Category Archives: settings

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.

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.

Location, location, location

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other doors and doorways

Now that I’ve discussed the idea of liminality as it pertains to the doors and doorways of the surgery building, I want to look at some of the other doors that I see as significant in relation to the use of liminal spaces. It’s important to remember that liminality refers to characters reaching a threshold that is either real or emotional and finding themselves in a position to decide whether to move across that threshold into another realm, stay on the threshold straddling two positions, or resist making any changes and remain content as they are. Victor Turner, a British Cultural Anthropologist, saw liminality as not only a form of transition, but also of potentiality. “Turner noted that in liminality, the transitional state between two phases, individuals were ‘betwixt and between’: they did not belong to the society that they previously were a part of and they were not yet reincorporated into that society.”

Although I don’t want to get too caught up in theory, I see Louisa as a character who goes through just that sort of liminal sequence. When L and M decide at the end of S3 not to marry and L leaves Portwenn to live in London, she separates herself from the society she belonged to previously. When she returns to Portwenn after about 6 months, she is pregnant, in need of a job and a place to live, and in the mindset of being independent and self-sufficient. During her stay at the Crab & Lobster, she seems quite unsettled. She needs a quiet place to grade papers, some of the townspeople are critical of her as a member of the community, and her relationship with Martin is strained. The intrusive obstetrician, the wacky headmaster and the dogmatic midwife don’t help. (I never want to lose sight of the fact that many of these scenes are deliberately included so that we feel Louisa’s discomfort or smile at the awkwardness of the situations she finds herself in. On the other hand, what makes me enjoy DM so much is that the situations are so easy to relate to.) Once the baby is born, however, L is reincorporated into the social life of Portwenn. Unbeknownst to her, they all listen while she goes through labor and delivery and accepts M’s admission of fault. Next we see a motorcade leave Portwenn for the hospital to bring her flowers and welcome the baby. Since M finds a way to avoid all but Penhale at the hospital, the community tries again by coming to L’s home door. They are pleased to see the doc there with her and enjoy seeing her out and about.

The liminal door scenes that I find important to the show and the relationship between L and M are what I will look at next. The first of these comes after M and L have had their first date (S3E5) and M has once again ruined a passionate moment by making a comment about L’s perfume. She stalks off and sits silently in the car on the drive home. When they reach her house, L tells M that their relationship isn’t going anywhere and she’s sorry but she doesn’t want to see him anymore. Now he’s speechless. She opens her front door, walks in, and stands looking at him with eyes that reflect her combination of sorrow and regret. Then she shuts the door and Martin drives off. Crossing that threshold into her house and closing the door puts the relationship past the stage of “iffy” to over. On the other hand, her front door takes center stage during the rest of the episode when it is used as the site for several more interactions between M and L. The next morning, M has trouble concentrating at work after a sleepless night due to L’s decision to end their dating, and decides to go see her. But once he’s knocked on her door, he gets cold feet and runs away. It’s just as well because Holly arrives soon after and any conversation M and L might have had would have been interrupted as usual. Then Holly slips and falls and must stay at L’s house and M has to deal with her back pain. From this point on, many discussions between M and L take place at L’s front door where she’s inside and M is within the frame of the door. L asks Martin if Holly’s injury is serious while he stands at the threshold to the front door, she questions him about his forced congeniality as he stands at the open front door, and it’s before he reaches the threshold of the front door after reviving Holly that M finds he must stop, ask L to marry him, and return to tell L he can’t bear to be without her. Louisa’s front door has become the location for the transitions in their relationship and works nicely to buttress their reunification. Then the next morning they stand at the front door to say goodbye and make plans to meet up later on and the postman crosses the threshold with mail for Louisa that Martin hands to her. It’s a brief scene but filled with meaning since M and L are now a couple and pretty soon the whole village will know about it.

The next big liminal scene is when Louisa is at the pub in labor and tells Martin to leave. Once he goes outside and shuts the door behind him, he can’t help coming back to the door, and even opening it, despite her insistence that he stay out. The door is the barrier between them now and M wants to cross it even if that means yelling to L through it. The closed door also gives both of them time to think about how they feel and what they want from each other. They are both clearly in a quandary and then come to the same conclusion. He wants to be with L and the baby, and she wants him there with her and the baby. He enters uninvited again, crossing the threshold into the room, while acknowledging that he knows she doesn’t want him there but also admitting that he was wrong about many things. By this time, however, she has decided she wants him with her after all and she avidly tells him to come in. At the end of the scene, it’s clear that M and L will be together with the baby. She tells the baby that he’ll get used to M, and M allows that he can learn how to manage a baby.

For me, another major liminal doorway scene is when Mrs. T has JH at “the castle” and Martin, Louisa, and Ruth argue about how to get Mrs. T to bring down the baby while standing at the entrance door. Mrs. T is waiting for the “knock, knock, knock” on the door and Martin obliges when he arrives. But the door is locked and Mrs. T does not open it before talking to M from the window above. The conversation that ensues involves M standing outside the doorway so he can see Mrs. T in the window while L and Ruth stand inside the alcove leading to the door. L and R do not agree on what M should say to Mrs. T, and R is alarmed when M decides to follow L’s advice. Then come the series of responses Louisa tells Martin to use. At this point we know M is struggling to figure out what to say that will get Mrs. T to bring the baby down. He’s accustomed to demanding things from people and getting them, but this time ordering Mrs. T to bring down the baby doesn’t work. His logical assessment of Mrs. T being more fit to care for JH than Morwenna has also been wrong. As he stands looking at L and R in that doorway, he loses all confidence and takes L’s suggestions. Her subconscious desire to reach him by guiding his remarks to Mrs. T breaks down his defenses and he ends up telling L what he’s been wanting to say for a while. Ruth may be utterly amazed at the success of M’s remarks at bringing Mrs. T down with the baby, but the threshold space between M and the door has functioned beautifully to once again transition the relationship between M and L to a much better status. By the time Mrs. T opens the door, L and R have joined M outside the alcove. M and L are reunited with JH and, after each has expressed some sincere feelings, they walk off hand in hand.

The preeminent liminal scene, however, is when Louisa stands in the church doorway on their wedding day in S6. On the way to the church Martin had looked somewhat unsure and had delayed getting out of the taxi briefly. But once he opens the door and steps out, he’s made the commitment to follow through. Martin has entered the church about 20 minutes before L arrives. He keeps wondering where she is and looking for her. The vicar has very little to say that is comforting except that waiting 15 minutes is not too bad. The big moment comes, of course, when Martin walks down the aisle to look for Louisa again and there she is standing in the doorway, with the sunlight shining behind her and a bouquet of flowers in her hands. They look at each other for several seconds and let the moment sink in. Louisa is late getting there. However, when they look at each other while she’s standing in the doorway, there’s no question anymore. She motions him to go back down the aisle and takes the critical step forward into the church to join him, walking with deliberation past the villagers. Soon they are both agreeing that they are sure they want to marry.

I suppose we could include the door to the lodge as another liminal scene. There’s no certainty that they’ll be pleased with what they find once they open that door, but they are pleasantly surprised upon entering the building. And, once they leave it, one trial after another awaits. Who knows what might have happened differently had Martin never built a fire in the fireplace?

Each of these doorway scenes leads to pivotal changes in their relationship. A door and its threshold have many implications. They are a way to limit one’s choices; they are a means of entry into a new time of one’s life; and they are places that signify the potential of what is still to come. In DM doors and doorways have been used effectively for all these reasons.

Originally posted 2014-02-06 14:56:34.

Doors and doorways

On Kate Kennedy’s Portwenn Online site there is a thorough description of how the doors to the entrance to the surgery and to the kitchen have changed throughout the series. But I’d like to look at how these doors and doorways have been used in DM. I want to include the interior doors of the surgery in this discussion as well because they play a key role. After that I will look at the other doors and doorways that have been used in significant ways.

In literature, and in anthropology, there is a concept of liminality. The word is derived from the Latin “limen” which means threshold. It can be applied to all sorts of situations, e.g. actual crossing of thresholds between outside and inside, or rites of passage, or change in status, including marital status. I’m going to use it to signify actual thresholds and what happens when a character stands at the entrance to a room, building, balcony, etc. and either crosses the threshold or is stalled at or prevented from crossing it. In some cases in DM the thresholds of doors function as barriers, in other cases they are merely a site of egress or ingress. When it comes to the two main characters, I believe that physical thresholds are often used when Martin and Louisa are going through transitions in their relationship. They are in a position of liminality both in location and in their lives.

The surgery is the heart of the action throughout the series because it doubles as Martin’s workplace and home. From the moment Martin opens the front door to enter the little house that becomes his primary location in the town, we know that it will be a source of disruption as well as the place he commands. The fact that it is situated at a high point overlooking the town gives Martin a physically superior position to accompany his position of status as doctor. The location allows him to separate himself from the town and its people and to literally look down on them. On the other hand, as a doctor he is constantly involved with the townspeople and cannot distance himself from them. Moreover, many of the people use the road in front of the building and the bevy of teen girls passes by there frequently.

Anyone coming to his front door must cross a slate platform and this area is often the setting for conversations between M and others. It’s where the dogs linger and where patients line up on M’s supposed last day in S4E8. Pauline and Al sometimes sit there to talk and Aunt Joan meets Edward, her young lover, when she sees him on a ladder out there. The doctor’s friend, Gavin, first approaches him on this site, and it’s where he finds his mother, suitcase alongside, when she returns in S6E6. It’s also where Louisa talks to M on several occasions, including when he first makes a date with her to go to the pub and when he tells her she may have Erotomania. The previous night he had opened up to her and expressed his love for her, but when she comes back the next day ready to return his love, he backs away from her. He can be both willing to talk to her there and quick to become angry with her there. At one point, L stands on this site and asks Martin why their conversations always end up so combative. Thus, much happens before entering the front door, and we could say the platform that occupies the outer space before the door functions as a kind of threshold area.

For the patients, the front door is rarely an obstacle, although they better not let a dog in. On the other hand, there are several times when Martin stops visitors at the front door. Gavin discovers M has no interest in talking to him when M slams the front door in his face. He also slams the front door in the face of the water treatment plant’s executive in S1E3. He doesn’t quite shut out Mark Mylow when he comes to the front door to ask M to be his best man, but he might just as well have. And Joe Penhale gets very little respect when he meets M at the front door to tell him to name the baby before time runs out. Edith shows up at the front door after M has corrected her diagnosis of the patient with diverticulitis and M allows her in after accepting her non-apology. Louisa enters through the front door in the early series when she needs to see M for medical care or confront M about his treatment of other villagers. But later Louisa uses the front door to bring some clothes and the baby to live with M at the surgery, a clear indication that their relationship has advanced to a new stage. Not long after, Louisa struggles to push the baby carriage over the threshold while leaving the house, and I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that her difficulties getting over that threshold are symbolic of the stresses in her life with Martin in addition to having her mother show up. Series 6 has the awkward scene at the front door when Dennis and Karen come to dinner. Then in S6E6 Martin’s mother arrives and Louisa appears in the doorway. Margaret is stunned to see another woman cross the threshold and hold Martin’s hand to comfort him. Louisa surprises her again when she explains that she’s Martin’s wife and they are married with a son. It’s a big step for Martin to allow his mother to enter and he is distinctly not thrilled about it. Ultimately, of course, it’s the scene at the front door in the final episode of series 6 that makes the most impact. First Louisa talks to the taxi driver inside the front door, next Martin and Louisa interact inside and counterintuitively decide to move outside to have more privacy. Once they cross the threshold and go outside, the upheaval in their relationship becomes a reality. Martin says goodbye to James just as Louisa steps outside behind him. This is a bona fide liminal moment as it uses the threshold for both an indication of actual as well as emotional departure. It is then that Martin seems defeated and reverts to being more of a doctor than a husband. He gives Louisa some medical advice followed by an awkward kiss on the cheek, helps her into the taxi, and stands in the street watching them drive off. The family home has transitioned back to medical office, and the marriage has undergone a major blow.

