is wearing her hair down which should probably be deemed a more casual and sensual style since she mostly uses it when she is meeting M for dinner or a drink. (Her hair is also down when she’s in bed, which shouldn’t necessarily be taken as sensual. It’s pretty hard to sleep with hair in any kind of up do.)

Louisa dresses nicely for their date to the concert in S3E5. She takes particular care with her shoes and the camera shows her putting them on daintily. However, when she steps outside to the car, Martin wonders if she is wearing the best shoes for the occasion. (He notices shoes often: Edith’s, Louisa’s at the Wenns) He never changes his shoes with the exception of wearing slippers in one scene. I guess we’re just supposed to think that his concern for detail, and perhaps health, extends to women’s feet? Maybe the clothes make the man, the shoes make the woman?

While preparing for the first wedding, Martin checks his wardrobe and picks up the suit he had cleaned. Of course, it turns out the dry cleaner has given him the wrong item. Instead of his suit, he has a woman’s dress. It’s just another mix-up in a day filled with them, and comes up again when the cleaner brings the suit by later and thinks Martin and Louisa are back from their wedding ceremony. Not only is he wrong about that, but he wants to ask Martin a medical question. (We should add that to the repeated scenes since after they actually get married in S6, Chippy Miller asks Martin a medical question at the reception and later another villager shows up at the surgery to be treated the morning after, contributing to all the commotion in the house.)
Louisa also starts to dress for the wedding and looks in the mirror at herself while putting on her veil. When she stands looking at herself in the mirror fully fitted out in her wedding regalia, we can see she’s giving the situation some thought. Her stance in front of the mirror at her home is offset by the cut to Martin looking at himself in his suit in the mirror at his home. They both appear very serious, but it’s not absolutely clear that they have come to the same conclusion that marrying at this point does not feel right.

Series 4 has few moments when Louisa worries about her appearance. She’s pregnant and generally feels she’s enormous, although I think her pregnancy wardrobe is very nice. There is also the scene at the beach where Martin follows the headmaster into the water and is still dripping wet when Edith drives by. But, it’s really the hotel room occasion that brings grooming into play. Both Edith’s corset and Martin’s sense of propriety make for a comical interaction between them. He ends up changing in the bathroom and then departing for home.

Series 5 shows both Martin and Louisa in their night clothes a lot. It’s great to see Louisa wearing sloppy pjs with Uggs at times. There aren’t many new mothers who can take much time with their appearance. She still manages to look pretty good when she gets ready to leave the house. For me the best grooming scene is when Martin is in the bathroom getting ready for bed. He and Louisa are discussing the apartment in London while he uses a comb to squeeze the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube. It’s a great trick and conveys Martin’s frugality as well as his obsessiveness. The fact that he’s telling L that there’s a great science museum near the apartment is silliness because the baby is only a couple of months old.

Series 6 finds Martin preparing for their wedding again. This time M selects his suit and tie and finishes tying his tie while looking at himself in the mirror. Much like the first attempt at marrying, he still has a serious expression on his face, but this time we sense more determination in him. Of course the joke comes when he shows up at the church and Morwenna doesn’t think he’s changed since the start of the day. It is kind of hard to tell with him since he wears pretty much the same outfit every day, give or take a different color tie. We don’t see Louisa dressing this time. We simply see her when she appears at the door to the church. We do get a laugh when she tells Martin she was late because of trouble with her hair.

The other occasions in S6 that have to do with grooming include Martin and Louisa getting ready in the morning in E6. Martin can’t find his tie after L puts the baby on top of it on the bed, they deal with tight quarters in their bedroom, and L puts some cream on the baby’s face. L remarks that most of M’s ties are blue, but he disagrees. I have trouble figuring out where Louisa hangs her clothes. Closet space seems as limited in the house as all the other spaces are. Nevertheless, Louisa always looks nicely groomed. There’s also the quite caring scene at the hospital when Martin puts Louisa’s hair in a ponytail. He’s possibly trying to do his best to make up for the disastrous previous day. The final episode has Louisa in the bathroom collecting her wash supplies for her trip. There’s nothing funny at all about this scene. Actually it’s rather devastating seeing her in there with the door closed.

There are a few other villagers who are shown looking at themselves in the mirror, notably Mrs. T. She seems fairly ridiculous while sitting at her dressing table with her black neck brace on as she applies make-up. Carrie Wilson checks herself too. Caroline has a brief moment in the bathroom. If you take the subject to its utmost degree, we could include Mr. Flint and his woman’s wig and dress. We also see Margaret looking at herself in the mirror. In her case the mirror is reflective of her narcissism. In general, however, the grooming scenes are no more than humorous interludes.

Originally posted 2014-02-25 19:05:11.

Phrases and actions that are repeated

As I’ve watched DM, I’ve noticed that now and again there will be a comment that one character makes that resurfaces as something another character says later. I guess you could say turn around is fair play! I thought it would be fun to list the ones I’ve noticed and see if there are others anyone else knows of. I bet there are more. Here are the ones I’ve come up with so far:

Martin tells Edith he accepts her apology in S4E1; she tells him she accepts his apology in S4E8. In both cases neither of them actually apologizes.

Martin tells L she has bad breath in S1E6. Louisa is embarrassed and buys mouthwash. Edith tells ME he has bad breath in S4E3. He is later seen using mouthwash.

Martin calls the pub owner an officious oaf in S4E8; Penhale calls the airport security guard an officious man in S6E8.

Martin calls several people morons throughout the series; he’s called a moron by the caravan owner in S6E1. (It’s also great that Martin is always rejecting the dogs that hang around him and in this episode the caravan man tells Martin that his dog Edna is a good judge of character. This time she might reject him!)

Joan tells Martin that people don’t change in S3E5 and Martin disagrees saying they can if they want to. Ruth tells Louisa people don’t change in S5E6 and Louisa retorts they can if they want to.

Louisa tells Martin in S5E5 that she’s stuck in the house with JH and Martin: “It’s just you and me and the baby.” In S6E1 she tells Martin at the lodge that she is alone with him, but this time she’s happy about it: “It’s just you and me.”

There are also a couple of occasions when certain actions are repeated:
Louisa’s young neighbor is about to leave her house without her baby son in S4E6 and has to be reminded to take him; Margaret walks off without JH in S6E7 and is reminded by Ruth to take him.

Martin walks down the aisle in S6E1 to look for Louisa and we see him from behind; at the end of S6E8 he walks away from L and we watch from behind as he walks down the hall. Both times he’s all business and things are a bit uncertain, although the last time has a cloud over it.

Originally posted 2014-01-13 21:38:55.

S6 E1 and its funny scenes

The first time I watched S6 E1 I found it funny but I was more caught up in the wedding and the romance. But then I viewed it again when thinking about how Jack Lothian had written both E1 and E8 and found many points of comparison. I also realized how funny many of the scenes were and thought it would be very amusing to do a post that puts these funny moments in some order. It’s almost impossible to avoid writing down every scene in the episode, there are so many I find funny, so bear with me.

The way the episode’s humor proceeds is best divided into three categories: A. Funny aspects of the setting and atmosphere; B. Funny events and comments related to Ruth and her night with JH; C. Funny interactions between Martin and Louisa. Each of these divisions includes some hilarious moments, in my opinion, and I thought I would try to rate them according to a system of mildly funny, very funny, and funniest of all.

A. The beginning of the day contains all sorts of set-ups that are mildly funny:
1. Martin once again starts his wedding day by seeing patients. He still can’t take the day off. Not only that, but he’s doing a gyno exam! What a lovely way to prepare for a wedding.
2. When Morwenna sees him, she doesn’t think he’s changed his clothes. Kind of a riff on how he always dresses the same.
3. Penhale has been calling Martin and continues to act as though he’s the best man even brushing off Martin’s shoulder, something that Martin finds annoying. Penhale can’t help himself and still checks to see if Louisa has arrived and says he doesn’t have the ring and he can be trusted not to run off with the bride.
4. The Vicar is rather sardonic when they’re waiting for Louisa to show up. He may still have some resentments toward Martin from the first wedding preparations. Whether that’s true or not, it’s funny to hear him tell Martin that one groom waited 3 hours before realizing that the bride had run off with the best man and then start whistling and checking his watch.

The next background event that is mildly amusing is the moment when the Vicar asks if anyone has an objection to speak now and baby James cries. Then Ruth says “out of the mouth of babes.” It’s a snicker moment.

After the wedding the mildly funny moments are: Martin hating the confetti, Bert and Al eating the food and discussing its quality, Penhale breaking the wine glass before his speech. (Personally I found Bert’s interruptions of Penhale’s speech irritating more than funny, although I would not have liked to hear all of Penhale’s jokes either.) Other mildly funny aspects are: Louisa never taking off her veil, Bert telling Martin and Louisa about spending his honeymoon naked, and Martin checking the bed in the Lodge.

The very funny moments that have to do with the circumstances surrounding the wedding are:
1. Bert driving off without giving them their suitcases and Louisa telling Martin they can rough it for one night. Boy was that an understatement!!
2. The caravan owner asking them about their fancy clothes. It’s hard to imagine that Louisa could be wearing anything but a wedding dress, but they explain that it’s their wedding day and this is their honeymoon. The man congratulates them while pointing a rifle at them.
3. The man keeps yelling “Edna” who he explains is his dog and a good judge of character. (That’s funny in the sense that Martin is being judged by a dog, and because Edna is a dog and not the man’s wife.)
4. Next they have to mend the chicken coop and the man repeats the phrase “You broke it, you fix it,” which is a paraphrase of “You break it, you own it” used by Gen. Colin Powell and others about Iraq.
5. Martin has now fallen twice and will fall one more time before the night is over. That’s particularly pertinent because the caravan owner calls Martin a “clumsy git.” He’s also called Martin a moron. I doubt Martin’s been called either epithet very often. It’s hard not to laugh now that the tables have been turned on Martin.
6. The final scene when Martin and Louisa return home covered with dirt and blood and are invaded by all the principles who are shocked by their appearance. Their only explanation is that it’s not their blood and they’re all right. Of course someone shows up and needs medical attention, plus the commotion would not be complete without the barking dog.

For me the funniest moment of the overall scenes surrounding the wedding is when Martin and Louisa are driving off in the old limo and Martin stops the car so he can tear off the cans tied to the rear bumper. I don’t know how planned the actual scene was, but I found it extremely funny when Martin’s feet get tangled in the rope and then he grabs the rope and throws it in Penhale’s direction making Penhale duck to avoid being hit. Everyone laughs and Penhale holds up the cans. To me, that could have been an outtake but they kept it in.

