Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

Being There

Surprise!

I have found an article that I had to add to our discussions. It’s been a long time since I felt the urge to write anything, but the NYTimes pricked my interest once again. In an opinion piece in last Sunday’s Review section I read an article that brings another perspective to the posts we’ve had about Mindfulness and Happiness.

Is happiness achieved through being in the moment or through dreaming and letting our imaginations transport us to places filled with pleasant thoughts and memories? Even though I have never tried the practice of Mindfulness myself, I can look at this situation from both sides. If we lose the moment, we can never get it back, and even if the moment involves washing dishes, as the writer of the piece does, there’s a certain Zen sense about the act. On the other hand, allowing one’s mind to wander to places that are filled with cheerful memories or scenes is certainly one way the mind can get us through a mundane day, or even a terrible day.

It’s hard to argue with the article’s declaration that: “On the face of it, our lives are often much more fulfilling lived outside the present than in it. As anyone who has ever maintained that they will one day lose 10 pounds or learn Spanish or find the matching lids for the Tupperware will know, we often anticipate our futures with more blind optimism than the reality is likely to warrant.

Surely one of the most magnificent feats of the human brain is its ability to hold past, present, future and their imagined alternatives in constant parallel, to offset the tedium of washing dishes with the chance to be simultaneously mentally in Bangkok, or in Don Draper’s bed…” Our lives would definitely be a lot less joyful if we weren’t able to fantasize.

I understand that Mindfulness Therapy does not preclude the ability to use our imaginations, and it’s important to remember that the idea of applying it is usually accompanied by a need to find a treatment for troubling and intrusive thoughts. Wikipedia, that somewhat suspect but relatively reliable source states: “MBCT (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy) functions on the theory that when individuals who have historically had depression become distressed, they return to automatic cognitive processes that can trigger a depressive episode. The goal of MBCT is to interrupt these automatic processes and teach the participants to focus less on reacting to incoming stimuli, and instead accepting and observing them without judgment.” We aren’t talking about the day to day humdrum of life; mindfulness is a way to help people in distress.

In looking back on a previous post about Mindfulness published on 12/17/2014 and titled “A Look at Mindfulness,” I was reminded that Santa referenced an article she found on Huffington Post. In that article they state: “Earlier this year, a review of 47 studies showed that evidence of a positive effect of mindfulness on managing anxiety, depression and pain had been proven across a number of clinical trials.”

The author of the op-ed in the recent NYTimes is applying her skeptical view to her daily activities rather than to any serious psychological conditions. She may have a point in relation to the overuse of Mindfulness in our quotidian lives, but when it comes to dealing with the debilitating symptoms of anxiety, depression and pain, we might challenge her doubts.

Nevertheless, a bit of cynicism is acceptable. Anything, or any therapy, that becomes too embedded in our daily lives deserves to be questioned to some degree. Every protocol has its day, and its value, but we know nothing works for everyone. Can we really expect to see Martin Ellingham engaged in periods of Mindfulness in this show? What we tend to get in Doc Martin in terms of therapy are snippets of honest to goodness hints of techniques that could work, but they are truncated by improper execution. We cannot anticipate more than that.

In closing I think it’s fun to note that one of the memorable quotes from the movie of the same title as this post is “Life is a State of Mind.” The main character of the movie is a man who lives totally in the present while those all around him project all sorts of things onto him. His state of mind is entirely different from everyone else’s and he appears happy while they are wrestling with all sorts of decisions. I’m not arguing that he’s in a state of Mindfulness, yet being in the present can have its limitations.

Originally posted 2016-11-30 22:12:12.

Bert’s wedding plans

The whole side story of Bert and his relationship with Jennifer has been a curiosity to me. It’s sweet that Bert revives an interest in a woman he knew a long time ago and might have even married if he hadn’t met someone else. But I wasn’t really sure what the point was in having this other love story in the series. In fact, I was sort of annoyed by the distraction. I even thought this secondary story was another way to avoid putting too many demands on Martin Clunes while he recovered, much like we speculate the storyline about Penhale’s survivor course might have been. However, now I’ve been thinking about it more and come up with something a bit more useful.

I think Bert’s interaction with Jennifer leading to his proposal should be seen as a counterpoint to how Martin has been handling his desire to be with Louisa. Of course, the Bert and Jennifer thing is much briefer, but here’s how I think it may work:
Jennifer comes to town unannounced after a long absence. Bert sees her and is surprised that she’s returned. He immediately approaches her and invites her to stay in his house instead of the Crab and Lobster. Even though he plans to have her pay for her lodgings, his real reason for offering her a place to stay is to have time to talk and rekindle his relationship with her. She’s happy to be asked. While she stays with him they get to know each other better and they confide in each other. It isn’t long before he asks her for a date and she accepts. Mrs. Tishell returns and Jennifer knows that as soon as Mrs. T is given permission to work unsupervised, she’ll be told to go somewhere else. Bert hopes to find something for Jennifer in town so she can stay on, but that doesn’t work out. A short time later Mrs. T gets the letter allowing her to run her business alone again and Bert is faced with the real prospect of Jennifer leaving. Al makes it clear to Bert that if he doesn’t want Jennifer to leave, he must act. And act he does. He tells the taxi driver to bring Jennifer to a quiet spot away from everything where he is waiting to ask her to marry him. He has the ring and he removes his hat as a formal gesture. It has all the hallmarks of a romantic proposal. Jennifer is duly surprised and impressed, and accepts.

If you look at it this way, Bert has handled his interplay with Jennifer the way we would have liked to have seen Martin treat Louisa. Louisa was a much tougher woman to convince when she first arrived back in Portwenn, and may not have accepted an offer by Martin to stay with him, but many people in the town thought he should have asked. At least once L has the baby, M asks if he can stay with her, and she is very happy to have him. Once they stay together, they develop a close connection and series 5 has many nice scenes while they all live together. M is the one who changes his plans to leave Portwenn first during series 5, but since Bert’s scenes with Jennifer occur during series 6, I think we can relate them to how M should have handled L’s decision to depart. If M does not want L to leave, which he certainly does not, he could have made some sort of romantic gesture or offered to drive her to the airport and cancel surgery that day, or he could have even asked the taxi driver to take her someplace where he could have been waiting. To me, L appears hopeful that M will say something loving when she’s standing behind the closed door to the bathroom and M is on the other side. But, despite his evident pain, he can only muster that his first patient has arrived. He offers to drive her only after the taxi is already there and he has a waiting room filled with patients. L knows he always feels a responsibility to his patients and isn’t about to be shut down again by asking him to choose her over his patients. (Ironically, M cancels his patients for 2 days when L is hit by the car, but he would not have voluntarily closed the surgery.) As it turns out, M is in no shape to see patients that day and Morwenna ends up canceling patients for the day after all. M goes after L due to an emergency, but he could have shown L his priorities without the emergency. Isn’t that what she’s looking for? She’d like to see him do something for her/with her without being asked or forced.

Originally posted 2013-11-17 18:29:13.

S6 E1 and its funny scenes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addendum to Jack Lothian post

In watching S6 E1 again, I noticed that during the walk in the woods Louisa runs down the hill where Martin’s fallen and says, “Catch me if I fall.” He does catch her as she reaches him and I suddenly realized that could be a foreshadowing of when she gets hit by the car and, next episode, has an AVM. Martin definitely catches her when she falls at those times. That is basically what marriage is about, he falls and she goes after him trying to comfort him, then she falls and he catches her. Very nice metaphor!

Originally posted 2013-11-07 13:53:15.

Marriage as an Institution

Marriage. What does it mean? Who gets married and when?
In DM we have none of the issues of cultural differences or religious differences that can often impact marriages and decisions to marry. What we have are two older adults who have never been married falling in love and trying to decide whether to marry. Marriage is a bond between two people and should be a lifetime commitment; some sites link the term marriage to permanence. For many men and women marriage is a difficult decision and marriage rates reflect that. This show not only illustrates the problems confronting this particular couple, but also couples in general. Finding the right man or woman is the first step and the longer one waits, the harder that gets. Apparently Martin had once thought he wanted to marry Edith, but that possibility encountered likely opposition from Aunt Joan and then Edith chose her career over marriage and moved on. Once burned, twice shy as they say, which is to say that Martin is certainly not about to jump into marriage too fast next time. He’s also not much of a lady’s man and wants someone with a combination of attractiveness, intelligence, and sensitivity. We know he wants all of these traits because no one of these is sufficient to get his attention. Mrs. Wilson is pretty but narcissistic, Mrs. Tishell is intelligent but not attractive, and Edith is certainly not sensitive (or attractive, if you ask me). Louisa has not had many good prospects from the looks of things, and she’s smart to be selective, but after a while it may be harder for a woman to know when she’s met the right man. Louisa appears to want a man who’s accomplished, not too religious, and a little unique. As with many couples these days, their own parents have not been good role models for successful marriage. Neither marriage was happy and Martin and Louisa have born the brunt of that. As a result, they are both probably looking for someone who will be faithful and reliable.

The first reason that prompts Martin to ask Louisa to marry him is that he has spent close to two years yearning to be with her, and dealing with intermittent intrusions in his efforts to get together with her, until he finally can’t stand it any longer. The show deliberately puts Martin in situations where he foils his own chances, e.g. he tells Louisa she has bad breath after their first kiss, insults Danny to Louisa because of jealousy, compliments Louisa and tells her he loves her only later to accuse her of being infatuated with him, and ultimately ruins a date and passionate kiss by telling Louisa she’s being too emotional. That comment finally causes her to tell him she doesn’t want to see him anymore, which deeply troubles him to the point that he can’t sleep and can’t concentrate at work. Somehow we keep rooting for Martin and Louisa to get together despite the obvious miscues, or maybe because of them. It’s not until Louisa’s friend Holly hurts her back and then falls on a glass bottle that Louisa and Martin join together in an effort to rescue Holly, and they are given an opportunity to lower their guard. Even though this is an awkward time, Martin asks Louisa to marry him and tells her he can’t bear to be without her, and we finally have a romantic moment. On the other hand, the proposal of marriage occurs at a point when both Martin and Louisa are frazzled. Louisa accepts and they spend the night together without regrets, however, the proposal and acceptance seem very impulsive. In addition, the time they have between the decision to marry and the availability of the church is so short (maybe 3-4 weeks) that there really isn’t a lot of time for them to fully contemplate the implications. Could that be enough time? I’m sure it’s worked for some people, but making a lifetime commitment to someone is probably more likely to work out well if both parties have had enough time to think it through. We do see a few sweet moments while they plan the wedding,e.g. dinners with both loving exchanges and occasional slips (like breathing strips for snoring), a kiss on Louisa’s balcony.

There are no hard and fast rules about how long to date before marrying, but there seems to be some consensus that 1-4 years works best. The first time they plan the wedding, they call it off claiming that both of them are unsure they would make the other happy. On the day of the wedding they have been bombarded with all sorts of reasons to have reservations: the usual vicar is a drunk and falls and breaks something; the other clergyman Martin approaches hates weddings and forces Martin to check a pig’s anus before he’ll agree to do the ceremony;the dry cleaner gives Martin the wrong clothes; Louisa’s maid of honor hurts her eye and gives birth to her out-of-wedlock baby; several friends of Louisa give her reasons to hesitate; and ultimately both Martin and Louisa have a brief chance to catch their breath and come to the same conclusion that they should wait. The die seems cast throughout the episode. Beyond the absurdity of all of the obstacles here in the way of a successful wedding, we should probably give some thought to the notion of how best to prepare to be married. Maybe even if a couple is in love there should be a sort of cooling off period so that they can be under less pressure.

The next time comes when Louisa returns to Portwenn 6 months pregnant and Martin, being the moral man he is, reflexively asks her if she wants to get married. Louisa immediately says no as she has no intention of trapping Martin in a marriage even though she wants him to demonstrate an interest in her. It is only after the baby is born and they live together for a few months that they finally decide the time is right. Once again an emergency medical procedure brings them together: Tommy’s methanol poisoning and then the birth of the baby. And once again their relationship makes another step forward as a result. (Is this any way for a couple to keep reconciling?) Of course, their relationship goes through one more crisis when JH is abducted by Mrs. Tishell before another reconciliation during which Martin seems to understand that Louisa needs some affection and expression of love from him. In my opinion, women universally feel insecure and like to have some affirmation of love periodically. Men probably want that as well but aren’t quite as needy perhaps.

In DM, Martin and Louisa are traditionalists concerning marriage in that they get married in a church, Louisa adopts Martin’s last name, and neither has ever been married previously. They are modern insofar as their baby is born before they get married (in the United Kingdom 47.3% of births were to unmarried women in 2011), Louisa breastfeeds but plans to keep working (she expresses milk so she can give the baby breastmilk when she’s away), and they share the responsibilities of caring for JH pretty equally and hire a childminder for when they are at work. Martin is somewhat retro in that he wants Louisa to quit her job and stay home with JH, but her strong objection to that makes him adjust quickly and he is remarkably willing to share the responsibilities of taking care of JH. There’s no doubt that their first months of marriage are more difficult because of the demands of having a baby and all of the stresses that accompany that. For Martin and Louisa, JH both brings them together and causes some strife as they deal with getting him to sleep, feeding him, determining which of them should sacrifice time from their job, and finding a childminder they both like. All very typical married couple problems.

We don’t see too much of the household duties causing difficulties. They seem to share the grocery shopping and cooking to a certain degree, they both do some cleaning up in the kitchen, and they both change diapers. We don’t see any bathing of the baby, washing clothes, folding clothes, house cleaning, or other mundane chores except for buying nappies and some pharmaceuticals. They are also lucky that they can walk most places because they only have one car, something that could be a source of discord. They don’t seem to have much closet space (or space of any kind), but that hasn’t been a problem so far either. In short, many of the typical marital disagreements are not a part of this show.

But the biggest source of marital difficulty is what causes their greatest turmoil: lack of communication. We’re all aware that women like to talk more than men and that’s been proven by research. (I think you could ask most women and they would say that their husbands universally have trouble talking about things that bother them. It seems like the Y chromosome contains the gene for being taciturn.) However, communication comes in both verbal and non-verbal forms. With Martin, Louisa gets neither much of the time. And as his hemaphobia and insomnia become more problematic, he gets more withdrawn. She’s already told him how important it is to her that he tells her something nice now and then, but Martin has so much trouble expressing those feelings. How wonderful it would have been for him to tell Louisa how he considers her and James his family (as he tells his mother), or how much he, too, misses her once she goes back to work. How much would it have meant to her for him to tell her that his hemaphobia had returned and it was really upsetting to him. He could still say, as he does to Ruth, that he expects it to go away again. But Louisa would have felt that he had confided in her. And wouldn’t it be nice if her kiss on the cheek when they’re in bed would have been reciprocated? These are the little things that mean so much for every marriage.

Martin has never told Louisa much about his childhood, nor has he told her what his mother said to him the last time she visited. What Louisa knows about Martin’s childhood comes mostly from what she’s discerned from the side comments he’s made throughout the years about being punished by being paddled or locked in a confined space. She’s also seen the pictures of a morose little boy and heard about his being sent away to school at a young age. Without much information, she is hard-pressed to grasp his constant battle to overcome his hesitation to open up to her. Martin really doesn’t know much about Louisa’s childhood either, although he knows her mother is something of a loose cannon and Louisa and she have had trouble relating before. As with many marriages, both of them find it hard to remember they both bring a lot of baggage into the union. Their ability to communicate with each other would be greatly enhanced by setting aside some time each day to be together. In season 6, E1 we saw them interact congenially, if at odds at times. This episode is a good microcosm for what marriage can be like and how it can all be resolved lovingly in the end. Sometimes Martin takes charge, sometimes Louisa does, but in the end they walk arm in arm meeting adversity as a team. Unfortunately Martin is not likely to suggest time together, and Louisa tries to pierce his armor to no avail. Therefore, it’s not too surprising when they have a blowup in E7.

The first year of marriage is certainly one of major adjustments for any couple. For an older couple with a baby it’s even more fraught. Marriage consists of constant adjustments and compromises, and it’s those who accept that and roll with it who have enduring relationships. Martin has shown some pretty impressive willingness to try to accommodate Louisa’s wishes when it comes to the care of JH and even her position as headmistress, and Louisa has made an effort to be sympathetic, express concern, and try to draw out Martin. Martin wants to learn to be a better husband and Louisa seems to be open to making another effort to keep their marriage together. Plus, we have another medical complication that brings them together. It can’t get much worse than Martin having to operate to save Louisa’s life! Marriage requires work and theirs requires possibly more work than most. Their travails have been condensed into a short span of time which makes it all seem so disconcerting, but their vows to each other were made with seriousness and will most likely help them persist.

Originally posted 2013-11-04 14:58:47.

Medical questions related to Episode 8

All along I have been watching this show with a keen interest in both the medical and psychological conditions it addresses. I’m also learning a lot about the system of medical practice in the U.K. In this last episode I have found that our system in America has some significant differences from the one in the U.K. Let’s review what happens medically during this episode….

Louisa is leaving with her arm in a sling due to a broken collarbone. She’s on anticoagulants because she has probably had an embolism after suffering a deep vein thrombosis. She doesn’t have a cough anymore so I suppose we are expected to think her embolism is not causing any problems. (It’s somewhat unlikely that the cough would have cleared so quickly.) Martin advises her to drink a lot and try to stretch her legs during the flight, and she seems to be following his advice as we see her drinking something before getting on the plane.

