Curmudgeons, if blessed with good writers, can be satisfying house guests. They're irascible, oblivious, often insulting (sometimes unintentionally), but usually with a hint of endearing rehabilitation. Dr. Martin Ellingham, formerly a top-rank London surgeon who now practices general medicine in the Cornish town of Portwenn, not only has first-rate writers, he's blessed by having as his impersonator the actor Martin Clunes.
Dr. Ellingham ("Martin or Dr. Ellingham, please. Not `Doc Martin!'"), during one simple operation, found himself overwhelmed and unable to continue. The sight of blood suddenly sickened him, not a good thing for a surgeon. It stopped his career cold. He retrained and accepted the job of Portwenn's GP, far away from London and from the people who'd learned of his phobia.
But Doc Mar...Dr. Ellingham...seems to have a gene missing in his make-up. He is all too frank, oblivious to human courtesies, awkward, means well but has one of the worst bed-side manners in miles. If you're a young boy who has sprained an arm, an elderly gentleman whose wife is using too much hormone cream, a well-intentioned busy-body who stops by for tea or a worried cancer patient, don't expect much from the doctor by way of chit chat or hand holding.
Even with an actor as good as Clunes, Doc Martin could be a tiresome one-joke premise. Portwenn, however, has a classic collection of idiosyncratic residents, all played by some skilled British actors. There's Doc Martin's aunt, Joan Norton, played by the fine Stephanie Cole, so good in Waiting for God. Joan is an elderly, brisk, no-nonsense woman (wise, too, of course) who wrings a chicken's neck to prepare it for dinner. She lives by herself competently on her farm. There's Bert Large, played by the equally fine Ian McNeice. Bert is Portwenn's handyman and plumber. He's a short man so fat he prefers to give the orders while he sits and trains his son to do all the work. There's the town's policeman who is big, competent, young, shy and concerned about...ah...size. The town's schoolteacher, who cannot understand how Doc Martin can be so obtuse, is about Doc Martin's age, not married and... we'll have to see. Maybe something will happen. It certainly didn't look like romance when, at the end of season one, Doc Martin helpfully mentions to her the possible causes of bad breath right after she unexpectedly kisses him. There's an assortment of small town biddies, blokes and giggling teenage girls who all love a bit of gossip. Periodically showing up for one-time parts are such established actors as Richard Johnson, Celia Imrie and John Alderton.
Doc Martin finds that in Portwenn he has to deal with human nature as often as he has to deal with diarrhea. But with human nature he hasn't a clue. Still, when he suspects something is wrong with a patient, he's not only usually right but he'll do whatever it takes whoever he offends to get good care for the person.
Because the quality of the writing is so high, the installments are amusing and satisfying. Good actors make Portwenn's residents more like odd but possibly real people than the usual cut-out yokels. Portwenn itself is a star, too. The town is right on the Cornish coast, picturesque as all get out, with a friendly pub, sea air and easy jaunts down country roads to some beautiful scenery.
Most of all this British comedy series has Martin Clunes as Dr. Ellingham. Clunes is a big man with a large head, large ears and a wide mouth. He's not handsome. Clunes, however, is a fine actor who can dominate a scene. He also can effortlessly project cluelessness, umbrage and impatience...and do so while he also makes us realize Doc Martin is almost an innocent when it comes to human interactions and school teachers.
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About the reviewer
C. O. DeRiemer (Charley2)
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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Dr. Martin Ellingham, a smart physician with a foul disposition, moves to Portwenn\ to replace the Cornish hamlet's deceased doctor, and promptly sets about alienating everyone. ~ TV Guide, All Movie Guide