B. Ruth and the humor surrounding her:
Much of what Ruth tells JH is quite funny.
1. We first see her feeding JH, but he’s not interested and has food all over his face. She tells him he’s bordering on the anti-social and that the food is delicious. After she takes one bite, however, she can’t help grimacing and telling him she stands corrected — the food is disgusting. (Baby food would not be too enticing to most of us.)
2. Soon she’s trying to get JH to go to sleep and tells him sleep aids neural development. Not only that, but all the other babies are doing it at that time and if he doesn’t, he will fall behind the other children. It’s great to see her talking to a small baby as if he’s capable of understanding logical arguments, and her position is he should be worried about how he looks to the others. Just what most mothers try to avoid.
3. As she’s walking around the kitchen with JH and he’s finally beginning to fall asleep, the lights go out and she just says “Bugger!” We’ve all been there at one point or another with babies.
4. Ruth calls Al for help. By the time he shows up she’s lit numerous candles so she has some light. Al walks in and asks what the problem is and Ruth can’t help showing some exasperation. “The lights have blown!” she says, with a look of disbelief. Then Al asks a few questions as if he might know something, but eventually tells her that even with the right tools he wouldn’t be able to fix it.
5. Soon Penhale looks in and wonders if he’s missed the seance. Naturally he tries to fix the problem but injures himself instead. Now Bert appears and Ruth sarcastically tells him to join the group since everyone else is there. No one in the house is helping in any way, and Penhale’s wounded forehead becomes the focus. Ruth tells him her medical advice is to “stick a plaster on it and shut up!”
6. Luckily Al knows to call Mike Pruddy and he fixes the electrical short. He also tells Ruth that JH is teething and finds some vanilla essence to soothe him. Her immediate reaction is “This isn’t the 16th century. He’ll need an analgesic (medication is her first solution).” But the vanilla works and Ruth now says she could cry “if she hadn’t been raised to show no emotion.”

But the funniest moment with Ruth is after Mike puts JH to bed and she tells him that he’s a very competent man – a rarity around there. Mike has his doubts but Ruth reassures him by saying he could be “an agoraphobic schizophrenic.” Mike smiles and says, “We can always look on the sunny side!”

C. Finally we have to look at the many funny moments between Martin and Louisa:
First the mildly funny moments –
1. The first big moment between Martin and Louisa comes when M sees L at the entrance to the church. He’s thunderstruck and they just stare at each other until L starts motioning him to walk back down the aisle to the Vicar. M finally gets it and does the walk.
2. Once L arrives at the altar, L tells M she was late because of her hair and the Vicar has to tell them to stop talking. (Her hair problem is something that women often struggle with and it’s funny that she uses that as her reason for being late.)
3. M does not stick with the proper protocol and skips some vows, puts the rings on quickly and without letting L put his on him.
4. At the wedding M agrees to dance the first dance but L steps on his foot. When asked if she’s ever had lessons, L admits she has not and M isn’t surprised.
5. They make it out of the wedding and agree to spend a night in a lovely, isolated lodge. They have a few romantic interactions and this time there’s no one to interrupt them. However, M can’t help responding to L literally when she says “whatever you say.” He tells her he didn’t say anything. He follows that by telling her he’ll light a fire.
6. L asks him why men always want to light a fire. She wonders if it’s a caveman thing but changes her mind when M explains the intricacies of getting a good fire going.
7. They have a few minutes during which M actually makes a small joke. But it’s a start and L is amused. The moment is short-lived because pretty soon the room is filled with smoke. M puts the fire out with the champagne and the fireplace explodes spewing soot into his face. They have to leave the building coughing.

At this point the humor picks up and we go from mildly funny to outright hilarious:
1. M hands L her shoes and sets out to find a phone. L would rather stay at the lodge, but can’t convince M. She tries to make the best of it by thinking a walk could be romantic, but not the way M decides to proceed. He’s walking so fast she can’t catch up, especially since she’s wearing her wedding dress and heels. Then he tells her if they stick to the path they can’t go wrong and she responds, “Of course, because nothing about a long distance hike in a wedding dress is at all wrong.”
2. Soon L tells M they’re definitely going the wrong way, but he’s still not certain that’s true. (Here he’s acting like a typical man who can’t believe he doesn’t know what direction to go in.) She explains they’re now in the middle of a forest and he corrects her that it’s actually a wood.
3. Eventually they reach a stream and M has to acknowledge they might have taken a wrong turn. L refuses to wade across the stream so M tells her he’ll carry her. He has trouble picking her up but ends up carrying her piggy back. (At least they’re holding each other!)
4. The trip across the stream is very funny because L picks this moment to ask how M imagined they’d be spending their wedding night. He says, “Not like this! This was a mistake. We should be at home.” Their conversation continues as he wades across the stream with L on his back. M had not wanted a honeymoon and L had agreed, but the reason she agreed turns out to be because she didn’t want to drag him off and have him complaining. Now M wants to know if L actually did want a honeymoon and she baffles him when she says she wanted him to want one. Like most men, he’s totally lost and cannot understand that logic. This exchange is how many married couples bicker and can’t help but make us laugh.
5. L has reached a point of frustration and agrees that this was a big mistake and she’s ready to find a phone and be done with the night.
6. As she’s stomping off, M tells her she’s being unreasonable because she agreed to one thing when actually she wanted another. This prompts L to pose a hypothetical scenario of an elaborate wedding and honeymoon, but she doesn’t complete it because M falls down a hill and she loses track of him. After she runs down to help him, they hear someone yelling. M is alarmed, but L is 99% sure it’s a farmer yelling at foxes. At least that means there’s someone nearby to ask for a phone.
We then go through the scenes where they meet the caravan owner and M falls again, this time into the chicken coop. The man tells M he’ll have to fix it and M starts to gently knock the pole into the ground. When the man insults M, L has the gumption to say that “good manners cost nothing.” Of course that leads to the man calling L a little “doolally.”
7. The man decides he would be better off fixing the post himself but ends up swinging and missing and dislocating his shoulder. (When the man puts his rifle down to pick up the sledgehammer, L takes the rifle and tells the man he owes M an apology. She’s motioning so much with the rifle that M is nervous around her.) M tells the man he’ll soon be in severe pain, at which point L tries to soften the comment only to have M confirm he meant what he said.
8. The pain relents briefly and M explains that endorphins have reduced it, but it isn’t long before the man says he’s running out of endorphins (which sounds funny coming out of an earthy man). He asks L to get him some whiskey and as she goes inside to look for the bottle, the man tells M he knows what he’s thinking – he’s jealous because he wants a caravan of his own. M responds sarcastically, “Yes, that’s just what I’m thinking.”
9. M fixes the dislocation and feels pretty smug about it, pulling down his cuffs and saying “It’s a simple procedure.” L says, “Well done Martin.” But immediately after that M’s clumsiness returns. He backs up, falls over the dog, and brings the awning down on all of them. (It’s like what we’ve always been told, don’t get too arrogant because the moment you think things are going well, something bad happens.)

You may have noticed that I did not fully describe one major scene between M and L: the one where M corrects L about whether they’re in a forest or a wood. I left it out because I consider that scene by far the funniest of the episode and possibly of the entire series. I absolutely love the realistic badinage between M and L. First L says, “Seriously, is that your argument, we’re going the wrong way and the best you can do is split hairs over whether it’s a forest or a wood?” At this point they hear a noise and M says (in an increasingly angrier voice, “Hallo, who’s there? Show yourself. I want this to stop. This is my final warning.”) Suddenly a pony appears out of the dark and M jumps. L can’t help herself and says, “You’re really not the outdoor type.” (We can even look at this as an inside joke again because MC likes animals, and horses especially, and seems to be an outdoor type in real life.) The pony trots off and they walk a few more steps before L shouts to be careful. M jumps again but this time L is joking. She tells him she thought she saw a rabbit and didn’t want him to get a fright or get into a confrontation. She mocks him, repeating, “This is my final warning. Show yourself.” She laughs and again says, “Final warning.” He tells her he was only trying to protect her, but for me this is a perfect scene because it’s light, it’s a wonderful example of how M can be so stiff and L can just have a laugh, and L is doing her best to have some fun during this crazy wedding night.

The above includes so much that I’m almost giving a rundown of the entire episode. As with the last episode of S5, this episode is so well written and conceived it deserves to be thoroughly appreciated. It’s rare to find such good dialogue that includes so many good lines. I suppose it would have been hard to reproduce this sort of interaction for every episode, but I’d like to see more of it. I think Jack Lothian should write the entire series 7!

Originally posted 2013-11-16 18:26:03.

Good Grief! Or Fear, Loss, and Time

Our blog supporter, Santa, has noticed that there is a significant theme of loss running through this show. I am embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t picked up on that, but now that she has mentioned it, I certainly can see much evidence of it. In the case of Doc Martin, we have to consider the amount of loss, with its concomitant sense of grief in all its forms, as one way it incentivizes us to sympathize with the main protagonist as well as others who experience loss in the show. Although we can identify many characters in this show as having experienced significant losses, I want to focus mostly on Martin Ellingham as a means of investigating how loss is both subliminally and overtly accentuated and most likely forms the basis for how viewers become dedicated to the show. The regular inclusion of the experience of loss impacts viewers emotionally such that they find themselves receptive to the relationship between Martin and Louisa as well as Martin and the town. (I think the idea of loss is cunningly used to also make viewers more likely to tolerate the behavior of other characters in the show too.) As caring people, we are inclined to pity characters who suffer in some way.

Once I started thinking about the occasions of loss in this show, I began to notice that each series contains at least one example of loss for Martin Ellingham. S1: ME arrives in Portwenn after losing his ability to perform surgery. At the same time he has lost his home and his daily routine. S2: ME thinks he has lost his chance to have a relationship with Louisa because Danny has displaced him. Then, when things seem to have gone his way and Danny leaves, he goes one step further and insults Louisa by accusing her of stalking him, curtailing the likelihood of being in a romantic liaison with her. His parents come to visit and he is forced to realize that they never wanted him and they have no respect for him. Therefore, he could be said to have lost any illusion that his parents care about him, although we know he continues to believe his childhood was fairly normal. S3: He subverts his date with Louisa and once again loses her. He manages to win her back, but the series ends with her telling him she doesn’t want to marry him after all and she departs for London. S4: He appears to have lost any chance at reuniting with Louisa, especially after she sees him with Edith when she first returns from London. He certainly loses his chance at a job as a surgeon in London by still being unprepared and by giving it low priority, and then because he changes his mind. S5: Joan dies and he loses the aunt he had a strong attachment to. Once again he loses whatever family harmony they had developed when Louisa leaves after he neglects to consult her one too many times. S6: He loses control over his blood phobia and his emotional stability, and he once again loses any close feelings he’s had with Louisa as he sinks into depression. S7: He loses his home and his hope for recuperating his marriage. His concern for Ruth and effort to prevent her from leaving by rushing to the train station shows how much she means to him and that her departure would mean another loss for him.

In general the losses he suffers are ones most associated with family, either his childhood and his interactions with his parents or the times when he tries to create a family of his own. We can even link his original onset of haemophobia and his consequent departure from surgery to family in that the reason he could not perform surgery was the realization that a family and a real person were involved. Edith and he had been engaged at one time only to have her terminate the relationship; now Louisa has become his love interest, but their efforts to connect are cut off over and over again. We could say that ME longs for the family he never had.

We can start with the loss of his childhood, which may have begun immediately after his birth. We know his mother rejected him at the outset, that he was treated harshly from an early age including punishment by being locked in small spaces, that he was sent away to school at age 6 3/4, and that he wet his pants until he was 11. We are pretty sure he got no affection from his parents, and Ruth has noted that he went from an active and engaging little boy until the age of 4 to a withdrawn and quiet young boy thereafter.

