Having devoured this set, Appellate Judge James A. Stewart now is minding lengthy gaps for two strange British Doctors.
Our reviews of Doc Martin: Series 2 (published August 12th, 2009), Doc Martin: Series 3 (published January 13th, 2010), Doc Martin: Series 4 (published June 23rd, 2010), Doc Martin: Series 6 (published December 8th, 2013), and Doc Martin: The Movies (published August 3rd, 2011) are also available.
"I'll knock later. You have to go!"—Morwenna, Dr. Martin Ellingham's new receptionist, sending him off to yet another emergency.
As Doc Martin: Series 5 begins, the newly fearless Martin wants to head off to London to return to life as a surgeon. He'd like schoolteacher Louisa, the mother of his newborn child, to come with him. However, she loves Portwenn and wants to raise her baby there. His stint in Portwenn is extended by two months, though, so there's plenty of time for warfare.
By the end of the season, Dr. Martin Ellingham himself will declare that "they spread contagion like brushfire" in Portwenn, the lovely Cornwall village, and policeman Joe Penhall will lament that he has fewer emergencies to deal with than Martin does.
Doctor Who fans will notice that Martin has a couple of companions in common with that show's slightly less alien Doctor: Ian McNeice (Winston Churchill, on the current Doctor Who), who plays restaurateur Bert Large, and new cast member Louise Jameson (Leela, a Tom Baker companion), who takes on the role of the long-lost mother that Louisa wishes would have stayed lost.
Two other new cast members arrive in Portwenn: Eileen Atkins (Upstairs, Downstairs) plays Martin's aunt Ruth, also a Dr. Ellingham, and Jessica Ransom plays Morwenna, yet another receptionist in Martin's surgery.
Spoiler Alert Although I try to avoid them, spoilers are as inevitable as blood on the streets of Portwenn.
Facts of the Case
Doc Martin: Series 5 features eight episodes on two discs.
• "Dry Your Tears"—Aunt Joan's funeral includes a rant from Martin about her health problems, a pallbearer with a back problem, and a call to a lorry accident. Dr. Ruth Ellingham, another disagreeable doctor from London, takes over Joan's farm. Incredulously, bickering Louisa (Caroline Catz, Murder in Suburbia) and Martin move in together.
• "Born with a Shotgun"—Ruth gets to know the neighbors when one of them steals her hubcaps. In Portwenn, that means she and Martin are going to end up in an armed standoff.
• "Mother Knows Best"—Doc declines to get involved in the "Fun Run," but you know he'll be there anyway for a medical emergency. Louisa's issues with Martin are interrupted by a renewal of all her issues with her mother, Eleanor.
• "Don't Let Go"—Louisa's return to Portwenn School involves a bad reaction to floor cleaner, a kid who sticks his finger in a pencil sharpener, a disoriented man on the roof, and a lot of spitting up. It also looks like she and Martin will be splitting up.
• "Cats and Sharks"—Eleanor does some brainstorming to help Bert through his financial crisis, which involves a threat of "consequences" from a loan shark. Eleanor also winds up in the last place she'd ever want to be: Martin's surgery.
• "Ever After"—Mrs. Tishell's husband wants to retire and tour England with her in a mobile home, but she's got other ideas. Martin and Louisa get back together—but it's only to find their lost baby.
By the end of Series 5, Martin does declare his love for Louisa and decide to stay in Portwenn. You did expect that, didn't you? The circumstances are rather bizarre, but if you've watched Doc Martin, you expected that, too. Of course, Doc Martin draws a lot of its humor from embarrassing situations, ranging from a testicular cancer exam to Martin's interruption of a wedding.
"There should be something we both agree on," Louisa tells Martin at one low point in their relationship. Their bickering—about basically everything involved in raising a child—gets intense. It isn't exactly nastiness on Martin's part, but he is the sort of person who, when his beloved asks, "How do I look?," immediately thinks of possible rashes or health conditions and considers cuddling a baby "the thin end of the wedge." Naturally, he's with someone who can be rather fiery in other relationships, as is shown when Louisa is with her mother.
