BBC Video // 2013 // 384 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // December 8th, 2013
"He needs to learn to interact, Martin. Do you want him to grow up to
be...shy and introverted. We don't want that, do we?"
"No." -- an interaction between the newlywed Ellinghams about their baby
Of course, Louisa doesn't want baby James to grow up to be...Martin. Martin knows that, and so do viewers. There are a lot of interactions like that in Doc Martin: Series 6. Dr. Martin Ellingham, the general practitioner in Portwenn (which I've seen as both one and two words over the show's run; I'm not sure they even care at the series), marries his beloved Louisa Glasson, the school headmistress. They're not going to live happily ever after, though.
I've reviewed Doc Martin sets before, but this is the first time I've noticed that other people are waiting to see whether Louisa actually shows up at the church this time (she left Martin at the altar in a previous season) and how their life goes. Through the fall, I noticed ads on Hulu for Acorn TV's subscription service, touting same-week Doc Martin; the series has been featured prominently in catalogs and on Amazon.com; and the local paper's TV columnist has fielded questions about when Doc Martin's new season airs. There aren't any articles about the Doc Martin phenomenon and it's hard to tell about a show that's not on any official network, but the Cornwell doctor could have a following in the United States that matches that of the Doctor who celebrated his fiftieth this fall, even if I haven't seen any commentaries on its social significance.
I'll try to avoid spoilers for returning fans, but there's bound to be a couple.
Doc Martin: Series 6 features eight episodes on two discs:
* "Sickness and Health" -- The villagers of Portwenn chip in to almost pay for a night in a honeymoon lodge for Martin (Martin Clunes, Men Behaving Badly) and Louisa (Caroline Catz, DCI Banks). Martin builds a fire in the long-disused fireplace, filling the place with smoke and sparking a night of disasters. Meanwhile, Aunt Ruth (Eileen Atkins, Upstairs Downstairs) tries her hand at babysitting, and ends up enduring a blackout.
* "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" -- Louisa asks Martin to be more sociable, but she doesn't expect him to invite a school governor to their lodgings for dinner. Meanwhile, Dr. Ruth (a handle she despises as much as Martin hates being called Doc Martin) plugs her book on the radio, and Martin asks veteran Mike (Felix Scott, Blitz) to babysit James.
* "The Tameness of a Wolf" -- A man is found unconscious on the beach. Meanwhile, Ruth has an admirer, new chemist Jenny (Annabelle Apsion, The Village) turns out to be an old flame of Bert (Ian McNeice, Doctor Who), and Morwenna (Jessica Ransom, The Escape Artist) takes Al (Joe Absolom, EastEnders) in as a roommate.
* "Nobody Likes Me" -- At Louisa's urging, Martin takes James to storytime, where he takes unkindly to sock puppets. Bert suspects Jenny is a drug addict, Ruth moves into town, and PC Joe Penhale (John Marquez, EastEnders) decides to train a K-9 cop.
* "The Practice Around the Corner" -- Sally Tishel (Selina Cadell, The Lady Vanishes) returns to Portwenn, Penhale tries "living off my wits" in the wilderness, Al and Morwenna both try online dating, and Bert and Jenny make a date.
* "Hazardous Exposure" -- There's an asbestos scare in Portwenn, Al moves in with Penhale, and Jenny gets a job offer. Meanwhile, Martin and Louisa are having trouble sleeping, and the arrival of Martin's mother (Claire Bloom, The King's Speech) isn't going to help.
* "Listen with Mother" -- Martin's mother is surprised to find that Ruth has taken up residence in Portwenn, and they have a talk. Louisa is somehow surprised that Martin's talk at the school's sports day is about the possible hazards of running, and the day ends badly.
* "Departure" -- Martin can't keep his mind on his work because of problems with Louisa. Al has a business plan. Naturally, there's a disaster at a town fete, but it's Al and Morwenna who find themselves working together, not Martin and Louisa.