They’ve made so much of his childhood and his summer stays with Aunt Joan that we can hardly ignore their effort to make a connection between those circumstances and how he behaves as an adult. However, what seems to be at the core of all of these scenes during which we either see or hear about what went on in the Ellingham family is they were all fundamentally rejected by their parents. We especially gain some insight into Ruth’s childhood when she first tells Louisa that her childhood “gifted her with a chronic case of social awkwardness…distant mother, overbearing father, a succession of quasi-sexual encounters at a very young age” and a tendency to alienate or overshare. Later she mentions that she was never allowed to call her father “Daddy.” That must have been true for Joan and Christopher too. Furthermore, both Joan and Christopher have had troubled marriages. Joan went the route of an extramarital affair while Christopher simply spurned his wife. Among the three siblings, there is only one child, Martin. Kind of says a lot right there! On the other hand, if Martin had a cousin that would have complicated the story unnecessarily. This way we have parents who rejected him, an aunt who loved him but whose influence was limited due to his parents and their Victorian ideas, and another aunt who is equally unemotional and repressed as he is but can relate to him on a professional level. Later Ruth becomes more personal and more protective of him, but by then he is in his forties. Whatever contact he had with his extended family involved losses — loss of summers with Joan and lack of regular interaction with Ruth.

As a result of all of the information we’ve been given about Martin and the Ellingham family, I think we have to put some thought into how loss in this show is heavily placed on family and parental rejection. Therefore, rather than look at loss from the perspective of death, despite death being a factor here too, I want to introduce a different angle from all the theories related to death and dying.

The theory that has really intrigued me is that of Ronald P. Rohner, professor Emeritus of Family Studies and Anthropology at the University of Connecticut. He has developed the PARENTAL ACCEPTANCE-REJECTION THEORY or PART which grew out of cross-cultural studies he’s done to determine how children cope with parental rejection. In an article entitled “Introduction to IPARTheory,” several pertinent statements stand out beginning with “many rejected persons close off emotionally in an effort to protect themselves from the hurt of further rejection. That is, they become less emotionally responsive. In so doing they often have problems being able or willing to express love and in knowing how to or even being capable of accepting it from others.” We have certainly seen ME protect himself by using distancing methods like medical speak or inappropriate comments. He rarely leaves himself open to accepting expressions of concern or love from others. Aunt Joan can grab a hug now and then, but Martin is usually very uncomfortable with it. And any time Louisa tries to demonstrate her feelings for him, he is quite edgy or embarrassed. (As always I want to remember that much of his behavior is meant to be funny, and it makes us laugh to hear him make remarks that are clearly so off-putting. Here I’m just trying to apply some rational thinking to it as well.)

The article also notes that “insofar as children and adults feel their attachment figures don’t love them, they are likely to feel they are unlovable, perhaps unworthy of being loved.” In addition, this research asserts that “rejected individuals develop a fear of intimacy.” This exact sentiment seems to get played out when Martin is told by Ruth that he doesn’t think he deserves Louisa and when Martin is unable to confide in Louisa. (Adult attachment figures are usually romantic relationships. In 1987, “Hazan and Shaver argued that adult romantic relationships, like infant-caregiver relationships, are attachments, and that romantic love is a property of the attachment behavioral system, as well as the motivational systems that give rise to caregiving and sexuality.” (A Brief Overview of Adult Attachment Theory and Research by R. Chris Fraley | University of Illinois))

Martin seems to have carried over his childhood attachment issues into adulthood, which is not always likely to happen. Studies also quoted in the above overview note “attachment styles in the child-parent domain and attachment styles in the romantic relationship domain are only moderately related at best.” I cannot expect that the writers of this show would have looked up any of this and simply may have made an educated guess that Martin’s experiences in childhood would lead to having problems with attachment in adulthood. Regardless of the exact conditions, Martin and Louisa’s rocky love life is connected to their childhoods and their relationships with their parents. The loss and recovery dynamic they go through time and again could easily be associated with their latent insecurities due to their perceived rejection during their childhoods.

That the Doc Martin writers, et. al. planned for the members of the Ellingham family to show signs of suffering from these sorts of repercussions is unlikely; however, we can retrospectively observe how some of their behavior fits the theory. (My personal position is that much of the development of these characters comes post-hoc. They started with the irony of a surgeon who can’t perform surgery due to the sudden onset of a blood phobia, and who moves to Portwenn to be near his aunt with whom he spent several nice summers, and who is skittish about fitting in. After the first series, they realized his behavior needed some sort of origin and bringing in the family would add conflict as well as more sympathy for him.)

All of the older Ellingham generation show different levels of coping skills. Martin’s behavior has some signs of Asperger’s, but PARTheory points out an alternative diagnosis: reaction to being rejected. More than anything, however, the Ellinghams are a family in which loss plays a significant role and they have compounded the losses encountered by Christopher, Joan, and Ruth by passing those on to Martin. The family heritage is filled with doctors along with emotionless misfits.

Martin does suffer some loss through death too. The biggest blow would have been from Joan’s sudden death. He may try to comfort himself by judging her age as within expectations for lifespan, but she was the only source of affection for him apart from Louisa. Although she is replaced by Aunt Ruth fairly quickly, Joan had been the one member of his family who had had some history with him. Her death leaves him more than ever in search of a family circle. It isn’t long before he abruptly learns about his father’s death. In both cases, Martin is given no time to adjust to the news. The loss of his father intensifies the loss of control he feels from the return of his haemophobia and he retreats even farther into his protective cocoon. Nevertheless, even when he is in the doldrums in S6, he considers his family to consist of his wife, his son, and Ruth. That he essentially chases Louisa away and finds himself alone again after she leaves for Spain with James, accentuates the losses he has engendered in his life.

Whenever there is loss, it is usually accompanied by grief, or a grieving process. The stoic in Martin Ellingham never exhibits much behavior associated with grief with the exception of the scene following the concert date when Louisa decides to end their dating, and some scenes in S6, e.g. when he sits in the car with James while Louisa is in the hospital and again when he becomes tearful after the operation on Louisa. In those two occasions his emotions get the better of him and we are intended to empathize with the pain he experiences from knowing that he has come close to losing Louisa. The sight of ME struggling with his feelings pulls at our heartstrings, and it may be the best reason to have taken such a dramatic turn in S6.

I have already mentioned Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and her 5 stages of grief in a previous post. She expressed her theory in 1969 in her book On Death and Dying. The five stages are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. These stages are self-explanatory I think, and we should keep in mind that not everyone goes through each stage and the stages may be experienced in a different order. They were primarily developed for people who had been given a diagnosis of a terminal illness. Her theory has been supported by other studies, but, not surprisingly, there also have been studies that have modified it or come to other conclusions. George Bonanno argues there are four trajectories of grief: resilience, recovery, chronic dysfunction, delayed grief or trauma. And Susan Berger, Ed.D., LICSW, has identified 5 ways we grieve. In her model there are nomads, memorialists, normalizers, activists and seekers. I think both of these theories can add dimension to our basic understanding of grief.

Bonanno, a professor of clinical psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University, did his work in the early 2000s. He’s credited with using scientific studies to support his theories and with replacing older notions about grief with the demonstration that most people exhibit a lot of resilience following a loss. Resilience surfaces even when people face extreme stressors or losses, which contradicts the stages model of grief. His article “Loss, Trauma, and Human Resilience” explains his theory.

Following the loss of control over his haemophobia, Martin’s ability to handle the arrival of his mother is compromised. Her news of his father’s death, and her imposition on their home life, are rather traumatic. Due to the adjustments Martin has had to make to having a wife and child, perhaps his depression is more like PTSD and that’s why it doesn’t last into S7. (Admittedly, I am groping here, but it’s fun to speculate.)

Berger notes that most people fall into the category of nomads, and Martin could easily fit into that group. We could also make a case for him as a “normalizer.” He doesn’t have many friends, but he has decided to emphasize family first and then the community, mostly consisting of Morwenna, and possibly Penhale and Mrs. Tishell. They all contribute to returning his life to its former state.

Other losses registered in this show are:

  • Louisa essentially has lost her mother and father during childhood. She has lost her job in Portwenn and in London. She has felt the loss of having the occasional closeness she has gotten from Martin. So many times he’s told her he can’t bear to live without her, he loves her and will always love her, he thinks she’s beautiful and a caring mother, etc. However, he has also shut her out time and again, treated her disrespectfully, and embarrassed her in front of others. He’s also shunned many of her efforts to be affectionate. She can’t help but be confused and disoriented by his erratic behavior towards her.
  • Joan has lost her association with Martin when he was a child. She’s lost her husband and her relationship with her brother is very strained. She is on the verge of losing her farm and possibly her car/driving privileges. The loss of her farm would be devastating to her. Some of her friends have died and her lover, John Slater, is terminally ill. She’s a fighter, but her life has been very tough.
  • Ruth has never had much of a family life and her attachments to siblings appears fragile. Moving to Portwenn has meant losing her life in London and her professional interactions. At least she takes trips back to London to refresh herself from time to time. She has probably gained a few things too. She has never had as close a relationship with a relative until she establishes herself near Martin, and this has led to becoming close to Louisa and others in the town. But her constant refrain is that she isn’t ready to stop working, and continuing to work now means traveling. By the end of S7, we see a Ruth who may be thinking of being more active at the B&B rather than attending more conferences.
  • Bert has lost his wife and then his fiancée, and now he’s lost his home. He flits from job to job with little attachment to any of them — perhaps until this new plan of making whiskey. His most recent venture, the restaurant, has had many ups and downs until failure finally overtakes it.
  • Mrs. Tishell has lost her dignity and her mind. Her husband’s long absences mean that she is alone much of the time and she doesn’t seem to have any friends.
  • Al struggles to find his way. He’s lost his mother, although his father did a good job of filling that void. He’s abandoned many ideas and he’s lost in love. He may now have lost his independence from his father.
  • Penhale has lost his wife, his brother, and has a lonely existence. This new attraction to Janice seems pretty pathetic and destined to go nowhere. Once we hear that she’s been married 3 times at such a young age, we can’t expect anything reliable to come of her potential romance with Joe.
  • Many townspeople have lost much. There are many broken families, and several have had deaths in their families.

All in all, for a comedy/dramedy, we have a lot of loss in this show. It’s fascinating to consider how they have managed to make us laugh while depicting characters with so much deprivation. It does make for a show with an undercurrent of misfortune that I would speculate causes viewers to feel closer to the characters. At the same time, the tribulations are varied enough and often arise from such zany circumstances that we can’t help but find them funny. Bert’s restaurant certainly made me think twice before eating out!!

 

 

 

Originally posted 2016-03-18 16:10:42.

Professional Opinion v. Folk Wisdom

After writing so much about the poor representation of professional therapy in S7, I want to say something about how Doc Martin weighs in on the reliability of professional advice as opposed to that of all sorts of other people in Portwenn. Part of the problem with making such distinctions is that there could be many reasons why those decisions were made by the powers that be. I think that one very likely reason is that Martin Ellingham’s skills need to be differentiated from the other professionals. His medical knowledge is supposed to appear superior to any other doctor or nurse.  As a result we see him berate and humiliate other doctors and nurses. One reason we may see various residents of Portwenn make comments to him (and Louisa) is that small towns are like that. His neighbors can hear the baby cry or they quickly know about any altercation. Many times Louisa finds out about something Martin did by hearing from someone in town. He’s a prominent person in the town and eventually becomes a part of life in Portwenn. The townspeople begin to offer unsolicited advice as a way to reassure him even when they ought to be aware that he won’t be very appreciative of it. Indeed, that adds to the humor — his general irritation with anyone giving him advice is only further evidence that he is abrasive and unwelcoming. So, we recognize how the advice coming from either professionals or non-professionals works as an integral part of the character development and plot. On the other hand, the preponderance of examples of really clumsy, deficient, and blundering professionals seems to me to demonstrate a bias against professionals. Meanwhile, the number of times we can point to when non-professionals provide insightful and meaningful counseling also gives us pause and makes us wonder if the position of the show is that professionals are suspect and should rarely be respected, and regular folks, the uneducated but replete with life experience types, are the ones to listen to.