The serious medical events happen once Martin opens an envelope containing Louisa’s brain scan, most likely done following her car accident. The word “scan” is used without saying whether it’s a CT or MRI. CTs are most commonly done after trauma because they are better at picking up bone fractures and bleeding, but an MRI would be more likely to indicate the existence of an AVM. (My husband thinks the scan looks like an MRI and the dye Martin mentions called gadolinium is used with MRIs.) Martin calls radiology and asks them to check the scan they have to see if they see the AVM too. Although it’s impressive that they answer quickly and do what he asks immediately, that could happen. Next he calls Louisa to try to stop her from getting on the plane, but she is in no mood to talk because she has a headache (a sign that she’s feeling symptoms from the AVM). Martin knows he has to prevent her from getting on the plane and hops in his car to race to the airport. While driving he calls the hospital to tell them he’s going to need an operating theater to be prepped for emergency surgery, and he wants it to be ready in one hour. This demand sounds pretty outlandish since he’s a GP in Portwenn and has never done any surgery at their hospital; however, when I checked, I discovered that in UK “the most important privilege conferred upon a Registered Medical Practitioner is that, unlike unregistered doctors, he or she may perform any duties as a physician, surgeon or other medical officer:

In any hospital, infirmary or dispensary not supported wholly by voluntary contributions;

In any prison;

In the navy, army or air service;

In any other public establishment, body or institution; and

To any friendly or other society for
the provision of mutual relief in sickness, infirmity or old age.”

This is very different from the US where the hospital has to have a doctor listed as on the staff and having hospital privileges before he/she can utilize the facilities of the hospital and the staff. Presumably, the hospital in Truro knows Dr. Martin Ellingham from Portwenn because he has referred patients to them and, from the way the young surgeon reacts, his reputation precedes him. (My husband has called ahead to ERs here in the US when we were in cities away from our hometown and requested they prepare for a patient, and they have never argued with him. So in emergencies, a call from a physician in the US will be taken seriously.)

Martin manages to get security at the airport to allow him to get Louisa off the plane (which is harder than working with the hospital), rushes her to emergency where they are waiting with a wheelchair, and the next scene shows him in scrubs preparing to go into surgery. He meets the very novice surgeon who he locks in a closet because he doesn’t consider him experienced enough, and once again we wonder how he could simply walk into the surgical suite and not be questioned. (The young surgeon apparently doesn’t report what Martin does to him, but he’s probably smart not to anger Martin who has the standing to make his professional life difficult.) I suppose Martin takes charge in such a way that they don’t wonder about his authority, and they may have heard his name before just as the intern had. From what we can tell, the embolization is handled pretty accurately, although it’s more common to use the femoral artery than the carotid artery as a point of entry (but this is based on US practices). In addition, in US either an invasive radiologist or a neurosurgeon would be most likely to perform this surgery, but a vascular surgeon could do it. The operation is an emergency procedure and that would mean that it would be ethically permissible for Martin to operate on his wife, unconventional but acceptable. He is clearly the best surgeon on site and should, therefore, do the surgery.

Following the operation, Louisa says her head hurts a little but she could be feeling pretty good under most circumstances. However, it would be somewhat unusual for her to go home the same day. Patients in US usually stay overnight at least so they can be observed.

The other medical situation that takes place in the show is the use of the defibrillator on Caroline. All of what happens there is also quite accurate. They do it under the supervision of a doctor, they do CPR correctly while waiting for the defibrillator, they get the pads on properly and in time, and they shock her such that her heart starts pumping again.

To sum up, most of what we’re shown appears to be accurate for the UK but different from the US in some ways.

Originally posted 2013-10-25 17:10:03.

Some takeaway facts

What do we know after watching episode 8:
1. Martin wants to stay with Louisa and once again make an effort to change.
We primarily know this because he really doesn’t want her to leave, he tells Ruth outright that he wants to be with Louisa and Ruth tells him he must change for that to happen, he apologizes to the patient he ditched in his office because he was too distracted and distraught to listen to him, he intends to make a reservation to fly to Spain but then he discovers Louisa’s AVM, and he tells Louisa when she’s on the operating table that he needs her help – the last 3 things are acts he would not usually be inclined to do.
2. Being in the operating room gives Martin confidence.
He still vomits from the sight of blood, but he can continue the operation. His first bout of hemaphobia came up when he met the family of the patient – this time the patient is family and he says he’s not worried about the operation because he’s done it many times before.
3. Martin and Louisa agree that there is work they must do on their marriage. They can’t go back home and be a couple without making some changes and they plan to do that.
4. James is important to Martin and being a father matters deeply to him.
Martin apologizes to James and has a close moment before Louisa and James leave. Martin always tenderly touches James and pockets his toy frog because he cares. Martin remembers the bottles in the bathroom and always remembers that James needs to be cared for no matter what else is happening.
5. Margaret is morally bankrupt and utterly bereft of any feeling for anyone but herself.
Her history speaks for itself, she lies repeatedly (about her reason for coming, about her feelings for Martin, about his father’s cause of death, about why she’s leaving, about the gift of the clock), and her comments about Martin to Louisa are devoid of any sensitivity or motherly concern for her son.
6. Louisa still loves him and wants to be with him.
Even though she’s leaving, she seems hesitant at several moments and might have reconsidered if Martin had had the wherewithal to say something like he has said before, e.g. “I can’t bear to be without you,” or “I love you.” She defends him to Margaret at the airport and says she’s not sure what she’s doing. (This admission is very pertinent because Louisa is really just as unsure as Martin about how to function in a marriage.) During the prep for surgery, she looks at Martin in her fog and finds him appealing, plus her expression is very sympathetic to him. And at the hospital after the operation she wants to know where her husband is and thanks him for coming after her. She still wants him to know that they can’t return to the relationship as if nothing has happened, but she seems ready to go home.
7. Louisa is some sort of superwoman.
During this series, Louisa has been forced to trudge through the woods in her wedding dress wearing fancy shoes, fallen at the caravan, somehow gotten through a makeshift operation where blood spurts all over her, stayed up all night only to make it home and be concerned about James. Then she walks into a glass door and gets a deep cut on her forehead, which seems to heal very quickly. As time goes on, Martin falls deeper into his funk and she has trouble finding a way to reach him. Finally she is hit by a car where she somehow only sustains a broken collarbone and some cheek abrasions, although she hits her head on the ground and the car hits her on the right thigh. Impressively she feels able to get up and leave the hospital after a one day stay even after she develops a deep vein thrombosis with probable embolism to the lungs, and she doesn’t just go home with all these injuries, she plans to fly to Spain with James after one evening at home. She walks out of the hospital quite normally, no limp or slowness of gait. The next thing she undergoes is an emergency surgery of an AVM the day she plans to fly (only 2 days after her car collision), and yet she’s sitting up in bed following the operation looking pretty fresh. I want to know her secret!
8. The writers of this show don’t have much respect for nurses.
Early in the series Martin finds a nurse derelict of duty because she doesn’t make sure a patient in the nursing home takes her medicine. The nurse at the hospital where Louisa is coughing doesn’t get off the phone when asked questions, can’t answer simple questions, and ignores her patient. In the final scene of the series, the nurse doesn’t know that Louisa is the surgeon’s wife even though they have the same last name and Martin seems to be well-known for his surgical expertise.
9. Ruth is the aunt who will be the resource Martin and Louisa can turn to. She is also the one person in the village who can relate to everyone. Joan may have been more overtly loving to her family and neighbors, but Ruth solves problems with a calm assuredness and endearing wit. She’s the family member who Martin can relate to best because she has medical training, doesn’t mince words, and knows what he’s been through since childhood. She knows Margaret’s toxicity before Martin does and tells her to leave first.
10. Al has finally grown up and found a way to separate from his father.
Although Al still tries to help his father early in the episode, he does so with lots of resistance. His idea for a business comes without help from his father and he pitches it on his own. He also shows his ability to take on challenges when he runs to get the defibrillator and shocks Caroline’s heart back to life. His maturation has been a long time coming, but we’re finally seeing a man and not a boy (as his father always calls him). We’re also pretty sure that Al and Morwenna are involved, as Ruth notes, because they work together to resuscitate Caroline and obviously care about each other.
11. Mrs. Tishell has now become a laughingstock in the village. Her fixation on Martin and how she acts around him clearly irritates everyone and they mock her. In the last episode she almost takes on the clown role that Penhale has occupied.
12. Joe Penhale may be the comic relief in many episodes, but he also often comes through when he really needs to. He is very helpful in finding Mrs. Tishell in the last episode of series 5, he helps Ruth get into Mr. Moysey’s house to find the leak, he diverts the MPs when they’re looking for Mike, and in this episode he convinces the security guard at the airport that he must allow Martin to get Louisa off the plane.
13. Morwenna is the most evolved of all the characters.
She started out a flighty young woman who couldn’t keep a job and has now become a responsible and reliable receptionist who also knows how to handle the doc.

Originally posted 2013-10-24 14:58:32.

More on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

In an earlier post I noted that “no treatment works for every patient and it may be that the difference in outcomes is only because of that variability.” I can now add that there have been advances in the understanding of who can benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy as opposed to medication and you can read about it here.

Originally posted 2013-10-05 15:26:13.

Continuity problems

I have no idea if others have written about the two major continuity issues that have bothered me in this show. The strange thing is that I still suspend my disbelief because the episodes have to do with the relationship between Martin and Louisa and I want to make an exception. I’m going to mention them despite my willingness to accept them.

The first one comes in series 3, episode 5 after Martin has saved Holly’s life with Louisa’s help and admiration. Holly’s accident in Louisa’s kitchen has led to a large puddle of blood on the floor and Martin and Louisa make a little effort to pick up some of the pieces of glass from the broken milk bottle. Louisa tells Martin she’ll clean up the rest and then emotionally tells him he’s an extraordinary man. Martin grabs his medical bag and defibrillator and turns to leave. Then he has second thoughts and asks Louisa to marry him. She can’t believe her ears and asks him to repeat what he just said. He puts his stuff down, comes back in the house and once again asks her to marry him, telling her he can’t bear to be without her. She accepts his proposal and runs into his arms and that’s the end of the episode. The next episode begins the following morning when Martin is getting dressed in the same clothes as the day before while sitting at the end of Louisa’s bed. So what happened to the blood on the floor, and what happened to the rest of the day? It’s hard to believe that the two of them went their separate ways after this passionate scene and Louisa cleaned up the floor while Martin went to work and then he returned to spend the night. I would expect them to head upstairs directly following their embrace, and maybe I’m getting too particular, but leaving the blood on the floor when Martin has such a problem with blood makes me wonder. And telling Pauline to cancel the rest of his day is out of character for Martin and would lead to lots of questions from Pauline. It’s great to see that they spent the night together and that Martin is so caring when he repeats his marriage proposal and says goodbye at the front door, and I want to be happy with that, but I have a little trouble with the sequence of the day.

The other one is more significant to me, although it doesn’t change the fact that the episode is very special. It is the last episode of season/series 4 when Martin has packed up to move to London. When the movers carry out his things, he takes the Buddha figurine from them and places it safely in the right rear seat of his car, even putting the seatbelt around it. On his way out Martin stops to help Tommy the taxi driver’s wife Tatia who has collapsed during a dance performance. He realizes she’s suffering from methanol poisoning, gives her alcohol as an antidote, and then worries that her husband is driving Louisa to her hospital appointment and probably has the same condition. He rushes to catch up to them and places a bottle of vodka on the seat next to the Buddha. I find it hard to believe that Martin would put the bottle there in the first place considering he says the Buddha is valuable and there’s no question that the bottle is not secure there. On his way out, Martin has to swerve to avoid hitting a tractor and the bottle of liquor breaks over the Buddha figure. (There may be some symbolic value in that, but I don’t know what it is. The only thing I can come up with is that Buddhists reject alcohol and either the vodka spilling on the Buddha is a sign that Martin’s sobriety is compromised by his concern for Louisa or the Buddha’s value is not as important anymore. The figure remains an object in Martin’s office, which gives it some continued import. I’m at a loss! Maybe it’s just thrown in to mess with us!) So now we have vodka and glass all over the right rear side of the back seat.

Soon Martin finds the taxi off the road and Louisa in good condition, drags Tommy unconscious to his car, and drives off to get to the nearest pub. When we see inside the car, however, Tommy is sitting in the same seat where the Buddha had been and where the vodka and glass landed. Not a likely scenario, although good for filming since Louisa and Martin are talking and both are in the front seat and we can see Tommy behind Martin. Also, the right side of the car is the closest access point both at the scene of the accident and once they arrive at the pub.

Series 5, episode 1 starts at the hospital where Martin and Louisa have gone to make sure the baby and Louisa are doing well. Everything seems fine and Martin offers to take Louisa home. They leave and get in the car, Louisa in the left rear seat next to the Buddha, which now seems to be placed on a garment bag. So we haven’t forgotten about the Buddha but somehow the car doesn’t smell of vodka and the glass is gone.

I may be getting a bit technical, but I found these examples a little irksome and thought I’d mention them.

Originally posted 2013-09-30 20:17:05.

Doctors and their medical practices

Once again I’m writing something else before writing about women’s issues. I felt pressed to write this first because I see that the first episode of season 6 will be aired in the UK on Monday night at 9 pm. I noticed in the trailer that was released that Doc Martin’s bedside manner (or lack thereof) is once again a major concern and I really want to discuss that.

Doctors in the US have a saying that patients are most concerned about the 3 As: first affability, next availability, and finally ability. Of course, this is simplistic, but it says a lot about what patients often use as a guide when dealing with doctors. Throughout this show Doc Martin’s gruffness, rudeness, and all around anti-social behavior have been a topic of conversation. At the same time, his complete dedication to doing the best job possible and his amazing ability to determine what is causing a patient’s symptoms have been topnotch. Over the 5 seasons he has diagnosed all sorts of unusual medical problems and often without anything more than his own keen observation and examination. I have been more than impressed that the show includes examples of Sjogren’s, Cushing’s, Addison’s, Reiter’s, Methanol poisoning, and Trimethylaminuria. There have been cases of HRT therapy leading to the growth of male breast tissue, glaucoma, allergic reactions galore, poor diabetes control leading to the person slurring her words and being accused of excessive alcohol use, and even the mixing of medications that can be dangerous if combined. Could one doctor be this capable of recognizing all these disorders? I think so, and I think the show does a good job of making Doc Martin’s ability incredibly believable. (I don’t want to neglect to mention that this doctor shows remarkable willingness to call an ambulance and that he is fortunate that this small village has such access to emergency services. It’s great to see a doctor who has no hesitation to call for help and that is another sign of a very capable physician.)

I do not think that all doctors are as knowledgeable as Doc Martin, but I think that there are some who are. I also believe that there are doctors who care as much as he does about medicine and devote themselves to their practice like Martin does. Many doctors are on call (or available day and night) at least some part of every week. I don’t see them running down the street to get to a patient in need very often, but they will meet a patient in the ER or their office when necessary. There are few doctors in America who will make house calls like Doc Martin does regularly, but they’ll talk to you on the telephone and make time for you at all hours of the day. And that brings up another part of being a doctor that accompanies this availability: interruption of their personal lives. Yes, in the show it’s amusing that Martin’s phone often rings at the most inconvenient moments, but that really happens in doctor’s lives all the time. Do people actually come up to doctors at the most inappropriate times to ask medical questions? YES! My husband has been disturbed at concerts, in restaurants, at the fitness center, almost any place he goes. Maybe the weirdest was while he was with one of our children while they were in the middle of a swimming meet. In a small town the problem is worse because it’s impossible to go anywhere without bumping into patients. One reason Martin may not want to go out is because of the hassle of encountering patients. Just look at what happens when Martin meets Louisa for dinner (or doesn’t get through dinner because of a patient), or wants to have a drink with her only to be taken aside by someone else. His directive to make an appointment may sound brusque, but it’s the best way to set some boundaries.

As far as bedside manner goes, establishing rapport can be important, but it’s probably more important in a large city where it’s harder for patients to get to know their doctors. In a small town where the patients are familiar with their doctors there’s a little more leeway. Nevertheless, Louisa makes a point of telling Martin that the people of Portwenn like having a doctor who becomes a part of the community and there is clearly a concern that doctors in England pay special attention to getting along with their patient population. Witness the “doctor’s friend” Gavin Peters who appears in season 2, episode 9 and says he’s a liaison between practitioners and the local medical committee. From what I can gather, all doctors in England are supposed to register with the General Medical Council and then be subject to reviews of their services. I’m sure most doctors don’t like this supervision and Martin is no exception. Gavin tells Martin that patient care is not only about proper diagnosis but that doctors also have a pastoral duty. I don’t know about the necessity of a doctor to minister to a patient, but the most important part of creating a good connection with one’s patients is being able to elicit information from them that can help in their care. Doc Martin seems to know the right questions to ask and generally manages to get a good read on what’s going on with his patients. His observational skills are his best tool. The one time he would have been been better off being more sympathetic was when Phil’s wife Helen dies suddenly in season 2, episode 5, and Aunt Joan let’s him know it. A patient’s death or serious setback requires some kindness from the doctor, I think. But don’t forget that Doc Martin several times keeps people from dying and a few of those cases are people he isn’t too thrilled about, e.g. Danny, Eleanor, and even Holly. Saving their lives demonstrates how doctors treat anyone in need no matter their personal feelings. You might think that Martin is simply treating the medical problem and not the person, but you have to expect him to have some thoughts about who he’s rescuing.