Crossing the threshold of the kitchen door plays an important role in DM as well. The kitchen door is always unlocked and Aunt Joan tends to enter the surgery through the kitchen door most of the time, often carrying something for Martin to eat. Bert, too, shows up at the kitchen door on occasion. But it’s really Louisa who uses this door the most, and it becomes the site for the many evolutions of Martin and Louisa as a couple. One of the earliest times Louisa appears at the kitchen door is in S2E2 when she’s checking on Peter Cronk. This is the second time that she and Martin have had to step in to help the Cronk family and once again there is tension between the two of them. She enters the kitchen only to find Peter watching an inappropriate DVD. The next scene finds L sitting at the kitchen table talking to M. During this occasion L once again tries to establish some rapport with M and notes that M is different but she likes the way he is. He appears to be pleased until he begins to suspect that she’s only being nice to influence his vote on her candidacy to be headmistress. That reaction leads to L leaving in a huff, something we become accustomed to seeing. Another time Louisa comes to the kitchen door is S3E1 after she and M have had some disagreement over the care of a hyperactive girl. Louisa and Allison, the girl’s mother, stand in the doorway while L prompts Allison to say “thank you” to M and then prompts M to say “your welcome” in response. Here L uses this gateway to mediate a tense situation between Allison and Martin, which soon deteriorates and leads to L needing to usher Allison back out through the door. She, however, reenters to ask M if she can stay as his patient and talks to him about her worries concerning what she’s doing with her life. The scene and episode conclude with M and L hoping that “something new” will soon enter their lives. It is a very poignant moment.

But the most significant scene that involves L at the kitchen door is when she appears there pregnant at the end of S4E1. This time she never crosses the threshold-in fact, she takes a step back when M opens the door. Her return to Portwenn and her pregnancy are total surprises to M and turn his life upside down. The scene portends the trajectory for the series which is filled with a mixture of anger, resentment and frustration between these two until the last scene of the final episode. Then in S5, after M and L have moved into the surgery together, the kitchen door is the setting for several heated conversations, including one when Ruth enters through it only to find M and L arguing over L’s weight gain. Despite L’s decision to move out in E6, she can’t help coming back to seek M’s help with the baby and she turns up at the kitchen door pushing the baby carriage more than once. However, there’s always an undercurrent of her really wanting to be with M again. (He, too, regrets the separation.) In S6, they are married and we move on in the relationship. Now Louisa uses the kitchen door freely.

The interior door that is often a site of liminality is the door to the exam room. The door to the exam room is a boundary that separates the reception area and the rest of the house from M’s private space. Naturally, he examines patients there and what goes on behind the closed door is meant to be private and confidential. However, that condition is not always honored by his receptionists or the patients themselves. There are many occasions when the receptionists barge in without knocking or stay too long, and there are several occasions when the patients themselves walk through the door into the reception area partially clothed. These are transgressions of the boundaries and can be a humorous way to blur the line between private and public. Edith has no respect for the boundary of the exam room door and forces her way in without regard for the patients or Martin’s position. In addition, M frequently escapes to this room to talk on the phone in private, to work on his clocks, or to simply have some alone time. M shuts the door behind those patients or patients’ family members when he is in no mood to trifle with people who are disruptive or inconsequential to him. Thus, Gavin once again suffers the indignity of having a door slammed in his face while trying to meet with M in the exam room. And Margaret suffers likewise when M does the same to her.

Louisa is another matter. In her case, the door to the exam room turns into a sort of mixture of private and personal boundaries. She certainly respects it as a patient and as an early visitor, but as time goes on, her relationship with M advances and the door functions in a variety of ways. One ironic turn is when M decides L should see the new doctor to be checked for tears that could be causing perineal soreness. This time M must wait outside the door while L is in the exam room. He finds it very hard to stand there and even barges in at one point. Once they move back to the surgery, L comes to the threshold of that door numerous times. She stands there when she’s filling in as the receptionist to notify M when he needs to see patients, but it’s when M has neglected to tell L about the date of James’ christening that the doorway becomes a prominent liminal location. First L confronts M while standing at the threshold, then she enters the exam room in an aroused state, angry that M still doesn’t recognize the resentment she feels due to his continuous unilateral decision making. It is during this confrontation that L reaches a turning point and decides she doesn’t want the meal he’s planned or perhaps any more of his disrespect for her opinions, and walks out the door in another huff.

But it is S6 when the exam room takes on special importance to the relationship between M and L because during this series M uses the room to deal with many personal concerns that he does not allow L to know about. He hides the regular testing he does on himself after his hemaphobia returns, he never mentions the conversation he has with his mother about family, and he distances himself from everyone by regularly disappearing into the room. The mere fact that L must look for him there on several occasions while his mother is in the house emphasizes his estrangement from her. Certainly the beginning of E7 when L brings breakfast into the room so they can eat together underlines the intrusion into their lives that Margaret has become. But it is when L returns home after hearing about M’s sickness while releasing Penhale’s hand from the post in E6, where the door to the exam room is used as another prominent liminal site. First L stands just inside the door after putting James to bed and tells M that everyone is talking about M having thrown up on Penhale. She remains there while she asks him about his continuing problems with his blood phobia, then takes one step towards M as she asks M if he will phone the psychiatrist Ruth has recommended and asks him what he thinks is causing the problem to persist. She follows that with another step towards him while wondering if she’s the reason for his disorder. He is at a loss for an explanation and denies that she’s the source of his troubles, but they seem to be reaching an intimate point in their conversation when it is interrupted (as usual) by a knock on the front door. If they had had more time to finish this discussion, maybe some progress could have been made in their communication difficulties, but his mother’s arrival puts an end to that and the relationship unravels over the next 2 episodes.

These 3 doors in the surgery building are the ones with the greatest significance; however, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the scene in E8 at the bathroom door. Here we see M on the outside of the closed door while L remains on the inside of it. We see their desperation and wish one of them would just open the door. But neither of them can or chooses to and the impasse is palpable. The door to the bathroom has been open for other conversations between M and L, and this private space has never before taken on the sense of privacy that a bathroom can have. This time it’s a definite barrier for them.

I also want to mention the door to the bedroom itself because M stands there while talking to L about keeping James quiet in S5, then ducks into and out of the door frame when she calls the baby Albert. In S6, L and M stand in the door to the bedroom when talking about Dennis and Karen, which leads to some very uncomfortable moments. M also closes the door to the bedroom in E8 after talking to L through the bathroom door, which seems to add some final punctuation to the scene.

I have no idea if the directors, writers, or anyone else regard the doors as anything meaningful and I may be reading too much into their use. Whether it was intentional or not, however, I think these sites contribute to the complexity and impact of the scenes and the relationship between the two main characters.

I realize this post is very long and I actually have other things to say about doors in other locations, but I will put them in another post.

Originally posted 2014-01-30 17:07:29.

More about the kitchen table

I’ve written a post about the use of the kitchen table throughout DM and how it functions as the primary setting within the Ellingham household and even circumscribes Martin’s interactions more. After watching series 6, I think the kitchen table as a setting should be revisited, especially once Margaret appears. One important feature of a kitchen table is its central connotation of a gathering place for the family. We eat there together on an informal basis, but we also consider it a place to reconnect and talk to each other. One reference calls the kitchen table “synonymous with family time and real conversations.” It’s because of this sort of association that Margaret’s frequent appearance at the kitchen table becomes a co-opting or appropriating of that important space, and her stay at Martin and Louisa’s home is even more intrusive as a result.

Margaret arrives in Portwenn about midway through S6 E6. After startling M with her presence at the front door, she walks directly to the kitchen and sits at the kitchen table. M immediately asks her about his father’s death and funeral and Margaret right away appears disingenuous. She attempts to act sweet and caring, but her true disposition comes through nonetheless. We are pretty quickly suspicious of why she decided to return. It’s quite clear that M does not want his mother to stay with them, but L offers anyway and Margaret readily accepts. She’s still sitting at the kitchen table when they return from switching J to their room and making up a bed for her. At this point, she is checking herself in a compact mirror in a symbolic nod to her narcissism. The next morning Margaret is already in the kitchen when L comes downstairs with J. Marg. sits at the table while she and L make small talk. She hasn’t been in the house one day yet and she can’t help showing her mixed feelings about M. She asks L if M listens to her, which could also be a way for her to determine what role L may play in her plan to extract money from M. She also reveals that she and M haven’t been close and she doesn’t entirely blame M; she says she is also to blame. She tells L she’s glad that L can see her side when L says she understands, another attempt to win over L. But her normal disposition appears when she has no interest in feeding J and wants to have her coffee first. M has absented himself the previous evening and gone to bed early and he absents himself again the next morning when he stays in his office rather than joining the family in the kitchen. L goes looking for him and he comes into the kitchen and feels compelled to take a plate from the table. Margaret grabs his arm and he drops the plate when he recoils from her touch. Her only comment is that at least the plate wasn’t a good one, another slur towards M. M has no interest in spending time with Margaret, but she wants to talk with him. Her next comment to L is that he looks tired. When L notes that M hasn’t been sleeping well, Margaret tells her he didn’t sleep well as a child either and “always cried himself to sleep in the end.” Margaret seems to realize that this recollection is disturbing to L and explains that this treatment was normal for those days and now she would do things differently. Once again her comments sound unconvincing. A few minutes later, Mike arrives and is introduced to Margaret. He shakes hands with her while she remains seated at the table. Margaret only stands when L is walking out the door and she wants L to think she is interested in holding J. She hands J to Mike as soon as L leaves.

The kitchen table has been the setting for L’s first introduction to M’s mother and L never sits down with her, nor does M. Margaret’s presence at the table changes it to a place of awkwardness and disquiet. Her attempts to use it as a place for conversation have failed miserably and instead it becomes an unpleasant setting. In fact, there is never a time in the last 3 episodes when M or L sit at the table with Margaret.