The show has included a fairly large number of medical professionals throughout the years, and when you look at them, most are quite incompetent. Among the doctors who can be listed as questionable are Adrian Pitts (S1), Dr. Milligan (S4), Diana Dibbs (S5), Colin Westmore (S6), and the doctor who treats Louisa after her car accident (S6). Adrian is the pits with an even worse bedside manner and attitude than Doc Martin and an insulting treatment of his female coworkers. Dr. Milligan (who may be either a psychiatrist or a psychologist) seems lost and has transgressed patient confidentiality by talking to Edith about Martin and admitting to accepting her suggestions. Diana Dibbs is clearly an anxious mess who abuses drugs, unethically shares her drugs with patients, writes prescriptions without proper examinations, and doesn’t realize she has Cushing’s disease. Colin Westmore is obviously out of his league and much too novice and hesitant for anyone to have confidence in his abilities as a surgeon. The doctor with no name who treats Louisa has neglected to check her adequately and is unaware that she has a DVT, which can be life threatening. (Dr. Timoney in S7 is definitely not a medical doctor; however, like Dr. Milligan, she is quite lacking in therapeutic skills and struggles to deal with marital problems. She eventually divulges confidential information and acts unstable.)

We should put Edith in this category as well because as much as she appears knowledgable about her field, she misses the diagnosis of diverticulitis and would have rushed into unnecessary surgery with little compunction. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, she also unethically asks Louisa about her sex life when gestation age is determined by a woman’s last menstrual period not when she last had sex. In fact, her sleazy demeanor while undermining Louisa to Martin makes her appear petty and disturbingly unscrupulous.

Then there are the other professionals, e.g. the Vicar, the Constable, the Chemist, and the Doctor’s Friend. Most of these are also depicted as compromised in some way. I appreciate the humor, of course, but still it’s hard to overlook the general tendency to denigrate the professionals. The Vicar is a drunkard, both Constables have major hangups: Mark is very insecure while Joe has been phobic and is buffoonish, the Chemist has her Martin obsession and medicates herself to the point of psychosis, and the Doctor’s Friend…well, he’s about as unctuous and repellent as possible. Louisa easily catches him distorting his negative appraisal of Martin with opinions from suspect residents of Portwenn.

In addition, we are presented with a group who we could consider professional, but who occupy a sort of grey area between actual professionals in their fields and pseudo-medical professionals. This list includes people like Sandra Mylow, the Herbalist, Anthony Oakwood, a research psychologist, Janet Sawle, a scientist, Molly O’Brien, the midwife, and Angela Sim, the veterinarian. They are in fields related to medicine and consider themselves qualified to make medical recommendations; however, we find their training and expertise lacking. Sandra earns Martin’s disdain when she willingly provides potions for people she’s never met, not to mention the fact that he considers her type of medical care akin to trickery. Anthony Oakwood is arrogant and his study of psychology is belittled when he excuses his son’s behavior with the jargon of a researcher rather than a parent. He’s the stereotype of a pedant and stunningly out of touch with reality. (We might have thought Martin’s tendency to be engrossed in medical journals and medical terminology could have ended up giving them something in common, but Martin has no respect for this egotistical Ph.D.) Janet Sawle is presented as a mad scientist concocting who knows what in her basement, and Molly O’Brien takes extreme positions about women’s health. Once again she’s a caricature of a midwife with few redeeming characteristics. It doesn’t take long for Louisa to dispense with her once she needs real medical care for a UTI. (There was a point during this scene when I thought “they” were making fun of the serious scenes between Martin and Julie Graham when Julie plays a midwife in William and Mary and gives birth to her baby in a birthing tub.) And, finally, who can take a homeopathic veterinarian seriously? Not only is it patently absurd that anyone can understand dogs by running their hands over their bodies and sensing a deep connection with them, but also she medicates herself with dog medication and becomes hallucinatory. I guess we could say she learned her approach to medicine from her father, who, by the way, is also remembered as mostly incompetent. His best treatment plan was giving Stewart placebos for his PTSD.

All of the above might be considered credentialed in some form and, therefore, people from whom we might expect unsolicited advice. Oddly enough, however, there isn’t much worthwhile advice emanating from the professionals listed above. For the most part the doctors with whom Martin interacts need his advice and have nothing much to say that might help him. The two medical doctors who stand out from this crowd of relative losers are Edith and Ruth. Edith focuses on Martin’s blood phobia and seems determined to rid him of it so that he can move back to London. Her motive Is mostly selfish because she wants to reignite a romance with him; nevertheless, she is helpful in confronting the phobia. What she suggests doesn’t work, but at least she gives it a whirl. She also tries to discourage Martin from losing heart about leaving Portwenn by telling him he’ll feel much better once he gets to London. (Of course this takes place after he has been pretty forthright about not wanting to be with her and she is unwilling to accept that.) Ruth is another matter. As both an aunt and a doctor, she tries to balance her medical advice with personal concern for him. She seems unconvinced at first that marriage is a good choice, although she does what she can to get the marriage off to a good start. She recommends seeking therapy to conquer his blood phobia in S6, does her best to get rid of Margaret, who she knows could only be there to cause trouble, and she continually tries to smooth things with Louisa. In S7 she finds a therapist she believes will be a good fit for him, convinces Louisa to participate in the therapy sessions, and checks in from time to time to see how he’s doing.  Of the medical professionals, she is the only one who offers useful advice even if we later decide that her suggestion of Dr. Timoney turns out to be a bust. Although she says a few contradictory things about whether people can change, I think her best advice comes when Martin is desperate for some guidance after Louisa leaves for Spain. Ruth first asks him if he wants to be with Louisa and then answers his affirmative response by telling him he must change and that he will find that harder to do than most. (Ruth gives others some good advice too. She tells Penhale he can attract more friends by being more complimentary; she tells Al to write his own story and stop delaying; and she tells Margaret to leave Martin alone.)

On the other hand, all of the aforementioned pseudo medical professionals have no qualms about giving advice to Martin. Sandra tells him he should consider doing more for his patients than prescribing medicine. Janet Sawle is suspicious of modern medicines and too many antibiotics, although her reservations are complicated by the uneasy relationship she has with her ailing sister. Molly O’Brien expresses popular concerns to Louisa about the overbearing demands of too many male doctors on their female patients and the hazards of using too many antibiotics. Naturally, her advice to ignore Martin’s recommendation to take antibiotics for Louisa’s UTI backfires and Louisa spikes a fever. (Both the Sawle case and Louisa’s condition point out that the fear of antibiotic resistance is sometimes carried to extremes and there are times when antibiotics are necessary.) Moreover, Molly’s portrayal of women being victimized by their male physicians is particularly offensive to Louisa. She considers herself well equipped to handle Martin and her life. Angela Sim’s advice to Martin mostly arrives through the vehicle of Buddy who she channels as if she is a dog psychic. She tells Martin he and Buddy have unresolved issues. In a scene reminiscent of the one with Sandra Mylow in S2, she also tells him he’s small minded because he can’t think outside the box of routine medical treatments. Later she tells him that “Buddy knows how lonely and unhappy you are, and he wants to help you. You must let him into your life. You need Buddy. You need to accept him.” At this point she starts to appear off-kilter, which could be construed as undercutting her advice. While she’s right that Martin is lonely and unhappy and needs help, hearing that from a dubious source will not have much of an impact on Martin.

But what happens throughout each series is many occasions when we have non-professionals who have no hesitation offering their opinions and advice to either Louisa or Martin. These include relatives, employees, patients, and so-called friends. Some stray townspeople jump into the advice business from time to time as well. Top on the list of non-professionals who have their own notions of what Martin should do is Louisa. Aunt Joan never holds back either. Bert can say some remarkably insightful things. Al, all the receptionists, Roger Fenn, John Slater, Muriel Steel, Danny, both Eleanor and Margaret, Mark Mylow, Peter Cronk, William Newcross, Wallace Flynt all give advice at some point. Even the fish monger, neighbor Mike Chubb, the dry cleaner, and caravan owner Bellamy take a turn. We can’t leave out Pippa, Erica Holbrook and Annie Winton either. In fact, the American Tourist has some words of advice for Martin before she leaves.

Louisa’s advice starts at the intake interview to determine whether they should hire Martin Ellingham as the next GP in Portwenn. Before the interview ends, she warns Martin that the Portwenn community prefers a doctor with a good bedside manner and she will be keeping an eye on him. Along the way she encourages him to have a laugh, to be friendlier to Mark Mylow, more talkative, less smarmy, more proactive, and to say something nice to her from time to time. She also wants him to be more involved with James, more interested in participating in her activities, and more sensitive to his family members, e.g. Ruth’s birthday or Margaret’s visit. Her best advice, in my opinion, is that sometimes people are different and that’s what makes us love them. I also like her advice to Martin when he’s planning to turn in Peter Cronk in S7. She becomes the Louisa we’ve known before and wants Martin to consider the impact Peter’s mistakes have already had on him before bringing in someone who follows the rules so strictly as Penhale often does.

Joan is filled with ideas of how Martin should behave. She’s happy to have him living nearby, but still seems to treat him as if he’s a young boy in her care. Since she’s the mother he never had, he allows her a certain latitude that others don’t have. Therefore, he accepts her criticism, judgements, and encouragement along with her casseroles. She wants him to pursue Louisa only to reach the conclusion that they are “chalk and cheese” and can never get along together. Later, when she finds out Louisa is pregnant and Martin is the father, she expects him to take an active role during the pregnancy despite any resistance from Louisa. She also tells him to remain a part of James’ life even if he leaves for London as planned. And during the broadcast of Louisa’s labor and delivery, it’s Joan who cheers him on to express his love for Louisa. She is disappointed in him when he takes too harsh a stand with patients and uses sarcasm on occasion to correct him when she thinks his behavior is out of line, for example when Helen Pratt dies or when Muriel Steel acts demented or when he insults her friend who caters the concert. Joan is by far the most outspoken of his relatives and quick to comfort him as well as to upbraid him. She certainly makes him think about what his next step should be. Her best advice in my book is telling him a child needs a father even if that father is far away. (Joan gives Al great advice too when he’s troubled by whether Bert is his biological father. She reminds Al that Bert has devoted his life to taking care of Al and whether he’s his biological father or not should not matter. We can speculate all we want about why they have Joan give such insightful comments about fathers — her father was awful, her brother is a rotten father, and she is a woman with a big heart — but her advice sets these two men straight.)

