My observations (S1E2)
1. Martin and the dog that isn’t his: Martin and the dog becomes something of an opening gambit. It strikes me that this is how many episodes begin. The point being made with the dog often in the first season, it seems to me, is that while nobody else loves Martin, the dog is always there for him – the companion of his bed, the one who joins him after he has been ousted from Louisa’s taxi (E7). After taking the dog to the police station and him getting out thanks to “a good lawyer” in the last episode, Martin tries a couple of alternative methods of dog disposal here: leaving him with Joan on the farm, throwing a stick and hoping the dog will chase it over the cliff (pretty dark, that!). We learn that the dog is male in this episode owing to his off-screen ravishing of Lady Lancelot (the dog that Carmen carries in her handbag. Gremlin does seem to go for the petite of stature – the ill fated Princess Tinkle also catches his eye in S3E4, which is vaguely disturbing to us viewers). In S5 the fishmonger paints a picture for Martin of what lies ahead of him as an aging bachelor – unkempt dwelling, indifferent personal hygiene, no reason to get into anything more formal than his y-fronts on a slow Saturday. In some way the dog seems to present the same spectre in SS1-3. The dog is what is left to him when his romantic overtures fail. The dog’s somewhat seedy bachelor existence and scruffy countenance, his general unwantedness, presents a picture of what remains for Martin in his life as a “lone wolf.”
2. First patients: Martin’s first official day at the surgery sees him all dressed up with no place to go. He is so eager to start treating diseases, to help actual patients with genuine medical problems, but his first two callers come to see the improvements he’s made to the surgery, drink cups of tea, and the third (Mrs. Black, am I right that she is later reincarnated as Dr. Dibbs?), comes to make him a match. I never have quite understood her line: “If it’s the breast you’re after and she’s a Scotch pancake, there’s much that could be done – chicken fillets.” Is it supposed to make any kind of sense? Who’s the flat-chested “she.” Martin quickly loses patience with his surgery full of “gawpers” in this scene, but he certainly bites his tongue more in the name of politeness, even cordiality, even eagerness (to do a good job for them as their GP), than we see him in later interactions with patients where his watchword seems to be: “stop talking.”
2b. Babs: The first episode was all about breasts, now in the second we have Elaine describing the express lane cashier as a “bimbo” with “babs up to here,” Mrs. Black asking Martin if he’s a “breast man” and Elaine, again, asking of Martin re: Carmen, “what is it with men and big babs?” Babs are on someone’s mind in this first season, are we supposed to infer that it’s Martin’s or just Dominic Minghella’s? If the idea was originally to depict Martin as a character with a repressed interest in babs (you do feel he could answer Elaine’s question if he wanted to, don’t you?), I think that sort of goes away by the last episode of this season, where he looks at a woman’s ample bosom and only sees a melanoma. If it was ever on the cards to “develop” that theme of “Doc Martin, breast-man,” I’m glad they moved away from it. A doctor with a prurient interest in babs is just nasty. By the end of this season Martin is, if he wasn’t to begin with, a consummate professional – just look at the way he deals with Melanie. I’m not sure I would trust his father in the same way, but when Mark asks in S2E2 whether Martin has ever been convicted of a sexual offense, I totally believe Martin, not only that he has never been convicted, but that there is no perversion there.
2c: So is Mrs. Black’s question what is being alluded to in the episode title: “Gentlemen Prefer”?
3: Mr. wool-in-ear: The extra who puts his hand up, and then lowers it when Martin asks whether there’s anyone who has come to see him with a genuine medical complaint, I believe is another local who has been cast. We see him quite often throughout the series. In S3E4 he dances with Louisa at Penhale’s party. In S5E1 he is the man Martin lets through with his Dibbs-proferred prescription at the chemist’s – he says it is a “toilet matter.” Having been an extra at one point myself (see my appearance in the long-forgotten basketball movie “The Sixth Man”) I thought there was some rule about not giving speaking lines to people who do not belong to the actors’ union. Yet, Mr. wool-in-ear is given a word or two to speak here or there (as in that S5 appearance).