The other thing that’s significant is how much he believes in patient confidentiality. That point is driven home time and again when he refuses to discuss a patient with anyone else. In such a small town maintaining confidentiality is particularly paramount since pretty much everything that people hear gets spread around quickly, e.g. his hemaphobia, or that Phil Pratt is gay. Besides, doctors are expected to keep their patient’s problems private and most follow that dictum wholeheartedly.

What Doc Martin lacks in people skills he more than makes up for in diagnostic skills. And he does care enough to literally tramp through the woods in search of a sick patient, or climb a ladder and risk his own safety to reach a patient, or, worst of all, rappel down the side of a cliff to help a patient. Ok, there is some humor in seeing him go to these lengths, but at the same time, he is totally committed to taking care of these people. When Martin has outbursts where he yells at patients, it’s primarily a sign of frustration that he’s trying to help them and they won’t allow him to complete his exam or treatment of their problem. Once again most doctors experience this frustration; they just don’t run after the patients yelling epithets. However, they’re probably thinking exactly what Martin actually says. Furthermore, using the internet to diagnose one’s symptoms is something I believe doctors universally deplore. I think we all want to look up what might be going on with us, but there is a lot of information on the internet that is unreliable or simply wrong. When patients come to a doctor convinced that their symptoms are one disorder or another, doctors have to conquer preconceived notions as well as do their own exam. It often adds an unhelpful layer of complexity and Doc Martin’s disgust with this practice is very much in line with the approach of most doctors.

Ultimately, the people of Portwenn know they have a doctor who is dedicated to their care and I’m pretty sure his ability is more important to them than his affability.(Dr. Dibbs provides a counterpoint to this issue of affability versus ability. When she arrives in town, some patients she treats find her very pleasant and are quick to consider her a welcome change; however, it’s not long before her lack of ability becomes apparent, and by the end of her brief stay in Portwenn, the people are very glad to have Doc Martin back. Dr. Sim may have been just like that too – the people liked his affability, but his ability was sorely lacking.)

Originally posted 2013-08-31 02:58:12.

Writers and Actors

I’m in the middle of writing a longer post about women’s issues and just wanted to say that even though I totally admire the acting in this series, I think the writing doesn’t get enough recognition. As I once heard Robert McKee, the famous story-writing lecturer, say: without a script there is no movie (or in this case TV series). Although I think Dominic Minghella and all of the writers have done a great job of writing these episodes, I am particularly in awe of Jack Lothian’s episodes. My utmost favorite is the last episode of season 5 for so many reasons. The scene with the fish monger where he takes Doc Martin’s order and while wrapping the fish makes some very incisive comments about men who are living alone at Martin’s age, makes me laugh every time. Of course, the delivery is key and Martin Clune’s facial expressions make such a difference too, but the words he says matter the most, and they are brilliant: “No shame in cooking for one. Least you’re still shaving. That’s a good sign. Most men get to your age, nobody in their lives, throw in the towel. Hygiene’s always the first to go. It’s like they think ‘nobody cares about me…might as well sit around all day in my (underwear?).’ Tragic, that’s what it is Doc. You just hang on in there; what’s for you won’t go by you. Anything else?” In one quick exchange with the doctor looking at him as if he’s both annoyed and yet listening, the man has addressed Martin’s age, his change in relationship status, the way many men cope (or don’t), and once again brought up the issue of fate or whether we have the power to change ourselves and what happens in our lives. The closing question is a combination of “what else can I get you?” and “what’s ahead in your life?” Doc Martin has always gotten some clues about how to behave from listening to others and their remarks, and this dialogue certainly impacts him. Plus, I just love the humor in the fish seller going on about his observations to the doctor, who has never been the sort of person one would expect to be open to this sort of talk.

The latter part of the episode is also brilliantly written, from the moment Martin has to tell Louisa about the baby’s abduction to the ride in the car, to the scene at the hotel and finally at the secluded pseudo-castle where Mrs. Tishell has the baby. Louisa has once again left Martin because of her frustrations with mostly his lack of expression of affection and possibly even the dearth of overt signs of love and respect from him (something I plan to write about elsewhere). Martin has been struggling with being involved with the baby as a father while probably being unable to understand what he might consider Louisa’s volatile emotional fluctuations. Deciding to agree to allow Mrs. Tishell to watch the baby, even for the morning, is really something we would not expect from Martin. As a rule he has consistently ignored Mrs. Tishell no matter how many overtures she makes throughout the series, and he has turned her down before when she’s offered to take care of the baby. However, against his usual inclinations, Martin lets Mrs. Tishell take the baby with her because Morwenna is not showing any signs of being a good babysitter and Martin is sort of stuck. In the scene when Mrs. Tishell takes the baby from Morwenna we are reminded that Mrs. Tishell has never had children of her own, which makes it even more likely that she might form a delusion that the baby is hers. But it is following the combination of Mrs. Tishell going upstairs to look at her paper clippings about the Doc and taking the pills (Paroxitine, better know as Paxil, and Modafinil, generally used for greater alertness) that have been reinforcing her off kilter notions, filling a young couple’s prescription for free, getting angry at Joe Penhale for taking up her time and then giving him the wrong medication, and finally making off with the baby, that we as viewers know that she has lost her mind. The above actions coupled with the comments Clive makes to his wife, which clearly have a different interpretation for her than for him, are a very good demonstration of dramatic irony – we as viewers know about her pill popping and her infatuation with Martin while Clive has no idea and Martin is pretty much always clueless when it comes to things like this. We know that when Clive asks Sal whether she ever gets the feeling that “one day you’ll wake up and realize how much of your life you’ve wasted, how much you’ve let pass you by” she agrees because, empowered by the meds, she has now reached the conclusion that she must act. Clive unwittingly pushes her farther by suggesting the two of them buy an RV and “see the world,” which to him means driving to other parts of England. (We already know Sally has never been to London.) However, she has only one mission on her mind at this point and that is to find a way to get together with Martin. Clive’s comments once again lead her to take action and make off with the baby when he tells her “sometimes in this life, you want something, you’ve gotta take it.” So Jack Lothian’s writing has efficaciously established the sequence of events during which the dialogue markedly contributes to the action.

Soon Martin is off to tell Louisa about this new development and it is his turn to feel mighty chagrined, probably a feeling he’s rarely had. This time it’s Louisa who is on edge and dealing with difficulties at the school. Martin uses his usual cryptic means of explaining the problem, but nothing can keep Louisa from being upset once she hears that Mrs. Tishell has taken the baby. What PC Penhale says to Ruth as they watch Martin and Louisa run to the car expresses what most people would be thinking: she’s angry and worried all at once. In the car, Louisa’s comment that she’s not going to waste her energy getting wound up, she’s counting on Martin to get their baby back, makes it clear that despite their relationship problems, she believes in Martin.

Of course, the first place they look turns out to be wrong and this is where I started to think that Lothian was using Shakespeare as a source. I’ve always heard that most writing refers back to Shakespeare in some way, and this episode certainly fits that adage. (By the way, I recently heard Kevin Spacey being interviewed about his role in House of Cards and he said his character was based on Richard the III who speaks to the audience in Shakespeare’s play.) Here we not only have the misdirection during which there is much fumbling, but also the ultimate realization that the baby has been taken to a faux castle complete with billowing banner. Next, in case we haven’t already noticed the references to Shakespeare, we have Mrs. Tishell reciting excerpts from Romeo and Juliet, reaffirming her unhinged state of mind. We can see Joe Penhale as the comic relief or well-meaning fool that often plays a role in Shakespeare’s plays. I can’t help mentioning the funny conversation Ruth and Joe have as they walk quickly toward the castle. Joe is once again fantasizing about how he will be the hero and save the day while Ruth tries to inject some reason into his dreamworld by telling him he’s not playing in a Hollywood film and he’s not Clint Eastwood. (I don’t know if the original plan was to make this the last episode of the series, and I’m glad it isn’t, but it could have been because all of the major characters are gathered here: the doctor, the headmistress, the constable, and the psychiatrist along with the chemist; there’s drama, there’s rising action, and it has a satisfying ending.) Nevertheless, Joe once again is the fly in the ointment when he climbs the side of the building in an effort to help only to nearly foul up their efforts by revealing himself prematurely.

But it’s the repartee between Mrs. Tishell and Dr. Ellingham that is the centerpiece of the episode and Mrs. Tishell’s diatribe about Louisa and Martin’s relationship cannot be beaten. In one set of comments, she summarizes the essence of the entire show, seasons 1-5: “One moment you’re together, then you’re not. Then you’re getting married, then you’re not. Then she’s gone and then she comes back. Then you’re going, but you don’t, and then you have a baby and you’re living together, and then you’re not, and then you’re going away again, and then you come back here…I just can’t stand it anymore!!” She could be talking for the viewers! Clearly the relationship between Martin and Louisa has been the most important driving force that captivates us. For those fans who were upset when Martin and Louisa’s plans to marry fall apart, the ups and downs of the relationship have been trying. It’s hard not to wonder what could have made things work out better, and that’s one of the hallmarks of good writing.

Just like in season 3, episode 7, Louisa and Martin’s wedding day, everything seems to go wrong in this last episode of season 5. (Since Jack Lothian wrote both episodes, I think we can safely say that this episode is an intentional reprise of the earlier one.) The townspeople are sick with a virus causing Louisa to ask Martin to take care of James Henry and leading her to have no alternative but to rely on Bert to make lunch for the school. Naturally, Bert isn’t up to the task and Louisa has a mess on her hands. Into this difficult day steps Martin with the news that Mrs. Tishell has taken the baby. I think most women would be at their wits end, but Louisa manages to stay relatively calm. Luckily this time she is rewarded by a welcome outcome and the words she has wanted to hear Martin say for so long. Once again there’s no question that the scene owes a lot to Shakespeare and the conceit of a character talking while another is listening. Martin is talking to Mrs. Tishell looking down from above, but his words are meant for Louisa who stands in front of him out of Mrs. Tishell’s sight. Louisa prompts him to say that he’s a difficult person, hard to talk to sometimes, and an idiot (all things he has never been willing to admit before, and a sign that Martin is now finally willing to express his true feelings). Once he lets go, he really opens his heart and we all sigh along with Louisa as he tells her:”I think I’ve known how I felt since the first time I met you, from the first time I saw you…And I do hate Portwenn…But it’s where I want to be because you’re here, because of you, ’cause if I’m with you nothing else matters. What I’m trying to say is, I love you.” Those words are simply perfect because they also capture the trajectory of the show, express the love we viewers have been convinced was there all along, and settle the issue of whether Martin will stay in Portwenn or go to London. (By the way, this isn’t the first time Martin tells Louisa he loves her. The first time he says it, he’s drunk in season 2, episode 8.) But the episode isn’t over yet. Mrs. Tishell comes down and the baby is safe; however, she has a final declaration for Martin that he doesn’t understand what love is. Well, isn’t that the most important question? And doesn’t he dispel the notion that he doesn’t know what it is when he tells Louisa that nothing else matters and he sincerely loves her? He’s willing to stay in Portwenn and drop all his previous convictions just to be with Louisa. His final words are interrupted by Joe, typical of what happens throughout the show when Martin and Louisa try to talk to each other, but they are “I will always…” How would you finish the sentence? “Love you?” Almost certainly. (Can’t help thinking of the Whitney Houston song.) In other episodes we would not be surprised to hear Martin say something off the wall, but this time he’s figured out where he’s been going wrong and isn’t likely to make that mistake.

Jack Lothian is credited with writing several other episodes I deeply admire, e.g. season 4, episode 8 when Louisa gives birth and season 5, episode 3 when Louisa and the baby have moved into the surgery with Martin and Louisa tells Martin she wants to move to London with him. The highs and lows of his episodes and his ability to write very realistic and heartfelt dialogue are outstanding. The dialogue is also funny, which makes it even more appealing. Of course, the actors add their fabulous deliveries and expressions to the words, and that makes the scenes a tremendous success.

The writing on the show is generally excellent and I want the writers to know that I thoroughly appreciate what they’ve done.

Originally posted 2013-08-26 16:01:58.

Change! What is It Good For?

Now that S7 is over, we have to revisit the theme of change. There is no other theme that has been as prominent in this show as this one, and what we find at the conclusion of S7 is not what might have been expected. The show had continually asserted by means of various characters that people can change. But by the closing scene, that conviction is very much in question.

I have taken some time rereading my previous posts on the topic of change (and there are several), and also done more thinking about how the show has weighted their stance in favor of people being capable of change and being impacted by certain significant experiences such that they involuntarily change. I have now developed a more fully reasoned perspective on this subject and decided that we need to divide it into two parts. There are core changes that take place following major events in our lives, and there are more superficial changes that we can institute by using our free will. What is depicted in Doc Martin encompasses both. By the end of S7 we still don’t have a clear picture of where this show lands on this subject, and that gives us some reason for disillusionment. They have left us with a very confused conclusion about whether change is possible or constructive, and all I can surmise is that they don’t have an answer to this premise or don’t want to provide one.

In my view some of the instigators of core changes in people originate in family and childhood. Not only does becoming a parent change us in fundamental ways, but also how our parents treat us throughout childhood is extremely momentous. Furthermore, a loss of a parent, either through death or departure, significantly affects us and can vitally change us. In Doc Martin we have all of these events and they are given substantial clout.

By the end of S6, Martin has suffered through an incredible amount of parental damage, and it has to have changed him in essential ways. We’ve heard from Ruth that Martin changed from being a vulnerable and sensitive child at age 4 to being quiet and withdrawn by age 6, and she places the blame squarely on his parents’ treatment of him. We are privy to a flashback from Martin’s boyhood when his father yelled at him for simply entering his study without knocking, and we know that he has been at the receiving end of physical and emotional abuse and neglect. When Martin’s mother arrives at his doorstep in S6, she immediately mentions that his father has died. But, really, his father disappeared from his life years before and only made a brief appearance in S2 with the unfortunate result of embarrassing Martin in front of Joan. When Christopher leaves Portwenn then, Martin tells him not to come back. He tells his mother the same in the last episode of S6. With her departure, any contact with his parents ends.

Louisa, too, has dealt with the loss of her parents. In her case, both of her parents cared less for her than for their own selfish desires and she has come to believe that she didn’t really need them after the age of 12. When her mother shows up in S5, we hear Louisa have trouble explaining why she wrote her about being pregnant. She tells Martin it wasn’t rational, which means she had a compulsion to tell her mother despite their long term separation. As in most cases, the child in Louisa still wants to believe her mother will be different this time and be interested in her.

We have other cases of parental loss with significant damage in this show. Al’s mother first left and then died; the Flint boys’ mother abandoned them and their father became psychotic as a result; and Erica Holbrook and her daughter Bernie have been deserted by the man of the house. In every example, the children have been deeply affected.

Another form of core change in one’s life is the birth of a baby. As Roger Fenn says to Martin in S2, it can clarify what it means to love someone. His remark cuts Martin because he has just been soundly deflated by his parents’ lack of love for him, but we can clearly see how the birth of a son causes Martin to respond to the world differently. He makes room in his life for the baby and has a renewed commitment to Louisa.

Two other ways in which circumstances are likely to change us at our core are through becoming terminally ill or by being sent into battle. This show gives us several scares regarding potentially fatal illnesses and two cases of sudden death. Roger Fenn contends with throat cancer and resorts to caustic remarks, while Jim Winton turns into a bedridden man whose wife becomes obsessed with finding a cure for him. I doubt she ever would have abducted a doctor at gunpoint under any other circumstances. Helen Pratt’s death turns her husband Phil into an angry, vengeful person; Jim Selkirk’s demise leads to his wife hallucinating. Stewart returns from Bosnia a delusional man who is afraid to mingle with the community, and Mike Pruddy has become burdened by excessive OCD and is running from the military authorities. He’s an extremely capable man whose afflictions keep him from creating a solid future for himself.

Other examples of occasions when people recount important changes in their lives include Martin being unable to perform surgery due to the onset of haemophobia. This phobia leads to a total departure from his immediate life. Margaret tells Martin his birth changed how Christopher looked at her and behaved towards her. She blames the deterioration of their marriage on that event, and at this point she plans to leave Christopher for another man.

From the time when Martin asserts to Joan in S3 that he can change if he wants, we watch Martin try to make that a reality. He tries to be nice to Holly and a few other patients; he tries to treat his haemophobia in S4; and he tells Louisa in the last scene of S5 he plans to change and not be like his father. In S6 Martin changes, but not for the better. He goes into a major depression due to the recurrence of his haemophobia as well as the upheaval in his home life and the appearance of his mother. Then he tries to change again by deciding to follow Louisa to Spain and next by telling her he wants to be a better husband. In S7, Martin has returned to someone who can take his haemophobia in stride. He tries to change for Louisa by doing everything he can think of to demonstrate his devotion to her. (So there is a chance that the remark he makes to Louisa at the end of S7 that he’s tried and it’s only made things worse refers to all the above efforts to change.)

Another huge change is the disappearance of his beloved clocks. What happened to them? We have to conclude that they no longer fill the void they once did.

Other times when the notion of change is promoted include when Louisa tells Danny that we make our own decisions, and when she tells Ruth that people can change if they want to; when Ruth tells Al we are the authors of our lives and we can change them if we want to; and when Morwenna becomes more assertive in S7. Ruth also tells Martin he has to change if he wants Louisa to stay with him. (As I’ve said before, Ruth should be convinced that people can change because she is a psychiatrist. As such she believes she can help people change.)