E7 starts with L bringing M a breakfast tray into his office, deliberately avoiding the kitchen and kitchen table. She’d like to have breakfast just with M. But M is totally unreceptive to either eating breakfast or her effort to convince him to take some time off and spend it with her and J. L returns to the kitchen where Margaret sits at one end of the table and J sits at the other. L has to ask Marg. to move her cup so that she can extract her paperwork, then she gets ready to leave early. By this time M has come into the kitchen but their only interaction has to do with Sport’s Day and his promise to hand out the awards. L leaves M with Marg., but M is occupied with putting J in his stroller. Once again Marg. shows her lack of involvement in M’s childhood by falsely remembering that he once won an award for sports. M corrects her by bitterly telling her it was for chess. Next Marg. tells him he looks awful and asks if he’s lost weight. She follows up that comment with “What will your patients think when they see their doctor looking so poorly?” Once again she has both criticized and demeaned him while sitting at the kitchen table. M walks out and Marg. coldheartedly returns to reading the newspaper and ignoring J. But the damage has been done and M immediately weighs himself in his office.

Margaret’s day doesn’t get much better when she is confronted by Ruth while taking J for a walk. She angrily returns to the kitchen with J, pushing the stroller haphazardly and alarming Mike who is waiting. She is rebuffed at M’s office door when she tries to talk to M. Of course that day is filled with many troubling events including the military sending officers to find Mike who’s gone AWOL and L being hit by a car. There are scenes in the kitchen with Mike, but none involving Marg. sitting at the table until the next day when M brings L home from the hospital. When they arrive home and walk through the kitchen door, Margaret is sitting there drinking some wine. She looks nicely dressed and it’s hard not to imagine that she has plotted to use this opportunity to get M alone. But she can’t help herself and first tells L that she looks dreadful. L takes the high road and doesn’t answer her, although there’s no question that Margaret is only adding insult to injury. This time L leaves M with his mother and says she’s going to bed. Margaret is so lacking in sensitivity and insight that she wonders if M would like to go out to supper. Not only is M in a state of dismay over L’s intention to leave with J the next day, but also he is holding J. It’s hard to know what Margaret is thinking, except we know that it’s only about herself. Margaret’s moral bankruptcy that Ruth mentioned earlier is certainly in evidence here.

In E8 M first sees Margaret when he comes back from visiting Ruth and he finds Margaret sitting at the kitchen table reading. Margaret once again gets Louisa’s name wrong and notes that she saw L leaving earlier. She slyly tells M he’s lucky she’s there for him which prompts M to finally ask her why she came. Margaret puts her book and her glasses on the table and tries the “mea culpa” route of admitting that she made mistakes and said some very unpleasant things the last time she was there. Indeed, she was sitting at the kitchen table that time too. She claims she wants to apologize and also tell him that his father wanted Martin to know that he loved him. M is unconvinced by these remarks and moves around the table to stand directly in front of Margaret. He’s standing while she’s sitting and this puts her at a distinctly inferior position. Ruth has certainly made M more alert to his mother’s approach and at this point, M doesn’t believe anything Margaret says. Margaret attempts to rescue herself but only digs herself deeper into her lies and M calls her on the lying. Finally she must reveal she’s there because she has no home or money and wants M to help her. She even thinks he owes her because she’s his mother. However, M tells her he has no intention of giving her any money and wants no further contact with her at all. His reaction brings out Margaret’s vindictiveness and she stands up to tell him that he always was an awkward, strange little boy and she’s not surprised his wife walked out on him. This time her cutting words don’t achieve their intended outcome and he simply tells her that he wants her gone when he gets back from seeing a patient.

The next time we see Margaret she is at the airport leaving as ordered, although she has taken M’s clock, which was the one thing of value he had from Joan. The kitchen table has finally been vacated by the dastardly intruder.

Originally posted 2013-12-07 16:13:24.

Jack Lothian, Writers and Actors Redux

I planned to write a post about marriage next, and I still plan to write that; however, I feel inspired to write a post about Jack Lothian’s writing again first. My previous post about writers and actors in August gave a fairly detailed review of the final episode of season 5, which was written by Lothian, and I mentioned several other episodes written by him that I admired tremendously. In season 6 he is credited with writing episodes 1 and 8, the first and last episodes. To the best of my knowledge, the practice of writing a TV show (or a film for that matter) begins with determining the arc of the story for the season. I have to say that in the case of DM it’s quite a bit easier for the writers, producers, etc. to come up with an arc because there are only 8 episodes. For many of our series in the US, there are as many as 22 episodes for each season. In that case, there would be a story arc, but it would probably allow for changes along the way. Over the course of the season they have time to make adjustments if something doesn’t seem to be working as planned. At any rate, when I look at season 6 of DM and the two episodes Jack Lothian wrote, I wonder if he wrote them at the same time because I notice so many points of comparison. (As I’ve said before, I always believe that writers know what they’re doing and write with a consciousness of what they’re writing and intention to include what we see.) Of course you won’t be surprised to learn that I think they are by far the best episodes of this season due to the writing. But they also contain many aspects that connect them to each other and form a nice sense of coherence between them. I will even go so far as to say that episode 1 is my favorite of the season and possibly even of the entire series. I say that because I find it has romance, an impressive range of emotions, and so much humor that I can’t help but laugh out loud at many things that happen. When I first saw episode 1, I thought the series was off to a great season 6 because it was continuing to captivate us with that combination of romance and humor while keeping the characters complex. E2 kept my hopes up too, but then they took the show in a more downward and serious trajectory than I would have ever expected. I have now watched the whole season again and continue to be disappointed that the character of Doc Martin becomes so troubled by his psychological issues that he loses the clumsiness and the sort of naivete that he has had previously. By E6, when Margaret shows up, he’s already headed for trouble. Her appearance only makes things worse, but we do see some light in E8. (I understand if Martin Clunes wanted to shake things up a bit and maybe even wanted to show more of his own range, but for me the show could have stayed in the mode of the first two episodes and found a way to give him those opportunities too. Caroline Catz should have none of those complaints this season since Louisa was put through the wringer and she handled everything she was asked to do with tremendous skill.)

Back to the main reason for this post: comparing E1 and E8…
-The key points of comparison are that in both Martin asks for Louisa’s help, and in both he says “I’m sorry” to Louisa.
In E1 Martin needs Louisa to help him with the makeshift surgery he performs on the caravan owner who gets cut by glass when the unstable awning falls on him. Despite the man threatening them with his rifle, they don’t want him to die and Martin tells Louisa he can save him from bleeding to death, but “I need your help.” In E8, Martin leans over Louisa before performing surgery on her to save her from potentially bleeding into her brain and tells her, “I think I need your help” because he’s never been married before and he doesn’t seem to be very good at it, and he’d like to learn so he can be much better at it.
In E1 Martin says he’s sorry to Louisa as they’re walking up the dirt road with the man they operated on in a wheelbarrow. He knows their first night of marriage wasn’t exactly the kind of night she’d been hoping for. Louisa doesn’t think Martin needs to apologize and tells him the night is certainly one they’ll never forget. In E8 Martin tells Louisa he’s sorry after he kisses her goodbye. The kiss is awkward because he kisses her on the cheek when she wants to kiss him on the lips. He has also told JH he’s sorry for everything that’s happening.
I think repeating these two interactions ties the two episodes together subtly and nicely. That Martin acknowledges that he needs Louisa’s help is always welcome because he has so much trouble ever looking to others for anything. It’s also meaningful for him to apologize because that, too, is a sign everything hasn’t gone as well as he’s wished and he’s willing to admit it.

-Both also include Martin performing surgery and operating on the carotid artery.
In E1 the caravan owner’s carotid is nicked by a shard of glass. In E8 Martin uses the carotid artery as an access point to reach the AVM and complete the embolization. The carotid artery provides the brain with oxygenated blood which is essential to life. By using it twice, its importance for human life is emphasized and Martin’s ability to operate on it safely and successfully is reaffirmed.

-Ruth plays a significant role in both episodes and Al’s relationship to Ruth is important in both.
In E1 Ruth takes care of JH so Martin and Louisa can have a night alone. While they’re having all sorts of adventures throughout the night, she’s also dealing with an unsettled baby and the loss of electrical power in the house. She calls Al to come and fix the electrical problems only to find out he doesn’t know what to do. He does, however, know who to call and Mike Pruddy fixes the power problem and settles the baby. In E8 Ruth clarifies for Martin what he must do to save his marriage to Louisa. She also listens to Al’s proposal to start a bed and breakfast on her farm and determines that his idea is viable, giving him the best boost to his confidence he’s had in along time.
Ruth is a unifying force for Martin and Louisa in both episodes as well as the person in Al’s life who makes him feel important.

-I would go so far as to say that Martin is somewhat overcome at the wedding that he is now married to Louisa and that same sense of dismay plays a part in his inability to say and do the right things to keep her from leaving in E8.
At the reception following the wedding Martin stands apart from Louisa admiring her from across the room. His face reflects a man who is incredulous that he is married to the woman he’s been adoring for many years. In E8 he puts Louisa and JH in the taxi and watches as they drive away with something of the same look of incredulity on his face, but now it’s due to being utterly unsure what to do.
In a way the fact that Martin still appears so disbelieving is further evidence that he has lots of work to do on himself.

-Morwenna and Penhale fill the position of liaisons between Martin and Louisa in both.
In E1 Morwenna holds the baby during the wedding ceremony and then stands between Martin and Louisa as they discuss whether to leave or not. Rather than being an intrusion between the newlyweds, she forms a link and helps Louisa convince Martin to stay a little longer. Penhale wants to be Martin’s best man and makes sure he has a flower for his lapel. He looks for Louisa to arrive and later gives a wedding speech that celebrates both Martin and Louisa as important to the community. Both Morwenna and Penhale see the married couple off. In E8 Morwenna walks in on Martin as he’s doing an EKG on himself. She is one of the few people aware that he’s been running tests on himself. Then she watches in disbelief as Louisa leaves with JH. There’s a definite moment when her expression is telling the doc to do something to stop Louisa, but as usual he doesn’t get it. Penhale is the one who drives Martin to the airport so that he can stop Louisa from flying. He also convinces the security guard to let Martin pass and takes JH from Martin once they get to the hospital.
Martin may not acknowledge it, but these two dependable people enter his life at very important moments and matter a lot to his bond with Louisa.

A minor, and lighter point of comparison is that there are scruffy older men in both. There’s no need to make too much of this, but having these two men — the caravan owner in E1 and the folk singer in E8 — is another way to tie the two episodes together. In both cases, the men start out annoyed by Martin but end up grateful to him. In both cases, Martin extends himself to help them and his behavior demonstrates a fundamental quality of caring in him.

For me both episodes had some very funny moments, although E1 was by far the funnier of the two. In my opinion it may be the funniest of all the episodes so far and I will try to convince you by giving a rundown of all the funny moments in another post.

Originally posted 2013-11-01 21:23:57.

The kitchen table

We all know that the kitchen tends to be the likeliest place in any house for people to congregate. The Ellingham kitchen is certainly where most of the action takes place in this show. Actually, it’s the kitchen table where most of the action takes place!