3. Ah, Jeff Rawle – perfect casting as Roger Fenn. But now as I rewatch these Doc Martin episodes, having seen him play a transvestite in William and Mary, I have a hard time not seeing him in wig and dress. I think I read somewhere that he and MC are buddies. Since Doc Martin is MC (and PB’s) own party, I wonder they have not invited Caroline Quentin to play some role. What’s the use of owning your own production company if you don’t use it to provide work for all your friends?
4. The sacking of Elaine: E: Look. M: No, you look Elaine, for a new job. E: Wot..just because… M: Because you are the most incompetent person it has ever been my misfortune to encounter and that incompetence could very well end up costing someone their life (this after the mis-assigned prescriptions and the mis-transcription of Bobby Richards’ name and phone number). We’re all cheering for Martin in this scene aren’t we? He comes across as the level-headed professional, not over-the-top nasty, just insisting on a certain standard of competence from his receptionist (ie. that she not endanger lives). Yet, as soon as he steps out the door and gets a wedding invitation from Elaine’s father “to thank him for looking after Elaine” he realizes how not straightforward this perfectly justifiable action is going to be in a small community. If Martin gets more sour and grumpy toward the village as the series goes on, seeing the way he begins (full of good will) and the way the village takes against him (in this matter, IMO, unjustly) makes that development quite logical and understandable.
4b. Martin accepting an invitation to a wedding would just not have happened in later seasons. He would have said a firm “No” without explanation or apology.
5. Louisa and Martin at the school: Bad hair day for Louisa, glad we haven’t seen that style repeated too often. Martin and Louisa show that they are quite one another’s equal in conversational repartee (reminds me of some of the scenes between Petruchio and Kate in Taming of the Shrew), and the chemistry between them is already visible underneath. Louisa, in the first indication that she is really a bit of a feminist (a theme which doesn’t come to the fore again, I don’t think, until S4) says that Martin’s insistence on having the last word/conversational dominance is “so male.” He replies “thank you.” I think he would rather be noticed in his maleness by Louisa than complimented by her for the agreeableness of his conversation. He notices her too. That she’s easy on the eyes he’s already registered, but by anticipating his need for directions by telling him it’s 30 not 15 minutes to the Richards’ home, she proves herself an efficient woman with some presence of mind. In the raising of CC’s eyebrow at the end of the encounter, and despite the sparring nature of their exchange, I think we can read some stirrings of romantic interest on Louisa’s part.
6. Martin at the Richards’ house: After upbraiding the villagers for mistaking his surgery for a tea room it’s really quite funny that Martin asks Mrs. Richards to make him a cup of tea. Of course it is just to get her and her hysteria out of the room. I quite like the way he interacts with Bobby, and a true note is struck here to the way the Doc typically is with underage patience (eg. Theo Wenn in S4) right through the series. He is not as likeable as Dr. Martin Bamford when examining Rita Gorie’s little boy, but he definitely has a darkly humourous way with him which is reserved for his interactions with children (this leg’ll have to come off – don’t worry, with modern anesthetics you won’t feel a thing. Under your tongue, that’s it, under it, lift it), and I think, on the whole, they respond well to it. Martin is feeling pretty good about his doctoring here. He has relieved the mother’s mind with the tonsillitis diagnosis, he even has the correct antibiotics on him, then when the Richards girl comes and tells her mother that Martin has sacked Elaine, Martin loses all his good credit. I’m really feeling very sympathetic toward Martin at this point, whereas in later seasons in interactions with the villagers, our sympathies tend to be on their side. Look at that -- what should there be on the Richards’ mantelpiece but a Buddha!! What is it with the roving Buddhas of Portwenn?!
7. Pasta, soup of the day, chile con carne! Wow, the Doc’s diet was much less restrictive in S1: carbs, sodium, red meat! His mineral water preference was already in place here, though, as was his way of taking tea (milk, no sugar).