Amongst the best advice on the show for me is that given by Bert in S1E1 when he tells Martin “You need patients and we need a doc. Now we don’t all have to love one another, do we?” That comment makes Martin stop and think, and he changes his mind about leaving. Martin learns about the aged when he takes care of Muriel Steel. She dislikes his condescending manner, puts him in his place, and then comes around to realizing that being at a senior citizens facility is actually quite pleasant. Simultaneously, Joan suggests to Martin that it was her fears that had prompted Muriel’s hesitations about moving, and he seems to learn a lot about growing old. I really like Mark Mylow’s comments when his sister is visiting about being stuck dealing with people we don’t like because they are family. I also enjoy the advice Martin hears from the fish monger after Louisa has left him in S5: “No shame in cooking for one…Nobody cares about me. I might as well sit around all day in my “Y” fronts…You just hang on in there Doc. What’s for you won’t go by you.” Again, Martin gives that some thought.

The conversation Martin overhears between Pauline and Al about another couple that “he’s too shy; he’s always waiting for the girl to make the move. He’s always waiting for permission, and when you give him permission, he messes up” functions as advice and leads to Martin changing course with Louisa.

What are we to make of all these sources of advice throughout the show and their place in the storyline? Can we simply dismiss as humorous and irritating the many times when all sorts of people suggest some lesson to be learned to Martin? There are obvious pearls of wisdom mixed in with the random comments we hear. Roger Fenn tells Martin that becoming a parent introduces one to a whole new kind of love; and Erica Holbrook shows him that mothers can adapt and accept their children as they are. Mr. and Mrs. McLynn, Clive and Sally Tishell, and Jim and Annie Winton give us a few good thoughts on commitment and love. When we look back over the 7 series, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that they are making the point that each of us have life experiences that teach us more than any insights we can learn from professionals. After surveying the characters from all 7 series, the evidence seems pretty clear that the doctors come out badly. With the exception of Martin and Ruth Ellingham, the doctors give deficient to awful advice, have generally terrible attitudes towards their patients, and are treated as inexperienced and often poorly trained.

Expert advice isn’t always reliable and over time the experts reassess and may change their positions. However, if the expert advice tends to be given by inferior figures, we can’t really consider that a fair representation. Homespun wisdom isn’t always wrong either, but I balk at a 26 year old woman who has been married 3 times already guiding Louisa in any way. It’s funny, but once again undercuts the show’s generally positive appraisal of lay people’s advice.

If nothing else, this exercise has given me a reason to recap some of my favorite dialogue. I’m sure I’ve missed some of the moments you’ve liked the most. I look forward to hearing from you on this topic.

Originally posted 2016-03-03 18:12:38.

What about Buddy?

In talking about Farce I realized I left out an important character — Buddy! His role in this show is so similar to the role of Bob in the 1991 comedy film What About Bob? that I just had to write something about the dog. Plus, we need to lighten up this blog!

If you’ve seen the film, you know that Bob (played by Bill Murray) is an obsessive patient who his psychiatrist (played by Richard Dreyfuss) cannot shake. Like Buddy, nothing Dr. Leo Marvin does can stop Bob from reappearing, including something he calls “death therapy,” or taking Bob to the woods and wrapping explosives around him with the express purpose of blowing him up. Of course, Bob escapes. But Bob never stops coming back and driving Dr. Marvin nuts. He never takes the “hint.” (BTW, that film is very funny and worth seeing.)

In Doc Martin we could call Buddy ME’s nemesis if we use its original meaning: “distributor of fortune, neither good nor bad, simply in due proportion to each according to what was deserved.” In mythology she is an avenging and punishing power of fate. Another meaning is “the just balancer of Fortune’s chance…and the punisher of hubris.” Nemesis is also “one from whom there is no escape.”

I am not going to make too much of this connection other than to say that Buddy fits the notion of the avenging and punishing power of fate by having landed in Joan’s possession. Once Joan brings him to Martin’s home (first where Louisa was living and then at the surgery) and he is introduced to Martin, the little dog gets attached to him. There is no escape.

We can attribute Buddy with all sorts of meanings, e.g. loyalty, determination, tolerance, doggedness. But maybe we should just think of Buddy as a cute ball of fur that is a constant irritant that never stops irritating. In S7 somehow Buddy manages to find his way into the back seat of the car and into ME’s cottage bedroom; he’s also constantly underfoot. We have no idea where he lives now and he surfaces mainly when Martin is nearby. He, too, has taken on a farcical nature. I don’t think we’ve ever seen Buddy as frequently in previous series as we do in S7, and no matter what the circumstance, Buddy avoids all efforts to discourage him.

The dogs have all been used for humor in this show, including the Yorkshire owned by Mrs. Wilson, and the German Shepherds owned by the Flints and, in this series, the Wintons. This time, however, Buddy’s strong attachment to Martin becomes a fixation. Anyone with a dog always craving so much attention would become fed up, especially since the dog is of no help whatsoever. He manages to find Martin at the Wintons, but disappears never to be seen again. He catches up with Martin only to be dropped from the rest of the action. I don’t think there’s a hidden message in how Buddy’s role plays out; he’s just completed his purpose in the series — a nuisance sprinkled with a soupçon of devotion.

Originally posted 2016-02-12 15:26:25.

Farce

In deference to one of my most loyal readers and commenters, Santa, I am writing this post to explain why I have started calling Doc Martin a farce. The actual designation I had suggested we should use previously was dramedy, and I have written a long post about why this show satisfies that label. For the first five series, maybe five and a half, I was under the impression that this show was written to reveal truths about the human condition through the application of dramatic events couched in comedy. By the end of series 6, much of the comedy was gone, and the show had taken a turn towards drama, especially in terms of the relationship between its two main characters, Martin and Louisa. Now that we’ve completed series 7, I think the show has taken another turn, this times towards farce. It has had elements of farce in previous series too.

Farce is merely a sub-genre of comedy. Classical farce created comedy out of the most basic human impulses–the desire for pleasure and the fear of pain. It is often defined as a light dramatic work in which highly improbable plot settings, exaggerated characters, and often slapstick elements are used for humorous effect. Today’s farcical playwrights create exaggerated characters and place them in ridiculous situations.

What is an exaggerated character? The two standouts in Doc Martin are Mrs. Tishell and P.C. Penhale. Mrs. Tishell is a chemist who takes her profession seriously, but her obsession with Martin overshadows anything to do with her conduct in her place of business. Once he walks through the door or passes anywhere near her window, she quickly expands into slapstick behavior and overstated facial and physical expressions. She gets her face much too close to Martin’s, acts as though they have a special connection, and makes a fool of herself regularly. The whole town has now reached the conclusion that she’s a “nutter.” Penhale, the constable, is also more of a stereotypical Keystone Kop who takes the least prudent route to solve a problem. He often bumps into people and things in his zeal to catch up to Martin or someone else. He is obviously incapable of recognizing the meaning of what others are saying to him, at least at first, and he acts without thinking, often finding himself in awkward positions. There’s an intruder in the house? Run around the back and jump through a window, falling on his face in the process. Everyone’s trying to find an abducted baby — climb up to look in the window just as there is progress being made to rescue the baby. In S7, he runs after a carriage as an heroic effort only to discover there’s no baby in the carriage; or, he climbs in a window Martin is trying to use to escape then finds his taser is useless. As Ruth asks Martin in one episode, “Is he really a police officer?” We get the same sentiment from Louisa in S7E8 when she tells Penhale directly that they need to call the police, the real police.

Obviously Martin Ellingham is also exaggerated. His stick straight posture coupled with his uniform of suit and tie under all circumstances, his tendency to shout at Morwenna or patients in the reception area, and his overall confused demeanor are signals that this is not a typical man. His clumsiness is meant to accentuate his awkwardness, but adds to the slapstick nature of his behavior. He pours wine on himself, gets wet on numerous occasions (in his suit of course), and slips and falls regularly. He has been known to find himself in ridiculous situations, e.g. in the woods without a shoe accompanied by a psychotic park ranger, or rappelling down a cliffside to reach a patient. In this series, the boat rescue has him jumping into the water wearing his suit again, looking for a missing child in the woods where he walks through water again, falling and slipping in mud, and being chased by a dog after trying to put the car into a skid as if he’s some sort of secret agent or something. Another exaggerated reaction is when he places his hand on his heart and looks completely shocked by Louisa appearing in her bathrobe, or by Mrs. Winton pointing her gun at him, or when Mrs. Tishell appears at his front door. The very repetition of that gesture tells us it’s slapstick.

In S7 we also have Angela Sim, whose behavior is extreme in several scenes; Danny, who plays the guitar rather than search for a missing boy under his care, or who regularly invokes the Lord; and Erica Holbrook who staples students’ beloved stuffed animals to a board and tells them they’ll get over their marked sadness, or faints several times. Even Dr. Timoney could be considered extreme in that she’s very impersonal at first, never actually tries to probe Martin and Louisa’s difficulties, and then becomes loopy after hitting her head while careening down the narrow streets of Portwenn. To me these are all cartoonish characters whose primary purpose is to appear ridiculous.

Janice, the new child minder, is another case. Although she seems to do a decent job with James, she is quite a ditz and our first introduction to her makes clear that she is. She enters the kitchen and asks which one of them is James. Even a ditz should find it easy to identify the child! She acts rather childish herself for the most part, although we see some signs of actual thoughtfulness on occasion. Still, the overall impression of her is that she looks ridiculous and acts ridiculous.

By the time we reach the final episode, which, if you read this blog, you know I considered very cartoonish, I was having trouble taking anything very seriously. Was Mrs. Winton ever going to shoot Martin? No. Ruth is the only one who actually shoots the rifle, and when that happens, her reaction is also exaggerated, especially for her.

Identifying a comedy as a farce is not a slur. If you check the list of television shows considered farces on the Wikipedia site, you’ll see many of the best shows ever on it: Seinfeld, Frasier, I Love Lucy, Hogan’s Heroes, Night Court, and many others. However, noticing all these farcical features of Doc Martin has made me arrive at a different place in regard to how seriously they want us to examine this show. Their message seems to be that S6 got too solemn and now we’re just going to have fun, string out Martin and Louisa’s reunification, and be a source of entertainment. We (that is, all of us dedicated fans) just have to adjust our thinking and reach a level of acceptance commensurate with Louisa’s.

Originally posted 2016-02-09 12:04:31.

Is Reconciliation Boring?

Although I have several other posts I plan to write soon, I had to write this one first.

Throughout S7 I read comments from several actors in this show that claimed that once Martin and Louisa reconciled and the “will they/won’t they” theme was resolved, the show would become boring. These statements are also voiced on the Bonus Features of the series 7 DVD. This stance seems founded on the notion that once the marriage has gained solid footing, there would be no way to develop conflict of the sort that creates good plots. I totally disagree with this position and am ready to do my best to argue against it.

I want to substantiate my view by the use of examples from past series of DM and from reminding all of us of past highly rated shows in which married couples in TV dramedies/comedies sustained audiences by using marital conflicts while also addressing important social and interpersonal topics. We all consider Doc Martin a show with excellent writing and acting, and we are dedicated viewers because of its quality. I find it hard to believe that writers of this caliber would be unable to think of first rate plots once this one was resolved.

There are many ways to add conflict to a marriage without forcing the issue of whether the pair will stay together. We’ve spent 7 seasons/series using that trope and it’s reached its “use by” date. It became stale at the beginning of S7, and the decision to prolong its resolution until the last scene of the final episode meant that S7 became filled with delaying tactics. Despite the assertion from Martin Clunes and others that S7 was, in their minds, the most well written of all the series, I did not consider it as excellent as S5. For me the most significant reason I was not as impressed was the fairly transparent effort to string out whether Martin and Louisa would reunite. As compared to S5, which I will go on record now as ranking the best of all, we viewers were forced to watch a lot of scenes with secondary characters and new characters that did not contribute to the primary plot. Instead we spent time with the holistic vet who hallucinated due to self-medicating, or Al having silly problems with his first guests at the B&B, or Bert once again struggling to serve dinners that would bring in more business to his floundering restaurant. All of these storylines came at the expense of seeing more of Martin and Louisa dealing with their difficulties.