In addition to being the place where Martin prepares and eats food, it’s where he talks to Louisa, Edith, his mother, and Bert. It’s where he finds Pauline kissing Al and where he first kisses Louisa. It’s where he packs his things when he expects to move to London and where he gives Louisa the engagement ring. Later, he changes James’ diaper on a pad on the table, and Louisa does too. It’s while sitting at the kitchen table that Martin looks overwhelmed by the commotion and noise in the kitchen, and it’s over the kitchen table that Martin confronts Mike about his OCD. Louisa tries to use the kitchen table as a workspace but Martin objects — at least when it’s mealtime. The kitchen table functions as a means of keeping Martin and Louisa apart or as a setting to bring them together.

Many times, Louisa comes to the back kitchen door to talk to Martin and they sit at the table. She talks to him about her forthcoming interview for the school headmistress job while sitting across from him at the table, and it’s where he first professes his love for her. It’s also where he’s sitting when they have an altercation and he sits looking dumbfounded when she tells him she has to leave towards the end of season 5. In season 6, the kitchen table is where they entertain and where that dinner goes very wrong.

Although they have a perfectly nice living room, it’s rare that they use it. Martin has been shown sitting on the couch maybe 3 times in 6 seasons, and Louisa not at all. The house is small and their need for space comes up several times, but they’ve circumscribed the space even more by confining the action to the kitchen most of the time. Even when Ruth takes care of James, she stays at the kitchen table until she decides to lie on the couch to get some rest. Al joins her at the table, then Penhale joins them, and eventually Bert sits there too.

The kitchen table is a gathering place, an obstacle, a practical setting and a place where Martin has felt both comfortable alone and intruded upon at times. The kitchen table is often the place where families spend time together eating and talking so it’s not surprising that this show uses it as a frequent setting. But here it’s important because Martin dislikes going out and making him seem more confined in his own home stresses his social restraints. I’m impressed with the ways this one location has been used and find it pretty efficient for the filming of the show.

Originally posted 2013-10-09 20:04:55.

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!

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

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

Essential Elements of Story

Even though I may be seen as a downer to those who like to treat these characters as if they are real people having responses to each other and to situations as though they are actually going through these events, this post is going to attempt to reveal the method every show (or film), including “Doc Martin,” uses if it expects to be successful. We are watching characters act in particular ways because they are being manipulated by the writers to achieve a specific reaction. Sure, they are supposed to be believable and appear as though they are people we could meet and become friends with. However, no matter how much we care about what their relationship with their mothers was like when they were children, or what their psychological circumstances are, we should somewhere keep in mind that we are engaging in the suspension of disbelief for the sake of enjoying a good story. By that I mean we are allowing ourselves to be drawn into the story of these characters for a certain length of time knowing they are symbolic figures and will not necessarily follow the likely path that would occur if they were operating in the real world.

A Handbook to Literature, basically the bible for understanding literary terminology, distinguishes story from plot. Significantly for our purposes, the Handbook states, “the plot lies in relations among episodes…it is, therefore, a guiding principle for the author and an ordering control for the reader….Since the plot consists of characters performing actions in incidents that comprise a ‘single, whole, and complete’ ACTION, this relation involves conflict between opposing forces. Without conflict, without opposition, plot does not exist…This opposition knits one INCIDENT to another and dictates the causal pattern that develops the struggle. This struggle…comes to a head in some incident — the CRISIS — that forms the turning point of the STORY and usually marks the moment of greatest SUSPENSE. In this climactic EPISODE the RISING ACTION comes to a termination and the FALLING ACTION begins; and as a result of this incident some DÉNOUEMENT or CATASTROPHE is bound to follow.”

The next comment it makes is most important: “Plot is, in this sense, an artificial rather than a natural ordering of events. Its function is to simplify life by imposing order thereon…Plot brings order out of life; it selects only one or two emotions out of a dozen, one or two conflicts out of hundreds, only one or two or three people out of thousands, and a half dozen EPISODES from possible millions. In this sense it focuses and clarifies life.”

Furthermore, the Handbook tells us: “The most effective incidents are those springing naturally from the given characters, the most effective plot, from this point of view is to translate CHARACTER into ACTION.”

Here we have the fundamentals of writing a strong plot that create the link between author (writer) and reader (viewer). All good stories contain these elements and we can certainly see how they work in each episode of “Doc Martin” as well as each series. Because DM has evolved into a story about the relationship woes between Martin and Louisa, which I think was inevitable and should have been obvious from the moment they portrayed them conflicting in S1E1, they have developed plots based on these conflicting characters. They are the primary players in the series and, for the most part, the other characters are important only insofar as they impact these two.

Another source I like to use is Robert McKee’s Story , a book written by a prominent teacher of screenwriting. I took his grueling seminar about ten years ago and so have many famous writers for screen, including Peter Jackson, William Goldman, Quincy Jones, Kirk Douglas, and many more. When I took his course in NYC, Faye Dunaway was also in attendance. For our purposes, his elucidation of story in his book that I want to quote is: “The grand difference between story and life is that in story we cast out the minutiae of daily existence in which human beings take actions expecting a certain enabling reaction from the world and, more or less, get what they expect. In story we concentrate on that moment, and only that moment, in which a character takes an action expecting a useful reaction from his world, but instead the effect of his action is to provoke forces of antagonism. The world of the character reacts differently than expected, more powerfully than expected, or both.”

Since probably my favorite episode is S6E1, I want to use it to illustrate the above elements. I will describe what I see as the plot points that are employed and note how the writers, et. al. select these scenes out of all the ones they could have chosen from Real life.

We can start at the very beginning. It’s Martin and Louisa’s wedding day, but we don’t know this immediately because the first scene is Martin doing a gynecological exam on the green grocer. But wait, we left off S5 with him and Louisa walking together hand in hand. What’s happened between that moment and this one? How much time has transpired? Martin treats this patient the way he typically has treated most patients in the past and she, somehow, doesn’t know it’s his wedding day. But, we have no objections once we find out that’s where he’s going next.

We still don’t know where Louisa is or how long it’s been since we last saw them together. However, that’s about to become clearer once Martin changes his clothes and gets into the taxi. Wait…where is he going in a taxi looking so serious? Why isn’t he driving his Lexus? Don’t ask. Just suspend your disbelief some more because he’s greeted by the crew once he steps out of the taxi and we are more interested in knowing that he is at the church to be married to Louisa. Now we see JH for the first time in S6 and we can tell that he’s older, probably 5-6 months old. If we bother to think about it, we can now say it’s been about 4 months since we left them walking away from the Castle.

Once again Louisa is not there, and the likelihood is that her delay is meant to remind us of the aborted wedding plans from S3. There’s a little suspense while we wait for her to appear. In that period, we may notice that Ruth and baby James are the only family members in attendance. If it’s been 4 months since the last series, Louisa’s mother Elinor would have been back from any trip she took and could have been invited to the wedding. Why isn’t she there? Well, my view is that reintroducing her in this series only brings in plot points they don’t want or need. Besides, later in the series we hear Martin say his family consists of his wife, his son, and Ruth. They are neatly packaged in this first episode as such and it never occurs to us to wonder where Elinor is. In real life, there would probably be much more difficulty keeping her out of the picture. After all, Louisa had made peace with Elinor by the end of S5 and accepted her mother’s need to head off on more adventures. Why wouldn’t she want her mother at her wedding? However, it’s only at the end of S6 that Louisa decides to visit her mother in Spain and mentions her again. Have they spoken during the past few months? Has Louisa sought Elinor’s advice or sympathy while dealing with Martin and his mother? That’s not important to this plot and not included.

Louisa does show up, claiming that her hair delayed her (a funny excuse that could be a reference to how much brides fuss about their hair). The wedding proceeds without Elinor, but with humorous comments by the vicar and the usual missteps, and the reception that follows is filled with the many secondary characters behaving in ways we’ve come to expect and enjoy. Penhale makes a speech that is laudatory but gets interrupted by Bert, who wants the event to move along. Bert has already sampled the food and found it deficient, and Morwenna has been used as a link between Martin and Louisa and led us to the dancing scene. Meanwhile, Chippy Miller has approached Martin with a medical problem while Martin is admiring Louisa and possibly marveling at/internalizing having Louisa as a wife. Would a patient do this at a real wedding. I hope not! But it happens here because it’s part of the plot of the show to have patients come up to ask Martin for advice at the oddest times. It also prompts Martin to seek out Louisa and suggest leaving.

At this moment, the music begins and everyone expects them to dance. They have their dance, with a few minor glitches, and decide to slip out to avoid any shenanigans by Bert. Somehow most of the guests don’t notice they are leaving, and they make it outside with the baby in hand. However, again somehow the important characters are out there before they show up and are ready to encourage them to spend a night at a lodge. Ruth is sure she can handle the baby for one night, their bags have been secretly packed, and they are whisked off with Bert driving. No mess, no fuss. Martin didn’t have a car to worry about anyway and no one gives it another thought.

Along the route to the lodge they pass the man they will later encounter in the woods. Here he is holding some animal over his shoulder and follows the car with his eyes as it passes him. They, too, see him, and he may give them a few misgivings because of his inhospitable appearance. We also see a horse that figures in a later scene. (At night when they hear someone yelling in the woods, they don’t think of him and, when they come upon his caravan, they don’t appear to recognize him, or him them.)  Perhaps they originally set this up so that they would remember each other and then ditched it. Primarily, though, the effect is to let us know that where they are going is isolated and wild. They don’t mention any of this to each other so we have no idea what they’re thinking; we can only use their faces as a guide and Louisa looks a little uncomfortable.

Of course, they make it to the lodge where they have no phone reception and shouldn’t need it if the night goes as planned. Needless to say, it doesn’t, and Martin decides to head out to find a phone they can use. The reality is that they actually would have had trouble getting phone reception out there (or in town for that matter), but wouldn’t he have been better off retracing the route Bert used to bring them to the lodge? That’s what most people would do, but for this plot they need him to head into the woods. It turns out they spend the entire night in the woods, entering it and exiting it during daylight. (The nights in Cornwall are shorter than in some other places, but that would still mean spending at least 6 hours in the dark.) Do we care how long they’ve been in the woods? Not really.

Once they enter the woods, Martin and Louisa begin to disagree. She thinks he’s going the wrong way and he’s sure he knows what he’s doing. They have a confrontation with the horse that leads to Louisa making fun of Martin. But the CONFLICT between them reaches its height when they arrive at the brook and Louisa refuses to walk across it. In my opinion it is at this point where a CRISIS develops. Even though Martin suggests that he carry Louisa across, they have a heated argument over how their honeymoon plans had been determined and by the time they reach the other side of the water, Louisa’s anger level is raised to a point that she tells Martin he never understands anything and she says, “you’re right, this was a mistake.” She appears to mean spending the night at the lodge, but we could also consider her to be making a remark about getting married at all. Nevertheless, their encounter with the caravan owner brings them together by motivating them to defend each other to him and by using the plot device of having them work together to tend to the damage to the man’s carotid artery that was caused by broken glass from the awning falling on him. The dénouement has been reached, catastrophe averted, and all ends rather harmoniously as they walk up the dirt road pushing the man in a wheelbarrow.

