Doc Martin (the greatest show ever) Episode Recaps

Doc Martin s1e1: “Going Bodmin” (2004)

Doc Martin is the greatest TV show ever made. I can’t tell you exactly why this is true. I can list things that I love about the show, but what about these things makes it “the greatest”? I’m not entirely sure. But I love Doc Martin in a way that I have never loved a show on my first watch-through.

I adore the titular character, Martin Ellingham, though I initially found him off-putting. You need a keen eye to see actor Martin Clunes’s comic chops through his dour, neurotic, wooden-faced performance as Dr Ellingham. After a time, it becomes clear the only reason this character (who is incredibly autism-coded) works is because Clunes is a genius of physical comedy. He delivers the driest English humor and most restrained-yet-cartoony gesture work.

Martin is wish fulfillment in a character. He says what’s on his mind and tells people to shut up, go away, etc without a hint of shame. His incredibly logical approach to this batty small town feels a lot like being an autistic person in real life. It’s never quite clear why we’ve left someone miffed when we’re just speaking the unfiltered truth. Martin speaks with thorough medical confidence, which makes it all the more frustrating when he offends an entire village with his frankness.

The main appeal of Martin, for me, is competency porn. He’s really good at his job, usually. Mistakes can be made, but it’s seldom because he doesn’t care enough. If he realizes someone is in real danger, he cares deeply, and he won’t let go of the case until everything has been handled. Some have said medical shows are the hospital version of copaganda; it gives an unfairly glowing idea of a system that is incapable of producing sleuths who care so much and commit so many resources to any individual case. As someone medically complicated, I like dreaming of a doctor who could fix me.

Martin alone isn’t enough to make this show The Greatest. It’s a lot of things, big and small, that make Portwenn feel real and keep me returning to its Cornish shore.

The closest comparison I can make to an American TV show (at least, one that I’ve watched) is Elementary, another 1/3 of my all-time favorite TV shows, along with Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal. Elementary also stars an English lead who is autistic-coded with terrible social skills. They’re both shows oriented mostly toward mysteries, too. They’re procedurals where the central detective isn’t a cop. There’s also a female lead who I find extremely appealing: Lucy Liu in the case of Elementary, and Caroline Catz in the case of Doc Martin.

Doc Martin is funnier, though, and often less reassuringly predictable than Elementary; some of the episodes sincerely stress me out. But that excitement is part of the appeal too. Hence why I want to review THE GREATEST TV SHOW EVER MADE, episode by episode (if it suits me). I am obsessed, it itches my brain, and I have mentally moved to Portwenn. I’ll send you a post card.

Please note: All of these posts will have spoilers. I highly recommend watching the episodes before my recaps because the guessing is part of the fun.


Episode Recap

Doc Martin flies into the small Cornish town of Portwenn to accept a new job as the general practitioner (GP). Before his surgery has been prepared, he’s already facing his first medical mystery.

It’s called “Going Bodmin” in reference to an asylum in Bodmin. The giggling girl chorus that remains *delightfully* consistent throughout the TV show calls Martin Bodmin from the get-go. They’re right, but can you blame him? You can imagine why when he’s losing his cool over the dog in the surgery, the narrow roads, and a town that wants to do everything but allow him to work peacefully.

The real story here is that Martin hates small-town life, but he doesn’t have any choices. He’s gotten himself driven away from his fabulous London job. The problems from London will follow him everywhere because the problem is Martin. He has to make this terrible town work, because he’s terrible at being human. And Portwenn desperately needs a doctor. The GP preceding him, Dr Sim, left behind a complete mess.

The medical mystery: Why does an older gentleman have gynecomastia?

Martin thinks it’s because enboobied Colonel Gilbert Spencer’s wife, Susan, is using way too much oestrogen cream, but when a surfer also shows up with gynecomastia, Martin loses confidence in that theory. There’s some question whether the water in Portwenn might be contaminated–which comes up again later.

It’s easy to predict the reveal yourself before Martin figures it out because the answer is unspooled from the very beginning. You can see Susan bustling away from her affair as soon as Martin arrives, and her distracted surfer paramour loses his car to high tide.

You already know the affair is coming long before it’s discovered at the worst possible moment. People love spoilers, especially when they spoil themselves. But you can easily understand why Martin, who is terrible at predicting human behavior, would not understand the mystery sooner.

Louisa & Martin: Martin and Louisa meet for the first time on the plane into town. Martin does the thing where he stares intensely at a woman until she thinks he’s a pervert, but he whips out a diagnosis that defuses the situation…kinda.

Louisa Glasson isn’t convinced that Martin is cut out for the village. He’s spent 12 years as a surgeon, who see people as bodies rather than people. And oh *boy* are the residents of Portwenn “people,” not bodies.

But Louisa begins respecting him when she realizes that Martin was correct diagnosing her with glaucoma. Much like myself, Louisa loves a competent man. She’s soft and generous and expansive this early in the show. She goes from angry to friendly in a snap. Martin’s attraction toward Louisa is subtler, aside from a couple darling moments where he gazes at her through a school window and sees she’s wearing an eye patch. Hey, it’s someone who actually took his medical advice! What’s not to love?

Worth noting that Martin Clunes has a great pining-face. You can trust me on this one, I’m an expert.

Also, it might look like Martin is too old for Louisa, but the actors are only eight years apart in age. Caroline Catz is just very beautiful and Martin Clunes is very square-headed.

The Larges: If you get competency porn feelings from Martin as a great doctor, you will not from the Larges. Bert and his son Al (presumably Albert and Albert Jr) are plumbers who show their dreadful skills in this episode by busting a pipe and flooding Martin’s surgery. It’s hard to believe these two doofy dudes will persist throughout the show, but they do!

Plumbing is their first of many failed ventures, and you can’t blame Martin for going Bodmin about it. But Bert Large also quickly becomes one of Martin’s access points to the town. Bert entreats Martin to care for the humans who have always been his neighbors, and his working class sensibility is exactly what Martin needs to concede his pride.

The Assistant: We meet Elaine in this episode, played by legendary evil step-sister actress Lucy Punch. (You might know her from one of my favorite movies, Ella Enchanted.) Elaine is unprofessionalism wearing white girl dreads. She won’t take notes he requests, uses his phone for personal calls, and wants to be paid even when she doesn’t actually do anything.

Elaine has been foisted upon Martin by the town in much the same way as the dog. He is surrounded by things he doesn’t want. But maybe there’s something here he needs?

The Auntie: Aunt Joan is introduced in a chicken coop. This is a woman who helped raise Martin when he visited her farm in summertime, and when we see her practical personality (including a quick chicken neck snapping) it quickly begins to contextualize Martin’s personality too.


Louisa’s Hair Rating: 7/10. It’s a little flat. Her fringe isn’t at it’s fringiest, either.

Infuriating Level: 5/10. Martin’s more annoying than the town at this point, but don’t worry, things swing around quickly.

Episode Greatness Level: 10/10. I just love the Old Man Boobies episode, I won’t lie.

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