In S5 we started with Martin joining Louisa as they took their baby home from the hospital. What ensued was the many demanding aspects of having a newborn who keeps everyone up at night, confuses and disrupts home life, and needs care when his mother returns to work. The introduction of Louisa’s mother Eleanor added the dimension of her relationship with her daughter and how it related to Louisa’s approach to parenting, as well as how she might be reacting to Martin. (The introduction of two new characters, Ruth and Morwenna, added welcome changes that have had enduring consequences.)

Eleanor is a character who brings into play how work impacts childrearing, how mothers provide role models (both positive and negative), and how difficult it is to reach a level of objectivity when one is confronting one’s mother. For me the contrast in mothering between Eleanor’s attitude and Louisa’s was used to great effect. When Louisa decides in E6 that she can’t stay with Martin, we have been through a series of conflicts between Martin and Louisa that involve the caretaker of the school along with Martin’s disdain for the school, the naming of the baby that includes his tacit disapproval of Louisa’s social status, and his neglecting to include Louisa in several major decisions about their lives as a couple. But it is only two episodes later when Mrs. T has her breakdown, abducts the baby, and Martin and Louisa join together to find him. S5 ends with their reconciliation in what I consider a tour de force conversation between Martin and Mrs. T with Louisa prompting Martin.

Throughout S5 there were many conflicts between this couple that reminded me of typical tense conversations between married couples. To me these were amusing as well as great embodiments of real life situations that we can all learn from. As Terry Gross, host of Fresh Air on NPR, said in a recent interview, we turn to literature and film as a means to hear someone speak really personally and have it affirm our experiences. We don’t need artificial impediments to having a couple stay together to engage in the consideration of important topics that impact us all. What S7 could have done is put Martin and Louisa in therapy where they actually learn something about each other, decide to reunite by E6 or even earlier, and then continue to battle their basic inclinations and demons until we arrive at some sort of agreeable place.

As for the many highly regarded shows that we can turn to for examples of marital strife that are both entertaining and identify important issues of their day, here are a few I would include:

I Love Lucy from the 1950s, in which Lucy wants desperately to perform like her husband. Lucy and Ethel experience many a laughable antic just to get Ricky’s attention. In the process of all the physical humor and absurdity, we also confront a mixed marriage and an immigrant’s change in status, the loyalty of friends, the awkwardness of family interactions, the difficulty of women trying to work outside the home, and the birth of a baby boy. There was no need to place the marriage in peril to find plenty of situations that qualified as conflicts that drove the plot.

The Honeymooners from the early 1950s. Hopefully this classic is one most of you are also familiar with. Ralph and Alice are a working class couple living in Brooklyn who often verbally joust but never actually become violent, and who generally make up by the end of each episode. Ralph’s anger would be replaced by short-lived remorse, and he would then apologize for his actions. Many of these apologies to Alice ended with Ralph saying, “Baby, you’re the greatest,” followed by a hug and kiss. In this show the travails of a couple having trouble making ends meet are brought to light. Ralph regularly comes up with money-making schemes that fail and at one point Alice has to find a job when Ralph is laid off.

A personal favorite of mine was Cybill, which ran for 4 seasons from 1995-1998, won many awards including 2 Golden Globes, and was canceled prematurely for no apparent reason. It had between 10 and 12 million viewers for most of its existence. Cybill has been married twice and has two daughters. She is divorced at the time of the show, however, both of her exes are still very much a part of her life. The show took on many women’s issues as well as neuroses, mother-daughter relationships, and female sexuality. There was plenty of conflict going on in the house while the women coped with handling the men and the daughters.

When we get to 2005, we can mention the TV series Parenthood which received strong reviews and lasted 6 seasons. Most critics thought the writing and show got stronger with each season, and Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker “cited its ability to be warm and sentimental without being dumb” as one of its strengths. It also had a strong soundtrack. There were many marriages as part of this show with a plethora of conflicts because the show revolved around three generations. The Braverman family faced a variety of hardships that require compromise, forgiveness and unconditional love. The show was nominated for many awards and won several of them.

Currently House of Cards contains a devious married couple whose marriage is not at risk even though there is infidelity and all sorts of chicanery. As I’m sure most of you know, the show deals with ruthlessness and power, especially in politics. It’s been wildly popular and received many awards. (It is based on a British show of the same name.)

I would also include Reggie Perrin because he is in a secure marriage while being disenchanted with his life. (Reggie Perrin is quoted as saying: “My marriage is like an aircraft’s black box. It’s mysterious, but completely indestructible.”) Since Martin Clunes plays the lead role in this remake, I probably don’t have to say much about it.

The above shows are certainly not an exhaustive list, but they are a good representation of the conflicts that could be sources of successful plots without any sign of any marital on again/off again dynamic.

I found the push-pull of the Martin and Louisa relationship highly entertaining and compelling for the first five series and had thought the conclusion of S5 had put it to rest. When S6 began with the wedding, I felt the show had taken the best route, but the steady decline into depression and moroseness of that series made me shake my head in disbelief. The effort to recuperate the show and its humor in S7 is a welcome reversal, but the interminable delay in Louisa’s decision to invite Martin back into the home was not necessary to keep viewers engaged and became harder and harder to tolerate. We understand Louisa’s hesitations and hurt feelings, but surely she would have relented before two months had passed. She’s tough throughout the previous series, yet she’s never been this hard to convince before and we’re hard pressed to accept that after hugging Martin regularly in E4, she would continue his exile from the family.

 

Originally posted 2015-12-15 11:31:45.

S7E8 – Back to the Future

I guess it’s about time I say something specifically about E8. It’s too bad the therapy was such a disappointment, and was a failure in so many ways. Nevertheless, somehow Martin and Louisa do find their way back to each other in E8 and it’s worthwhile seeing how that is accomplished.

I’ve already established that Jack Lothian is the writer I consider the best on this show. In my opinion his episodes are the most well conceived and demonstrate outstanding knowledge of story writing as well as of literature. He has written several of the opening and closing episodes of many series, and I believe he methodically connects themes and actions in these first and last episodes to create a coherency that operates on many levels. The last episode of S7 is another example of his striking ability to allude to classical works of literature as well as many other forms of storytelling while consummating the characters in both humorous and complex ways. Each series ends with dialogue that is ambiguous yet satisfying. I enjoy the process of analyzing what he’s doing as he coordinates the action and the dialogue to achieve a successful outcome, plus I get to laugh a lot.

That S7 would end with a reconciliation seemed inevitable to me because I could not imagine this show not completing its mission as a dramedy. If S6 had been the last of the series, it would have been a transgression of all that the show had worked to develop for the previous five series. S7 had to redeem it. In fact, my view is that Lothian includes reminiscences from both S5E8, S6E1, S6E8, and S7E1 in S7E8. He also sustains the primary themes we’ve come to expect, i.e. the difficulty Martin and Louisa have communicating with each other, whether people can change, and the importance of Martin’s skills as a diagnostician and surgeon in saving people’s lives while also keeping his relationship with Louisa alive.

S7 begins with Martin waking up in bed alone wishing he can find a way out of the predicament of losing Louisa. Similarly in the final episode we begin with Martin waking up in bed alone, and hoping again to get out of the predicament he’s in. (BTW, I haven’t figured out how he fell asleep. Was he given a sleeping potion? Otherwise it is doubtful Martin would have felt like sleeping with his mouth duct taped and his hands tied to the bed. He hasn’t been sleeping well in his cottage and now he’s in an even stranger place. But never mind; we can let that go.) It doesn’t take long for him to figure out how to release himself from the bed. He then goes through a series of comedic escape antics including tiptoeing like Sylvester the Cat across a loft area while below Annie Winton speaks to Louisa on the phone and doesn’t see him, making his way down the back stairs and overhearing Jim Winton talking to his son as he sits on the bed, and hiding when the son looks up after he hears a noise. All of these actions have a cartoonish air about them. (FYI, Sylvester shows a lot of pride in himself, and never gives up. Despite (or perhaps because of) his pride and persistence, Sylvester is, with rare exceptions, placed squarely on the “loser” side of the Looney Tunes winner/loser hierarchy. He often sneaks around while his owner “Granny” talks on the phone. In this episode Martin never stops trying to escape from the house through doors and windows. Martin’s persistence is reinforced by Mrs. Winton’s comment that “when you love someone, you never give up.”)

In this mostly amusing and never very convincingly dangerous episode, we also have shades of myths and legends, possible totems from voodoo, and a couple of chase scenes with the last one ending at the entrance to a mine reminiscent of Westerns, including an empty whiskey bottle as a clue. We’ve sometimes speculated that this show is playing with the tropes of Fairytales, and I’ve written about how they undercut those tropes. I’ve wondered as well if they were having some fun with the popularity of the Harry Potter series. Although we don’t have any real witches, goblins, or wizards in this episode, Martin tells Mrs. Winton that he’s not in the business of miracles, he animatedly gesticulates as if he’s casting a spell while denying that he’s a wizard, and says that he can’t conjure a cure. (I must say here that many patients do think doctors can perform miracles and cure almost anything, and some treatments almost seem miraculous. In this episode, we could be tempted to call Martin’s ablation of Jim’s neck mass a miracle.) Ruth has told Louisa that the fight or flight response is not just a myth. Thus, we have more than enough allusions to the mythical and magical than we need to recognize its place in this part of the story.

During this episode Martin is required to leave Portwenn and drive into the wilderness where danger lurks. As Martin approaches the Winton’s front door, the camera lingers on a gargoyle type sculpture. For me this figure looks most like a Griffin, a legendary creature that is a mixture of a lion and an eagle, both kings of their species. The Griffin has been used in literature, most providentially in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Jack Lothian had this in mind. In Dante’s allegory, after Dante and Virgil’s journey through Hell and Purgatory has concluded, Dante meets a chariot dragged by a Griffin in Earthly Paradise. Immediately afterwards, Dante is reunited with Beatrice. Dante and Beatrice then start their journey through Paradise. We could call Martin’s stay at the Wintons a journey through Hell/Purgatory that ends in being reunited with Louisa (Beatrice) after which they begin their journey together in the Earthly Paradise that is otherwise called Portwenn. (Like Martin, Dante carried his love for Beatrice throughout his life. She represents beatific love.) Allegory, myth, folktale, cartoon, take your pick.

This episode also recollects the scene in S6E8 in which Martin races to the airport in Penhale’s Jeep to rescue Louisa. This time it’s Louisa rushing to rescue Martin and asking Penhale to drive. Both times Penhale delays due to a humorous interruption; with Martin it was his costume, with Louisa it is a useless conversation with Buddy. Ironically, if only Buddy could talk, he could have led them to Martin. Buddy is most like the loyal, but powerless, sidekick at this point. Both times Penhale is somewhat helpful while being his usual oddball self. The scene with Louisa and Penhale sneaking around the Winton house and stopping to discuss the meaning of raising a fist reminded me of the three stooges and is a funny interlude in what is supposed to be a serious rescue effort. Then Penhale tries to enter the house through the bathroom window while Martin is trying to leave through the same window. When they are discovered, Penhale’s taser has not been recharged and is worthless. Now we’re in the zone of comedic Westerns during which a gun is jammed and won’t fire at the crucial moment. (They’ve associated the taser with Westerns with the music they use in the episode where Joe first receives it. In S5E8 Ruth told Joe he isn’t Clint Eastwood, and now we have reconfirmation of that!)