But the show also gives us several arguments against people’s ability to change. We see that despite therapy, Sally Tishell’s obsession with Martin has not changed, although she has decided to return to her marriage with Clive. We see that Bert and Al have not changed and are back in business together. We have also heard Joan tell Martin in S3 that “we are what we are” and can’t change (which is echoed in S7 by the same message written on the board by Erica Holbrook) and Louisa tell Martin in S3 that he can’t just act nice, he has to want to. We’ve also heard Ruth curiously telling Louisa in S5 that people don’t change and Louisa realizing that her mother hasn’t changed; Margaret telling Louisa at the airport in S6 that Martin is not going to change; and ultimately, Louisa telling Martin in the final scene of S7 that she doesn’t want him to change how he feels about her. In that final scene, Louisa reaches the conclusion that everyone is unusual and we are left to decipher what the final message about change is.

By the end of S6 I wrote that I thought the position the show was taking was “regardless of our life experiences, each of us has the power to change our lives and turn them into something close to what we want. We should stop wishing things were different, stop finding excuses, and do what we can to transform them.” Now I’m not so sure, and maybe the “deciders” on the show aren’t sure either.

Personally, I think change is good for us and inevitable as we grow older. We don’t want to stagnate; we want to remain curious and experimental. We want to become more sympathetic to others and more caring to our family. We want to grow as human beings and never stop growing. We want the acceptance of society.

George Takei, an actor and a Japanese American who was interned during WWII recently wrote to the mayor of Roanoke Virginia: “Mayor Bowers, one of the reasons I am telling our story on Broadway eight times a week in Allegiance is because of people like you. You who hold a position of authority and power, but you demonstrably have failed to learn the most basic of American civics or history lessons. So Mayor Bowers, I am officially inviting you to come see our show, as my personal guest. Perhaps you, too, will come away with more compassion and understanding.” Changing hearts and minds is a never ending struggle, yet must be tried through every means possible.

Life is filled with change, both internal and exogenous.

 

 

Originally posted 2016-05-22 14:50:15.

Change is in the Air, Take Two

This blog has addressed the topic of whether people can change several times; nevertheless, it’s time to do it again because series 7 is set to determine whether Martin and Louisa can change. Martin Ellingham is the character for whom change has been the target. We’ve seen him assert to Aunt Joan that change is possible and that he can change if he wants to. At the end of S6, Martin was specifically told by Aunt Ruth that if he wants Louisa back, which he unequivocally states that he does, he will have to change. She tells him it may be harder for him to change, but he must if he’s to have any chance of keeping Louisa.

During S6 we witnessed Martin’s devolution into a Major Depression due to the recurrence of his blood phobia and the return of his evil, ego deflating, mother. Ultimately, the marriage that began so hopefully starts to sink under the weight of too much psychological baggage until Louisa suffers a terrible accident followed by the discovery of a life threatening brain AVM. Martin has withdrawn from his family, and from almost everyone, until he has become a shell of himself. It takes the prospect of Louisa dying to motivate him to take action.

The brain surgery he performs to save Louisa’s life also has the effect of turning his life around. He was able to overcome his aversion to blood to successfully complete the surgery, and he is seen having an emotional moment during which he appears relieved probably because he saved Louisa and also because he once again was able to perform well in the operating room. Even so, the series ends with this couple acknowledging things can’t go on as they had been. There needs to be a change.

Series 7 has now begun, and the show has turned many things around. Instead of starting, like S6, with a happy event — the wedding, this series begins with Louisa in Spain and Martin living on his own again in the surgery. However, despite his sadness that Louisa and James Henry are not in Portwenn with him, he no longer seems depressed. This time he has found new energy and made up his mind that he will make every effort to change to get Louisa back. The most momentous of these changes is to seek therapy. Other changes include, getting up the courage to call Louisa and not just wait for her to call him, leaving a message rather than simply hanging up when he gets her voicemail, and sleeping on his side of the bed to sort of save her side for when she returns. He also looks ruefully at the hairbrush she has left behind. (By the way, there are several signs that she plans to return during this episode and the brush is, to me, one of them.)

Ruth’s recommendation to see a young, female counselor does not put him off, and when he first meets her, he doesn’t walk out on her. This time he agrees to return for another appointment. He also accepts her rules, relinquishes his phone without resistance, and takes a seat as asked.

We also see Martin being thoughtful and less angry. Morwenna makes note of this when he doesn’t snap at her about canceling his patients for the afternoon so that she can volunteer on the lifeboat excursion.

We are never sure that Martin and Louisa have talked to each other before she appears in E2. Martin looks startled to see her come through the front door. We get the feeling that he covers by saying he didn’t expect her so early, and Louisa plays along. But later, when they are away from prying eyes, he once again tells her he didn’t know she would get there so early. We can only assume that this comment is included to lead us to believe they had been in contact, and that he may have known she was coming, just not when exactly.

E2 is when some other significant changes in Martin become evident:

  • He tries to take over his first session with the therapist but backs down quickly and confides that he was an unwanted child, that he probably has attachment difficulties as a result, and that he’s had trouble forming relationships as an adult. He also admits he’s afraid of losing Louisa and that he cares about her happiness but not his own.
  • Once Louisa arrives, he confronts her at the dinner table and directly asks her if she plans to stay.
  • He tells Louisa that he’s no longer concerned about how tidy and quiet the house is.
  • He offers to sleep in the small bedroom where he’ll be much less comfortable.
  • He gets up with the baby and she finds him feeding JH the next morning. (In S5 he had woken Louisa to take care of the baby.)
  • And finally he insists on staying in the only rental property available rather than have Louisa and JH move there. This marks the first time Martin has moved somewhere else instead of Louisa. (We may suspect some ulterior motives, e.g. keeping them at the surgery means he’ll see them fairly often and interact with them too. Still, he’s never offered to move out before and it’s a change.)
  • He’s always shown concern for Ruth, but this time he races to the train station to keep her from leaving because he’s so worried about her. He also thanks Al for helping her.
  • Overall he acts much less angry and annoyed with everything and everyone.

The changes in him are noticeable enough to be apparent to Louisa and she thanks him over and over for the various things he does that show his concern for her. Ruth, too, responds positively and relents about leaving for London. His new approach seems to be going well and hasn’t caused him to feel disingenuous at all.

Furthermore, Martin’s depression has lifted and his blood phobia has diminished to the point of being back to where it was before S6: an embarrassing irritant but not a huge impediment.

Thus, even before he has spent much time on the therapist’s bench (or dare we call it a settee?), Martin has managed to muster many alterations in his behavior. The therapist’s job may be easier than she might have imagined! In addition, the question of whether people can change appears to have been answered by a resounding “Yes!” (We’ll see if it lasts and if there will be further changes in store.)

Originally posted 2016-05-22 14:49:26.

People can change, and do, on TV

The theme of whether people can change, and especially whether Martin and Louisa can change, has occupied many of our discussions. DM is not the only show in which this theme has been prominent and in which the answer appears to be that people can change. I think we have all concluded that with desire, therapy, and effort, people can change the way they react to situations and relationships. The one caveat is that people don’t always change for the better.

Another outstanding show of recent years is “Breaking Bad,” and it, too, addressed the question of whether people can change. However, the overriding arc of that show was the monumental metamorphosis of Walter White from a milquetoast into a highly respected presence in the drug world. Essentially the show followed his relentless progression from quiet, law abiding high school chemistry teacher to amoral and ruthless manufacturer and seller of methamphetamine. There’s no question that writer and creator Vince Gilligan was arguing that people can change, and will, under certain circumstances. In the show, we also witness a “ne’er do well” work hard to maintain his principles while being enlisted to help White. This young man, Jesse, may be lacking in ambition, but Walter shocks him over and over as he descends into pathological behavior. Against all odds, Jesse manages to survive, although he is anything but unscathed.

The spinoff show from “Breaking Bad,” “Better Call Saul,” has just completed its first highly successful season. It, too, includes the theme of whether people can change, and makes some very interesting points about it. I was a tremendous fan of “Breaking Bad” and I confess to being an equally avid fan of “Better Call Saul.” (If you read this blog, you know I’ve mentioned “Breaking Bad” several times because of its excellent writing and acting, including their design of making the main character an anti-hero. He’s given all sorts of convincing and justifiable motives for converting himself into a criminal while maintaining many decent and admirable qualities.)

As a recent recap in the NYTimes states: “In ‘Better Call Saul’ we’ve seen another lead character evolve, though less dramatically — from scam artist to earnest plaintiffs’ attorney, with the occasional moral lapse.” The writers of “Breaking Bad” posed the question of “Can people change?” and then demonstrated how that can happen. In the new show, they add another dimension to this question and show that some people don’t change. The next to last episode depicts the main character’s brother, Chuck, as unable to imagine that his brother, Jimmy, has shed his earlier traits as a con man to become a respectable lawyer like him. Oddly enough, Chuck becomes the scam artist while Jimmy earns our admiration due to how he treats his clients and his brother. As the article notes, “Jimmy is a force for good, if we can judge by his ventures in elder law. But now he can’t have a perch at a corporate firm and the respectability that it confers.”

This episode “deals with identity, conceived here as a combination of what you do and what you, and others, think about what you do. Jimmy is a nice guy whose brother thinks he’s a menace.” The character for whom the show is named has not appeared yet. We will presumably find out that Jimmy becomes Saul, a slick manipulator of the law, and basically reverts to the “Slippin’ Jimmy” that he used to be known as because he rejects the world of corporate law.

In “Breaking Bad,” Walt had developed a reputation of a dedicated and competent chemistry teacher as well as a devoted father and husband. They even loaded his home life with a teenage son who was born with cerebral palsy and handicapped. In the beginning of the show, Walt drives his son to school and tries to keep strong ties to his son despite knowing that teenage boys are always testing and experimenting. We first get to know Walt as someone we admire. Therefore, we have sympathy for him and realize how hard he has worked to be the upstanding father, husband and teacher everyone has come to know. As he changes, it’s hard to jettison our earlier impressions of him.

How does all this relate to DM? In my mind, we are also dealing with characters who have to find a way to reconstitute themselves as different from how others have always perceived them. Can Martin Ellingham not only try to become a better husband, but also become a person Louisa and others view as being a less introverted version of who he has been? Will others be able to believe that he really wants to be more ungrudging about the somewhat tangential information patients want to talk to him about? Will Louisa be convinced that he’s voluntarily expressing his inner thoughts to her? Can the various residents of Portwenn stop seeing him as, and calling him, a “tosser?”

Will Louisa find a way to reject her first impulse to leave whenever she’s upset about something at home and become a woman who tries to listen and probe and tolerate? How much will she be able to overlook or accommodate?

And, at the risk of repeating myself too much, would the show be too different if all of the above happens? Whereas “Breaking Bad” was literally devised as a show about a man’s evolutionary deterioration, “Doc Martin” was not originally about a doctor who wants to become more likable or better at being a husband and father. Our enjoyment of the show stems from much of the behavior that makes ME so difficult.

However, when we look at how the voting for favorite episodes turned out on portwennonline.com, we can’t help but notice that it was those episodes in which Martin and Louisa have the most romantic scenes that came out on top. I have to assume the people involved with the show have noticed that too. Thus, they have the demanding challenge of trying to satisfy their audience while keeping the characters believable to us. We, and the residents of Portwenn, know them as particular types and might have trouble accepting too much change in them. They also know each other as having certain dispositions. When Martin calls Louisa “darling” in S6E2, both we and she look at him quizzically. It’s very odd to hear that term of endearment coming out of his mouth.

We also deem it necessary for them to work on their relationship so that their marriage can flourish, and we expect that to be a significant facet of S7. Just how they balance the requirement to change with what’s important to keep the same will be the key to the success of this next series.

Originally posted 2016-05-22 14:47:01.

Addendum on whether people can change

Despite titling a previous post “Final Thoughts on Whether People Can Change,” I discovered I have another comment to make on that subject based on S6 E6. I find that episode extremely informative on many counts. The question of change comes up when Al visits Ruth to help her with her computer and he is troubled by the lack of direction in his life. He is very good at helping Ruth with a variety of activities: work at the farm, fixing her ceiling leak, adjusting her computer, etc., but that isn’t what he wants to do with his life. He thought he’d be successful at something and has not found what that is yet. (I think this is what troubles many young people these days — finding that thing that really stimulates you, inspires you, makes you want to put a lot of effort into it.) Like many young people, Al does not want to simply join his Dad in his ventures either as plumber or as restaurateur.

Al tells Ruth that he’s “sick of waiting for things to change.” Ruth then retorts, “Stop waiting! Stop whining! We’re the authors of our lives. You write the story and you have no one to blame but yourself. If you want to change your circumstances, then change them. Only you can do it.”

Well, let’s analyze that. Ruth believes people can change, and we’ve known that for a while. And she needs to light a fire under Al and tell him to take action rather than whine because he has not found the vocation that excites him. However, the part about each of us writing our own story and only having ourselves to blame kind of clunks a bit. It is quite empowering to think that we write our own stories, and I personally like to think that we have the power to change them, but when Ruth talks to Martin in E8, she’s much more inclined to place a lot of blame on Martin’s parents and his childhood experiences. Surely we are all impacted by our childhood and what happened to us during our formative years. Nevertheless, Ruth tells Martin that he has the power to change, although he may have to work harder than others due to his early life. Al has had a very different childhood from Martin’s, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had to deal with hardship. His mother died when he was very young and that is a loss felt quite deeply by most children. His father has certainly been devoted to him, but they seem to have always just gotten by. Bert is no “fire in the belly” sort of man who instilled a strong work ethic in Al.

Still, Ruth’s advice to Al that only he can change his circumstances is consistent with her advice to Martin. The show’s message is regardless of our life experiences, each of us has the power to change our lives and turn them into something close to what we want. We should stop wishing things were different, stop finding excuses, and do what we can to transform them.

Originally posted 2016-05-22 14:46:56.

Final thoughts on whether people can change

As expected, the question of whether people can change is essential in the final episode of series 6. Louisa’s decision to once again take off in order to have space to think has put Martin into a tailspin. He must know that his behavior at Sports Day upset Louisa, and the car hitting her while she’s intent on chasing Martin down as he rushes away from the event sort of crystallizes their relationship woes. It takes Louisa being hit by a car to shake Martin out of his focus on himself and his troubles, but by then he’s been so distant and so self-absorbed, she’s started to doubt that he wants to be in the marriage after all. As a result, Louisa makes plans to visit her mother in Spain and Martin does very little to stop her. All we see him do is tell her his medical concerns about her embolism. Apparently, based on what Louisa says to Martin when he calls her in the car to stop her from leaving because of his new discovery of her AVM, they have done a little talking because she says “we’ve been through all this.” But what they said is a mystery.

At any rate, Martin is sufficiently distraught about Louisa’s departure that belatedly he offers to drive her to the airport, but the taxi is already there. Then he can’t concentrate and runs to talk to Ruth. When he reaches Ruth, there’s no denying that he’s rattled and we next see them sitting in the grass talking about his circumstances. Ruth listens to him recite his medical test results and finally tells him: “For God’s sake Martin, this isn’t a medical issue, you must know that.” Well, does he? Not really. As with many doctors, his first instinct is to look for a medical source and even hope for one. It’s much easier to treat something physical than to work on something psychologically deep-seated. Plus, Martin’s ability to be introspective is very limited. We can’t forget that he has many Asperger’s traits, and we hear him dismiss Ruth’s suspicions that his hemaphobia stems from a childhood incident or trauma. He’s either repressed the experiences he had as a child or is incapable of admitting them into his consciousness. What Ruth candidly tells him, now that he’s asked for her help, is that both his inability to continue as a surgeon, even though he loved being one, and his inability to sustain a relationship with the woman he loves are due to the same cause — the coldness of his father and the remoteness of his mother. As a child, he shut down by the age of 6, which means he developed defenses that kept him from being vulnerable and sensitive. Now, as an adult, Ruth believes he has shut down over and over with Louisa until he pushed her away. (It’s no coincidence that Ruth repeats the term “shut down” in both cases. Jack Lothian purposely reiterates that term.) Naturally, Martin first takes this literally as a reference to Louisa leaving for Spain, and tells Ruth he couldn’t have stopped Louisa, but Ruth is talking about shutting Louisa out of his inner world. (Ruth is no fool and she’s heard Louisa say that both of them are having trouble sleeping. Louisa can’t sleep because of her worries about Mrs. Tishell returning, but she thinks Martin’s sleeplessness is for other reasons that she can’t explain. Also, Martin has told Ruth about the return of his hemaphobia and now she knows he’s been running all sorts of tests on himself.)

Ruth’s next assessment hits hard. She tells Martin he couldn’t stop Louisa because he doesn’t believe he deserves to be loved by Louisa, that he questions how she could love someone like him. He has no response to that comment, a sign that Ruth’s analysis has struck him as deeply meaningful. Then Ruth makes the most important statement: if he really wants to be with Louisa he must change. Much like Martin told Mike, she tells him it’s his decision and anybody can change. He may need to work harder than most to achieve change, but in Ruth’s estimation, that is the only way he can have a good marriage to Louisa, and Martin wants that. As I’ve said before, Ruth must believe in the ability of people to change because she is a psychiatrist who facilitates changes in behavior. In fact, she must be especially convinced that people can change since she works with the criminally insane. She has also confirmed to Caroline while on the radio in episode 3 that she believes psychiatry works or she wouldn’t have devoted her whole life to it.