We don’t know how they got the wheelbarrow, how they made it to the road, and when the sun arose, and we don’t need to know. We also don’t know what transpires between the time they hail the truck that fortuitously appears on the road at that moment and when they are back in their house. It’s not important for the plot. The episode ends with more of the typical mayhem during which the kitchen is once again filled with the main characters of the story plus the appearance of a patient at a most unpropitious time accompanied by the barking dog. We know, however, that their marriage is on a good footing at this point because they find a moment to speak to each other quietly and decide together what they plan to do next.

We could be tempted to fill in the gaps, and often that is exactly what fan fiction does, but for the purposes of the show, they are left open and should be. As McKee writes: “The substance of story is the gap that splits open between what a human being expects to happened when he takes an action and what really does happen; the rift between expectation and result, probability and necessity. To build a scene, we constantly break open these breaches in reality.” In addition, he states, “the source of the energy in story… [is]…the gap. The audience empathizes with the character, vicariously seeking his desire. It more or less expects the world to react the way the character expects. When the gap opens for character, it opens for the audience. This is the ‘Oh, my God!’ moment, the ‘Oh, no!’ or ‘Oh yes!’ you’ve experienced again and again in well-crafted stories.”

There’s nothing better than getting taken away by the plot of a story in which you identify with the characters and empathize with them. My goal in writing this post is not to diminish that in any way. However, I struggle with going too far and developing detailed backstories for our protagonists. Much of what we see on our screens was never meant to be taken to that extent. In fact, if we get too deep into concocting childhood events that may have led to one or another behavior as an adult, I think we may suck all the enjoyment out of simply going along with the story. We wouldn’t want that to happen!

Originally posted 2015-08-16 14:40:02.

The Other Filming Days

Now that I have written about the day I spent on the set being involved with the filming, I wanted to describe some things I noticed while I was simply watching. In total my husband and I were in Port Isaac renting a house at the top of Fore Street for 12 days. We arrived on a Monday and departed the Saturday of the next week. That means we were in Port Isaac for one weekend during which there was, of course, no filming. My day on the set was the first Wednesday we were there and that was extremely fortuitous because after that the weather became erratic to say the least.

We watched some filming on the Tues. after we arrived and I found the location of the so-called filming schedule. I would say two things about posting a schedule: 1. We learned quickly that no schedule could be followed because of the unpredictable nature of the weather, and 2. If they are filming in Port Isaac or Port Gaverne, it’s pretty obvious where they are because of the trucks, equipment and crew swarming around. We happened to be able to go to the top floor of the house we rented and look out across the harbour to Roscarrock Hill and see if anything was happening out there. If there wasn’t any sign of action, we could take a walk down the hill into the village and immediately tell if they were filming there OR we could walk down the other side of the hill into Port Gaverne and quickly see if there was filming going on below. It may be a courtesy to the town and the people who live and work there to post a schedule, but while we were there, and I venture to guess more than 50% of the time, the weather forces a change. I will confess that I exercise a lot and have no trouble walking up and down the steep streets of these adjacent towns; however, the towns are so small and compact that I think anyone could sweep the area in twenty minutes or less to figure out where the filming is taking place.

We were primed to watch 9 days of filming, but ended up with 6: Tues., Wed., Thurs., and the following Wed., Thurs., and Fri. There was no filming in town on the first Fri. for some unknown reason, perhaps filming indoors or taking a break, and the Mon. and Tues. after the weekend had monsoon type rain and wind, not to mention cold. When they resumed filming on Wed., they had to be very behind schedule for the outdoor shots. Even that Wed. was not a great day to be outside because the wind made us very chilly. That was the day from which you’ve probably seen many photos. The entire day was spent near and on the beach at Port Gaverne (and I use the term beach liberally here). I have some pictures to share from that day too, some of which I haven’t seen posted anywhere yet.

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The beach at Port Gaverne, 20 May 2015: rocky, muddy, windy. You can see some sunbathers on the right huddling behind a wind screen. (Wind screens are used on many beaches in Cornwall.) They were only there as extras and never figured much in the filming. I bet they were pretty cold though!

My general observation is that the choice of Port Isaac as a location may be scenic and charming, but is fraught with all sorts of challenges. Apart from the changeable weather and windy, cold temps throughout much of the filming period, PI seems to be a popular place for people to hike through and to enjoy for a day. The place was no ghost town on the weekends even though there is never any filming then. As I mentioned in my previous post, people come there with dogs and children and wander the narrow streets, walk along the coast path, eat ice cream, and enjoy the scenery. Then there are the vehicles that seem intent on driving though town no matter what the obstacles. On the first day we watched filming, there was a construction vehicle with a substantial size loader on its front that kept going up and down Roscarrock Hill while they were attempting to film a scene with ME, the nanny and the baby. (This was the scene in which the young teenager stands too close to JH’s stroller while looking at her mobile phone and ME taps her phone and angrily asks her what she wants.) There were plenty of people bunched together trying to watch and we all had to move out of the vehicle’s way each time they drove through the scene. The hill is narrow, steep and has very little cushioning on the side, but that didn’t bother these guys. At one point, they had to stop for the take to be shot and we all stood up against the vehicle in a precarious position. In addition, there is almost no phone reception. There were several times when I saw people who work on the show holding more than one phone and trying hard to find a place that would get reception. The crew uses two way radios to communicate with each other most of the time, and that’s true on many productions, but it’s especially necessary in PI. (We also had terrible radio reception in the car.) The selection of PI definitely tests the crew in many ways.

Since we were staying in Port Isaac, we went to other villages in the area during the days without filming. The other villages and towns were also filled with visitors, some more than others.

We saw:

  1. Wadebridge: closest sizable town to PI and a good place to go for supplies. It has a pedestrian mall with several banks with ATMs, some shops, restaurants, pharmacies, grocery stores, etc.
  2. Delabole: a good place to wash our car and get gas. We got so much seagull bombing on the car that it was sometimes disagreeable to try to open the door. The town is inland and tiny, maybe one main street and not much else.
  3. Newquay: a surprisingly honky-tonk city with arcades, all sorts of stores selling beach wares because there is a decent beach once you walk past the conglomeration of places selling stuff. There is an airport just outside Newquay which makes it accessible as well as functional. It did not look to me like the airport used in S6E8.
  4. Tintagel: where there are the ruins of a castle and some nice views. This is definitely a tourist destination and tour buses swing through regularly.
  5. Boscastle: where there is a river flowing through the center of town, unless it’s low tide. It has a touristy feel to it because there is a designated parking area from which to take walks as well as several shops. It’s quite scenic though and I have now seen pictures from when they were filming there.
  6. Rock: where the houses are more upscale, there is a golf course and resort with the main Nathan Outlaw’s restaurant, and a lovely Bay to look at. We were lucky with the weather that day and enjoyed having a drink while sitting on the porch of the restaurant looking down at the Bay. This town is very close to PI.
  7. Truro: we actually saw this on our way to Bath but since it’s often mentioned in the show, it’s worth noting here. We checked out the hospital areas and did not determine which hospital was used for any of the outside shots. It has more stores and would be a place to shop.

I know we should have gone to Padstow and some other nearby towns, but we saw a lot.

At any rate, as you’ve read in many places, each scene is done many times over from various angles and that requires the runners and crew to keep herding the onlookers from one position to another. We couldn’t really complain since we were getting in their way and were a nuisance, but they must be feeling a mixture of flattery and frustration with all the onlookers. It’s also quite difficult to hear any of the dialogue. We weren’t that far away, but their voices aren’t that loud and the sound doesn’t carry that well. I think it’s pretty hard to put together what’s happening by seeing 2-3 minute takes during which you can’t really make out what’s being said. While we were there episode 5 was being filmed. We saw 6 days of that episode being filmed and I would still be guessing as to how they will arrange it all in the end. I have some ideas, but it remains to be seen if I made the correct deductions. I also think they filmed some scenes that will be eliminated during the editing phase. (Maybe that’s obvious!)

As you’ve read repeatedly, MC willingly allows people to take a picture with him whenever there is a break in the action. There was always an immediate rush to go through his receiving line to have him smile for each picture. He was always good natured about it. There was no such rush to have a picture with the nanny or JH or the teenager.

I noted that John Marquez had a very busy day on the Wednesday that I did the walk-on part. Well, following that long day, he had a four day weekend and a young woman who seemed to be his girlfriend arrived. By chance we kept bumping into them everywhere we went for the next two days. First we saw them in Wadebridge, then we went for a walk up Roscarrock Hill and saw them taking a selfie with PI in the background. I offered to take their picture for them and they accepted.

The Wednesday following the two days of heavy rain and wind found everyone in Port Gaverne. The first scene they attempted to film was of the BBQ in front of the police station. In this scene, Penhale has invited Al, Morwenna and Janice to the Police Station for an outdoor get together. This all sounds good until they tried filming it with the wind blowing and the temps hovering in the low 50s. The crew set up a wind screen to try to reduce the wind and the actors gamely made it look as though they were enjoying a nice, warm day when they were really freezing cold. The two young women were dressed in their summer attire, but kept their winter parkas and boots on as long as possible. The men made an effort to look warm too but also wore their coats as much as they could. Joe Absalom has a very short haircut at the moment and put his hood on regularly. Those of us crazy enough to be watching were also shivering, with the exception of some people for whom temps in the 50s feel warm. I think my right ear froze in the wind because I wasn’t wearing anything on my head! (Naturally we sacrificed for the event that we had traveled so far to see.)

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At the table

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Morwenna and Janice waiting to enter the scene

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The ladies are surprised to discover the bottles are real. Joe and Al stand in the background behind director with Al’s furry hood around his neck.

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Here’s Al/Joe with his hood on

The cold wind led to some problems with lighting the BBQ and I’m pretty sure they suspended filming it that day in favor of waiting for a better opportunity. But that gave me a chance to take a picture from the actor’s POV:

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They arranged for the grill to have a big flame upon lighting

They then turned to filming scenes with Louisa, Martin and JH having a picnic at the beach. First they had to overcome a rivulet that made it difficult for the couple to walk across the beach to their destination. They decided they needed a few well-placed stepping stones to keep them from having wet feet.

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Caroline even helped. She had no trouble finding several stones to use.

Next came the filming of the two of them, Louisa carrying the picnic basket while Martin carries JH and the sand bucket. The plan was for Martin to notice some sunbathers as he walks past them with Louisa leading the way. Not only did these young ladies have to lie out in skimpy outfits, but also they had to appear to be having a lovely day at the beach. Martin can’t help but stop and (most likely) warn them of the dangers of too much sun. The hiccup was that every time Martin leaned over to talk to the nearest young lady, the baby he was carrying would start to cry. They tried it several times and leaning over did not suit the baby; he cried every time. At first Martin did as much as he could to comfort the little guy and they wrapped him in a blanket, but once he was settled down again and they could do another take, the same thing happened. I must say that Martin was very good with the baby. The young one just wasn’t having it.