We also have a connection to S7E2 in which Martin is surprised by Louisa’s appearance and says he wasn’t expecting her so early. Well, the Wintons aren’t expecting Martin so early either, and the fact that he is so prompt leads to more trouble and the loss of his medical bag. Martin’s medical bag has been his constant accessory throughout these series and we would think the Wintons would consider it important, but as in S6E1, he’s able to improvise. He also recuperates his image by helping their injured German Shepard as opposed to wanting to euthanize Buddy. And Mrs. Winton’s comment that he has a gentle touch recalls the one made by Barry in E1 when ME discovers that he has a condition that needs immediate medical attention. He tells Martin he considers him a good guy.

Furthermore, in E1 Morwenna speaks of playing the role of a victim needing to be rescued, which of course is exactly what Martin does in E8. Martin is even wearing the same suit and tie in both episodes, and now that I’ve seen E8, Ruth’s comment in E1 as she looks at a picture of Martin wearing a tie as a child that Martin has literally not changed is true in more ways than one.

It is this episode that most reflects the title of E7, “Facta Non Verba,” because here we have actual deeds that speak louder than words. The deeds begin with Mrs. Winton calling the doctor’s office and demanding that he come to her house, which he dutifully does. Next she holds him at gunpoint. He makes an attempt at escape only to run into Clemo Winton who simply takes him back to the house. Meanwhile, back in Portwenn, Louisa has put together a lovely meal with a lot of Martin’s favorite foods. This time she isn’t going to serve him sausage or scotch eggs. She obviously is already planning to make this a reconciliation dinner. Here is another occasion when Martin and Louisa’s efforts to talk are interrupted. In E1 they are unable to connect due to poor reception and Dr. T’s rules cause Martin to miss Louisa’s 4:30 call; in E8 the Wintons disrupt their scheduled conversation. (Throughout this series they continue to be interrupted whenever they attempt to talk in any meaningful way. I should mention that comments on the blog post about therapy point out that any talk they might have had would probably have gone poorly anyway, which is even more evidence that any move they make to have a long talk ends in failure.) Martin doesn’t show, no talk ensues, and Louisa is determined to find him.

When she comes up empty handed the following morning, she calls Mrs. Winton who claims Martin left the previous evening, then she finds Penhale and they retrace Martin’s steps to the Wintons. Louisa will not be stopped from this point on and notices Martin’s shoes, finds his car, and confronts Mrs. Winton.

So we have the deeds leading up to Louisa finding Martin and Martin really trying to read the notes from the oncologist, and finding a possible mistake in the diagnostic procedure. Soon we have more action when they look for Jim Winton and find that he has left his bed. They figure he’s headed to the mine and they all run after him. Martin suggests Louisa stay behind several times, but this time Louisa won’t let Martin out of her sight and tells him “I came here to get you and I’m not going home without you.” Ahh, more indication that Louisa has decided to have Martin move back in with her.

I would say that during this episode Martin experiences many moments during which he has a lack of control. However, no matter what they demand of him, he manages to maintain some semblance of control, either by trying to reason with them or by being unwilling to buckle under while they point a gun at him. In a sense, he retains control regardless of their threats because they need him. The only thing he can’t control is Louisa’s actions, and his uncertain answer to Ruth at the end of the episode is evidence of this.

it is also quite noticeable that throughout the episode Martin and Louisa refer to each other as “my wife” and “my husband.” Not only should this identifier matter to Mrs. Winton because she is so dedicated to her husband, but also it reinforces their commitment as a couple. We’ve heard Louisa correct people many times during this series when they neglect to call her Mrs. Ellingham, an indication in my mind that she sees herself as Martin’s wife. In this final episode, that moniker is given precedence when Martin frequently is heard alluding to his concern for his wife. I find it interesting that the Wintons have one child, a son, and that parallels the Ellinghams. I wouldn’t say that Martin and Louisa find any solace in watching the loyalty and care Clemo Winton has for his parents, but it’s amusing to see Clemo try to hug Martin for saving his father’s life. What will Martin do when his son reaches out to hug him?

A final example of how this episode connects to previous ones is the procedure Martin completes on Mr. Winton’s neck. Mr. Winton’s surgery takes us back to S6E1 when Martin and Louisa carry out surgery on the caravan owner’s neck. This time the surgery is much less bloody, but there’s Martin with a makeshift scalpel cutting into a scruffy old man’s neck while Louisa assists and grimaces. In both cases the men survive against all odds and Martin comes away as the hero. Moreover, Martin and Louisa act as a team again.

We are also reminded of the talk Ruth and Martin had sitting on a grassy hill during the last episode of S6 where she explains to him that he has to change to get Louisa to return. Here Louisa comes to the realization that she doesn’t want him to change. He has acted on Ruth’s counsel throughout S7 only to discover that Louisa has concluded that she loves him just the way he is.

Louisa tells Martin that she thinks she has been obsessed with wanting people to be normal. As Dr. T said to Louisa, “normal” is a loaded word. Louisa has told Dr. T that her parents are normal, but now she acknowledges that her idea of normal is complicated and that everyone is unusual in some way. There is no true “normal.” Instead of wanting a “normal” husband, she understands that she should embrace his personality traits regardless of, or especially because of, their uniqueness. “We Are What We Are,” as Erica Holbrook has written for art class.

Martin agrees that he is unusual, and then we get his admission that he has tried but it just seems to make things worse. At first his remark seems very ambiguous. What has he tried and how has he made things worse? He may not have made things better, but his actions have hardly made things worse. (I do not think he is referring to trying to change how he feels about Louisa. Despite the ambiguity of this statement, it makes more sense that he’s talking about his effort to express himself in therapy sessions and to demonstrate to Louisa that he is working on his skills as a spouse.) I think they both say partial truths in this final scene. Louisa tells Martin that he’s never let her down, which he has, and Martin thinks he’s made things worse by trying to be a better husband. Once again he is assuming the blame and she is overstating or exaggerating what has happened between them.

For me the key confession they make to each other is when Martin tells Louisa, “I’m never going to change the way I feel about you,” and she answers, “I don’t want that.” What is an unmitigated fact is that his love for her is something he won’t change and can’t change (and he’s even powerless to change), and she admits that she doesn’t want him to change in that regard. She’s glad to know that his love for her will never change, and we all know she’s tested that.

By the end of this episode we are pleased to hear Louisa respond in kind to Martin’s assertion that he loves her. She hasn’t said it often enough.

We also see the other major characters all find a satisfying conclusion to their plights. Sally has made a new commitment to Clive, Bert is back in business with Al (which may be better for Bert than for Al), Al’s Bed and Breakfast has been given new life and he’s headed for another relationship with the doctor’s receptionist, and Morwenna has gotten her pay rise while Martin has averted another showdown with a disgruntled receptionist.  Portwenn can now return to its previously calm state. It looks like Penhale will be staying on and continuing to keep the place safe. And that’s a wrap!

images

(Not for the blog, just for this series. More posts coming soon.)

Originally posted 2015-11-20 06:55:03.

Sally Forth

Episode 6 is not just about Martin and Louisa; Sally and Clive Tishell play an important part due to how they handle their marital reconciliation. After Clive returns in E4 and surprises Sally, their decisions about the future of their marriage are used as a sort of guide to a better marriage. What they do is pretty much a model for how a married couple should reconcile, and how it can be done without a therapist.

When Clive resurfaces, he immediately embraces Sally even though he’s been gone for a long time. He doesn’t hold back despite the circumstances under which he left. It’s Sally who is cautious about taking him back and has no difficulty confronting Clive about being gone. Sally is beside herself over Clive’s return and tells Ruth about it as soon as she sees Ruth passing the pharmacy. Ruth’s advice to Sally is to have a frank conversation with Clive, which prompts Sally to succinctly list what they should talk about. They should discuss where their relationship has gone in the past, and where they are going in the future, and whether it’s apart or together, and if it’s together, how they will do that. There’s not much Ruth can add to that! (I was reminded of Sally’s monologue in the final episode of S5 when she recounts the on and off again relationship between Martin and Louisa so bluntly.)

It doesn’t take Sally long to get around to having a talk with Clive, and she lays out her feelings quite openly. Clive is agreeable and admits he was worried about what Sally would say if he asked her, before he returned. Next Sally tells Clive she’s changed and is no longer the woman he married. He accepts that and asserts he would marry her all over again anyway. He immediately disarms her and goes farther when he says, “I’m here for you Sal, if you’ll have me.” Her anger is defused but she’s still only willing to let him sleep on the couch.

It’s not difficult to juxtapose this exchange with the one we saw between Martin and Louisa when Louisa arrived unannounced in E2. Not only do they struggle to reveal their true feelings, but also their discussion is filled with unspoken psychological baggage. Martin never disarms Louisa by opening his heart and declaring he’s willing to do almost anything to convince her to take him back. Louisa is also unable to speak openly like Sally about how Martin disappointed her. Instead their separation becomes more laden with what is left unsaid. It’s as though the message is that the act of communicating is the fundamental solution to marital problems and eliminates the need for outside intervention.

In E5 we watch Sally as she continues to prepare casseroles to put outside Martin’s front door. Clive catches her in the act of cooking, but instead of getting angry and accusing her of any wrongdoing, he tells her he doesn’t know what she’s up to and doesn’t want to know. He’s letting the past stay in the past. Furthermore, he once again takes responsibility for not having been more attentive and possibly causing her to turn to untoward behaviors. But he suggests trying to trust each other and move on together. His next comments are the most critical: he tells her he ran away when she most needed him, but he’s there now and came back for her. It isn’t long before Sally takes the big step of throwing out her next cooked meal for Martin Ellingham and all the containers she had stored for more meals to come. This act is hugely significant for Sally.

Once again we can contrast Clive’s confessions with the total lack of admission of fault by Louisa. She, too, left when Martin most needed her, and she, too, has come back now. However, she isn’t willing to leave the past in the past. Martin has told Dr. T that he trusts Louisa but telling Louisa directly would be more effective. Moreover, he wants them to move on together yet has trouble expressing that to her. Martin even denies feeling lonely in the final scene of this episode, reinforcing the sense we have that he continues to avoid acknowledging his true feelings. All of their repressed and unsaid sentiments are placed at the root of their estrangement. Both Sally and Martin have suffered through major psychological events. Psychosis accompanied by delusional disorder marked by self-medication and criminal actions for her. Haemophobia followed by self-treatment and Major Depressive Disorder for him. They are both damaged by these experiences but Sally is not one to repress very much, and that seems to be healthier.

Now here we are in E6 and Sally finds Clive doing his best to help in the store. Already Clive’s efforts to demonstrate to Sally that he is sincere about rekindling their marriage are reaping big dividends. She has dropped her resistance to his advances and is ready to invite him back into their bedroom. Soon Sally is preparing Clive’s favorite meal for dinner and herself for a romantic evening.

