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DVD Review: Doc Martin Special Collection: Series 1 – 5 + The Movies

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One day while I was flipping through the channels, I landed on PBS, and a  fascinating series titled Doc Martin. It featured a very gruff doctor by the name of Martin Ellingham (Martin Clunes) going about his business in the beautiful English coastal town of Portwenn. What initially piqued my interest was the fact that the goings on were so odd, that I could not really make out what the show was about. It was a very unusual little program, and I found myself so intrigued that I made a point of checking it out regularly. In the process, I became a huge Doc Martin fan.

The only problem with Doc Martin for me was that I came to it somewhat late, and had no idea of what the backstory was. Thanks to the new 13-DVD box set, Doc Martin Special Collection: Series 1-5 + The Movies from Acorn Media, I have been completely caught up. I must say, this is another fantastic British series that has somehow flown under the radar here in the United States. Hopefully, this budget-priced set will introduce others to the very quirky magic of this series.

The program was introduced with two made-for-TV movies, Doc Martin and Doc Martin and the Legend of the Cloutie in 2003. In the movies, the doctor is named Martin Bamford, and has left London for Portwenn because he caught his wife cheating on him. In these movies, the doctor was a pretty friendly guy, and the plots mainly revolved around the fact that the locals did not exactly welcome him as an outsider. Seeing him characterized this way is fascinating, as his personality is very different from the one we would come to know on the series.

When Doc Martin debuted in series form, the doctor had changed a bit. First was his name. Clunes now plays Doctor Martin Ellingham, who is about as far from a “friendly” soul as can be imagined. As I mentioned, one of the biggest difficulties I had when I came to the show was that I did not know what the situation about him really was. Mentions are occasionally made to his former career in London, but in watching the full series, we get to know the whole story. The reason he had left the big city was that he had developed haemophobia, which is a fear of blood. This did not exactly work out very well for a big-time surgeon. In Portwenn, he is a GP (general practitioner). Patients are given referalls for surgery.

By watching Doc Martin from the beginning, the whole “fish out of water” premise of the brusque London doctor now living in a small town makes for a much more satisfying viewing experience. Doc Martin is a comedy/drama, with most of the humor coming from the highly eccentric locals, as well as Martin himself. I suppose you could call it a “slice of life” type of show, but that does not really do justice to just how enjoyable it is. Not only are the townspeople of Portwenn a mix of unusual personalities, but the setting is absolutely gorgeous. Although Portwenn is a fictional town, the exteriors are filmed in Port Isaac, Cornwall. The scenery is fantastic.

Two of the Doc’s main supporting characters are his receptionist, Pauline Lamb (Katherine Parkinson) and Aunt Joan (Stephanie Cole). It was in visiting his aunt as a child that Martin first came to Portwenn, and she is generally the main person he turns to for advice. As I discovered in watching the set, in the first season, the Doc’s receptionist was a flaky young lady named Elaine Denham (Lucy Punch). I have no idea why Punch left the show, but her character was great fun. Parkinson as Pauline is also quite good, just different.

As indicated, the set features the two movies, plus all five seasons of the show so far. (In Brit-speak, seasons are called “series.”) The series’ run from six to nine episodes each, and the grand total of individual episodes is 38. With the movies, the total running time of the set is approximately 33 hours. Bonus materials include photo galleries, cast trivia, cast filmographies and a 62-minute behind-the-scenes feature.

Series 6 of Doc Martin is currently in production, and now that the 2012-13 U.S. television season is over, it is the perfect time to get to know this fine British show. As usual, Acorn has priced the set very affordably, and it is one that I have thoroughly enjoyed. This is a set that is most definitely worth checking out.

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