"Why's everybody have to be happy all the time?" -- Dr. Martin Ellingham to wife Louisa, during an argument
Martin's life has never been a happy one on Doc Martin, but this season throws so much at him that a Dalek invasion of Portwenn wouldn't come as a surprise. Actually, that would be a surprise, but a two-part wrapup to the season that the writers must have thought would be isn't. I anticipated almost every beat of the story, and I suspect that most viewers who've watched the past five seasons will as well. Doc Martin's story rhythm isn't like other shows, but Portwenn's the most beautiful dystopia since the original version of The Prisoner, and the stories always follow the show's own logic.
I think the writers overdid it this year, but somehow, it still works. I let out a gasp when the disaster finally came, even though I'd been expecting it throughout "Listen with Mother." Doc Martin has never been light and airy, but this season takes it to a new level (I don't believe I've ever gasped while watching Doc Martin before this season), even as it keeps the bleakly funny tone of previous seasons. The stories come across as both sad and tense. The writers go more for drama, and they usually get it, even if they're reaching a lot.
The most interesting part of Season Six is watching the characters of Martin and Louisa as a married couple. Martin, who kept to himself for five seasons, is trying hard to join life for Louisa and James. The way Martin Clunes' face softens as he heads into social situations he knows will be disastrous telegraphs Martin's caring to the audience, even if the other characters don't notice. Louisa turns out to be as fussy as Martin as a parent, and yes, a lot of conversations seem to be putdowns of Martin without actually saying anything directly; it's always clear Martin gets the message, though. At the same time, Martin and Louisa clearly love each other, and she's still defending Martin to everyone except...Martin.
The opener, in which the couple weds, is a classic Doc Martin episode, with a comic chain of events involving a blocked chimney that ends with -- you guessed it -- Martin and Louisa bickering, then working together to save a life as lots of blood spurts. The series also finds room for grace notes throughout, most notably in "Departure," with Al and Morwenna sounding a bit like Martin and Louisa as they perform an emergency procedure, telegraphing the formation of another bickering couple next season.
As usual, Port Isaac makes a splendid Portwenn, and it comes across beautifully here. Every soft-spoken monosyllable from Martin Clunes is clear as well.
Eight behind-the-scenes shorts, which look like they'll be appearing on public television airings of this season, are included. As you'd expect, the cast and crew -- especially producer Philippa Braithwaite, Martin Clunes' real-life wife -- assures viewers that Clunes is nothing like Dr. Martin Ellingham. There's also the usual stuff about the show's growing popularity and the resulting increase in Cornwall tourism. Interestingly, Ian McNeice tells us that he didn't think the show had anywhere to go after Season Five, which might have been the sentiment of the writers when playing with the series' tone this season. There's also a photo gallery.
Doc Martin: Series 6 will please most returning viewers, but it'll probably leave anyone new to the series puzzled, if not taking aspirin. If you haven't seen Doc Martin before, I'd suggest looking at a few earlier episodes on Hulu.
Sometime in 2014, these episodes will turn up on public television stations and probably on Hulu as well. Still, if you've bought previous season sets, you'll want to keep visiting Portwenn, especially if you've been doing it three or four episodes at a time. Since there's a cliffhanger at the end, you'll probably want to invest in the seventh series as well.
You'll also probably be waiting for it. I did hear the ominous phrase "two years" come up in the extras; I'm hoping they'll surprise us with a Season Seven in 2014, but I wouldn't expect it. There'll at least be some ads on Hulu to tell us when it's expected, I'd guess.
Doc Martin has always been a show that just shouldn't work; taking its strange sense of humor with a dose of medical procedural sounds like a prescription that would cause an allergic reaction. Yet, in the end, I like it, and I like the bickering couple at its center. Would you, honestly, want to be in the vicinity of their arguments in real life? The writers go overboard this season, but the result is still something mesmerizing. There were fewer laughs, but they were belly laughs, and the dramatic moments kept my attention.
Not guilty, although I'm not sure that the writers can ratchet things up any more notches.
Review content copyright © 2013 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 384 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Not Rated