The Great Doc Martin (Re)Watch Continues – We Finish Series 3 and Start Series 4!

Our great Doc Martin viewing marathon continues this week here at Telly Visions, as we polish off Series 3 (“Happily Ever After”) and get started on Series 4 (“Better the Devil”). This is all very exciting as we’re so close to getting caught up – and I’m already looking forward to the premiere of Series 5 on WETA in just a few short weeks (April 28th!). 

From a macro perspective, I’ve really enjoyed almost everything about Series 3, and I can only hope the quality of the episodes stays this high as we continue on. It’s a tremendous improvement over the first two seasons, even if I really can’t entirely put my finger on why. It’s something to do with balance and self-awareness, I think. Though I do have some problems (again) with the Martin and Louisa plot, but, well…we’ll get to that in a minute.

Onward! Click through and come chat with me about the next two episodes in our rewatch, and feel free to leave your thoughts, favorite moments, funny lines, etc. in the comments.

Series 3, Episode 7: “Happily Ever After”

This is the One Where: Martin and Louisa’s wedding day arrives and there are ludicrous predictable levels of Portwenn-related shenanigans. Louisa’s bridesmaid is hit in the face with a party popper. Martin accuses the vicar of being a drunk. The vicar ends up in hospital. We have to find a new vicar. Al and Bert are failures at the catering business.  And Martin and Louisa have some decisions to make about their future.

Wacky Wedding Shenanigans Ensue. Because this is Doc Martin and this is Portwenn and nothing can happen here normally. The day of Martin and Louisa’s wedding dawns, and Martin is still seeing patients at the surgery. He has a couple of awkward patients and a “misunderstanding” with the vicar that ends up with Martin accusing him of being an alcoholic. The florist doing the wedding flowers gets arrested. The vicar turns out to sort of actually be a bit of an alcoholic and ends up fighting with Martin and breaking his hip. We need a new vicar. Martin finds someone new to perform the ceremony, but in order to get him to do it, he has to provide a medical exam for his pig. Which is um, very thorough and kind of invasive and, honestly, this show, I really did not need to see that ever. All of this stuff is actually exceptionally entertaining and fun to watch and it’s such a shame it all ends so badly for the happy couple.

Bonus Continuity for the Win! Roger returns (or at least shows up again, I’m unclear whether or not he’s still in Portwenn, but I’ll hope so) to attend Louisa’s sort of wedding brunch thing and also to be a stand-in father of the bride for her and walk her down the aisle. So sweet! We learn that he's now the happy father of twins. And he’s the only one in the actual series who manages to ask either Martin or Louisa if they’ve thought about what they’re doing, if they’re sure that they want to get married. Which I can't believe no one appears to have thought of up until this point. So, bonus points for you, Roger!

Al and Bert Should Probably Go Back to Plumbing. Al and Bert decide to expand Large’s Restaurant into the catering business and they’re fairly horrible at it. Shocking. They flood the restaurant where they’re supposed to be having the reception, set up a new outdoors location with a giant tent that they proceed to set up incorrectly so it collapses entirely before the ceremony. I don’t seem to remember them having this much trouble with plumbing.

Shut Up, Pauline. Though I will freely admit that it’s taken me quite a while to warm to Pauline; generally, I think that I have. I have found her largely entertaining and I’ve liked the trend of giving her smaller storylines that aren’t related to Martin (Magically Cured Gambling Addiction aside) because it lets us actually get to know her as a person. That said, I wanted to just shake her in this episode. And honestly, I’m not quite sure where this particular bit of characterization came from or why it was necessary to have Pauline be one of the primary culprits in criticizing and mocking Martin all episode long, even from her very first scene with Louisa. Especially as she, certainly more than most, is used to the way that Martin is and how you have to deal with it. It was especially difficult after watching her be so happy that Martin's given her the chance to do more around the surgery. This particular bit of the episode didn't really ring entirely true for me. 

And Then No One Gets Married. I have a lot more to say on this subject – the non-wedding thing – so see below, but I have to take a second to say that Martin Clunes and Caroline Catz did an exceptional job with the call off the wedding/break-up scene. Wonderful acting all around.  I don’t necessarily agree with the “and then they both plan to leave each other at the altar” bit, but the actors really did great work with it and completely made me believe in it.