8. Very funny scene at the petrol station. I like this actress who plays Pamela. Am I right that she reappears as the grocery store cashier in S2E1, refusing to take Martin’s credit card (“Mr. and Mrs. Credit have passed away”)? Already Martin has formed the opinion that he’s in purgatory (his reference to the “village of the damned”). I love those word-pictures that Dominic Minghella draws: Pamela having her fifth child in three years, with a snowstorm howling outside, and her boyfriend rotting in prison, in S2, bodies piling up, rats scrabbling through cottages, future archaeologists unearthing the ruins of Portwenn and asking how did this unspeakable disaster occur, how? Because Miss Glasson said. I don’t remember Martin waxing so picturesque in his speech after S2 until the last episode of S5 (will their pinched faces, spreading contagion like a bushfire). Too bad; I find those moments very funny, and illustrative of a kind of intelligence in Martin that is related to humour and not necessarily to medicine.
9. Poor Roger. He is crushed at his probable cancer diagnosis and Martin is not at all sensitive in delivering it: “you may not care about this, but unfortunately I’m paid to” – cold. I do feel he atones somewhat in coming around to Roger’s house with the confirmed diagnosis and saying, really quite gently, “I can talk you through what happens next.” I think of all the medical conditions we see diagnosed in the series, Roger’s cancer is one of the most devastating. Roger even says that Martin (in comparison to his surgeon) was like “Florence Nightengale.” While the decision has been to move away from more serious medical diagnoses because things like cancer “aren’t funny.” I think seeing Martin with patients who are going through very serious and protracted (over more than one episode) medical conditions gives more scope for his compassion – indeed something even approaching “a bedside manner.” I find the 2 or 3 medical issues brought up per episode in the latter seasons a bit choppy. It has also apparently taxed Dr. Martin Scurr’s fund of interesting medical conditions to near bankruptcy. Could we not have another main character in S6 facing something fairly serious medically, and that story arc being developed across several episodes? I don’t even mind if they kill off Bert Large
round about S6E7 for the sake of showing that Martin has some compassion buried deep within him, since it’s in all likelihood the last season anyway.
10. Martin on the phone arranging for Roger’s laryngoscopy. This is a bit of a gambit as well, Martin on the phone speaking with somebody at a lab or a medical colleague and shouting at someone in the room to “shut up” (usually a patient) or to “stop that” (in this case, Gremlin rummaging through his rubbish), then saying to the person on the phone, “no, not you.” Dependence on such gambits is in some people’s view (apparently in MC’s) a lower form of comedy, but I find I like these repeated leitmotifs – like the exploding airbag (which we saw again in the scene at the garage with Roger Fenn).
11. The hilltop scene with Carmen and Bruce (looking at Carmen’s babs now – not that big by my reckoning). Despite the noisomeness of Carmen, Martin actually engages with them, expresses interest when Bruce tells him of Elaine’s mother’s premature passing, says it’s a “shame” that Carmen’s relationship with Elaine isn’t better, allows himself to be visibly gratified by Bruce’s words “A life alone, what is it for? I mean obviously not you, you do something positive, I just mean the rest of us, you contribute, and that must feel, uh, you know, saving lives…” and concedes that Elaine has “personality.” Either this is the distinctive flavour of S1 coming through – a more sociable Martin -- or else considerable pains are being taken to show us that Bruce is a character whom Martin quite likes, and is willing to go out of his way for. Why would that be? Maybe because Bruce confesses to being just as flummoxed by Elaine as Martin often is himself. She has thrown the two men in her life into a kind of solidarity against her (I sometimes think Martin has a solidarity with the unseen Greg too –the third man in Elaine’s life – for the same reason). Whatever you may think of Elaine, she brings forth things in Martin that we have not seen much of since her departure from the series.