Martin’s next act is to run back to the surgery and confront his mother. We can only imagine that Ruth’s description of his childhood has broken through his defenses and made him realize that his mother is still the remote mother she’s always been. She is also very much a part of the disruption in his marriage since his symptoms grew worse once she arrived. He’s already had one difficult encounter with her and told her his family consists of his wife, his son and Ruth. Now he doubts everything she tells him and sends her packing. He finally says he never wants to see her again. (I can’t help mentioning that Margaret gets Louisa’s name wrong again, that she’s reading Fifty Shades of Grey and that is both amusing and oddly appropriate for its allusion to sado-masochism, and that she vindictively tells Martin that he was always an awkward, strange little boy and that she’s not surprised his wife walked out on him.) When she tells him he better get used to being on his own, he tells her to be gone by the time he gets back and leaves.

It is right after this altercation that Martin begins doing things differently, including apologizing to a patient and reconsidering his decision to not go with Louisa and starting to make a reservation to join her in Spain as quickly as possible. Although his race to prevent her from leaving is mostly in response to seeing her AVM on her brain scan, it’s also significant that he takes action. When Louisa was getting ready to depart in the morning, Martin was still in a mode of immobility and it’s tough for us to watch him be so restrained. Now he literally leaps into action.

Meanwhile, Louisa arrives at the airport only to find Margaret in the waiting area. (I can’t figure out how Margaret got there first since she left at least 45 minutes to an hour after Louisa, and I consider this an unnecessary continuity problem. I can’t come up with a logical explanation why Margaret couldn’t have walked into the waiting area after Louisa was already there.) Of course Louisa is surprised to see Margaret and even more surprised to see Margaret with Martin’s clock. But, most importantly for the topic of change, Margaret tells Louisa that she thinks Louisa is doing the right thing by leaving because Martin is not going to change. But my money is on Ruth knowing Martin better than his mother and Martin recognizing that Ruth has his best interests at heart when she counsels him to work on changing.

Basically, we have Louisa trying hard to break through Martin’s all but impenetrable fortress that’s been protecting his emotional fragility most of his life while Margaret’s presence and comments undermine those efforts. Once Ruth brings Martin to an awareness of how his mother has damaged him, Martin is smart enough to know that he must listen to Ruth and he springs into action. Ruth thinks he can change, he believes he can change, and we know Louisa must change too. Change requires the will to do it, the determination to follow through, and the insight to believe that one’s well-being will be positively affected as a consequence.

Originally posted 2016-05-22 14:44:40.

Can people change?

During the course of this series the question of whether people can change comes up several times. The first time occurs in season 3, episode 5, when Martin is talking to Aunt Joan after his date with Louisa ended badly. Joan considers Martin and Louisa to be “chalk and cheese,” or very different people. She tells him that people don’t change. Martin tells Joan that people can change and that he knows he can change. In this case he is mostly talking about being able to make small talk, but it’s really a much bigger question. By the end of season 5, we’ve seen Martin admit to being wrong on several occasions (most notably when he decided to leave Portwenn) and, in the last episode, he asserts to Louisa that he’s not going to be like his father and James Henry is not going to be like him. Martin has already been making a concerted effort to be different from his own father in many ways. In particular, he is not a phony and he preferences family over possessions.

The issue of whether people can change is pretty deep and involves the notion of free will. Philosophically free will is generally opposed to determinism, or the idea that humans are subject to fate and cannot control their lives. We could even say that scientifically speaking humans are governed by their genetic composition. I don’t want to get too involved in these philosophical questions even though I am fascinated by them, but I am making the leap to crediting the writers with including this important concern not only because Martin’s Asperger’s symptoms are making it hard for him to have a satisfactory relationship with Louisa or even with the village, but also because conquering a phobia requires a big commitment to change and Martin’s effort to overcome his hemaphobia is an ongoing issue in the show. In addition, there are several other characters who want to change and who are trying to make some changes. And then there are a few who have no interest in changing. Indeed, as I mentioned in a previous post, the fish seller in the last episode of series 5 tells Martin, “What’s for you, won’t go by you,” and that is a clear reference to fate. He may mean that if Martin and Louisa are fated to be with each other, it will happen, and if not, it won’t. Martin believes in his ability to change and he wants to have control, therefore, it’s appropriate that he expresses his deep love for Louisa at the end of the episode and wins her back, demonstrating an ability to institute change. So control over one’s life coupled with the ability to change one’s approach is a theme in this series and we should think about it.

By the beginning of season 6 Martin’s hemaphobia has abated but it returns in episode 3. Its recurrence is probably due to not having made a full commitment to address it, and his inability to keep it at bay is deeply troubling to him. I find it interesting that Martin’s fear of blood and the nausea that comes over him when he sees or smells blood is treated humorously in the first 5 seasons but becomes very disconcerting to him in season 6. He puts up with all sorts of teasing from townspeople and receptionists during most of the show, and never lets it become too much of an issue until he decides he wants to return to London and to being a surgeon. And it is funny that a doctor, especially a surgeon, has trouble handling blood or being around it. Maybe the writers think they’ve milked this condition long enough and want to put a new slant on it. But the fact that Martin is someone who likes to be in control, and this is something beyond his control, is a factor too. In season 4, Edith recommends a psychologist to Martin, but his visit there mainly shows his resistance to talking to anyone about it. He does listen to the CD the therapist sends him and tries to treat himself with some success, but self-treatment for phobias is very difficult and the success rate for self-exposure treatments is listed as 18%-33%. Failure is pretty common. When Martin talks to Ruth in season 6 about the recent reappearance of the hemaphobia, she tells him she knows a good psychiatrist in London that he should consult. Louisa wants him to see the psychiatrist and we’ll see how that goes. Martin’s life has changed in many ways since having a baby and getting married. Being the only doctor in the village is stressful too. Can he remain confident in his ability to change?

We also know that Martin’s childhood included an abusive environment with a mother who rejected him. He had no sense of control as a child and couldn’t control his bladder, was locked in confined spaces, and was sent away to school at an early age. He also follows his father and grandfather into medicine, fulfilling a family expectation. Therefore, it’s not surprising that he sought to control his life once he was in a position to do so. In fact, being the GP in Portwenn is actually a way to separate himself from his family background and Ruth may be acknowledging this when she tells him she’s proud of him for taking this step.

Beyond his ability to control his hemaphobia is the question of control he has over his love for Louisa. Martin’s attraction to Louisa has been long standing and he really looks besotted in so many scenes. The only way he maintains control is to fall back on his medical knowledge and destroy any romantic moments (which is also funny). He also imposes control after they have the baby by making all the major decisions without consulting Louisa (again funny and also exasperating). Eventually his need for control leads to another breakup. It’s only once Mrs. Tishell’s actions challenge his sense of control that he finally looks to Louisa for help and realizes that he needs to expose his true feelings for her. Martin seems lost at this point and repeats almost everything Louisa prompts him to say while trying to get Mrs. Tishell to bring down the baby. What he tells Mrs. Tishell works and he gets JH back. Now Martin can reestablish control and dictate to Mrs. Tishell what she must do, and he asserts his desire to change to Louisa.

Martin continues to try to exert some control during the wedding (he doesn’t let the vicar finish his prologue or the ring ceremony) and afterwards, but he meets with Louisa’s sense of self and we see the first signs of his effort to follow through with his pledge to change. The next few episodes reveal continuing efforts on his part to change: he invites another couple over for dinner, he takes James to a gathering for children at the library, and he does his best to put up with the noise and disruption in his formerly quiet home. We have to admit that he should be given an “A” for effort. On the other hand, his hemaphobia rears its ugly head again and he becomes an insomniac, both forms of loss of control. So change is mixed and uncertain at this stage.

Louisa’s ability to change is at stake here too. In season 2, episode 8 Louisa tells Danny we make our own decisions and she certainly has. First she ends her relationship with Danny and takes charge of renewing her relationship with Martin. Naturally, the series includes many upheavals in their relationship and the final episode of season 3, when they decide not to marry, ends with Louisa walking away. The big change for her comes when she moves to London to get her head straight. Her stay in London is lonely and ends when she loses her job due to her decision to have the baby. She returns to Portwenn pregnant, and, like so many other women, Louisa’s life is upended by her decision to keep the baby. She has to start all over by applying to get a job at the school and she has to find a place to live. I would consider this dealing with control and change. The pregnancy is her choice but forces her to make some changes, including returning to Portwenn. A baby will certainly bring some changes to her normal routine and challenges any sense of control. Like most mothers, she’s tired by the delivery and the baby’s needs, and, because she ultimately resumes her relationship with Martin, there are other changes in store for her. She’s been living on her own for a long time and she now has to accommodate to having both a baby and a man in her life. She has been clear that she wants children, but they do change one’s life. She also gives up her residence to move in with Martin. She loves him and wants to be with him, but her identity is important to her. She no longer can arrange the house her way nor does she have her own office space.

Martin’s freewill leads him to do what he has to do to be with Louisa, while Louisa’s sense of control stems from knowing that she can always leave. She refuses to be a “kept” woman and needs to work to retain a sense of self. She feels an inclination to leave when she thinks Martin is usurping her freedom and not allowing her to participate in his life.

The up and down nature of their alliance is obviously good for the series and for most of us becomes the real draw to the show. From the hints at the storyline for the rest of season 6, it sounds like the theme of change and control over one’s life will remain integral.

Beyond Martin and Louisa, Al is an important figure for whom change has been difficult. Every time he wants to change his life, he gets knocked down. He wants to go to school to study computers, but that never materializes. He wants to marry Pauline, but she wants to have more experiences and leave Portwenn. He wants to demonstrate some independence, but gets robbed in Africa and has to work and “sleep rough” to get enough money to return to Portwenn. He wants to stop working with his father and live on his own, but his plans to meet someone new fall flat and he ends up having to share Penhale’s home. Al is resourceful and capable and Aunt Ruth takes him under her wing and does her best to help him find other sources of income, but he’s limited by his lack of vision and possibly the confines of Portwenn itself. He should probably make a change by moving to where Pauline is, or at least somewhere else in England. That doesn’t seem to be a likelihood for him, so we’ll hope he finds some success (and there is a good possibility he will). He’s really rather static.

Ruth has already made a big change in her life by moving out of London to Portwenn. She’s managed to write a book and seems to find satisfaction in being a resource for her relatives and some townspeople, notably Al and Penhale. She’s become the bulwark of the community and a welcome cynic for the show. As a psychiatrist, she must be convinced that people can change and she can facilitate that.

Mike Pruddy does not appear to want to change. Of course, people with OCD have a hard time changing and often are convinced they don’t need to change. I suppose facing the problems with the military may force him to make some adjustments. We may never know what happens to him. Bert, too, is not one to change. He’s tried to start a new business, which has had some ups and downs, but he’s generally someone who will continue to take advantage of the odd money-making ventures he comes across and keep living his pedestrian life. He finds Portwenn has everything he wants and needs. Finally, Margaret, Martin’s mother, is not making any effort to change if all she came back to Portwenn for was to get money from Martin and she puts on an act of caring about JH. She remains a despicable woman/mother who appears to have few regrets about how she treated her son.

Do we have free will, and can we fundamentally change? I tend to agree with Martin, et. al. and think so. Change is very much something we all must deal with. To have a family, requires constant change as the children grow and their lives impact ours. Moreover, as we age, we inevitably change. If we’re lucky, we do so with some insight and love for our spouses that helps us adapt to the changes. We all want to maintain a sense of self while making some compromises to retain harmony. If we want to badly enough, we can make it happen.

Originally posted 2016-05-22 14:43:31.

Louisa and Martin: Fast Forward Version

The following post was written by one of our newest blog readers. She and I corresponded through email about the show and she then wrote me about having watched all the series in an inventive manner. I thought you should all have a chance to read how that affected her reaction to the show and to these characters.

I also wanted to add a few remarks of my own. They are better placed at the end of Amy’s post.

I hope you enjoy this interesting approach to reconsidering some of the thornier issues we’ve been trying to address:

First, thank you to Karen for inviting me to write this post.  I was a latecomer to the blog, only discovering it in the spring of 2016 when I started to watch Doc Martin for a second time.  I had watched Series 1-4 on Netflix and then watched Series 5-7 in “real time,” but it was only on the re-watch that I started to look for a resource to understand more about the show and the issues it raised.

Reading all the posts and comments here has been very illuminating, and some of the discussions, especially about S7, made me realize that I wanted to review the entire series (S1-S7) once again so that the earlier episodes were clearer in my memory as I read the blog.  But I honestly didn’t want to watch all the side stories again—the Bert and Al stories, the Penhale and Mrs T stories, or the patient stories.  I wanted to focus on the relationship between Martin and Louisa: how did it start, how did it develop, how did it change?

In particular, I had a few questions to focus on, issues that seemed to trouble viewers and some readers of the blog. For example, did it make sense that Martin and Louisa called off the first wedding? Or were the writers just torturing viewers? And did Martin’s statement that he knew she wouldn’t make him happy make sense? Also, was S6 as dark as I recalled? Were Martin and Louisa really as angry and distant through S6? And then there is S7.  Like many, I had found the characterization of Louisa in S7 wildly different from how she’d been depicted in every other series—as mean, cold, angry, unforgiving. Was that really the case? And what about the much discussed gap between E7 and E8 in S7? On my first viewing, I saw no gap. On my second view, I noticed it and was, like many, perturbed by it.  How would it seem on a third viewing? And then finally, the last scene of S7, E8.  Would it make any more sense to me now?

So here’s what I did.  I started with S1 and over the course of a few days, I watched every episode in order, but fast forwarded through every scene that did not include Louisa and Martin with a few exceptions—scenes with Joan or Ruth and Martin, scenes with the awful Margaret, and scenes with Dr T and either Martin or Louisa.  It usually meant I could watch an entire episode in about 15 minutes or so, depending on the episode.  (I do realize this sounds insane, but hey, I am retired, and it’s summer.)

What did I experience as a viewer doing this? Well, first of all, I really enjoyed S1-3.  In those series, Martin and Louisa are like sparring partners.  The sparks fly, the sexual tension is intense, and the banter is smart, funny, and fast-moving.  In both the Bad Breath kissing scene and the Urine Odor Date scene, I felt more sorry for Martin than outraged or amused and also empathetic to Louisa, but a bit annoyed that she didn’t at least give him a chance to talk it through.  Poor guy was clueless.  And she ran.

Then we get to the Holly episode in S3 and the engagement and called off wedding.  I admit that on my first two viewings, I was thrilled that Martin and Louisa had gotten together.  But on my fast forward viewing my reaction was different.  It was much more obvious that the two of them had never really had a full conversation about anything—just lots of banter and bickering and interrupted dates and kisses that ended up with misunderstandings.  How could they get married? They hardly knew each other.

So this time my reaction to the cancelled wedding was different. This time it made perfect sense.  How could two people who’d done nothing but argue and kiss twice get married? Especially when one was so different from the other? What didn’t make sense was Martin saying she wouldn’t make him happy.  I still think he realized that he wouldn’t make her happy and let her off the hook.  Even she looked surprised when he said that.

Also, what hadn’t made sense on earlier viewings was Louisa leaving town, running away.  Couples can decide they’re not ready to get married without breaking up.  But on further thought, it made sense knowing what we know about Louisa—that she runs away from problems rather than confront them.  Maybe that wasn’t as clear to me on my first viewing of S1-3, but now it appeared to be more consistent with the character’s behavior.

Then we get to S4, a series I’d recalled not enjoying because I was so frustrated that Martin and Louisa were not communicating with each other; it felt like a bad farce where one character walks in the door just as the other walks out.  I hate that stuff.  And I also hated Edith.  On my fast-forward review (which did include some of the Edith scenes), S4 felt different.  This time I enjoyed it.  It was so obvious to me that Martin and Louisa wanted desperately to be with each other, but couldn’t figure out a way to express that to each other.  Edith was nothing but a minor distraction, not a threat.  And, of course, the birth scene was still wonderful.  Who doesn’t love a birth scene?

Now let me stop and observe one thing.  I know that it’s very different to view something a second time when you know how things end.  Of course, S4 felt better knowing that in the end Martin and Louisa would reconcile.  But even my second viewing left me frustrated with them.  It was only by fast forwarding through the extra material that I could really focus and see how much those two were dying to be with each other but stuck in their respective corners.

I also got a different feeling for S5 this time.  Before it had seemed like two lovebirds had turned overnight into enemies.  But focusing just on their scenes together gave me a new way of seeing those interactions.  They weren’t enemies—they were doing what many, if not most, new parents do: struggling to figure out how to be parents, how to stay a couple, and also how to retain their own individuality.  They just were more inept than other couples at expressing themselves in any positive way as they struggled through it.

But for me the biggest surprise was S6, a season I really had not enjoyed the first time and that I almost didn’t watch the second time.  My recollection of it had been that Martin was sad the whole time and Louisa was angry the whole time.  Not so on this fast forward watch.   Yes, Martin was upset and withdrawn once he realized the blood phobia had returned (although I don’t think it ever went away; there are scenes in S5 where he still reacts to blood as well as the birth scene in S4).  But Louisa was not angry.  She was trying her best to reach out to him; she was sympathetic and patient.  She tried to get him to talk to her.  And then she was hurt when he refused to go away with her.  That was the ultimate slap in the face, if you ask me.  And with Margaret appearing, Martin became even more withdrawn, more depressed.  (Who wouldn’t be?) But Louisa kept trying.  Nothing worked.

So her Sports Day explosion struck me this time as not out of proportion to her feelings.  Martin was just being ur-Martin: rude and insensitive.  But this time she just couldn’t keep her frustration and her pain inside.  I felt for her this time, more so than I had on prior viewings.

