So it seems that everybody loves Doc Martin as over a thousand of you read my review last week while the opening instalment was viewed by over 7 and a half million people. I feel the popularity of it is down to the familiar faces, setting and story which every week sees the grumpy titular doctor having to help the people of his small village with their various ailments. But, as tonight’s episode proved, sometimes the comedy in Doc Martin is a little clichéd and there were at least two stories tonight that I’ve seen on countless shows before.
The first of these involves the awkward dinner party in which the boss is invited round to dinner only for chaos to ensue. The boss in question is Dennis Dodds, head of governors at Louisa’s school, and the man she needs to impress if she wants to get the gym extension the school desperately needs. Responding to the fact his wife doesn’t think he can interact in social situations, Martin invites Dennis and his wife around to their house for dinner. This invitation just adds to the Ellingham’s problems as childcare has now become an issue due to both of the couple resuming their work. Initially they employ Mel, who apparently is the only person in the village who’ll do the job, but Martin doesn’t like the way that his new babysitter itches. When he examines her he finds that she has a rash under her armpits and puts it down to poor hygiene. However Martin starts to make cutting remarks about Mel’s weight and cleanliness, which eventually leads to her departure and sees Martin left holding the baby. When Mike returns to secure the electrics, Morwenna reveals how good he was with baby James and Martin agrees to let him have a go at being childminder. Mike’s trial as babysitter is a success and Martin admires his military precision when it comes to organising all the kitchen gadgets.
The following night at the dinner party, Martin is shocked when Dennis and his wife Karen arrive after already having had a drink. Though he attempts to make idle chit-chat, he eventually snaps and informs his alcoholic guests that they aren’t doing any favours to their health. Both he and Louisa then go to check on James as she chastises her husband for being rude though she too insults Dennis calling him a drunk and an idiot. In the second clichéd moment of the episode, this conversation is overheard on the baby monitor and causes Dennis to snap. A later confrontation between Dennis and Louisa leads to him falling from the balcony of his new house and eventually leads to Martin discovering a shocking problem with Dennis’ health.
Elsewhere in the village, Morwenna is still missing her grandfather and decides to find a lodger to make the house seem less empty. Predictably, Morwenna is met with some awful potential lodgers including the ghastly Crystal. At the same time, Bert decides to rent Al’s room out to paying guests meaning that Al must now sleep in the same room as his father. With Al struggling to get any sleep due to his dad’s snoring and Morwenna still desperate for a housemate, I wondered just how long it would be before the two started to share a house. In fact it took till the end of the episode and I have a sneaking suspicion that the pair living together will give us some odd couple-style comedy segments. Finally, Ruth begrudgingly appears on the local radio station at the behest of her publishers who hope her appearance will help shift some more copies of her book. The emotionless Ruth isn’t ready to be a therapist for the residents of Portwenn but that’s exactly what she becomes when PC Penhale rings in to ask for her advice. Posing as ‘Cliff’, the policeman wonders why he has no friends and Ruth advises him to be nice to people. Obviously this sees Penhale completely overdo it on the enthusiasm front though his kind words don’t go down well with either Martin or Dennis. Penhale is finally rumbled as being the mysterious ‘Cliff’ and so ends yet another story that we’ve seen so many times before.
Doc Martin is a programme that I really shouldn’t like, especially seeing as it contains so many clichés that have been done better elsewhere. The baby monitor scene was a low point in the episode and I feel that this narrative device has been used so many times before that I saw it coming even before Martin went upstairs. Similarly I knew their respective subplots would end up with Al and Morwenna living together and that Penhale’s nicety overdrive would end badly. In any other programme these clichés would make me turn off almost straight away but there’s something about Doc Martin which makes them okay. I think that Doc Martin survives because of its familiarity whether that be through its cast members, its setting or its plot devices. In fact while I was watching the episode I quite enjoyed the comedy of errors dinner party scene and it was only when I came to analyse the show that I realised I’d seen this done so many times before. Ben Bolt’s script was well-paced enough that you didn’t get bored while the characters are all likeable in some way, which is a quality lacking in a lot of scripted television at the moment. My only hope at the moment is that the team don’t try to have Louisa tempted away from Martin by the OCD tendencies of the hunky Mike.
The theme of familiarity also applies to the cast, as the majority of them are so familiar with each other that they share winning chemistry. Martin Clunes is so comfortable playing the Doctor that a couple of facial expressions are all it takes for him to display Martin’s trademark feeling of underwhelmed. I personally enjoyed Clunes in the scene where he had to sit through a lot of cutesy songs at the concert at Louisa’s school. Caroline Catz is more than a match for Clunes and they show how their odd couple marriage somehow works. Catz and Clunes’ chemistry evokes memories of a screwball comedy duo especially during the dinner party scenes. I also personally feel that Eileen Atkins deserves more screen time as Ruth’s radio debut was one of the highlights of the episode. In fact I hope Ruth returns to the radio if only so we can see more of Alan Partridge star Felicity Montagu.
Overall I wasn’t as won over by this episode of Doc Martin as I was with the series opener. This was mainly due to the over-abundance of clichés employed throughout the script. At the same time the show is incredibly infectious and I felt that it’s relaxing atmosphere is what attracts its millions of viewers every week. I’m just hoping that the series can continue to please me and maybe feature a little bit of originality in next week’s instalment
What did you think to tonight’s episode of Doc Martin? Did you feel it was too clichéd?
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