Review: Doc Martin

A colleague recommended this British TV series to me a long time ago but I only got around to watching it over the past long weekend and I was immediately hooked, ending up watching the better part of the first two seasons, about 12 episodes in all. I plan to watch the remaining ones in the days to come. The series began in 2004 and there have been a total of 46 episodes spread over six seasons and the coming season is supposed to be the last one.

For those not familiar with the show, it deals with a hot-shot London surgeon Martin Ellingham who suddenly, in the middle of an operation, develops an aversion to blood, resulting in him quitting his job and taking up a position as a solo general practitioner in a small seaside town in Cornwall that he used to visit his aunt as a boy. It is a fish-out-of-water comedy drama of a by-the-book, brilliant, but intensely private, stiff, formal, and aloof doctor with zero social skills, always dressed in suit and tie, no friends, an only child who is not on speaking terms with his own parents and only close to his widowed aunt, trying to deal with the relaxed, quirky, and gossipy local populace where everyone gets involved in everyone else’s business. It is House MD meets Murder She Wrote, where each 50 minute episode is a combination of a small medical puzzle embedded in the social dynamics of a village.

The writing is very good and I found myself often laughing out loud at the exchanges between Ellingham and the villagers, with actor Martin Clunes playing to perfection the lead role of someone who is an expert diagnostician but cold and clinical and rational about his work and his relationships with people, makes no effort to adapt to the lax norms of the locals, has no time for small talk, and gets irritated at their reluctance to change their behavior based on his diagnoses. While Gregory House had an obnoxious personality and knew he was brilliant and abrasive and did not care about the effect he had on people and even seemed to delight in annoying them, Ellingham seems merely oblivious to the effect he has on others and that he comes off as rude and condescending when he thinks he is simply telling them the unvarnished truth. Like House, he is scientific to the core and has no patience with alternative medicine or religion.

One of the features of this show that will seem like fantasy to Americans is the medical system that is on display. Ellingham’s practice is downstairs in his small house and his only employee is the receptionist who schedules his appointments. There is no billing office trying to keep track of different insurance plans. People just come to see him and he treats them and if they cannot come in or in the case of emergencies he goes out to where they are. He can order tests from a regional laboratory and if there is an emergency that requires hospitalization he can call upon an ambulance or helicopter to transport people to one nearby. And wonder of wonders, there is no billing, no paperwork other than recording their medical histories, and no co-pays and deductibles. It will seem like a fantasy world to Americans who have a truly insane system of health care, or properly, non-care.

in-locodogOne running gag in the show, and an unresolved mystery in the episodes that I have seen so far, is the presence of a gorgeous and friendly shaggy dog, possibly a bearded collie, seen here. It appeared on Ellingham’s doorstep as soon as he moved in in the first episode and seems to be well looked after, has no apparent owner or home, but whose presence everyone seems to take for granted. Although Ellingham hates dogs and keeps throwing him out of his house, the dog seems to have taken a strong liking to him and manages to find his way in and keeps following him around. So the only one in the village who gives Ellingham unconditional friendship and affection is the one he repeatedly rejects, which serves as a metaphor for Ellingham’s inability to relate to others. I am really curious to see how that particular relationship develops. If readers of this blog have seen the later episodes and know, please don’t tell me. In real life, actor Clunes loves dogs and has an English Cocker Spaniel that looks just just like Copper, the very first dog that I had before Baxter the Wonder Dog came along.

It is a great series so far. I hope it holds up as it goes on.


  1. kraut says

    I have seen quite a few more shows, and let me assure you – the show maintains its qualities.
    Not to spoil – the story will at much later episodes take on a sadder tone, a complicated relationship with a community member and the character of Martin develops, as many others in the show – to me always a sign of a well written series that avoids cardboard cut out figures and keeps you engaged in the human drama.

  2. Callinectes says

    I never properly watched this show, but whenever I see it’s on I end up staying on the channel. I cheered when Ellingham gave one of his whiny patients an earful about the misuse of antibiotics.

  3. Rob Grigjanis says

    I loved the first two seasons, and found the others very watchable, if maybe trying a bit too hard.

    Before the TV series, Clunes & co made two films, Doc Martin and Doc Martin and the Legend of the Cloutie. Same basic premise (city surgeon comes to small Cornwall port), but a totally different character. Good fun as well.

  4. Trebuchet says

    I’d seen bits and pieces of Doc Martin on PBS but never really watched until recently, when I ordered a DVD of the first season. I didn’t think my wife would like it, but she did and we’ve done all six. As well as the two TV movies and the theatrical film Saving Grace, which started it all. It’s quite over-the-top at times, the villagers are a bit TOO quirky, the Doc is a bit TOO stiff, but very enjoyable. And then there are the cops….

    I actually did a bit of research to see how many Doc Martin actors were also in Doctor Who. Quite a few, including Clunes himself in the days of the Fifth Doctor. His character, interestingly, was a spoiled teenager with a personality VERY reminiscent of the Doc.

  5. Thud says

    I enjoyed all the episodes a lot, chagrined when they stopped.
    Listen to the receptionist and the schoolteacher; they’re the key links to the local culture, but everyone is significant ultimately.
    I wish I could watch more of this.

  6. Storms says

    I also really enjoyed this show, enough to watch a good bit of it a second time. I really liked the way the show gave a platform to skeptically look at homeopathy, religion, ‘bottled water’ and other scams. It was nice to see something where the science was generally solid and didn’t apologize for stepping on toes. Also while overplayed for comedy, I liked the way it didn’t denigrate mental illness. Refreshing.

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