After the accident she is impatient with Martin, annoyed, and upset.  But when he comes to get her off the plane, she is grateful.  She says she thought he was coming to get her or join her in Spain.  She clearly still wanted to be with him.  And if there is any truth to “in vino veritas” with anesthesia, her words to him before the operation are loving, teasing him about whether he has a bathing suit.  And she does seem to hear what he says about needing help and wanting to be a good husband.  Whether she remembers it afterwards is hard to say.

The final scene when he returns to the hospital is still a painful one for me to watch.  Why doesn’t Martin repeat what he said before the operation? When Louisa thanks him for coming after her, why doesn’t he declare his love rather than saying, “You are my patient and my wife.”  Even I might have gotten on a plane with that reply, and I am not Louisa.  So we are left at the end of S6 with Louisa actually looking sad and upset that she is hurting Martin, but now Martin is the one who shuts down, runs off, just as Louisa did at the end of S3.  I no longer was angry with Louisa for leaving for Spain, instead I was upset with Martin for not opening up again.  So I saw Louisa as the more sympathetic character in S6 in some ways, the opposite of what I’d felt on earlier viewings.

And that brings me to S7.  Let me tell you first my prior reaction to S7.  I hated Louisa in S7.  I thought she was unnecessarily mean and angry.  Not only with Martin, but with everyone except the baby.  I found her cold and unforgiving.  I couldn’t understand what the writers had done to this warm and loving and friendly character.  Others here reacted similarly, and Karen wrote that Louisa had become more like Martin.  I was very put off by what they had done—even more so than I was with the silly therapy.

So let me tell you that watching S7 again, just focusing on the Louisa, Martin, and Dr T scenes, was an eye opener.  Louisa from the beginning is sad, sympathetic, and doing her best to understand Martin.  Yes, she is a bit prickly when he doesn’t get her jokes or pulls one of his OCD things, but overall it was clear to me that the writers were signaling that this was a woman who wanted to stay with her husband.  She just, as she says, doesn’t know what to do—how to get them to a better place.  She wants him to help her find a place to stay; she feels bad that he has to sleep in James Henry’s room and brings him his clock in her nightgown (I mean, how seductive is that?), but he makes no move.  She is happy he is going for therapy.  She looks at him with sympathetic eyes.

In the early episodes it now seems that both of them are stuck in their corners once again, afraid of getting hurt.  They don’t touch each other, not out of lack of desire, but out of fear.  Fear of rejection.  Fear of loss.  When Martin sees Louisa in her bathrobe after her first night back, the look in his eyes is desire.  Just watch that scene and see for yourself.

My take this time is that what triggers the anger in Louisa is the suggestion that she join Martin in therapy and the thought that she herself may have issues and may be part of the problem with their relationship.  She is on the defensive.  She’s been in denial about her own issues forever.  Now Dr T, Ruth, and Martin want her to face her own issues.  I’ve seen many people get angry and defensive in those circumstances.

(I won’t say more about the therapy itself since that’s been discussed here in depth, except to say I still think Dr T had the blood phobia thing all wrong and that the “control” assignment was stupid.  Throughout the entire show and even in S7, Louisa always had more control than Martin.  She chose when to run away from him and when to kiss him; she chose to live separately.  Plus most decisions on smaller matters ended up being hers—James Henry’s name; going on the honeymoon; telling Martin not to kill Buddy or have Peter Cronk arrested.  Martin might be afraid of losing control over his emotions, but not over day to day decisions like what to eat at a picnic.)

But overall Louisa does not seem angry or hostile towards Martin.  She wants him to keep hugging her and is hurt when she realizes it was only that his watch was caught on her sweater.  She tells numerous characters—Danny, Dr T, the Wintons, Ruth—that she hopes to get back together with Martin.  This is not a woman looking to leave her husband, but one who wants someone to help them find their way back and then forward.  “A means to an end or a new beginning.”  Not an end of their relationship.

So we get to the infamous E7 and E8 gap between Martin asking for them to have a make or break discussion and Louisa preparing a dinner of salmon, aubergines, and courgettes.  (Why French names? Why not just eggplant and zucchini? I had to Google courgette.) The first time I watched these episodes, I didn’t see any gap.  I just figured I’d forgotten some line where Louisa or Martin said, “Let’s have dinner to discuss it.”  The second time, after reading comments here, I looked for the gap and saw it.  There’s definitely at least one line missing to explain how the dinner date was planned.

But what I didn’t see this time that others saw was a difference in the character’s attitudes between the two scenes.  Martin seemed resigned to failure in both scenes.  He thought Louisa wanted out or that there was no way to make things better.  He’d given up.  He may have said that Dr T only wanted them to make a list, but from his expression and his words at the end of E7, it seems clear that he thought the relationship was over. At the beginning of E8 he does nothing to suggest otherwise when Louisa is talking about their (somehow planned) dinner date.

Louisa, on the other hand, in both episodes seems to be hoping things can still work out.  She’s afraid Dr T is suggesting divorce.  She doesn’t bring up make or break, he does.  She may be worried about what he’s asking, but she is not acting hostile or angry or resigned.  So I don’t see a radical change between Louisa in E7 and E8; maybe she’s realized Martin is giving up, but I don’t think she had been ready to do that.

Finally, that last scene on the cliff. What the hell were they talking about? I won’t get into the whole “normal” thing because that still makes no sense to me.  I won’t repeat what has been said here about why that was not consistent with what Louisa had said or done in any earlier series.  But what did Martin mean when he said that he couldn’t change how he felt about her, and she replies, “I wouldn’t want that.” Then he says, “I’ve tried, I really have.  But it only made things worse.” What did that mean?

Some people think he meant he tried to change his behavior.  Although I do think he was trying to change his behavior by going to therapy, doing the assignments, tolerating some of the mess and noise, that didn’t make anything worse. It may not have noticeably improved things, but it certainly did not make things worse.  And that would also make no sense coming after his prior sentence about not changing how he felt about Louisa.

I thought the first time and I still think that what Martin was saying was that he had tried to change his feelings about Louisa—to withdraw, not to love her any more. Now that seems even clearer to me after my fast forward viewing of the entire show.  After all, that’s what it seemed he was doing to some extent at the end of S6 when she said she was still going to Spain.  He gave her a rather abrupt answer and walked out of the hospital.  That’s also what he did when she left the first time after the cancelled wedding; he thought about being with Edith (he never once was repelled when Edith kissed his cheek, unlike when Mrs Tishell or even Ruth tried to embrace him; he was perhaps confused, but not repelled).  And each time it made him feel worse because he couldn’t stop loving Louisa.

I realize that watching the show this way is distorting.  The intertwining stories and the way they connect to the main characters and their lives is missing; the things the writers tell us through the mouths of people like the fish monger, the dry cleaner, the vicar, and so is deleted.  I didn’t see how Martin was acting with other characters.  And I knew how things would end, so it had to color what I was seeing and how I felt about it.

But it did help me focus on the story arc of Martin and Louisa’s relationship. And for what it’s worth, here’s my summary of that story arc and the two characters:  They are attracted to each other and intrigued by the mystery of each other from their first meeting, but from the beginning, neither one of them can trust the other; both are incapable of expressing their true feelings.  Both retreat or shut down when they fear rejection.  Neither one is the heavy; they both have shortcomings, and in some ways they have the same shortcomings when it comes to love and building a relationship.  Louisa has always been the one to over-react out of fear of being hurt; Martin always allows her to pull away without a fight.   Karen once wrote that the birth scene metaphorically captures their relationship as Louisa pulls and pushes Martin back and forth.  And Martin lets her do it.  I think that describes it perfectly.

The times that they are somehow able to express their love always seems to come from a crisis where their naked emotions get the better of them—when Peter Cronk almost died, when Holly almost died, when Mrs. Tishell stole James Henry, when Louisa almost died, and finally when Martin is kidnapped and then saves Mr. Winton.  Only when their protective shells are eaten away by the stress of a crisis can they manage to declare their love for one another.

Maybe now the writers will give them a chance to learn how to do that without having a life-threatening crisis push them over the edge.

Addendum: I agree with much that Amy has written, particularly about S6 and S7, which have been the stumbling blocks for me. I definitely see Louisa as getting the short end of the stick in S6 and having every right to be angry and downcast. In both S6 and S7 it seems to me there was a deliberate effort to restrain Martin and Louisa from expressing the sincere feelings they have for each other. Why? For one thing it gets viewers frustrated, emotionally engaged, and generally in that place of wanting to yell at the characters. For another thing, it sustains the unresolved conflict between these characters. Notwithstanding the fact that they have had moments in which they opened their hearts to each other, continuing to construct their communication as a sort of coitus interruptus is what produces a craving for them to finally settle their differences.

We know at the end of S6 that Martin plans to return to pick up Louisa from the hospital, and that she will go home with him, at least for a few days. When she tells him the rush to the hospital and the operation don’t change anything, I thought she was explaining that there were still many obstacles they had to deal with, not necessarily that she was still planning to leave for Spain. When he confesses he needs help being a husband and then heads to a bathroom stall following the successful embolization of her AVM, he appears emotionally raw. But at her bedside he is tongue tied again, and we want to shake him. And that’s how to keep viewers watching.

In S7 I am in total agreement with Amy that there were signals throughout that Louisa did not want to end the marriage. Again, their inability to ever just sit down and talk is endlessly frustrating. This time the interruptions mount and their utter incapacity to lay bare their real feelings becomes draining.

What I’ve finally come up with is that some of the strange things that they included in S7 may have been an attempt at continuing the awkward and obtuse ways Louisa and Martin often communicate with each other. In particular, Martin can be very unclear then he expresses himself AND he relates to others on a literal and imperceptive level. So when there are these confusing transitions between some of the episodes, and when Martin and Louisa talk to each other at the end of E8, it may be the writers continuing that same sort of odd means of expressing themselves. It’s not really ambiguity in the sense of implying more than one meaning; it’s really more being nebulous, especially in Martin’s case.

I wonder if we can compare the conversation they have in E2 in which Martin says, “I don’t miss the peace and quiet.” and Louisa says “What?” And he says, “Now that you’re back I didn’t miss it.” And she once again asks “What are you trying to say Martin?”, to which he finally responds, “When you and James weren’t here, everything was neat and tidy and quiet, and now that you’re back, it’s not, and that’s fine.” with the final conversation where they are sitting on a cliff. Martin is trying to tell Louisa that he’s never going to change how he feels about her and he adds, “I’ve tried and it’s just made things worse.” This time Louisa doesn’t want or need clarification because she is in a different and more accepting frame of mind and she isn’t concerned about what exactly he’s trying to say. She knows he’s telling her he can’t stop loving her and that’s all that matters. Again, I don’t think they were going for ambiguity, just recreating his nebulous manner of expressing himself. I admit this is giving the writers something of a pass.

When it comes to the so-called “jokes” Louisa makes throughout the series, I find it even harder to make sense of them. If we agree that Louisa is given some of the same traits as Martin in S7, then we can say that the gift of a sausage might have been meant to have sexual undertones and is also a sign that she is being insensitive. I would consider it similar to the time when Martin brings Louisa breathing strips so that her snoring doesn’t keep him awake. Here they are sharing a bed and what he thinks of is his own need for sleep. It was funny when he did that, but now we judge her harshly as being offensive. The humor is lacking.

Her other efforts of making a joke amount to taking advantage of his lack of insight and general serious demeanor. He’s pulled her chain on occasion, e.g. when he told her he had already filed the papers for naming the baby, but now Louisa seems to be mocking him. Perhaps we are meant to think that she wants to lighten up their conversations, bring a little fun back into their lives. Surely the time when she suggests she will tell Dr. T that he tried to break in while she was in the shower was her way of prompting him to say something warm to her. She tells him he belongs in the house and appears disappointed that he just walks away. But again, that is our cue to be exasperated with both of them.

This post is long enough now and I will quit here. Please let us hear your thoughts on any or all of the above.

Originally posted 2016-08-29 16:20:07.

Falling Over the Goal Line

I think the time has come to admit that I have run out of topics to write about in relation to Doc Martin. Like the show itself, IMHO, I think we’ve covered a plethora of interesting ideas inside and out and beyond thorough. In the process I have learned quite a bit about all sorts of psychological issues and jump started my interest in analytical writing, and even writing in general. I have also learned a great deal by reading so many insightful comments and I have become more informed about what it’s like to have a blog. (BTW, it’s pretty intense!)

Since Downton Abbey ended, and all the storylines were neatly wrapped up in mostly happy endings, I’ve been thinking about the conclusion of Doc Martin. I was not a fan of Downton Abbey and only watched a couple of series, but the decision to end that show after 6 years made sense to me. In fact, its creator and chief writer, Julian Fellowes, chose to end it after more series than originally planned. He had mapped out how the series should come to a close and knew the quality and credibility of the show would deteriorate if it continued. He was not running out of material; he had simply said what he wanted to say. (Incidentally, anyone thinking that it’s stressful to employ writers to write and others to edit 8 scripts every two years should think about the fact that Fellowes wrote nearly every script for Downton Abbey himself and they did not take years off. For more read here.)

I have made no secret of the fact that I am not pleased that Doc Martin will have more series. The primary reason for this position is that I have the sense that they have never had a plan for how it should end. Every good writer knows that the ending should be established when the beginning is first written. Every great novel or TV show has been written this way: Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Sopranos, Walking Dead, and many more. Creative writing students are taught they must know what the ending is before they start writing. All producers of TV shows must rely on whether they are recommissioned to determine whether the show will continue, however, the creator/ writers ought to have an idea of how they would like their program to end. The way S6 and S7 were handled caused me to have doubts about how much effort had been spent on developing a strategy for how the show should end. The continuity of tone and action was simply missing and made me very frustrated and let down. Additional proof comes from listening to Martin Clunes say things like they never realized how essential to the plot the romance between Martin Ellingham and Louisa Glasson would become. It just seems standard that any romance in a story becomes the central focus, and they accentuated the interplay between these two characters from the first episode on. There was, perhaps, an expanding of this relationship when Caroline Catz performed so excellently in her role; however, whenever a writer puts a man and a woman in close proximity and sets up clashes, the likelihood is that that part of the story will take center stage. (In case you want to argue that every TV show must make adjustments with each newly commissioned series, I would only say that even so the writer(s)/producers should still know how they would like it to end. I recently saw an interview of the Walking Dead writer/creator, show runner, and cast on Inside the Actor’s Studio, a wonderful interview show presented as a seminar to students of the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University in NYC and televised since 1994 on Bravo, and all over the world. James Lipton, the lead moderator of the show, specifically asked the writer if he knows how the show will end. The writer immediately said “yes” but that he hadn’t told the show runner yet.)

As a fan of Doc Martin who has spent many hours writing about it, mostly in admiration of the high quality of the writing and acting, I feel it’s my duty to add a few more observations. Although I continue to be a fan of the show, the last two series have been troubling to me and I figure if anyone should, I ought to honestly express my concerns.

Yes, sure, as producer Mark Crowdy said prior to S6, it seems logical to wonder if ME can be a husband and father, but I never thought that required putting him in a deep depression, staring into space all the time. And once they’ve brought us to the place where the marriage is teetering on the edge, don’t bring the show back in S7, after a scene in the last episode of S6 in which ME tells Louisa that he isn’t good at being a husband and needs her help, with Louisa having departed for Spain after all. What happened? They were actually in agreement that they couldn’t just go home and act as though nothing had changed. But that is exactly what they must have done — that is, Louisa’s plans to leave weren’t altered by Martin expressing any regrets and we can only guess that Martin may have continued to say nothing to keep Louisa from leaving. He went back to his office after seeing Ruth in the last episode of S6 to make reservations to fly to Spain and catch up with Louisa, he told his mother to leave, and he apologized to a patient; all changes in approach for him. But at the beginning of S7 we’re back to square one.

I know, gaps are there for a reason and we are meant to speculate about what might have transpired, but when gaps become so big you can drive a truck through them, they begin to be significant fractures rather than minor intermissions. For example, let’s look at the previous gaps between series. At the outset of the show they made the decision to start each series as if very little time has passed. Therefore, S2 begins soon after Martin Ellingham has chosen to stay in Portwenn as the GP at the end of S1. He is immediately confronted with a difficult medical case that also includes some complications with his newly registered attraction to Louisa Glasson. We have a more significant gap between S2 and 3 because now the storylines are developing. The primary tension is between Martin and Louisa. At the end of the regular season, Martin had accused Louisa of stalking him after she reciprocated his expression of love for her. Then, early in S3, she accuses him of stalking her as he tries to redeem himself by wanting to ask her out to dinner. We also have Louisa needing some medical attention from Martin and finding the awkwardness in their relationship frustrating. The biggest gap between series comes between S3 and 4 when Louisa and Martin call off their marriage and Louisa leaves Portwenn. As it turns out, she has been in London for 6 months and, by the end of the first episode, has returned to Portwenn pregnant. We may have some interest in what she’s been doing during that interlude and how Martin has been handling the second time he’s been rejected by a woman he planned to marry; however, when Louisa returns in E1 of S4, the only thing we find ourselves wondering about is what she had been expecting upon her return. The shortest gap takes place between series 4 and 5 when Louisa is taken to the hospital after giving birth at the conclusion of S4. We don’t need to see how she’s transported to the hospital or how she’s checked in; we are perfectly happy to be brought into the story once that has all been completed and now she needs to find a way back to Portwenn. Although S4 had ended with the most passionate kiss yet between this couple, at the start of S5 Louisa isn’t taking anything for granted and seems pleasantly surprised with Martin’s offer to drive her back. It’s also not that important to know what took place between series 5 and 6 because Martin and Louisa departed hand in hand from the scene with Mrs. T at the Castle and now they are preparing to be married. We know some time has passed because James is obviously older by a couple of months, and there’s no doubt that some viewers would like to have seen Martin and Louisa having some nice times together, but we can accept that lacuna because the fact that the wedding is taking place has to mean things went well. However, when we get to the gap between series 6 and 7, there is a gap the size of a meteor crater that creates questions of equal magnitude.

