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Living Loz
The strange tale of Doc Martin... 
21st-Nov-2009 09:34 pm
Way back when the ITV television series Doc Martin began airing on the ABC in 2005, I frowned at the screen and said " ...they're advertising this as a brand new series, but haven't there been commercials for this years before now?"

The answer, I discovered a month or so ago was, "well, sort of."

'Doc Martin' started out as a couple of Sky Television telemovies based on a character Martin Clunes played in the film Saving Grace - Doctor Martin Bamford. The films were 'Doc Martin' and 'Doc Martin and the Legend of the Cloutie'. Sky Pictures was planning on making six telemovies, however they folded after the first two. Martin Clunes took the idea to ITV, at which point the television series was commissioned --- but with not without significant changes.

What I find fascinating about this story is how the narrative and the character of Martin changed, and how I found myself responding when I finally caught up with the original Sky Television films.

In Saving Grace, we don't really learn much about Martin. I certainly didn't see enough to think, 'there's spin-off potential here!' He was a bit of a silly arse who liked to smoke marijuana and that was that. So I confess, I'm not entirely sure why they decided to create the telefilms, but I'm ultimately glad that they did.

In the Sky Television Doc Martin, we follow Martin as he discovers his wife has been having affairs with his three best friends. Feeling crushed, he decides to travel to Cornwall, a place of childhood holidays. He's initially only planning on staying for a week, but he soon discovers he loves it in this little village, sees himself wanting to restart his life there. So, he does! He sets up as a GP and, as we see in Legend of the Cloutie, comes to be accepted by the villagers, (is, in fact, quite obviously loved by them.)

Now, this is the part that fascinates me. This Martin is not the Martin I've grown to know from the ITV series. Not even close. He may be played by the same actor, but I don't recognise him at all. He's... cheerful, smokes and drinks, enjoys other people's company. He's polite. He's only marginally grumpy when provoked. He wants to be there in Cornwall, he wants people to accept him, he goes out of his way to settle down, make friends and help others. His story is really heartwarming.

Martin Ellingham from the ITV series has never been married. He chooses to be a GP in Cornwall because he becomes hemophobic after he performs a routine surgical operation wrong. Martin only grows to like the place despite himself, and will deny it if asked. The villagers tend to view him in a bad light on account of his lack of manners, they recognise he's a darn fine doctor as long as medical assistance is all you need, but he's the opposite of friendly. They go out of their way to welcome him to the village and Martin goes out of his way to spurn them.

When ITV said they'd take on the series, they said so with caveats --- they wanted a story that had more conflict, was more 'fish out of water' than 'fish in new fishtank', and the changes that they made --- as I said, I find them fascinating. ITV specifically asked for the main character of the series to be less likeable. That's --- it sounds odd when you put it like that.

Happy, cheeky Martin Bamford became surly, socially awkward Martin Ellingham.

I should like Martin Bamford more than Martin Ellingham. I should. He's an equally excellent doctor. He's a bit of a sweetheart. He has a sad backstory that inspires sympathy. And I do like him. But I don't love him like I love Ellingham. As I was watching the telemovies, he never once made me swoon. Same actor, same features, yes? I should be as attracted to him. But I am not.

Ellingham's flaws, whilst occasionally making me shout at the screen, are also aspects of his character that I adore. I like that he says what he thinks and doesn't bother with pleasantries. I adore his bear-with-a-wounded-paw temperament. My heart does little flutters when he's alone and looking at Louisa with this look of absolute yearning --- because he could never be that man that he thinks Louisa would really want, it's just not in him to change so dramatically, and the largest part of him is perfectly happy being the irascible git he is anyway. Everyone else is wrong.

Both incarnations of Doc Martin have the parochial everyone-knows-your-business village vibe, the tongue-in-cheek exoticism of Cornwall, the same basic story of a London doctor moving to a small Cornish village. Yet they made me react entirely differently. I came away from the telemovies thinking, 'n'aww, that was sweet', but I come away from the ITV series oftentimes thinking 'oh Martin, I love you, so, so much'. I can only conclude that ITV essentially made the right choice.

23rd-Nov-2009 04:59 am (UTC)
That is fascinating! Because I think I would react much as you did. I love Martin Ellingham because he is provoking.
23rd-Nov-2009 07:13 am (UTC)
I thought so!

I actually --- I came away kind of wanting more of Bamford's story, but not at the expense of Ellingham's? And then I mind-wrote crackfic in which they meet and HATE each other passionately.

Edited at 2009-11-23 07:16 am (UTC)
23rd-Nov-2009 10:52 pm (UTC)

I think the "loveable transplant" can be enjoyable, but when the transplanted person is "difficult" and you not only come to respect and admire him, but to care for him and feel his pain... well, that is completely made of win!
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