12. Martin and Mark at the pub: MM: do you fancy a drink? ME: Ahm, No, thanks, I don’t want to get tar and feathers on my jackeh. I think New Park is absolutely right that Martin is a lot “tighter” in his diction in subsequent seasons, more clipped “yeses” fewer “yeahs” and narry a “sod off!” or an “arse” to be heard. In S1 Martin drops a few of his final consonants, including the one on “jacket” in this line. When I rewatch this episode that dropped dental always hits my ear as sounding most “unMartinish.” Martin declines the “good single malt” that Mark’s got on the go in this scene, though the fact that Mark thinks that that might entice him, contributes to my hypothesis that in S1 Martin is an occasional whisky-bibber. The fish which I presume is what’s wrapped in the newspaper will have great currency later on. Maybe it’s not that Martin was such a devoted fish-eater in London. It’s just that he’s discovered the “silver lining” of living in Cornwall – fresh fish available at the harbour market and locally grown organic veg. Maybe it’s the fact that moving to Portwenn has precipitated a dietary adjustment that his uncharacteristic request for “chile con carne” in the earlier scene is designed to show.
13. We haven’t yet seen Martin working on a clock (though there were some clangs which sounded clock-like in the last episode’s scene with the moving van), though here, in the absence of any patients we see him working on his computer. Yes, I think we are supposed to assume, looking forward to E3 and back to an earlier discussion, that Martin has a certain facility with fixing computer hardware, and only gives Al this job out of a desire to help him out financially. When Mrs. Winter, his last appointment calls to cancel, Martin is again facing one of those moments where someone (a woman, as it happens) has rejected him/left him bereft, and it’s into that void that the faithful dog again steps. Martin’s snarl is very funny – no wonder the dog likes him. Just as his interactions with children are enjoyable to watch because it calls forth something child-like in him, his interactions with that dog, brings forth something bestial in him – he relates to both children and dogs by somehow getting down on their level. In fact were it not for the hygiene considerations, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him BITE that dog at some point.
14. You’ve heard me before saying that I like that song of Roger Fenn’s and wondering if it is an original composition. There is something Bob Dylan-esque about its poetry and about Fenn's gravelly execution, and it also has something in common with Maritime folk ballads and the traditions of sea-superstition/magic which makes it sound quite indigenous to Cornwall (“We set to sea, in a boat made of flowers, and drifted for days till our lips tasted land. It was bitter. So we sailed away, the last breath of day, chased the hot metal skies of the ocean, with no notion. We came by night to the fortunate islands, laying like fish ‘neath the nets of our kisses, that’s why this is
…” I was so disappointed to hear what they replaced that song with in the German version of this episode – bizarre since they bought the rights to use the rest of Colin Towns’ music, yet they chose to have this song be some execrable rock piece, in English, featuring the F-word?!!
I think Martin like’s Roger’s ballad too, and is actually somewhat in awe/envious of Roger’s former life as a member of a band. MC’s has said that he grew up wanting to be in a band and to be a rock star, and in many of his other roles (William and Mary, Hunting Venus) there is scope for his musical tastes and talents to display themselves. Maybe this scene with Roger Fenn was a door being left open to that, early in this series. Obviously they chose not to take the character in that direction, but I think at a certain point in series 1 it would not have been too unbelievable to see Martin agree to jam with Roger of a Saturday afternoon on whatever instrument his expensive early education taught him to play. …Or maybe it’s not too late. We learned in S4 that Martin is a poet. What if he were to collaborate with Fenn on an original piece (Martin's lyrics to Fenn's melody) sung to Louisa at their wedding reception? What’s that? The sound of women swooning on 7 continents? (well 6, MC hasn't yet done a documentary on the penguins of Antarctica)). MC apparently plays the harp (Yes.) which would be a spectacle calculated to send at least this lady minister/soppy folk music afficionado into a swoon (and I’m not even that much of a “Clunatic,” it’s just the harp! It’s the most Christian of instruments according to Garrison Keillor’s Young Lutheran’s Guide to the Orchestra, and is also adaptable to either symphonic or folk music ends. I dunno, maybe Martin played it in an amateur orchestra comprised of medical students raising funds for the hospital or for Doctors Without Borders – its not impossible). Probably they won’t give us that – it would be the high-water mark for ooey-gooey in Martin’s character, but the poet in him and the way he responds to Roger’s music all the way back here in S1E2 tells us there is a soulful side to him. If Louisa can’t bring it out at his wedding, it’s probably going to remain repressed/unexpressed for all of their married life.