Actors: Martin Clunes, Caroline Catz
Format: Color, DVD, Widescreen, NTSC
Number of discs: 2
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
DVD Release Date: June 5, 2012
Run Time: 368 minutes
What is it about irascible, skilled doctors? The very thing we would not desire from our own family practitioner is something TV viewers return to again and again. House’s pranks and irritable nature has entertained drama watchers since 2004. At the same time House, M.D. first hit airwaves in the U.S., another irascible doctor got his start. Doc Martin, now coming to the U.S. with its fifth and potentially final season, is a lighthearted version of House. Where Greg House solves medical mysteries week after week in intense situations and philosophical ponderings, Martin Ellingham (Martin Clunes) wows us with his doctrinaire and emotionally tepid approach to village doctoring. Not for Doc Martin the death’s door suspense, but rather the weird and wacky.
As season 5 opens, Doc Martin and his on again/off again lover Louisa (Caroline Catz), have just had a baby son. Unnamed, the child is brought home to Louisa’s house in “Preserve the Romance”. While Martin was preparing for a new job in London, his move is put on hold so he can enjoy some time with his son and “care for” Louisa. But things take a turn for the worse when his nervous replacement makes errors, his aunt dies, and bad news comes from London. The writers’ clever method of explaining the cast rollover (it has been two years since the previous season) and Martin’s decision to stay (temporarily) is played up with effective hilarity. The perfectionist professional replaced by the amateur, the unnamed son who seems to overwhelm Louisa, and the need to look after his aunt’s estate force the quirky doctor to resign himself to citizenship in the quirky village of Portwenn.
In “Dry Your Tears” (a classic and impolitic Doc Martin turn of phrase, that) the perfect funeral for Joan is sullied by the collapse of the undertaker’s son. Meanwhile, Martin’s other aunt, psychologist and urbanite Ruth (Eileen Atkins) has learned she has inherited Joan’s farm. Deciding to stay for a while, Ruth takes up the role of Martin’s conscience, though she more ably speaks to his language that Joan ever did as she goads him toward good fatherhood. The (still unnamed) baby tuckers Louisa out as she gamely attempts to fill in as secretary in the surgery – with hilarious results. Though Martin is still quite irascible with most villagers, his character is softening somewhat, Louisa and the baby’s welfare becoming of utmost importance to him, even though he sometimes fails to understand that what is important to him may not be important to Louisa. There is real growth in the character, as little softening around the edges, though he still is awful quirky.
Aunt Ruth must deal with the odd neighbors and a potential case of poisoning in “Boho with a Shotgun.” Meanwhile Louisa prepares to give up her job to join Martin in London when his new replacement finally arrives. Morwenna, the new surgery secretary causes her own bit of a problem when she appears to start stealing drugs. The disparate storylines all end up tying together even as Martin almost doesn’t save the various patients in time.
“Mother Knows Best” really turns up the hilarity when Louisa’s free-spirited (and opportunist) mother shows up expecting to be a beloved grandmother. But family history belies grandma’s claims, and uptight Martin, Louisa, and she but heads over parenting, career, and living in London. Meanwhile Bert and publican Mark Bridge enter a price war that threatens to put them both under even as Mark hides from some unknown malady. Al is also taken on as Ruth’s farm manager. The “mothering” angle on this episode is excellent, and the family drama that arises from the disparate philosophies of parenting has some “got-ya” moments.
Copper Joe Penhale is surprised when his amnesiac ex-wife appears in Portwenn believing they are still married in “Remember Me.” He plays along while also investigating Bert Large, who has gotten himself into debt to a loan shark. Louisa’s mom stirs up trouble (as expected) and Martin and Louisa finally name the baby James Henry. This episode largely focuses on Penhale’s moral problem about deciding to reveal the truth to his ex-wife and returning her to her new husband and Bert Large’s problems with the loan shark. Though Martin swoops in to save the medical day, the storyline’s focus on other characters besides the titular ones, and develop the personalities and plots of some long-standing supporting characters.
In “Don’t Let Go” the restored memory of Joe’s ex-wife forces him to act rashly to try and impress her and get her to stay with him. Louisa begins working at the village school again just as the kids are start getting violently ill for no apparent reason. Martin begins to annoy the fiercely independent Louisa by making decisions for James Henry without consulting her. Joe then provides quite a bit of comic humor when he gets himself stuck trying to talk a man off a roof. Again, it is minor characters that steal the show here, although the rising ire between Martin and Louisa does not bode well for their planned move to London.
Al discovers his father loan shark debt in “Cats and Sharks” and tries to rectify the situation by stealing from Ruth. She and he have a falling out, and Al learns something about the nature of friendship even between ages, professions, and genders. Louisa’s mom Eleanor falls down on the babysitting job when she temps out her volunteer position in order to pursue he own business interests only to have an emergency medical situation that reveals all. Penhale looks the hero when he saves the director of a cat sanctuary (i.e. the crazy cat lady) from the clutches of the loan shark. This particular episode is fast-paced and lets some of the quirkier characters shine in a new light. These longstanding characters move from being oddball scenery for Martin and Louisa’s relationship troubles to nearly stealing the show. Penhale’s heroism and accompanying speech make for a rousing bit of TV drama.
The final episode of the season, “Ever After” wraps up the ever present “love triangle” between Mrs. Tishell, Louisa and Martin when Mrs. Tishell acts as nanny to James Henry, only to go off the deep end and begin to believe that James is her son (or at least rightfully should be so). James Henry is put into grave danger, and the resulting tension undoes the relationship knots that were threatening to end Martin and Louisa’s relationship forever. The end scene takes place on a really beautiful bit of Cornwall coastline and the episode ends with a finality that would allow the story to end here. (A sixth season is supposed to film in 2013.)
The fifth season of Doc Martin, while still containing the medical oddities and tumultuous Martin/Louisa relationship, broadens out to give some of the supporting characters of Portwenn a chance to drive the plot. Joe Penhale and Bert Large feature especially prominently. Though the fifth season has less of the uproarious comedy of previous seasons, it is replaced with a pleasant sentimentality that longtime viewers of the show will appreciate. Doc Martin has become a part of the community of Portwenn (whether he likes it or not) and he is now one of a slate of interesting characters that capture the quirkiness, independence, and selflessness of the fictional Cornish village. If idealized, it is an ideal of village and social life to aspire to, so long as the medical emergencies can be kept to a minimum.
The 2 disc DVD version of Doc Martin Season 5, released by Acorn Media, contains 62 minutes of behind the scenes footage, cast filmographies, and a photo gallery.