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The above will not be part of the episode. It was just MC soothing the baby. I don’t know if they will keep that segment in and allow JH to cry or have to ditch it.

Louisa has continued past the sunbathers and retraces her steps to extract Martin from lecturing them. It’s a scene reminiscent of so many from the past and totally in character for ME. For that reason, I hope they are able to include it. I saw that there were other scenes filmed on the beach that involved a teenager throwing a frisbee into the Ellingham family space and the Ellinghams attempting to eat something. I was not present for those scenes and will be interested to see what gets used.

Martin was at the beach the entire day, which gave us all lots of time to watch him. There’s no question that he is the main attraction and just about everyone coming to see the filming is most interested in taking pictures of him and with him. There’s also no doubt that he is well aware of this. My impression is that he is performing all the time, either as Martin Ellingham or as Martin Clunes. He has an uncanny ability to switch each of these characters on and off at will. Thus, when it’s time to rehearse and/or film, he snaps into his ME demeanor and satisfies the demands of filming. As soon as the take is over, he snaps into his MC persona and makes the most of where he is. It’s easy to see that he genuinely enjoys people and dogs (not necessarily in that order) and is making the most of the days he spends on the set.

In the case of being on the beach, he took treats from Dodger’s trainer and danced around with the dog seemingly unconcerned about getting paw prints or splatters on his pants, then he waved at all of us watching from behind the stone wall above, and at one point, he took out his own camera from the backpack he carries with him and started taking pictures of the crew, etc. He even had fun taking a selfie:

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He also climbed the rocks that jutted out along the edge of the beach and joked around with Caroline Quentin and John Marquez. (If you see pictures of him jumping down from the rocks or otherwise messing around, you should know that those are not part of the show and just scenes of MC having fun.) They were rehearsing and filming the scene captured by many of Angela (CQ) acting like she sees something in the sky and then running into the ocean. Penhale (JM) runs after her asking ME if he should tase her but ultimately tackles her in the water. (That final part is done by stunt doubles and John Marquez expressed his appreciation by giving them a loud round of applause once they completed it. I’m sure he was very glad he didn’t have to fall into the water in those temps. I checked… the air temp was 50 F and so was the water temp.!!) Angela has been acting as though she sees things that aren’t there throughout her appearances and is probably having side effects from medication she’s taking.

It took a while for all of the beach scenes to be completed and, once again, the crew were exceptionally dedicated. Eventually the tide started to come in and they had to keep moving the equipment closer and closer towards town. I never stopped being impressed with the amount of energy they all had. They truly go non-stop, all day long.

The final two days of filming we were able to see had more to do with scenes of Louisa with students and a bit of Ruth with Bert. Thursday actually turned out to be a warmer, sunnier day and filming began on Dolphin St. where Ruth’s residence is. The street is not wide enough for cars, thank goodness, and Ruth’s house is on a fairly steep rise. We arrived there to find that the exterior of the house was wrapped with black sheathing.

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Long shot

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Close up

Although it was morning, they were shooting a scene that is supposed to take place at night. As you can see, we were all in the dark and could not see what was going on. A little while later they took down the sheathing and we were able to watch Bert approach the door, knock on it, and talk to Ruth. What I heard him say was something like he wanted to come by before he left and thought she would appreciate him “doing something” (I couldn’t make out what). She responds in some way and then rather abruptly shuts the door on him while saying “Goodbye Bert.” He could have been suggesting another of his rather questionable proposals or any number of other things. She was clearly not interested. (I heard someone conjecture that ME must have been inside and slammed the door on Bert because that would be more typical of him, but there was absolutely no sign of MC and Ruth’s voice clearly pronounced the goodbye. I’d say this is how rumors get started.)

I had watched a scene with Ruth the previous week in which she was asked to walk towards the pharmacy carrying a couple of bags that seem to weigh her down. They tried that scene a variety of ways because Dame Eileen was not happy with her approach nor with where they situated the conversation between Ruth and Mrs. T. In the end, Ruth carries only one bag and does not appear nearly as worn out, then she walks in front of the pharmacy only to be confronted with Mrs. T. Mrs. T is in a tizzy because Clive has returned and she tells Ruth he wants to try again. The ever practical Ruth tells Mrs. T to talk to Clive and find out more from him. They toyed with the scene several times and I can’t say which version they will settle on. However, the way they adjusted the scene demonstrated how much the actors contribute to each scene, and the respect the director has for the actors’ intuitions.

Friday was Caroline Catz day. From early in the morning until late in the evening, CC was filmed in various locations. The day started out rather foggy, but filming began on Roscarrock Hill. I missed the very beginning. When I got over there, they were filming a segment that involved two students and their teacher lagging behind and needing to be urged along. They had the planets that figured in scenes throughout the day. It looked like the class was walking to a field perhaps where they might arrange the planets as a display for understanding their relationship to each other (?). (Again that’s pure speculation on my part.) Eventually we watched as Headmistress Ellingham led the way holding a large orange sphere in one hand and a student’s hand in the other as the class heads up the hill. Part way up she turns to talk to the teacher bringing up the rear. I would imagine that we’ll see the two students with the teacher at that point. My sense was that they were using Roscarrock Hill without any reference to actually walking by the surgery building. This is also speculation, but there seemed to be no relationship to being in the vicinity of the surgery as they walked up the hill. I know you’ve seen pictures from this scene, but I’ll throw in one of mine:

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Later the filming resumed at the schoolhouse where the students were supposed to be playing on their hard surface playground and then line up to walk from there with the planets. Basically, the day was scenes filmed in reverse order. Here they are ready to depart from the schoolyard:

 

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Having observed Caroline Catz as she negotiates the filming of her scenes, I have to say that she seems to be a serious actor who probably needs to stay within her character while working. I can’t say this unequivocally, but I would imagine that it’s more typical of actors to tune out distractions so that they can present their best work. The working conditions in PI place actors extremely close to the onlookers, and some of those onlookers have no hesitations about talking to the actors. One rather disturbing incident my husband witnessed was during a scene when Louisa and Martin are headed down an alley that spills out into the harbour area. Louisa is carrying the picnic basket that she later brings to the beach and Martin is walking behind her pushing JH in the stroller. As they left the alley and came around the corner one rude man loudly said to Caroline, “You don’t need to be so angry.” This was totally inappropriate and rather obnoxious. She’s in character, forced to walk into a crowd, and then he thinks it’s ok to berate her or taunt her. Enough of those sorts of experiences and anyone would want to be shielded. It’s a sad fact that women need to be more careful than men when surrounded by strangers. Caroline may also be less of an extrovert than MC, but she makes plenty of appearances at all sorts of events. She is simply more private and less interested in working the crowd. Even so, she’s a good sport and does have her picture taken with fans quite often.

It was really interesting to watch how they handle all of the features of the village and accommodate the fans while doing their best to get the filming accomplished. I live in a city in NC (Wilmington) that has had many TV shows and movies filmed in it. It’s not a big city, but it’s much larger than Port Isaac. Plus we have a Screen Gems studio here for indoor scenes and many places around town that are converted into various settings. They often block off streets for filming and alert us that we might hear gunfire or other noises and not to be alarmed. TV shows “Sleepy Hollow” and “Under the Dome” have been filmed here recently; “One Tree Hill” and “Dawson’s Creek” were filmed here for many years. But our area is so much more spread out and quite a bit larger that I’m sure the film crews are not nearly as under pressure as the crew working on DM. They not only work together all day, but they also live with each other in and around modest and remote PI. I know most of the actors live there too while filming. I can only give them a standing ovation for managing it all for close to half a year.

 

 

 

Originally posted 2015-06-28 09:56:24.

Attached to Feeling Ineffectual

Since I have obviously run out of personally generated ideas, and the NYTimes seems to regularly publish articles that I find relevant to the show, I hope you don’t mind if I continue to refer to what I’ve read.

The Times has been publishing a series of articles called “Couch” that “features essays by psychotherapists, patients and others about the experience of therapy — psychoanalysis, cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, marriage therapy, hypnotherapy or any other kind of curative talk between people behind closed doors.” That has turned out to be incredibly fortuitous, especially because we have been mentioning all of the above on this blog.

This week the article is written by a psychiatrist in private practice in Cambridge, MA and is about a possible explanation for having little tolerance for risk and choosing known dangers over unknown ones. The patient in the story and Martin Ellingham have one thing in common: his father is a brilliant, larger-than-life figure who bullied and belittled him. In the patient’s case, he has continued to try to impress his father. When, at last, this patient’s father and he decide to work together on a business venture, he continues to feel disparaged or ignored until their business becomes a success. Oddly, however, it is at this point that the patient feels worse than ever.

The psychiatrist’s assessment is that having success with his father is unknown territory for the patient and that makes him extraordinarily frightened. “What if he lets himself taste victory and it still fails? There is so much to lose now. Maybe even more terrifying, what if he gets what he wants? Then who would he be? He does not know how to assimilate the identity of successful entrepreneur and worthy son, however much he has coveted it. Doing so would represent a bizarre kind of loss: That is not who he has known himself to be.”

Here’s another way of looking at ME and his achievement of marriage to the woman he has pursued for so long. Is ME now overtaken by fear because he has married Louisa and there’s so much to lose if he fails? Furthermore, having a successful love life is alien to him despite having coveted it for a long time, and now he may be having an identity crisis. He wants to change and has wanted to for a long time, but, faced with having reached such an exceptionally desirable state, he’s not sure how to handle it. He is not who he has known himself to be.

In conclusion, the psychiatrist writing the article boldly states: “We are all afraid of acquiring what we can so easily lose, whether professional status or someone to love. We are caught in a dilemma. Pursuing these commitments can be terrifying. But letting ourselves ignore them can be dangerous, even fatal.” Although I’d like to think that many of us can withstand the sense of accomplishment that comes with success in an important chapter of one’s life, I have to agree that these kinds of major adjustments are accompanied by trepidation. In the case of ME, he has allowed himself to be vulnerable because of his supreme love of Louisa. He might find it very anxiety provoking, even to the point of putting him into a dangerous depression, but his decision to follow her and to work on their marriage should take him out of the danger zone.

Success has immobilized him for quite a while; hopefully he will be rescued from the edge of the abyss by his own efforts to accept this change and by discovering Louisa needs him as much as he needs her. It’s her turn to reach down and grab him as he’s falling. (Sorry, sometimes I get carried away.)

Originally posted 2015-03-15 15:50:42.

Opting to Stay

I would have liked to have called this post the same thing as the article in the NYTimes Magazine: “Should We Stay or Should We Go” because I like that so much, but I felt uncomfortable stealing it. Obviously, I am still finding articles in the NYTimes and a few other places that inspire me to write posts for this blog. I am an incorrigible user of material that originates elsewhere!

In this case, the discussion is about how the trend in films has gone from the constant use of the phrase “Let’s get out of here” to the command to stay and be strong enough to stay. “Where ‘Let’s get out of here’ is all bravado and yang, stay is self-absorbed yin. In this context, the balance of cultural power seems to have shifted from the getting-outta-here rebels who used to tell the squares and schoolmarms to kiss off to the squares and schoolmarms themselves, who just wish everyone would hold on a second and think this thing through.” This article also addresses the complications of staying which include the possibility of being oppressive and/or being too protective.