This time there are a myriad of questions. Did Louisa go home with Martin from the hospital? Did they do anything to address their concerns about their married life? Did Martin remind Louisa of his plea to her in the operating room? Did he try to make some changes in his behavior towards her and somehow cause Louisa to leave? Was there any discussion about how long Louisa planned to stay in Spain? If Louisa told Martin she would call him once she got settled, why didn’t she? (The problem can’t be poor reception because she was obviously able to reach his voicemail when she tried.) Did Ruth do anything to help or did she, too, just abandon Martin and go off to London? And many more.

By the end of S7, no matter how convincing we may find the series, we are again (much like the end of S5) under the impression that Martin and Louisa have determined that they want to be together and plan to go home as a couple. I would really hate to see a repeat of S6 and the marriage return to a downward slide. I can’t imagine anyone being willing to go through another seesaw tour of whether Martin and Louisa will stay together. In my opinion S7 brought together many storylines, did a satisfactory job of concluding them, and ended with Martin and Louisa kissing, declaring their love for one another, and heading home together. That’s a good place to finalize the series and, in my opinion, whatever they do with S8 will be anticlimactic.

I have no intention of suggesting any storylines for S8. My blog has always been about analyzing what I think of the writing that has been presented to us. But because I have given the practices they have followed some thought, and they are clearly planning to have a S8, I want to offer some simple suggestions.

If they are going to begin the next series shortly after the previous one left off, then S8 should start with Louisa waking up in bed next to Martin, looking over at him, and appearing content that he’s there. Then, of course, either the dog or James (preferably James since they’ve used the dog before) will do something to interrupt the moment. I wouldn’t be surprised if they contrived some sort of humorous bedroom scene. (By now they are certainly aware that many viewers have a fantasy of seeing Martin and Louisa snuggle in bed. I can imagine setting up a scene that hints of some sexual foreplay that quickly gets truncated. It would be incredibly out of character to actually have them do more than kiss, but it might be possible to have them kiss in bed.)

It would be nice to see Morwenna come to her senses and find someone who is as capable as she is. Al’s a nice guy but she can do better. Maybe someone truly adult can show up and have some interest in her. Or Al can finally get the B&B going and manage to become a success at something. Then Morwenna’s talents as an organizer/capable assistant may come in handy. If the B&B becomes more viable, Ruth may have a local business that keeps her active and she may also be needed to keep Bert under control.

Penhale and Janice could be a disaster waiting to happen, which might be very funny. He’s much older than she is, but their marriages have both failed and they couldn’t be more lacking in insight if they tried. Previously I noted that any romance between these two would be hard to fathom, but since it could add to the humor as well as mirror some action going on between Martin and Louisa, I’ve changed my position to some degree. I still think their relationship will be pretty wild; I just see how this could be a better way of using Penhale’s goofiness.

For me Mrs. Tishell has outlived her welcome and, like Aunt Joan or Dr. Timoney, should exit the show. Selina Cadell has been outstanding, but now that she’s back with Clive, her storyline can conclude without any adverse effects. Just as Martin and Louisa’s up and down relationship has run its course, Mrs. Tishell’s obsession with Martin has become tired and overdone.

All of the above is predicated on all the actors being available to return in 2017. To me that is a critical question considering the ages of several of them. Even more to the point is whether they can begin the next series soon after S7 ends, as has been their practice, since everyone has been aging and a baby who first appeared in S4 would now actually be 7 years old in real time. No matter how well Martin Clunes and Caroline Catz age, it difficult to believe that they are still as young as they were in S4 or S5. I mean, give us some credit for not being utterly delusional!!

One final observation: Recently I read an old interview with Martin Clunes because it was posted on Facebook. I was surprised that he mentioned Mikhail Bulgakov as a favorite writer of his. I am most familiar with Bulgakov’s collection of short stories, A Country Doctor’s Notebook, and especially the story called “The Steel Windpipe.” Before reading that Clunes is a fan of Bulgakov’s work, I had not thought about some of the similarities between these stories and Doc Martin. I was particularly struck by how they reflect the contrast I wrote about between professional advice and folk wisdom. In addition, like Martin Ellingham, the doctor in these stories has moved from the city to a small rural town and contends with all sorts of serious medical problems as well as ignorance and hesitancy to trust the doctor. Bulgakov writes with a sense of humor too. Now I can’t help wondering if there was anything about these stories that contributed to the writing of the show. (I also should mention that Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe turned Bulgakov’s stories into a television series in 2013 in the UK called “A Young Doctor’s Notebook.”)

At this point, my energy and dedication to writing this blog is flagging. I never thought I would be writing this blog for almost three years and never expected more series to come. The two year hiatus taken by the show between S6 and S7 stretched my ability to come up with topics to the nth degree. But I was very fortunate and the readers of the blog kept me going. Now I am struggling to find a way to sustain this blog another two years, and I think you readers must be feeling the same. I am in the strange position of having more blog subscribers than ever, and sometimes more readers of my posts than I used to have, but much fewer comments than before.

However, the amount of spam I get has never waned. One thing I had not realized when I started this blog was how much spam I would have to wade through. Along with actual readers from all over the world (yet primarily from the US) I get spam in all languages, and I mean all.  Although I know very little about other alphabets beyond the Latin one we use in English, I can identify messages that are written in French, Spanish, Greek, Chinese, Hindi, and who knows what other languages, and sometimes all mixed together. Every day without fail I get dozens of messages that want to sell me things. The range of items begins with erectile dysfunction meds to oxycontin or other controlled substances; from NFL jerseys to Michael Kors pocketbooks and Christian Louboutin shoes; from earrings to bracelets to cosmetics. If you’re interested in porn or sex of all kinds, start a blog. I also get long, totally unintelligible comments like “It’s pretty worth enough for me,” or that seem like someone sat down and wrote whatever words popped into their head (not that I read them to the end). I am offered all sorts of advice as well for getting my blog to go viral or become profitable. Some of the oddest spam comes from people who write that they were bored at work or their sister told them to check out my blog. Bottom line is I’ve learned to only approve the comments that specifically say something cogent about Doc Martin, but to get there can take more of one’s time than expected.

The response to my posts has been totally unpredictable. Some posts have inspired many comments while others barely got noticed. I always vowed that I wouldn’t let my ego get too involved and that I would be fine with writing the blog for myself. I have to admit, though, that it’s been difficult not to start looking for comments once some posts were noticed.

The hard truth is that realizing that this blog is languishing means closing a chapter in my life that has been both extremely fulfilling and utterly improbable. It was totally unlike me to jump into fandom of any show, and it had been years since I had written any essays approaching literary analysis. And I was very pleased that I still had it in me! If I managed to add a different dimension to this show for avid viewers, I am very thankful. I have gotten to connect with people all over the country and the world, and that has been wonderful for me.

I want to save every bit of the posts and the comments and have to learn the best way to do that. I will probably keep the blog going while finding very little to write about; however, if there are new readers, they will have access all the previous posts and comments. Keeping it open gives us all a little time to get accustomed to moving on and for writing any comments we still may have. Thank you all for an excellent adventure.

 

Originally posted 2016-05-11 11:35:09.

How’s the Therapy for You?

We have now come to the end of S7 on AcornTV, and that means I feel free to publish my thoughts on a number of things about it. Here is the first of several posts:

During the promotion for S7 marriage counseling/guidance was brought up as a key facet of how Martin and Louisa would be dealing with their marital problems. Since “Doc Martin” is a dramedy, we would be surprised if there were a lot of lengthy counseling scenes; however, in the operating room scene at the end of S6 we heard Martin tell Louisa that he needed help from her to become a better husband. Prior to that we heard Ruth tell Martin that if he wanted to get Louisa to return to him, he would have to work hard to change. It didn’t seem like too much of a leap to expect some real effort to use marriage guidance to improve their marriage.

We have been through 6 series that have contained many medical emergencies and lives saved. We’ve learned about a myriad of rare medical disorders and all have been treated properly by Martin Ellingham with an expertise that demonstrates his superior medical knowledge and skill. We would expect no less from any depiction of marriage counseling. Sadly, that is not what we get. The following is my view of the marriage counseling and where it disappoints. Whereas we can learn about how to diagnose and deal with a variety of medical conditions from watching this show, we should not accept what we see in S7 as a good representation of marriage therapy. (Abby and Santa, regular participants of this blog, reviewed what I wrote and provided me with feedback and their professional experience. Abby is a practicing therapist who sees married couples for counseling and Santa is a retired therapist. They have written some previous posts on psychological aspects of the show and its characters.) This post is intended to focus on the accuracy of the therapy sessions first. I will add a few thoughts on the purpose of the therapy scenes at the end. Please bear with me on this because it’s going to be a long post.

In series 7 each episode includes a brief look at therapy sessions. We have to keep in mind that what we are shown is only a couple of minutes of each therapy session that is scheduled for one hour. I would like to think that what they choose to show us is the most important exchange of each session, but no 2-5 minute interlude can give us a sufficient amount of information. We are left with many unknowns about the therapy. Nevertheless, I don’t think it’s fair to excuse the problems with how the therapy is depicted simply because of the brevity of what we’re shown.

Our first introduction to the therapist recommended by Ruth is that she conforms to how Ruth described her, i. e. she is a no nonsense, direct person who has set standards and practices and will not change them for anyone. She demands that Martin shut off his phone and leave it at the entrance to her office; she tells him that being late for any reason is unacceptable and could lead to a termination of their sessions; and she won’t be deterred from treating his problems by any questions he poses about her background and reason for being in Portwenn. She won’t allow him to usurp her role as leader in this setting. These rules seem a little too rigid because he is the only doctor in Portwenn. According to Abby, it would have been better for them to clarify what constitutes the kind of emergency that would be an acceptable reason for him to arrive late for a session. Dr. T wants him to make therapy a priority and the act of discussing this issue would be a good way to convey that message.

Her approach appears to work well with Martin and he exposes more of himself to her than we’ve heard him tell anyone else, including Louisa. He recognizes that due to his being an unwanted child he has an inability to form adult attachments; he exhibits poor communication skills; he has unrealistic expectations of others, and a blood phobia. Of course he’s done his homework and decided what her diagnosis will be, but she is quick to brush off his easy judgement and makes clear that therapy is not like surgery; it’s a process. Although Dr. T appreciates Martin’s effort to arrive at a diagnosis, she doesn’t dispute it. Abby notes that “the first order of business, other than taking a history, is to establish a therapeutic alliance.” We can now look forward to watching the process proceed. We have set before us a series of issues that Martin has delineated and that we would assume will be how Dr. Timoney will plan her therapy.

Dr. Timoney begins quite understandably with asking Martin what he is coming to her for. He tells her, after asking her about herself, that he wants his wife to return to him, that he wants her to be happy, and that he blames himself for her unhappiness. Dr. Timoney’s first command for Martin is she wants to meet Louisa. That seems reasonable since Louisa plays an important role in the direction of the therapy. On the other hand, Martin probably has no idea when Louisa will return and appears to have neglected to tell Dr. T that important fact. Fortuitously, Louisa returns soon after, and that night over dinner Martin has a chance to inform her that he’s been seeing a therapist and that she wants to meet Louisa. Luckily, Louisa agrees to meet Dr. T even though she has some reservations. She figures she’s going to shed some light on Martin’s problems for Dr. T. In other words, we start therapy on tenuous footing including that as far as we know Martin has only seen the therapist once prior to Louisa’s return, due to time constraints he needs her to agree to see Dr. T on the same night that they are reunited, and he tells her nothing about his session with Dr. T.

When Louisa meets Dr. T for the first time, we see her enter the building but it appears that we pick up the conversation sometime after it begins. By the time we are brought into the conversation, Louisa is in the act of explaining that Martin has a hard time expressing his feelings, although she’s sure he loves her. Louisa then makes some derogatory comments about Martin’s parents, all deserved. She is especially clear that Martin’s mother is very cold and that she can understand why Martin is emotionally repressed. When asked about her parents, Louisa identifies them as normal, but she does reveal that her Mom left home when she was 12 and that her father was incarcerated when she was a child.

Since the show has made a fairly consistent effort to inform us of the childhood traumas of both Martin and Louisa, we have been led to believe that these are critical to the formation of these two characters. We’ve met all four parents over the years and, through a dream sequence that Martin has one early morning after James has been born, and probably triggered by a butterfly crib mobile, we know that Martin has suffered from the harmful effects of a bad tempered father when he was young. We also know that he’s been punished by being locked in  a space under the stairs and by physical means, and that he wet his bed until he was 11. Thus, when the counseling sessions begin with Dr. T learning some intimate tidbits about their parents, we anticipate more inquiry into the parent/child dynamic. Childhood is when the most significant impact on our lives occurs and we deem it crucial to this couple. But that is not to be after all.  Dr. T does not pursue this line of analysis and we do not hear her ask much about their childhoods after this. At the very least a good therapist would have explored how these experiences may have negatively impacted how Martin and Louisa relate to each other. The best therapy would have delved into their childhoods and considered how these experiences shaped them.

Instead, even though Dr. T wonders whether there is some connection between how Louisa’s relationship with her father might correspond with how she deals with Martin, she decides that it would be best for them to enter couples therapy. There is no transition during which she looks into Martin’s individual concerns. Since he made the initial contact, she might have wanted to probe more deeply into Martin’s feelings about why things were difficult before Louisa left. What does that mean anyway? Moreover, we see Louisa immediately resist the notion of couples therapy. We also note that Louisa is not receptive to the suggestion that both parties may be in some way responsible for the problems. Nonetheless, Dr. T moves on with couples therapy without a second individual meeting with either of them. Once therapy transitions to couples counseling, the objective changes. In couples counseling it is the marriage that is effectively the client and not any individual. The mission is now to set goals for the marriage to reach a satisfactory level of success for this couple.

Our introduction to couples therapy with Martin and Louisa begins with E4. When we join the conversation, Martin and Louisa are already seated facing Dr. T and Martin appears to be answering a question about whether he thinks environment has a strong impact on personality development in children. For some reason he mentions that his parents would leave him with his aunt every summer as related in some way to his conclusion that environment is important. Once again, Dr. T does not follow up and asks nothing about his relationship with his aunt or about what visiting her might have meant to him. (From what we’ve seen, we would think that it was a very positive experience during which he received the love, affection, and acceptance he had been missing at home.) He has mentioned that he was an unwanted child, which is pretty significant, but has left out the abuse and neglect he suffered. Most therapists would have wanted to know what brought him to the conclusion that he was unwanted. But here Dr. T moves on to asking Louisa if she’s uncomfortable. (Abby writes that she would have asked Louisa what it was like for her to hear what Martin is revealing. She notes that “it is important to develop empathy between them” and that Dr. T’s question about Louisa looking uncomfortable could have been a good way to transition to this. Unfortunately there is no follow up that takes place.)

Both Martin and Louisa look uncomfortable, and the seat they are asked to use certainly seems very hard and stiff itself, but also they are estranged and have never been extremely prone to overt expressions of affection, especially in public. Martin asserts that he appreciates Louisa, which is more evidence of Martin trying to change and become more expressive. This leads to Dr. T asking whether Louisa considers Martin appreciative. She rightly says that to her he is usually quite nice but not so much to others. Dr. T appropriately cuts Louisa off once she gets going on listing all the things she finds troubling about Martin, and we get the impression that Louisa has a lot of pent up criticism about him. It may be a sign of Dr. T’s observational skills that she notices their self-containment and asks them to list three positives about each other. Louisa is able to produce three things fairly quickly, and they are telling in that they are rather impersonal: Martin is a good doctor, he dresses smartly, and he keeps the house tidy. This last item is strange to find on Louisa’s list because she usually isn’t so happy about it. Then it’s Martin’s turn and his list is much more personal: Louisa is a good and caring mother, she’s active, and she’s very beautiful. Their choices represent well what is important to each of them. For Louisa Martin’s outstanding medical ability has always been preeminent. She is also attracted to his outward appearance and professional attire. After that she seems to struggle for a third thing to add. For Martin Louisa’s interest in being a good mother is preeminent and why he has nothing to say about her achievements as headmistress. Being active matters to him on a health level, and we know he has considered her beautiful from the moment he first saw her. Louisa seems flattered despite the omission of her ability as a headmistress.

What follows is an assignment to hug three times a day and say something positive to each other every day. As I wrote in my post on Hugs and Kisses, this assignment makes sense because it asks them to add physical touching, and that can be extremely effective in bringing people closer. It also requires them to think of something they can say to each other that should be complimentary. It switches the emphasis away from the negative.

As always, we know that watching Martin and Louisa hug three times a day will be both amusing and endearing, and it is. This was precisely what I hoped therapy would do for the show and this couple. By the end of E4, we see a lot of progress even though Louisa still struggles to find something positive to say to Martin. Therapy is making a difference despite being relatively lacking in thoroughness.