Martin and Louisa are Worse Than Mary and Matthew on Downton Abbey.  Called it! I so knew that Martin and Louisa wouldn’t go through with getting married. Again, I refer to my question of last week, though – why can’t they just date for a while? Why does their entire relationship have to be all or nothing on this, quite frankly, ill conceived wedding idea? Oh, I know, maybe at this point things had progressed to the point where there isn’t any going back after you’ve decided to make that kind of commitment and call it off, but I’d have at least liked to have seen them talk about it. Now they’re not married, they’re not dating, I doubt they’ll even be speaking in the next episode and everyone is just angst angst angsting all over the place. And now we’ll probably go on to next season with both of them pining in secret for each other or sharing meaningful looks across the road or in a shop or whatever and I’m never going to get what I really want, which is them to actually sit down and have a realistic and legitimate conversation about their feelings for each other and what they both want out of a relationship and whether or not it makes sense for them to be together, given those factors.

Wherein I Struggle A Bit with Timing and Characterization. I’ve said since Martin and Louisa got engaged that the two of them getting married was a horrible idea – it was too rushed, they’d barely dated, they hadn’t had any time to learn how to navigate the little day-to-day pitfalls of being in a relationship with someone, they hadn’t managed to even figure out how to have a fight and make-up yet, really. So, I’m pleased that they didn’t go through with the wedding, but I’m a bit at a loss as to why. I mean,  I know all the reasons them getting married right now is a bad idea and fully support that – but I’m not sure how we got from they shouldn’t make a lifetime commitment to each other when their relationship is so untested to they shouldn’t be in a relationship at all anymore ever because they make each other miserable. There’s a logical leap here that I’m not following and it just really feels like we’ve skipped a step. Martin and Louisa both had separate conversations with other people – Isabelle and the horrible pig-owning vicar – about what marriage is and love being about making someone else happy but they’ve never actually talked to each other about any of this. While this is something I firmly believed they probably should have covered before leaping to the whole getting married thing, I don’t know why they can’t just talk about it now.

In my brain, I’d assumed that this episode would lead the two of them to realize that they and their relationship aren’t ready for this kind of step and that either one and/or both of them might realize that being in a relationship means that you have to make compromises about how you behave and how you prioritize things, because that’s what making another person happy is. This series does frequently struggle with giving us any insight to Louisa’s perspective on things and it really shows here – is she upset because she’s afraid that all the things people say about Martin are true? Does she think a lifetime defending her husband against a town that doesn’t understand him is too daunting? Has she realized that this just isn’t the type of person she wants to be married to, because there are too many excuses and not enough warmth? Is she convinced that their marriage is cursed because so many things happen to mess up their wedding? Has she realized she jumped into this situation too quickly? I’m not sure. I think any/all of those explanations are plausible ones; I just have no idea which is true. Let’s be clear – I think the two of them deciding to call off the wedding is an A+ good idea, but I don’t think that it necessarily invalidates their entire relationship eitherAnd even if it does, for us, as the audience, to get closure, they need to explain why.

As it is, I’m quite unclear as to how we got to this place where Louisa is convinced that Martin can’t make her happy.  I mean, I’m even arguing that that idea isn’t true – I do think it takes a particular kind of person to co-exist long term in a romantic relationship with someone like Martin, and maybe Louisa isn’t that kind of person and maybe it took this situation specifically for her to realize that. But all along, Louisa’s been pursuing this relationship as much as Martin has, if not more so, and given everything that’s happened, I would have thought that it would take a bit more than some medical accidents, flooding and horrible catering to sour her on the relationship completely. I know Martin also said that Louisa won’t make him happy either, but I think he had to have been lying – it sounded like something you say just to agree with someone or to make sure that they’re hurt too or are unaware how much what they just said ruined your life.  

Maybe the combination of these things on their wedding day – as well as their prolonged struggle to get together at all – has convinced Louisa that a relationship with Martin is too difficult to maintain or is simply too much work. And I think in some ways that’s a valid fear – but I would desperately like to know her thought process during this episode. At the very beginning  it appears that Louisa’s contemplating the magnitude of what she’s about to do for a hot second, and there’s an awkward moment when she calls Martin where she feels the need to identify herself as though she doesn’t know whether he’ll know her voice on the phone or not, so there are little indicators that something’s not right, but it still seems so disastrously final for all the fact that the two of them don’t even talk about it at all. I’d have at least loved a scene about why they thought they wouldn’t work between them. The scene at the very end was so frustrating for all the things that no one bothered to say.

But, on the whole, well done, Season 3. You were pretty excellent. On to Series 4!