In our case, I see the “Doc Martin” show as following the same progression. (I say this with the full recognition that Portwenn is a place that most people rarely leave. What I’m focusing on is Louisa’s behavior in regard to the relationship that builds with Martin.) Martin arrives at Portwenn because he has decided to get out of London. Leaving London and being a vascular surgeon gives him an opportunity to start a new life. He isn’t thrilled with the place he’s chosen and, for many reasons, decides to leave Portwenn to return to London. Louisa wants to have a relationship with Martin and stay in Portwenn, but she is always leaving the relationship for one reason or another.

Nevertheless, once we reach the end of S5, we have witnessed Martin make a decision to stay so that he can be with Louisa, and Louisa has been convinced of his sincerity and looks forward to having a life in Portwenn with him. S6 finds the couple making a commitment to each other and settling into being in Portwenn. By the end of S6, however, Louisa has decided she would like to leave town, somewhat reminiscent of the end of S3. Her plan to leave is thwarted by a serious medical condition and now she must stay and think things through. So the series has established that Martin and Louisa will stay in Portwenn despite their marital troubles. At this point, we expect them to look at themselves and their marriage and stay — stay in Portwenn, stay together, and stay in their professions.

Probably unwittingly, the show has adopted (or sensed) the trend that has become a part of filmmaking recently and is following it. We can only lean back and enjoy!

 

 

Originally posted 2015-03-05 16:05:52.

Making Hard Choices

Recently I read an article by Ruth Chang, a professor of philosophy at Rutgers University, and then watched her TED talk.  The talk had to do with what makes some choices hard; the article was closely related to that but also about being the person you want to be and creating a new you. When she refers to hard choices, she’s talking about decisions we make between two options that are “‘on a par'” or between alternatives that are equal in value and are difficult to choose between because of that. There is no wrong answer, but they may not be equally good either. What she argues is that the choice we make must be something we can stand behind and commit to and thereby turn it into a position of value. To me, the strongest statement she makes in the article is “when we choose between options that are on a par, we make ourselves the authors of our own lives.” This assertion reverberated with me because it sounds very similar to what Ruth tells Al when he’s at loose ends. She tells him in S6E6, “we are the authors of our lives.” (I doubt the writers knew about Ruth Chang. Her TED talk was given on June 18, 2014 and the filming of S6 was over by that time. However, her earliest articles on this subject appeared in 1997 and thereafter she continued to write about this subject regularly.) Like so many interesting issues in human behavior, there are both psychological and philosophical ways to view them.

There are many hard choices confronting Martin and Louisa. We have been discussing the personality traits of these two characters. Presumably these would play a role in how they would go about deciding between the options they must face now. Ruth Chang’s article uses the tradition of making resolutions for the New Year as a starting point and ends by noting: “Our task then is to reflect on what kind of person we can commit to being when making those choices.” I think we can put this to work for the situation at hand, especially because it relates to making changes that can lead to being a different person, and change is what Martin plans for himself.

I’m going to take a stab at some of the hard “on a par” choices Martin and Louisa have to make and see what all of you think about these and what others you come up with.

1. Louisa must decide whether to return to the house. The alternative is to live in Portwenn and be separated (right now she can’t leave because of her recent surgery). This decision would be on a par because Louisa loves Martin and wants to be married and parent JH with his father; however, Louisa knows being married to Martin is difficult and Martin would continue to have a relationship with JH even if they lived apart.

2. Martin must decide whether to confide in Louisa and admit he needs her help. The alternative is to decide that he continues to be unable to have an intimate conversation with Louisa. This decision is on a par because Martin wants to be with Louisa and he recognizes that she has been very disturbed by his secrecy and unwillingness to reach out to her; however, Martin struggles to allow anyone into his inner world and he knows it will be arduous to convert himself into someone who asks for help and shares his thoughts.

3. They must decide whether to seek counseling, marriage or individual or both. The alternative is to try to reconcile on their own, possibly with Ruth’s help. This decision is on a par because both Martin and Louisa are aware that a counselor could be helpful and counseling has been recommended by both Edith and Ruth; however, Martin is skeptical of most counselors and likes to manage his own care, and both of them will want to go to counseling in a location not well-known by Portwenn villagers. Finding a way to budget the time for that may be too much trouble.

I could go on, but I’ll leave it to you to suggest other hard choices. I’d like to consider how this philosophical view can be combined with the psychological traits we’ve been discussing too.

In addition, I’d like to refer you to an article by Ruth Chang titled “Commitments, Reasons, and the Will” in which she discusses internal commitments. On page 78, Chang explains, “a promise to love and to cherish has greater normative significance than that of incurring an obligation through a promise. This is because it is backed by an internal commitment—something the promisor has done all by himself that gives his subsequent promise special significance or meaning.” We know Martin is a moral man, and we consider Louisa moral as well. They have taken the step to get married after having many vacillations in their interaction as a couple. Now that they’ve taken a vow to be together, they have made an internal commitment that Chang makes a strong argument about — it changes who they are and the significance of their relationship. That has to play some sort of role in what they decide to do and in what kind of people they want to commit to being.

Originally posted 2015-01-14 17:16:21.

Some additional comments

I can see our comments have kind of slowed, and I haven’t posted anything new for a little while. I would love to see more discussion about acts of kindness and acts of nastiness or unfriendliness. There’s Mrs. T’s comment that Louisa only had the baby to catch Martin and then her drugged up diatribe about Louisa being a trollop; there’s Edith and her reprehensible decision to make overtures to Martin even though, or maybe because, she knows that he’s about to become a father; and Margaret’s comment to Louisa that she looks terrible when she returns from the hospital; and several other examples. A small town can pull together and help each other out, or it can have a tendency to be petty and self-protective.

I won’t say more about that, and I probably shouldn’t bring this up again either, but I found this article very touching and it makes a number of good points about how clothing can matter. I thought it was worth posting. I particularly like how the author’s mother chose to dress to instill some sense of control over her life. There’s little question that the way ME dresses gives him a sense of control and is part of his armor against the demands of life. We might think of Edith’s clothes functioning similarly and possibly Joan’s and the receptionists’ too.

I also found it lovely that when the author went for her own colonoscopy, she decided to dress in something that made her feel good (and reminded her of her mother). (On the other hand, I would never wear anything nice to a colonoscopy. No offense, but I just want to get in and out of there as fast as possible without much bother.)

I think we can all relate to associating certain clothes with loved ones. I’ve kept a few things in my closet that used to be worn by people who meant a lot to me. They are nice reminiscences. I realize the clothing posts have not been all that stimulating to you, but I’m obviously hardheaded and can’t help saying more.

I hope to write a few other posts soon, although I will be away for the next week. I’ll be checking the blog regularly, however.

Originally posted 2014-11-22 16:47:02.

An in depth look at Louisa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Incongruities and other thoughts

While writing the post on ambiguities it occurred to me that there are several other issues I have with S6. If we’re going to wonder about various scenes and their meanings, I have a few things I’d like to ask:
1. Martin and Louisa have lived together with James for at least 6 months by the time they get married. For all of S5 Martin has very little trouble dealing with their incursion into his life. In fact, he seems to thrive on it, taking JH for a ride in the car to soothe him, taking him to Ruth’s while Louisa sleeps in, keeping him in his office when necessary, etc.. Why would their presence be so problematic now? True, as I’ve previously noted, children’s accessories grow as they grow. The nice thing, however, is babies start sleeping through the night and don’t cry as much, and they can do more.

2. Louisa would like Martin to talk to her, confide in her. But she’s known for a long time that he doesn’t like to talk about very much, especially personal issues. Why would she think that he would start talking more openly just because they’re married? Most of us keep physical or psychological difficulties to ourselves. I would guess that most spouses aren’t aware of their mate’s feelings of anguish over many things. Once she learns of the return of the “blood sensitivity,” she might have been able to coax more out of him. She hasn’t been that willing to talk herself. The difference between them is in degrees, not in substance.

Here are a few things they’ve never told each other:
Martin — his experiences with his parents, his experiences at school, his visits to Portwenn (including whether he had ever heard of Louisa or her family when he visited – or anyone else who has lived there for a long time), his relationship with Edith, and many other details about his likes and dislikes.

Louisa — her life with her parents and in Portwenn, her education in London, her decision to be a teacher and live in Portwenn, whether she ever heard of him staying with Aunt Joan, any hobbies she’s had, e.g. surfing, boating, whatever.

3. After Margaret tells Louisa about Martin crying himself to sleep many nights as a child, why wouldn’t Louisa ask Martin about that? She finds the story disturbing and Margaret’s explanation and excuse unconvincing. Definitely something most women would want to find out more about.

4. It’s a bit odd for Louisa to be aware of Martin’s inability to sleep and not try to talk about it. When she’s worried about Mrs. Tishell’s return, he makes an effort to calm her worries. He even tells her that things are always worse when it’s late. Wouldn’t that have been an opportunity for them to talk about his worries or at least given her reason to ask him some other time?

5. Louisa talks to Ruth about Mrs. Tishell. Why wouldn’t she ask Ruth about Margaret and Martin’s childhood? After all, Ruth has told her that she often “overshares.”

I am also going on record with some thoughts I have about S7. These are based on what has already been included in the show and in no particular order:
1. There will be some medical emergency that brings Louisa and Martin together. It might be something with James or maybe with Ruth.
2. Eleanor could return to disrupt their lives again. Now that Margaret’s gone, Eleanor could make a reappearance.
3. There will certainly be some shenanigans at the B&B Ruth and Al establish.
4. They obviously have to find some other childcare arrangements. There could be someone from an agency who comes and might even be a “supernanny” type, who would rub both of them wrong. We’ve had on OCD nanny; they might go the other way and have a nanny who is good with James but leaves things in disarray. This could be true whether or not they are living together.
5. As far as I’m concerned Mrs. T has become a caricature and should never have come back at all. By the end of S6 she was no longer funny; she had become a total nut case. I don’t know how they would explain it, but despite Selina Caddell’s great acting, Mrs. T’s character has run its course and should not return. Jenny could then take over the pharmacy and be a different source of irritation for Martin. (I assume Jenny and Bert will marry, but that is not entirely definite. Hopefully any marriage will be simple. We don’t need another wedding with ancillary events. They could get married sometime on their own.)
6. I can imagine many funny scenarios that involve James and his development. What about Martin finding fault with the pediatrician they take James to? There are all sorts of toys that Martin could put together for James now that he’s shown his capacity for figuring out directions to construct the crib. James will start to talk too and be more mobile.
7. They will go to a marriage counselor and that will have all sorts of repercussions, some funny, some disruptive, some affectionate.
8. I recently read a BBC news story that could be used. James Henry’s crying had kept up the neighbors in S5, perhaps their household could be disrupted by new neighbors.
9. I feel certain that there will be a lot of strife between Martin and Louisa in the early episodes of S7, hopefully with more humor included. But I feel just as certain that by the final episode there will be a convincing reconciliation that will end the show with us all thinking that this couple will stay together. And I am just enough of a romantic (and a fan of Sara Bareilles’ music) to suggest the last tune played on the show should be her “I Choose You.” Lyrics
Plus, I could choreograph a Zumba dance to this!! It’s not a tango. It’s considered pop-rock, but it’s got such a good beat I think it makes listeners want to dance and, more importantly, its words express what this couple should be saying to each other. Caroline Catz could sing it, although I think much of the sentiment would be better said by ME. (I’d love to hear CC sing even if she just sings songs to JH.)