The idyllic dinner Sally plans is precisely offset by the dinner plans of Martin and Louisa, even down to the replacement of the wine glasses on the dinner tables. The two dinners are intercut such that we watch both couples striving to make the evening a success, but in both cases that is not to be. Both end with medical emergencies and what appears to be a reconfirmation of their dedication to their spouses. Louisa makes clear that Danny has overstepped his boundaries and Martin seems satisfied to hear her put Danny in his place. Meanwhile, Clive has had a heart attack from applying testosterone gel combined with taking a pill to help with sexual arousal and Sally is overcome with anxiety that he might die. The difference in the level of emotion between Sally and Martin is exaggerated for comedic value as well as to demonstrate her newfound passion for her husband as opposed to Martin’s revulsion for such overflowing of emotion and his well-measured response to Louisa’s outburst. It would be nice to see Sally lower her excitement level and Martin increase his.

Nevertheless, Sally and Clive have proven that a marriage can be revived with a commitment to talk to each other, to be open about what they want from each other, and to accept responsibility for the mistakes that both of them have made. Sally would probably be categorized as a character with a small role that has a big impact. Throughout the show Sally has mostly been used as a thorn in Martin’s side, much like the dogs that follow him relentlessly. This time her impact is played out in how she lets bygones be bygones. It’s nice to see Sally used as more than for comedic gestures. Of course, she isn’t totally over her obsession with Martin. But we’re getting closer.

 

 

 

Originally posted 2015-11-05 20:08:02.

Phallic allusions

As you know, I am inclined to write about serious topics, or to write about topics in a serious way. But let’s have some fun! This post will be about what has become pretty evident over the years — there are lots of jokes/scenes about male genitalia.

For one thing, you better not become a constable in Portwenn because so far all of them have had troubles with their sexual organs. Mark Mylow had a small penis and no sperm, and Joe Penhale found an abnormality on his scrotum. Of course, in both cases, Martin Ellingham gave them a thorough exam. In Mark’s case he also made fun of Mark’s magic pills advertised to make him more virile, and gave them to Stewart as a placebo.

And that brings me to how often this doctor has examined male patient’s gonads. Besides Mark and Joe, we have the patient who has his testicles examined by ME by mistake — he was the wrong patient. Recently, in S7E1, Steven Baker has been taking steroids and EPO because he wants to keep up with younger men, and his employee actually has some form of testicular cancer. We witness Martin examine both Steven and Barry’s genitalia.

In addition we have some men with erectile dysfunction. One man’s solution is to use S&M techniques, while Edward just takes Viagra. The S&M becomes a little too abusive and Edward overdoses. We also have Pauline’s uncle who is struggling to get his wife pregnant and who turns out to be attracted to men.

Now, S7E6, we have Clive who has taken potassium bromide to reduce any sexual urges while on the rig. (This, BTW, is a old fashioned treatment AND a drug used in veterinary medicine, which is funny to me because of Angela and her abuse of drugs as a vet.) Now he wants to have sex with Sally, and doesn’t want to disappoint her or make her think she isn’t attractive to him anymore, so he applies testosterone gel on his chest and takes Sildenafil (the chemical name for Viagra). Clive overdoses too and has a heart attack. Martin accuses him of being obsessed. (Possibly the pot calling the kettle black?)

Hey, we have to feel sorry for all the men in little Portwenn dealing with these handicaps, and maybe there are many male patients who require attention to that area, and the show is only being medically accurate! In comparison, though, ME has only done one gynecological exam that I can remember. It’s just not as funny as dallying with the danglers I guess!

Finally we have the silly references to penises through the use of vegetables (eggplant and tomatoes) and sausage. I’m good with having some fun — go ahead, have a laugh at men’s expense.

We will return to our usual posts now!

 

 

 

Originally posted 2015-11-03 11:04:45.

Turnabout is Fair Play

One major element of S7 is the many ways in which the action in scenes involves a reversal of what has happened before. There has been a conscious effort to switch up many of the typical interactions amongst the characters. Their decision to present things in this manner leads us to appreciate that change has taken place. Some of these changes are positive, and some not so much.

One of the most significant changes to me is that Martin no longer works on clocks. We might speculate that he was very adversely affected by his mother taking the one clock that meant a lot to him and cannot bring himself to work on them anymore. On the other hand, it is precisely at this moment when working on clocks could be of some comfort to him. He’s alone again, he’s very unhappy that Louisa is gone again, and fixing clocks has always been a source of solace to him. It distracts him from his troubles throughout the other series. Could he have decided the clocks are interfering with his life and the time he could be spending with his wife and son? The fact that he no longer has clocks to work on never comes up.

Martin is trying to change and his efforts include thanking Louisa for a gift he doesn’t like; telling her he doesn’t mind the noise and disarray of the home; accepting the various assignments Dr. T gives them; and, especially, giving Louisa some very nice compliments. He says she’s a good and caring mother and very beautiful, that he misses her (as opposed to Louisa saying she’ll miss him when she leaves for work in S6, and that she missed him and James when she returns from work and getting no reaction or sign that her feeling is reciprocated), telling her she would notice if James had a rash or anything medical that might be important to notice, and instigating a hug.

We certainly can’t overlook that this time Martin moves out instead of Louisa leaving. It’s a generous offer and shows Louisa that he’s willing to sacrifice for her. It also keeps her nearby and gives him plenty of opportunities to see her. For her part, she is willing to stay at the surgery yet considers it his home. She tells him that he should be there, a sign that she realizes how strange it is for him to live somewhere else.

Now that she lives in the surgery, it is Louisa who makes coffee and offers it to Martin.  She also let’s Martin in the kitchen door. It’s particularly amusing to see Martin tapping at the kitchen window while Louisa sits at the kitchen table. It’s also funny that he is surprised by Louisa when she runs into the kitchen after her morning shower and he acts out of place. It was Louisa who previously seemed to be intruding at times.

We also see Louisa clean up the toys and the kitchen. She holds the toys in much the same way we’ve seen Martin hold them in S6. When Louisa cooks dinner on that first night, Martin does not try to wash the cutting board or take over in any way. He eats what she cooks and even suggests using additional seasoning, something he rarely considers necessary. It is also Martin who broaches the subject of their future and intermittently notes that their living circumstances are odd and not what he would prefer. However, it is Louisa who has the deciding vote on this and, like Martin at times in the past, she appears tongue tied when the subject comes up.

It is Louisa who determines who the next child minder will be. Meanwhile Martin has sought therapy and has been willing to let the therapist make the ground rules. He cooperates and tells Dr. T about his childhood. With Dr. Milligan Martin was very resistant and rude. When it is Louisa’s turn, she is more reticent and hesitates to admit her childhood was anything but normal. We are reminded that Martin used to be the one who described his childhood as perfectly healthy.

Martin suggests he has time to do things with JH. We’ve seen him feed James and play with him in his own idiosyncratic way, but now he offers to bathe James every day. Previously Louisa had to prompt him to do something with James.

In another significant change, Al has a home and Bert is in a camper van and unsettled. Al’s business is just getting started and hits several snags, but Bert’s has ended.

We are witnessing a variety of changes that make the case that change is possible. There is a difference between changing one’s personality and changing certain actions; however, we have to start somewhere.  Martin and Louisa’s convictions that people can change are played out in these early episodes by inverting how many of the characters we’ve come to know conduct themselves. They haven’t become different people and still exhibit many of their usual traits. Martin is still stiff and unsmiling and continues to be flummoxed by what Louisa does and says; Louisa has remained convinced that living apart can solve some of their marital problems and she is unwilling to give in too quickly. Other changes may be in store and this post will be updated to reflect them.

 

 

Originally posted 2015-10-20 18:40:06.

A Doc Martin Lexicography

I feel the need to have a little fun and Marta has sent me something I think we can all play with. I hope you all find this amusing. We thought we could take these examples and convert some Doc Martin associated words into something we could all laugh about. They don’t approach the wit of the winners of the Wash. Post contest, but I think they are pretty good.

The Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational invites readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

Here are the winners (from last year):
 
1. Cashtration (n.):  The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.  
 
2. Ignoranus A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.

3. Intaxicaton
 Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Reintarnation
 Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. Bozone (n.): 
 The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future. 
 
6. Giraffiti Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
 
7. Sarchasm The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.
 
8. Inoculatte To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

9. Osteopornosis
 A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit)

10. Karmageddon
 It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.
 
11. Decafalon (n): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

12. Glibido
 All talk and no action. 

13. Dopeler Effect
 The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly. 

14. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): 
 The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.

15. Beelzebug (n.): 
 Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

16. Caterpallor (n.):  The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating. 
 
 
The WashingtonPost also published this year’s winning submissions for alternate meanings of common words:
 
1. Coffee, n.  The person upon whom one coughs. 
 
2. Flabbergasted, adj.  Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.  
 
3. Abdicate, v.  To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. Esplanade, v. 
 To attempt an explanation while drunk.
 
5. Willy-nilly, adj.  Impotent. 

6. Negligent, adj. 
 Absent mindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.
 
7. Lymph, v.  To walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle, n. 
 Olive-flavored mouthwash.

9. Flatulence, n. 
 Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash, n. 
 A rapidly receding hairline.

11. Testicle, n. 
 A humorous question on an exam. 

12. Rectitude, n. 
 The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists. 
 
13.  Pokemon , n.  A Rastafarian proctologist. 
 
14.  Oyster , n.  A person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms. 
 
15.  Frisbeetarianism , n.  The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
 
16.  Circumvent , n. An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.
Here’s what Marta came up with:
Lew Weezer, n.  an old geezer who lusts after pretty girls
PartWenn, n.  end of every Doc Martin series when Martin and Louisa split
A Tishell, n. kleenex for self-medicating matrons with a Dr. Ellingham infatuation
The Harbar, n. place on the shore to drink
PC Pinhale, n. name for a dumb copper
DoanTawk, n. place of silence in PortWenn
Rose Karen, n.  girl who lives at the top of the hill
Anti Joan, n. Martin’s father, Christopher
More Regret, n. what Martin feels when speaking to his mother, Margaret
Hellinore, n. Martin’s worst nightmare of a mother-in-law
Badmen, n. loansharks on the moor
Foe Bea, n. a very difficult enemy from Martin’s past
The Birth Taxi, n.  natural vehicle for inducing labor
Corn Wall, n.  place where Daphne deMurier dispensed literary gems
Then I tried a few:
Locations in Port Isaac/Portwenn
Insulting Room, n.  place where your GP makes snide remarks to you about your body
Wasting Room, n. place where you pass the time while hoping to get a cup of tea
Sneeze Belly Alley, n. a place where it’s so narrow it’s dangerous to sneeze

Margaret’s Cane, n. the physical implement that a shrew uses to hurt people
Rise Hill, n. steep street that is handicapped challenged
Names
At Large, n. a person who can’t decide who to date or where to live
Joe Inhale, n. a man who talks too much
Joan Torton, n.  either someone who likes to bake tortes OR someone who habitually gets into trouble for being uninsured
John Slayer, n. a man who breaks women’s hearts
Other words:
Tossee, n. a person who throws up easily
haemorphobia, n. a concern about needing to change
 I encourage everyone to take a few minutes to think of some of your own. If nothing else, it keeps our minds working!
(New more serious post coming soon.)

Originally posted 2015-08-13 09:34:05.