Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Doc Martin: ‘Departure’ – Series 6 Episode 8
Spoiler alert: This review assumes you have already watched Episode 8 of the current series.
Despite the title to this episode, viewers can be relieved that nothing hints at a real-life departure from the Doc Martin cast. Apart from Claire Bloom as the wicked grandmother, that is… Martin finally summons the strength to have ‘that talk’ his mother has been waiting for, and sees straight through her scheming. She did make a basic medical error in her dishonest account of his father’s passing, after all.
Writer Jack Lothian delivers a gripping finale to the current series, even weaving in new suspense with an unexpected medical condition for Louisa. Something has to stop her flying away, since the exchanges between her and Martin are as futile as ever. But her departure for the airport triggers some sensation in Martin Clunes’ obdurate doctor who, possibly confusing emotion for illness, strides off to seek advice from Ruth. She is apparently now the village go-to person for all manner of problems.
Down at the Large’s, the story continues of Al’s quest for his own source of income and, with it, independence from his ‘know it better’ father. Ian McNeice manages to make Bert endearing even while he rains unreasonable demands on his son. Later he proposes “BAR” (Bert, Al and Ruth) as the name for Al’s business, then claims to be just winding Al up. Not always been the case, eh Bert?
But the awkward Al, played for sympathy by Joe Absolom, must scamper down a grassy bank in scooter helmet, suit and tie, to pitch his business idea to Eileen Atkins’ implacable Ruth. Has Alan Sugar tried that on his protégés? As the camera sweeps along the overgrown lakeside, Al suggests a barbecue with the freshly caught fish – and I’m sold. The lake may not be the largest, but I’m prepared to believe.
Ruth and Al’s two encounters are my favourite of several heartfelt one-on-one scenes this week. I trust there will be more such odd couple moments in the next series.
Comic sketches include a running gag with the New York cops outfit chosen by Penhale (Joe Marquez) as his fancy dress for Bert’s party – of course. This culminates at the airport where, surprise surprise, he cannot convince the official that he actually is a policeman. Best comedy line comes from Martin, objecting to the travel agent down the phone: “No I won’t hold!”
Ruth gives Morwenna (Jessica Ransom) cause to pause, as she lets slip her perception that Morwenna and Al are “involved”. Nope, they’re still getting there… Morwenna then engages in a wonderfully straight exchange with her pal, that Ruth working in psychiatry is not the same as being psychic.
The big climax commences with Martin peering at Louisa’s CT scan, which reveals an arteriovenous malformation. This is an unstable link between blood vessels at different pressures. Yes, these can bleed and do need treatment, but there’s no rush for emergency surgery, especially in early autumn when experienced surgeons may be on holiday and the new intake not yet up to scratch – clearly the case in Truro. And just because you have an AVM doesn’t mean your headache following a row with your husband comes from a bleed.
Such quibbles aside, Catherine Catz has her chance to show a different side to Louisa at last, as she and Martin have a very weird conversation. Martin has taken on board Ruth’s advice to say how he feels, and Louisa is woozy from the pre-med. She smiles and makes fun of the situation, hurrah! But the episode finishes on the brink again when she warns, perfectly sensibly: “This doesn’t change anything” and Martin can only think to say: “You’re my patient and you’re my wife” before turning away.
So what do viewers think? Back in 2004 over nine million tuned in to enjoy Doc Martin, since when the numbers have fluctuated by only 10 per cent. And that despite the two-year wait for the start of this recent series – which certainly tempted fate. Yes, a strong fan base for gentle situational comedy drama persists in the UK however much some critics may mock. And we are not alone. Apart from the overseas following for Doc Martin itself, this form of comedy drama – ‘fish out of water’ or ‘collection of eccentrics’ – is common in the States and elsewhere. The final curtain came down on the inordinately successful Desperate Housewives only 18 months ago.
TV commissioners may listen at their peril to those critics who want only the edgy and the innovative. Because on Mondays the nation will yearn to put its feet up and chuckle at an archetypal English eccentric’s attempts to cope with his own and his flock’s problems in a sadly no longer typical English village.