At one time or another I'm sure all of us have entertained thoughts of leaving big city life behind for the bucolic pleasures of living in the country. What could be better than to live in a small village – or even better, a small village by the sea shore. It wouldn't take you long before you knew everybody, and while you might not like everyone, at least you'll know everybody well enough to know who to avoid. Of course if you ever get sick you'll be able to rely on the local general practitioner (GP) to take care of you.
Ah yes, the country doctor. An older man of the old school who is loved by all and has been present at the birth of everyone for the last three generations. A real country gentleman, he not only sets a broken arm and stitches up little Johnny's lacerated forearm when he tumbles down the cliff face, he'll find time in his busy schedule to sit and share a cup of tea with the lonely pensioner whose family has forgotten her. He can even be counted on to help out in lambing season when the local vet can't be everywhere at once and somebody has to reach up inside the mother sheep and turn the lamb so it comes out the right way.
Well, if you end up in the small fishing village of Portwenn in Cormwall you'll soon discover that nobody bothered filling in local GP Dr. Martin Ellingham about what's required of him in the role of that idealized country doctor. In fact, if you tried he would probably give them a blank stare, ask them what the hell they're prattling on about, and then promptly proceed to ignore them. Dr. Ellingham is the antithesis of the stereotype country doctor image we carry around in our heads. Brusque to the point of rude, honest to the point of – well, rude again, and completely lacking in tact, he's also a brilliant and dedicated doctor. He not only deals with all the run of the mill illnesses a GP is expected to, he's able to handle anything the little fishing and farming community can throw at him — and they throw him some strange curve balls.
While you'll probably never want to make use of the good doctor's services, and most likely won't be forced to, he and his patients do make for some highly entertaining television as can be seen on the recent (February 2, 2010) Acorn Media release Doc Martin Series 3. If the seven episodes that are included on the two DVDs are an indication of the show's quality, I'd recommend running right out and buying series 1and 2 as well, and hope that series 4 makes an appearance some time soon. It's not often you find television where humour, intelligence, and acting of as high a calibre as are found here are combined in one package.
While there are a couple of ongoing story lines the show follows, each episode also deals with a particular issue – or two – that Doc Martin has to cope with. From medical emergencies; half the village apparently coming down with food poisoning apparently thanks to local plumber Ben Large's new restaurant, or the discovery that the new local constable suffers from narcolepsy and is literally falling asleep at the switch, to dealing with the eccentricities of his neighbours as in his aunt Jane taking a lover half her age in a bid not to feel so old, there's always something happening to keep him on his toes and us laughing. Meanwhile he is also struggling to see if he can resurrect his relationship with the headmistress of the local primary school, Louisa (Caroline Catz), as well as dealing with his pathological fear of blood – the sight of which makes him sick to his stomach.
There's a tendency with medical shows, even the funny ones, to make each episode into a disease of the week. Faced with people falling sick from unusual symptoms, the beleaguered medical personnel are frustrated in their attempts to heal those afflicted and it's only in the last five minutes of the show they come up with the solution that saves everybody's life. Even when Doc Martin is called upon to play medical detective on occasion, it never become the raison d'etre for an episode, and more often than not it ends up being the comedic highlight, not some nail-biting drama.
An example of this is the aforementioned time when Doc Martin accuses Ben Large of poisoning half the town because of unclean conditions in his restaurant. However the true culprit turns out to be in the doctor's office. Somehow or other when he was hooking up his new dishwasher, the good doctor hooked up its intake hose to the outflow from his toilet and proceeded to wash all his dishes in …. . It's amazing how quickly the Norwalk virus can spread through a small town – especially when they've all been having a nice cup of tea while they're waiting to see the doctor.
Martin Clunes does a remarkable job playing Doc Martin as we grow to genuinely like and admire him for who he is. This isn't just a one-dimensional character who's always rude, but nor does his gruff exterior hide a soft squishy interior. He's opinionated and has no patience for fools and idiots – you do something stupid and he'll let you know all about it while he's treating you for the consequences of your actions. However he's not without his compassionate side, although sometimes he has to be reminded of it, and will surprise you with his ability to understand and willingness to help where others might not. What you gradually come to realize is there's an almost painfully shy man hiding behind the rudeness, one whose all to aware of his own shortcomings when it comes to interpersonal relationships.
This becomes clear when he and Louisa make what appears to be an ongoing attempt to establish a "relationship." In most cases like this on television the love of a good woman will bring out the best in our tormented hero and he'll undergo some sort of miraculous transformation. Thankfully that's not the case here as Martin invariably finds just the wrong thing to say on all occasions. While they do eventually stumble into each other's arms, almost in spite of themselves, its not what you'd call smooth sailing. The drawback of living in a small village is that everyone knows everybody and has something to say about them, resulting in both the doctor and Louisa doubting they can make the other happy.
For anybody who was raised on a diet of television shows depicting the small town doctor as something akin to a saint, Doc Martin will be greeted with a sigh of relief and a burst of laughter. The good doctor has a way of saying the things all of us would love to have the nerve to say – telling a mother who thinks her daughter might be suffering from attention deficit disorder there's nothing wrong with the kid save for being exceptionally annoying. It's like the editing function that most of us have in our brains that prevent us from speaking what we're really thinking has somehow broken down. Supported by a wonderful cast of lovable eccentrics, watching a couple of episodes of the good doctor's daily routine can't help but improve anybody's mental health.
The two DVDs that make up Doc Martin Series 3 come with only a couple of special features, the filmographies of the leads and some background trivia about the actors. As it's a recent production it's suitable for playing on most modern digital systems; however the sound is only stereo which means there are occasional difficulties in discerning dialogue, although that could have just been my difficulties with some of the accents. However any technical failings in the sound are more than compensated for by the quality of the show itself. While it may cause you to have second thoughts about retiring to some peaceful fishing village in the country, Doc Martin is the perfect remedy for boredom as there's never a dull moment when he's on call.