Series 4, Episode 1 “Better the Devil”:

This is the One Where: Martin is extra cranky since the end of his relationship with Louisa, and is wondering why he stays in Portwenn. Mrs. Tishell’s  husband returns and has a hearing problem. We meet a Plot Roadblock ex-girlfriend of Martin’s who is exceptionally irritating.

In all honesty, this episode felt a bit of a letdown after the Series 3 finale. The sub-plots with Mrs. Tishell’s hearing impaired husband and Pauline’s snoring brother were mostly boring and Louisa was nowhere to be seen except at the very end.  The introduction of Edith – while interesting from a character development standpoint – is clearly meant to serve as another obstacle for our inevitable Martin-Louisa reunion, whenever that may happen.

Meet Edith, the Ex. A bunch of random events conspire to send Martin to the hospital in Truro for stitches. At said hospital, he ends up requesting a surgical assist for Barbara, a patient of his who is also there (long story, involves Mrs. Tishell’s hard of hearing husband). This surgical consult happens to be a woman named Dr. Edith Montgomery, who is rude and condescending and horrible and also happens to be Martin’s ex-girlfriend.

I find this scenario intriguing for a number of reasons, not for the least of which is the confirmation that Martin has, in fact, had a girlfriend in the past. Given his general bungling handling of his relationship with Louisa on almost every level, I had wondered about his relationship history and how much experience with women he has in general. Honestly, I can’t imagine what in the world he saw in Edith in the first place -  and it’s a pretty far road from Edith to Louisa as a “type” – and I can’t fathom how a relationship between the two of them would have ever worked at all ever.  At least not Martin as he is now, it’s possible that he was a very different person before he developed his blood phobia because I just can’t see this at all.

Because she’s a rather awful person. Edith comes down to the Portwenn surgery for a catch-up, insults the town’s residents (“Do they pay you in chickens?”), talks down to Martin and is sort of weirdly creepy all around. She snarks relentlessly about Martin’s life choices, his blood phobia, how low he has fallen professionally, his patients and pretty much everything else in sight. And she gets Barbara's diagnosis completely wrong, won’t listen to Martin when he says there’s something she missed and then won't even apologize when it's proven that she was about to put a woman through unnecessary surgery. Horrible! I’m sure we’ll be stuck with her for the whole season.

Pauline’s Brother Comes to Stay. Part of me can’t believe this was an actual sub-plot, that Pauline’s brother’s snoring is so extreme that she can’t sleep. I guess at least the scene where she tried to smother him with a pillow was funny? At least the sibling back and forth between the two of them was great. And at least this pointless subplot did lead to some exceptionally adorable scenes between Pauline and Al, who decide to live together.

Update From the Shallow End: I am so in love with the little dog that Aunt Joan’s adopted who spends all his time at the surgery! So much! I want Martin to adopt him or for him to become the surgery mascot or something, because he is adorable and basically needs to be in every episode ever.

Martin Considers Leaving Portwenn. Martin is reevaluating his reasons for remaining in Portwenn in light of his break-up with Louisa, and asks Chris to put some feelers out about what other medical positions might be open in the nearby communities. After running into Edith the Irritating and thinking about his old life as a London surgeon he seems to be seriously thinking about getting back into a career in surgery despite his blood phobia (how he thinks this will work, I am unclear.) This makes me sad – not only as Martin in Portwenn is the premise of the show – but also due to the fact that I thought that he’d finally started feeling like he belonged in the town and that he was doing real work that mattered, no matter how weird his patients are. Whether the loss of Louisa is painful enough to outweigh that, I don’t know. But, man, for someone who insisted that she wouldn’t make him happy, he sure does seem to see her in a lot of places around the village, even when she isn’t there, huh? (This of course also brings me back to our previous episode discussion – why couldn’t they talk about this? Why didn’t Martin try to save their relationship instead of just letting it crash and burn? They are the worst at love.)

Here Comes the Bombshell: Louisa’s Pregnant. While we’re all unclear where Louisa has been all this time since the wedding was called off, she’s back now with some big news: she’s pregnant. (Of course, having seen promo photos from Series 5 which included a baby, I knew this spoiler was coming, though I have to admit these are not the particulars I’d envisioned for this storyline.)  And also, apparently more time has passed between the Wedding That Wasn’t and this episode, going by Louisa’s appearance. And now I’m all sorts of curious. I’m sure we’re now in for some angst, but I’m hoping for at least some honesty from the both of them in this situation, a real discussion maybe. But she’s clearly stayed away from Portwenn for some time, by choice, and has equally chosen to come back and see Martin, so I assume there must be a reason for all this.

My curiosity is piqued.