It's clear, when Ruth finds childhood photos of Martin in Joan's things, that he doesn't have many pleasant memories of his own childhood. His struggles are even more clear in the moments when he gives in, as comic characters on TV series inevitably do. Martin Clunes softens with a complete change in visage, voice, and mannerisms, showing the person Martin tries to be. Somewhere in the many rounds, there's Louisa's hilarious impression of Martin, which will make any fan laugh out loud. Martin Clunes and Caroline Catz manage to outdo The Bickersons and somehow leave some hope for their characters' relationship.
Louisa and Martin aren't the only problematic coupling in Portwenn; Joe Penhale's ex-wife returns, with amnesia, having forgotten their divorce, and he's reluctant to tell her what year it is. When you're tired of romantic bickering, there's also some father-son arguing between Bert and Al Large over Bert's inept restauranteuring.
Eileen Atkins rambles as Ruth first meets Louisa and doesn't like dogs any more than Martin does, which sends Joan's pooch back-and-forth between two dog haters. The scripts kind of drop her oddities after her first episode, but Atkins puts enough of a hint of eccentricity in to convince viewers that she could be related to Dr. Martin Ellingham, while turning out as hardy as her sister Joan. Like Martin, Ruth also seems her best in a crisis. Louise Jameson turns out to be a distracted babysitter as Eleanor, giving Louisa and Martin some fits of panic to bond over. Jessica Ransom's Morwenna looks at first to be the incompetent her previous (brief) employers would say she is, but turns out to be eager and enthusiastic. Since it's Portwenn, her crisis skills are evident soon enough.
The Cornwall scenery looks beautiful on this DVD release, but that's not a surprise, either. Plus, there's more than an hour of extras this time. Topics include Doc Martin tourism; the show's evolution; remakes of Doc Martin in France, Germany, and Spain (and possibly Russia and the States down the road, it's suggested); and a segment on the series' film editor. One feature in the extras has a spoiler alert, but I wouldn't recommend watching any of them until after you've seen the episodes, since they're filmed during the last episode of the season. I was also left wanting more; they should have at least included clips from the foreign Doc Martin shows, if not some entire episodes. The extras aren't bad, although there's some overlap, and they don't go into the show very deeply. The best part is that you get to see Martin Clunes smile a lot, something that's rare on Doc Martin.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I liked Series 5, but Portwenn seems to be a more surreal, exaggerated place now that Martin's no longer fearing blood—crazy enough to give the Drs. Ellingham scenes when they seem normal, at least by comparison. At the same time, though, you can see the real human emotions behind the exaggerations. Still, the show's shifts in tone between comedy and drama seem a tad more pronounced than in earlier seasons.
Watching Louisa and Martin spar over taking care of the baby, you might wonder why they don't put Baby Ellingham in a daycare, like you could do just about anywhere in real life. Of course, the daycare might have had a bubonic plague outbreak, seeing that it is Portwenn, or perhaps they've permanently barred Louisa and Martin for fear of scaring the other tots with all that arguing.
It's also kind of unbelievable, given how few people Martin gets along with, that an aunt he can stand hasn't paid a visit to Portwenn before. Nonetheless, Eileen Atkins is a welcome addition to the cast.
I will note the warning on the DVD cover: "contains graphic medical scenes." Much of Doc Martin is comedy, but it's still a medical case-of-the-week show.
The comments in the extras suggest there's likely to be another series, but they also suggest there's going to be quite a gap again. Needless to say, I'll be checking IMDb for updates every few months. Since Aunt Joan's departure in the story gave me a start, I also checked IMDb just to make sure: Stephanie Cole is alive and well, having taken up residence on Coronation Street.
I can't say Doc Martin is better than ever, but it keeps up the good work, and the cast additions give it a shot of adrenaline.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
Review content copyright © 2012 James A. Stewart; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.