Originally posted 2014-10-04 10:57:25.

The Buddhas, Buddhism, and Doc Martin

As I’ve said several times, I am not a student of religion and I have no specialized knowledge of Buddhism. I have one benefit in this area — my husband has read about many religions and has some books on Buddhism. Therefore, I have read parts of Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor, and Religions of Asia, 3rd Edition, by John Y. Fenton, Norvin Hein, Frank E. Reynolds, Niels C. Nielsen, Jr., Grace G. Burford, and Robert K. C. Forman (all of these authors are professors at various American universities). To write this post I will be relying on these references and a website that really gives a great outline of what Buddhism is all about.

As we all know, there are several Buddha statues placed around ME’s exam room. The presence of these statues has prompted viewers to wonder what their meaning might be. I read somewhere that when PB was asked about the Buddhas, she refused to discuss them. There are many ways to interpret her response, and I’m not into speculation of that kind. Nevertheless, if she won’t discuss it, we will never know what their actual purpose is. Ultimately what I’ve decided is to use the Buddha figure ME considers valuable enough to take with him and strap into the backseat of the car as the important statue in the show. I think if we’re going to put some energy into trying to determine what the Buddha might mean to ME and DM as a show, the fact that he separates out that one to take with him in the car, and it’s also the one Edith notices when she first visits his office (S4E1), makes it the one to concentrate on.

The Buddha appears to be in the meditation pose in which the back of the right hand rests on top of the left palm with the thumbs lightly touching each other. The right hand, being on top, represents enlightenment and the other, the world of appearance. Thus, this gesture symbolizes overcoming the world of appearance through an enlightened state of mind. This was the state of the spiritual leader, Gautama Buddha. The fact that it is in the car when Martin chases after Louisa, fearing for her safety, could be interpreted as contributing to his enlightened state of mind once they reach the pub and Louisa is in labor. It is still in the car next to Louisa when they take the baby home from the hospital. When she gets into the back seat, Martin says the baby makes everything different and, when they arrive back in Portwenn, he asks to stay overnight. His view of having a child and staying with Louisa has taken a dramatic turn. Could the conversion be due to some influence of the Buddha?

Why he finds it valuable and how it is related to Edith are hard to answer questions. Is he calling it valuable because of its material value, its sentimental value, or its value to him as a person? (Here we go again with the significance of language and how a word can have many meanings.) How was Edith involved with the Buddha? Was she there when he found it? Does it have something to do with their relationship? It’s hard to imagine that they traveled somewhere to get it because of his aversion to travel and hotels, but they could have gone shopping in London together and seen it at some store. We don’t know why it’s valuable; we only know he considers it valuable.

I will try to distill the salient points of Buddhism that I’ve read about and could be related to this show. I want to strongly caution that all of this is totally my own guesswork and might have absolutely no merit. I have no reason to believe anything I come up with coincides with what the writers, set designers, producers, etc., etc. had in mind. As long as we understand that what I’m doing is purely an intellectual exercise, I can go on.

Buddhism is based on the life and teachings of Sakyamuni Gautama Siddhartha (please excuse the lack of proper accents on some of the letters), a name that comes from his clan name followed by his family name and his given name. Siddhartha means success. He lived in the 5th C BCE in northeastern India. One of my sources states, “Buddhism has so many different teachings that it is impossible to fit them into a single, coherent, logical system. They do, however, fit together as therapies or medicine…Buddhism teaches that beings are sick, and the Buddhas are the physicians.” The stories told by Siddhartha’s followers describe a boy born to the ruler of the Sakya kingdom and who was insulated from sickness, decay, and death. He was given the best education possible and married to the most beautiful princess, by whom he had a son. He names his son Rahula which means the fetter. This name could be a sign that he was ambivalent about the value of married life.
[At this point we could pause to note that obviously the idea that Buddhas are physicians might be related to Martin’s profession. In addition, we could draw an analogy between the first rate education Siddhartha received and Martin’s education, as well as his marriage to a beautiful princess followed by the birth of a son and Martin’s similar circumstances. Martin, too, might consider his son a fetter despite loving him.]

Eventually, Siddhartha left home and practiced asceticism but that did not lead to any clear answers about the cycle of life. He went into the forest and found himself under a tree where “he vowed that he would not move until he had attained perfect and complete enlightenment.” As a result, meditation became an integral part of his belief system. The teachings of The Buddha are called The Dharma and consist of the Four Noble Truths. According to another source, “the first two truths (anguish/suffering and its origins) describe the dilemma, the second two (cessation and the path) its resolution. He awoke to a set of interrelated truths rooted in the immediacy of experience here and now…An unawakened existence, in which we drift unaware on a surge of habitual impulses, is both ignoble and undignified.” Furthermore, “instead of presenting himself as a savior, the Buddha saw himself as a healer. He presented his truths in the form of a medical diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment.” [I hesitate to make too much of this, but it must be significant that Buddha is so intertwined with medicine and healing.]

The Four Noble Truths “are challenges to act.” Suffering is the first noble truth. Buddha believed that “all sentient beings…live lives in which suffering is an inevitable and ultimately dominant component.” The Second Noble Truth asserts that the cause of suffering is desire and craving. The Third Noble Truth is the cessation of suffering through Nirvana, which means “extinguishing.” Here it means the extinguishing of craving and, therefore, of suffering. “When the mind no longer grasps and craves what is by nature impermanent, suffering ends.” The Fourth Noble Truth is the path out of suffering. The path is called Noble Eightfold Path and those who follow it are released from suffering. Buddha is said to have followed it himself. For me the path is somewhat vague. It consists of “right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.”

The Noble Eightfold Path is sometimes divided into three basic divisions, as follows:
Division Eightfold Path factors Acquired factors
Wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā, Pāli: paññā) 1. Right view 9. Right knowledge
2. Right intention 10. Right liberation
Ethical conduct (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla)
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
Concentration (Sanskrit and Pāli: samādhi)
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

To the best of my understanding, Wisdom is the ability to be discerning and depends on each individual’s capacity to know right and wrong. Ethical Conduct is the necessity “to restrain from unwholesome deeds of body and speech to prevent the faculties of bodily action and speech from becoming tools of the defilements.” Right Speech is “abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter.” Right Action is “abstaining from taking life, from stealing, and from illicit sex [or sexual misconduct].” Right Livelihood “means that practitioners ought not to engage in trades or occupations which, either directly or indirectly, result in harm for other living beings.”
The five types of businesses that are harmful to undertake are:
Business in weapons: trading in all kinds of weapons and instruments for killing.
Business in human beings: slave trading, prostitution, or the buying and selling of children or adults.
Business in meat: “meat” refers to the bodies of beings after they are killed. This includes breeding animals for slaughter.
Business in intoxicants: manufacturing or selling intoxicating drinks or addictive drugs.
Business in poison: producing or trading in any kind of toxic product designed to kill.

And Concentration “is achieved through training in the higher consciousness, which brings the calm and collectedness needed to develop true wisdom by direct experience.”

The Buddha points both to cognitive and emotional causes of suffering. The emotional cause is desire and its negative opposite, aversion. The cognitive cause is ignorance of the way things truly occur, or of three marks of existence: that all things are unsatisfactory, impermanent, and without essential self. The noble eightfold path is, from this psychological viewpoint, an attempt to change patterns of thought and behavior.

[I want to pause here again because this is a lot to take in and because I think we can see a link to some of ME’s behavior. When Louisa describes Martin as moral before their wedding in S3, she could be saying that he subscribes to the Eightfold Path and, indeed, he exhibits highly ethical conduct as defined by Buddha. He abstains from lying, idle chatter, stealing, and illicit sex. He also has chosen a profession that is the polar opposite of harming others and he doesn’t eat meat or use intoxicating drinks. Even his view of people being able to change could be linked to Buddha’s belief that by using the eightfold path a person is trying to change his/her patterns of thought and behavior.

Although all of the above is one way of applying Buddhism to the show, we have other sources for these traits and actions such as psychological conditions or childhood traumas. Thus, we cannot attribute it all to following the Buddhist philosophy. We can only say that it is possible to find a connection to Buddhism.]

In addition to the Four Noble Truths there are two doctrines that are distinct to Buddha’s teachings. These are Interdependent Arising and No Self. My source explains that the doctrine of Interdependent Arising states “all phenomenal reality, both cosmic and personal, comes into being through a process in which 12 constituent elements are continually arising interdependently (that is, dependent on and in conjunction with one another). These 12 constituents are ignorance, karmic predispositions, consciousness, name and form, the five sense organs, and the mind, contact, feeling-response, craving, grasping for an object, action toward life, birth, and old age and death. All reality can be seen as a kind of circular chain, the links of which are these 12 constituent elements. Each one of these elements, and the suffering it involves, therefore depends on each other link…It becomes possible for any individual person at any time to stop his or her involvement in the process by eliminating one or more of the links in the circular chain.” For the Buddha the two weak links that are more easily eliminated are ignorance and desire or craving.

The doctrine of No Self professes “the individual is made up of five psychophysical elements…: corporeality or physical form (which includes physical objects, the body, and the sense organs); feelings or sensations; ideations…; mental formations or dispositions – the likes, dislikes, and impulses we have about those ideas; and consciousness, the awareness of any or all of these elements… There is no essential “I” to protect and fight for. Thus, egoistic striving is seen to be delusory, and one’s own suffering is reduced. One is also more available to others, for one is freed from one’s own agenda.”

[Martin appears to have eliminated ignorance, at least when it comes to medicine, and he has few desires or cravings, although he drives an expensive car and dresses in natty suits. His major desire is Louisa, of course, and perhaps being a surgeon. Has his desire for Louisa led him to be too caught up in his craving? Can he be said to have reduced the suffering associated with these links? I struggle to believe he isn’t suffering over Louisa. When it comes to his sense of self, he seems to have relatively little interest in his psychophysical self as defined by this doctrine and he is without much of an agenda. Nevertheless, we don’t see much reduction in suffering as a result.]

I’m not sure if my discussion of Buddhism has been a satisfactory summary of Buddha’s teachings or whether it has shed any light on why there are Buddha statues placed in ME’s office. Despite spending some time reading about Buddhism and trying to find ways in which it can be related to the show, there is a part of me that can’t help wondering if they have no important meaning. Sometimes props are used to misdirect viewers or as an inside joke. As I said at the outset of this post, all of this is speculation and may have no real connection to the show.

Originally posted 2014-08-31 16:34:41.