E5 starts with Martin already having a bad day due to an unpleasant confrontation with a young girl and being shadowed by Buddy. They arrive a bit early for their therapy session and are seen waiting in their car by another patient, something they both appear to dislike. Dr. T asks about how the hugging assignment went and Louisa answers that Martin has trouble with spontaneity. Martin immediately accuses her of the same. But we are quickly off to Louisa asking about doing something with Martin’s blood phobia. Louisa has finally raised that condition with Dr. T.  because she would like to redirect therapy to make it about Martin. At this point, according to Abby, most therapists would acknowledge the importance of Martin’s haemophobia but make sure the hugging exercise wasn’t neglected. There was too much material involved with the hugging for the therapist to simply move on without spending more time on it. Dr. T can’t really address the haemophobia specifically with Martin if she is focusing on the marriage, but she suggests the blood phobia is connected to Martin’s desire to be in control, and despite his disagreement with that, she sticks to her analysis and gives them another assignment. (There is some dispute here about the origins of the haemophobia because we’ve heard Ruth tell Martin that this sort of phobia often has roots in childhood trauma. Abby would be inclined to agree with Ruth even though Martin certainly has control issues. As a person who needs to feel in control, Martin probably felt safe until the event that brought on the blood phobia took place. The onset of the phobia was enough to bring on significant anxiety and make him terrified. Since then, he has found a way to maintain control, but each time the phobia reappears, it reminds him that he isn’t in control and he is thrown into another state of fear.)

This time their assignment is for Louisa to take charge of an activity and Martin must do whatever she asks of him. The odd thing about this is that he’s trying to do even more than that already and has chosen to live in an unsavory place so that Louisa and James can stay at the surgery. He also offers to bathe James regularly and to take care of James when Janice is unavailable. He’s very cognizant of not impinging on Louisa’s privacy and treads lightly around her. But both Louisa and Martin agree to this assignment without objection either.

The picnic Louisa chooses as her activity is disrupted by Angela Sim having a mental breakdown at the beach and that breaks up the family occasion. On the other hand, Louisa is grateful that Martin was there to help Angela and the episode ends with both of them entering the surgery together, which should be a good sign. Then again, there is no mention of how that assignment went to our knowledge but we join the session near the end this time. (Abby finds this assignment strange because Dr. T should have noticed that both Louisa and Martin have control issues. Louisa has tried to take charge of most of the sessions. “If she gave them this assignment to show how Louisa sets Martin up, then why wasn’t the assignment explored the next session?  Why did you choose a picnic?  Is it something you thought Martin would like?  What food did you pack?  Were there things both of you like?  So much valuable material that could have been gleaned from a discussion like this.”)

Once again Dr. T decides to give them another assignment which entails going on a date together. Dr. T makes a valuable contribution when she comments that Louisa may equate love with being left alone, since her parents left her when she was a child, and now she has fallen in love with a man who she says she didn’t think would last in Portwenn. Her comment that Louisa sets Martin up for failure is also so that she can continue to be disappointed in him. Abby notes that Dr. T was planting seeds that she hoped would germinate either during therapy or afterwards. Each time in the world of Dr. T’s therapy, however, there is so little follow up that we can only be frustrated, and that shows poor practice methods.

It is here when Louisa admits that falling in love with Martin was not a conscious act in any way connected to how she might conceive of the emotion of love. Perhaps that is a nod to the incomprehensibility of choosing Martin as the man she wants to marry. We can’t explain what leads us to fall in love and love is rather mystifying. Again, as far as we can tell, Dr. T just leaves that hanging too.

Dr. T provides very few guidelines for the date so it’s particularly nice to see Martin bring flowers for Louisa, make reservations at the location where they first met and make special note of that. They have a slightly tense conversation about Louisa’s impression that Martin wouldn’t last 5 minutes in Portwenn. Then Martin brings up Danny and confronts Louisa about telling Danny about their private lives, but Louisa is honest in her answer and quick to apologize. For me her behavior is conciliatory and she hopes to have a nice dinner. The disruption comes when Louisa takes a call from Danny that causes her to feel compelled to leave. It is understandable that she would leave her phone on to be available for any calls about James, but she should never have accepted a call from Danny, and he should never have called her.

When Dr. T sees them next, Louisa describes the dinner date as a disaster, but that seems a pretty extreme appraisal. Again, Dr. T does not ask Martin to venture his own feelings. Martin’s anger at Louisa for divulging their marital problems to Danny is not similarly played out with Rachel. Time and again Dr. T allows Louisa to be the one to give her evaluation of each exercise with no effort to balance what she says with what Martin thinks. Quickly Dr. T comes to the conclusion that Martin and Louisa should make a list of what they like about being on their own, and tells them they should not consider a decision to separate as a failure. (Abby can’t help having a strong reaction to this procedure, and I decided to include it all: “This scene is so far from good practice that I cringe at the thought that people will think this is what therapy is.  First of all, she doesn’t explore why Louisa found that date to be a disaster.  ((Santa would add, “If there’s anything that’s not typical of therapy, it’s letting pass a pregnant comment that ‘it was a disaster.'”)) She didn’t elicit Martin’s view on the evening.  She didn’t explore the entire assignment:  How was the date arranged?  Who asked whom?  Did Martin pick her up?  How did that go?  What was the drive like?  Where did they go?  How did they feel sitting at the table with each other?  What did they talk about?  Where did the evening break down?  Was there a better way they could have handled it?  There was so much that could be gained from such a post mortem that it is frustrating for me to see it just dropped.  And then to suggest they think about the positives of being separated after such a short time leaves me just dumbfounded.  One might wonder if she was using reverse psychology here, but that would be a very dangerous game.”)

It is also very bad practice to have never explored the history of their relationship and the course of their short marriage. We have no evidence that she ever has tried to investigate these areas.

What we have then is several short-lived efforts to spend time together, hardly any review of what took place during those occasions, usually a willingness to hear only one person’s assessment of the assignment, and ultimately a suggestion that perhaps saving their marriage is not such a good idea, and that that would not be considered a failure.

The final time Martin and Louisa go out to see Dr. T takes place after Dr. T’s car accident and head injury. She acts very erratically and chooses an exercise for right there in her office. It seems a bit silly as she asks Martin and Louisa to march in place. We can no longer take her seriously as a therapist.

When we make a final survey of the therapy, it is hard to be very impressed by it. The length of time they spend going to therapy as a couple is probably 5 weeks. Over that period Dr. Timoney has learned that both Martin and Louisa had childhood experiences that were damaging and are likely to have caused some residual harm. In Louisa’s case she has concluded that Louisa interprets love as being intertwined with being cast aside; we don’t know how she looks at Martin’s childhood. What she thinks about Martin is that he likes to be in control. She notices that they are self-contained, at least around her. Hopefully she also realizes that Louisa has a good deal of bottled up anger toward Martin based on how easy it is for her to express criticism of him. She should also notice that Louisa is usually the first one to give her impression of how each assignment went, and that she often does not reciprocate Martin’s efforts to offer compliments. We see almost no follow-up after Louisa disparages each assignment, and there is very little probing of either Martin or Louisa. Without asking for more information, how can you trust that what’s reported is accurate? (I would argue that it isn’t accurate or reliable.) Needless to say, I would expect a therapist to inquire why Louisa is so angry at Martin and possibly elicit from them what it would take for her to be able to get over her strong vexation with him. It seems clear that Louisa is the barrier to any reconciliation. Furthermore, as Santa notes, “they were never coached in how to talk to each other, which I would think would almost immediately have been identified as a significant issue for them.” Martin has admitted to having poor communication skills. We know that this show is built on Martin and Louisa being unable to complete most conversations for many reasons. It would have made sense to address that.

There are many other problems with the therapy and its short term basis. Most therapy lasts for several months, not several weeks. The marital troubles have built up over a fairly long time and dealing with them cannot be expected to work so quickly. Certainly, any couples therapist would do her best to find a way to keep the couple together, especially since that is why they have engaged her. To give up and advise them to separate after such a limited time trying to help them, would be a sign that this therapist is lacking in proper skills and not gifted as advertised. Both Santa and Abby concur on this point.

(As often happens, I read an article in the NYTimes that seems pertinent and wanted to share it with you. It’s helpful that the article provides both sides of therapy and this therapist is loathe to end therapy when she feels there is still much to work on. Importantly, she notes her own failures in treating this patient and hopes to be given another chance to help. Unlike Dr. T, she does not tell the patient that she is an extremely challenging case and she never implies that the situation is hopeless. What Dr. T says is extremely unprofessional, according to both Abby and Santa. To quote Abby: “You do not tell a couple that they are the most challenging case you have ever come across, especially when the therapy has not been successful.  This is very blaming, and in a more sensitive client could induce shame.  It is important to end with something positive, if only with an invitation to return when and if the client feels the need to do so.” Santa adds: “We understand dramatically why she said it — to build suspense about whether they can reconcile — but it’s just dumb.” Having this doctor behave in an obviously grossly unprofessional manner and say something plainly stupid puts in question how Ruth portrayed her originally. Maybe this therapist wasn’t such a good choice after all.)

I would be remiss if I didn’t write anything about how the therapy sessions function as a plot driver. Anytime a particular activity is used repeatedly, it’s worth determining how it contributes to the plot. In this series each episode except for the first one begins with some interaction with Dr. Timoney; therefore, the therapy sessions are given some importance. The key role each session has is to tell us what the episode will be about;  it drives the action. Another way it operates is to get this couple into the car together and spending at least one uninterrupted hour together. On the other hand, the time spent in therapy substitutes for the more valuable use of time during which they could have talked to each other. Dr. T both creates a space where they can express themselves, something they have trouble doing, and interferes with their ability to relate. If she used the time wisely, she could lead to a greater closeness between them. Finally, like any other outsider, Dr. Timoney brings another character into the village and into Martin and Louisa’s lives. She challenges their preconceptions and unites them, even if it is at her expense.

Alternatively, Dr. T is unknown to the town until she crashes her car; Ruth knows of her but they don’t seem to have interacted much based on their coincidental meeting in the pharmacy in E7; and no one other than Morwenna and Ruth knows that Louisa and Martin are seeing her until she tells Sally after her head injury. This time the outsider stays one. Even her departing scene is exceptional because they make a joke of it, although at least they agree.

All in all, we are given a pretty dim view of therapy. Santa states, “As both Abby and I have said, therapy isn’t really all about the presentation of illuminating, penetrating insights by a therapist, but that is the impression that you get.” Indeed, therapy is depicted as unsuccessful and it is the random thoughts of a variety of characters, many of them dimwitted, who appear to be of more value. The art teacher tells her daughter she loves her as she is; Mrs. T makes a few pointed comments about marriage to ME; and Janice tells Louisa she knows Martin better than anyone. Finally, Mrs. Winton conveys the power of love and commitment despite being in a rather crazed state. The message seems to be to trust in the folksy wisdom of people around you rather than in professionals, a position we wouldn’t expect from a team that has been characterizing Martin, and some other doctors, as professional, highly knowledgeable and capable of saving lives.

(Oh, one last thing…we hear Martin advise patients to seek counseling several times throughout the show and that appears contradictory to how therapy has been handled in S7. What good is it to have someone evaluated if you have very little confidence in the process? I’m not sure what to make of that exactly, but his view that Mrs. Tishell would not have been released unless the professionals were sure that she was under control is certainly disproven. By the end of S7, Sally seems to have arrived at some place of acceptance that Clive is who she should be with, but she never stops stalking Martin and making inappropriate comments to him. The evidence against therapy is stronger than that in favor of it.)

 

Originally posted 2016-08-02 09:05:10.

Hello Doc Martin TV show lovers!

Hello all fans of the Doc Martin TV show! I know there are a lot of you out there all over the world and I want to connect with you! I’m starting this blog because I can’t believe that I couldn’t find any site where there was an in-depth discussion about the show. I’d love to get a lively discussion going about all sorts of subjects. Please write comments!!

Originally posted 2013-08-05 15:37:33.

More on British and American TV

As you can probably tell, I haven’t been finding much to write about lately. However, I recently read something in the April 25th issue of The New Yorker magazine, which is “The Entertainment Issue,” that I felt was worth mentioning.

The article I was reading is about the British writer/actor Sharon Horgan and her comedy “Catastrophe” whose second season just began streaming on Amazon. It’s about an Irish woman played by Horgan and an American man played by Rob Delaney. They have “a six-night stand in London, accidentally conceive a child, and then try to make a life together.” Horgan sounds like a dynamo who is filled with ideas and has written several TV shows. Sarah Jessica Parker chose Horgan to write a show for her because she has an “‘affection for the dark, sad, and ridiculous that reveals itself in painful circumstances.'” Apparently Horgan believes funny and grim describes all her work. (Brits prefer the word grim to dark.)

But the part that especially interested me because of the constant debating about whether British TV is better than American TV (especially on Facebook) is when the article gets into the regular exchange of shows between our two countries. To quote the article:

There’s another way to understand what has happened to American comedy in recent years: it has become more British. The hallmark of the British sitcom is a quasi-unbearable protagonist who is an Everyman, only insofar as every man can laugh at him. The unrepentant snob Basil Fawlty, the beastly glamour-pusses Edina and Patsy, the fatuous narcissist Alan Partridge, and the thirsty buffoon David Brent: these classic British characters are all flawed in the unapologetic manner of contemporary edgy American comedies.
U.K. sitcoms tend to be darker than American ones, encouraged by a powerful public broadcasting system whose aim is to serve the varying tastes of taxpayers, not the upbeat preferences of advertisers, and by a national psyche fixated on the immutability of the class system, not on a dream of self-improvement. Americans believe that things will get better. Brits laugh at how things stay the same. To become a hit in the United States, “The Office” not only had to transform the tragic, grating boss into a less tragic, less grating, more well-meaning boss; it had to cast off the message, central to the British original, that work is where you go to waste your life.
Still, trade moves in both directions across the Atlantic. American series frequently air in the U.K. Four years ago, Phil Clarke, the head of Channel 4’s comedy department, felt inspired by the dramatic elements of American series like “Louie” and “Girls,” and set out to commission similarly sophisticated narrative sitcoms. To Clarke, “Catastrophe” is a kind of hybrid, “aping what you did in the States” in terms of mixing drama, comedy, and season-long story lines, “but also plundering some British comedy traditions, mostly of hatred, self-loathing, and repression.”
Horgan’s career reflects the increasingly porous nature of these national styles. “Pulling” is the epitome of the grim British comedy. Two attempts to adapt it for American television failed. “Catastrophe” is a series about two likable characters who do not quite seem so on paper. Based only on a script, it is possible to imagine an interpretation of “Catastrophe” that veers dangerously close to “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” In the final episode of the new season, Sharon enthusiastically lectures Rob, “Not everyone has to like you. You’re not a puppy. You’re an adult man with a wife. Honest people who tell people how they feel when they feel it have people not like them. O.K.? That’s what I do. I have earned the right to have people dislike me. I am very happy to have people not like me!” (“No shit,” Rob replies.)

“Catastrophe” is a true hybrid with both American and British actors and attests to the fact that TV producers/writers/actors believe both countries make valuable contributions to the medium. The quality works both ways and how the channels operate plays a part in what succeeds. It’s time to stop thinking one is better than the other; they are synergistic.

Originally posted 2016-04-20 18:17:42.

Good Grief! Or Fear, Loss, and Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other losses registered in this show are:

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

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

 

 

 

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

Professional Opinion v. Folk Wisdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children’s Fascination with Death

I am planning to write a post on another subject very soon. It is taking me longer than I’d like because at the moment I am preparing to give a lecture on William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, which is a very hard book to distill into an hour long talk.

Anyway, my husband and I spent a half hour in our 6 yo grandson’s kindergarten class last Friday trying to impart some information about the brain. We brought a plastic model of the brain that we could split into two parts, like the two hemispheres of the brain, and we brought the wires that are used to capture the electrical impulses of the brain on an EEG. We thought we’d have a discussion of how our bodies, and especially our brains, operate by the use of electricity contained in our brain and nerves.

They had heard from other parents/grandparents about the heart and circulatory system, and remembered a huge amount about that.

My husband, the neurologist, told them that the brain controls everything in the body. After a series of questions about whether the brain controls our blood, and our fingers, and legs, and…their teacher said everything means everything. What happened next, however, just stunned us. First one 5 yo asked what caused his grandmother’s face to look so crooked as he scrunched up his face to mimic hers. My husband did his best to explain in a very basic way what might have happened to her. But then several kids wanted to know if it’s the brain that stops when we die.

We were bombarded with questions about death for the rest of our stay to the point that I wondered whether we could talk about a less morbid topic, like how fast the brain processes sensations like touch, or whatever. The teacher rescued us by saying time was up, but I came away impressed with how fixated on death these kids were. Next I thought about the brief scene during the school trip in S7 in which Barney keeps asking whether his classmate is going to die.

I know that kids come face to face with death when a pet dies, or when they see a dead animal on the road, or when a family member dies, but I was not expecting the deep fascination with death I encountered in that classroom. Although Barney’s constant return to the question of whether his classmate is dead, or will die, was probably nothing more than another oddball part of the scene that has ME once again pushing little kids around while also once again saving someone’s life, it also exemplifies the preoccupation with death that children have. Barney and his classmates are much older than my grandson and his classmates, but that preoccupation clearly starts early in some cases.

It turned out that there was a death in one of the children’s family that precipitated their questions in the kindergarten class, but it was quite an eye opener for us. Kids say the darnedest things, as Art Linkletter once remarked.

Originally posted 2016-02-21 09:59:00.

What about Buddy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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