Hypochondria aside, it’s always a treat when the doctor is in, especially if it’s the Western world’s socially inept sawbones champion Martin Ellingham, aka the outstanding Martin Clunes, in the global UK comedy favorite DOC MARTIN, now in SERIES 6, and on DVD from Acorn/RLJ Entertainment.
Since its debut in 2004, the show has gone international in a big way, racking up millions of Ellinghamians. Indeed, the tale of an extremely dysfunctional, albeit brilliant, surgeon, who, due to his fear of blood, is relegated to practicing in the picturesque seaside hamlet of Cornwall’s fictitious Port Wenn (actually, Port Issac), just seems to get better with each series. SERIES 6 (there is a 7, which I have yet to see) proves my point with a jubilant Lexapro anti-depressant punch. It is, to date, my favorite in the show’s twelve-year (and seven season) run.
The wackiness, the quirkiness, the eccentricities and snarky verbal smack-downs often seamlessly mixed with poignancy (to say nothing of accurate medical diagnosing – way more fun than Wikipedia, Google or a Crosby-less Bing) have never been more on-target. The lunatic locals have become welcome friends in this household (well, most of them; sorry, mean bevy girls), all brought to life by a terrific company of actors (including the four tots who portray Baby Ellingham). And we can’t forget one main participant, the beauteous Cornwall locale itself, lushly photographed by Simon Archer.
MARTIN was the brainchild of Dominic Minghella, who created the series based, in part, on a role Clunes essayed in the 2000 movie Saving Grace (as envisioned by Mark Crowdy and comedian Craig Ferguson, the latter known to most TV comedy fans as Mr. Wick from The Drew Carey Show). The eight episodes that comprise SERIES 6 (Sickness and Health; Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?; The Tameness of a Wolf; Nobody Likes Me; The Practice Around the Corner; Hazardous Exposure; Listen with Mother; Departure) were superbly written by Jack Lothian, Ben Bolt, Richard Stoneman, Charlie Martin and Julian Unthank, and directed with impish panache by Nigel Cole and Paul Seed.
The comedy with dramatic flairs (some downright dark) is such that it frequently brings to mind the best of the Ealing Studios output from the late 1940s-early 1950s. And I can’t think of any higher praise.
For those diehard MARTIN fans who have yet to experience SERIES 6, let me give you a wee taste of what delights the 2-disc set holds for collectors.
The premiere installment starts off with a deserved bang – the long-awaited wedding of Martin and his schoolteacher lover (and mother of their child) Louisa (the always excellent Caroline Catz). Their honeymoon plays like a nightmare from hell (well, in that “comedy is tragedy that happens to others” Freddie Krueger sort of way), a post-wedding sojourn affectionately arranged in gratitude by the Port Wenn citizenry (who include a “bill will be in the mail” disclosure with their fond farewells). That the pair end up bloodied, disheveled and the prey of a half-mad mountain man (David Sterne) is but a small sampling of the season’s debut, which heartily combines laughs and gross-out thrills in equal Mike Myers and Michael Myers portions.
Things go merrily swirly-whirly in the subsequent shows, including the friendly arguing between the father and son Larges family (Ian McNiece, Joe Absolom) with Al looking to branch out on his own and find true love and poppa Bert, the cesspool maven-turned-restauranteur, who does find late-life amour in the arms of the new pharmacist, Jenn (Annabelle Apison). But will the return of Mrs. Tishell (Selina Cadell), the original pill-dispenser, fresh from the bug house (after kidnapping Martin and Louisa’s infant as a show of soulmate bonding for the doc) throw a monkey wrench into the October affair?
Al meanwhile has set his cap for Morwenna (Jessica Ransom), Martin’s fetching receptionist, who is quasi-dating the Ellingham’s male nanny (Felix Scott), who is being pursued by M.P.s for going AWOL (he couldn’t understand why the British military couldn’t come to terms with his OCD, apparently too anal even for the rigid corp).
Another return is of harpy Margaret (Claire Bloom), Martin’s mother, now widowed, rife with mercenary ulterior motive. Margaret’s “you monster” showdown with her sister-in-law is comparable to Toho kaiju at its prime.
Which brings us to the character of the sister-in-law herself (my personal favorite character on the show), Dr. Ruth Ellingham, magnificently enacted by the wonderful Eileen Atkins. As Dr. Ruth, Atkins possesses all the requirements that her profession demands (she’s a therapist and psychiatrist) with a modicum of Martin cool (in the icy meaning of the word) that adds up to hilariously funny. Ruth’s appearance on a Kathy Lee-esque radio talk show is a highlight, as is her vocation’s mispronunciation of “town psychic” by the villagers.
The bungling Constable Penhale (John Marquez), too, has much more to do here, proving as ineffectual as ever – no more so than when he literally shoots himself in the foot during a law enforcement survival weekend.
Of course it’s Martin (the Doc and Clunes) who provides the glue cementing the crazy-quilt narratives. His battling with mother, marriage, babysitting, dumbass patients and a determination to beat his blood phobia zooms SERIES 6 to the top of any comedy fan’s must-have 2016 DVD/Blu-Ray list. Clunes’s appearance as guest speaker at a children’s day fete is a side-splitter – as well as a prelude to a genuinely suspenseful and truly shocking capper.
The 16 x 9 DVDs look glorious in their colorful depiction of Cornwall and the stereo-surround is a hoot with gulls cawing around one’s media room (plus a nice showcase for Colin Towns’s enchanting music). With 64 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage as an added incentive, there’s really no reason not to schedule an appointment at Doc Martin’s and pay a visit to Port Wenn, although necessary precautions might be in order for those with allergic reactions to nuts.
DOC MARTIN: SERIES 6. Color. Widescreen (1.78:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic). Stereo-surround. Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment. CAT # AMP-2145. SRP: $39.99.