'Doc Martin' puts on majoral robe

NEW JOB: Martin Clunes of Doc Martin fame plays Major Len in three-part drama.
NEW JOB: Martin Clunes of Doc Martin fame plays Major Len in three-part drama.

Martin Clunes is supremely confident about the outcome of his mystery drama The Town.

"You'll never in a million years see it coming," claims Clunes of the conclusion to the three-part drama in which Martin plays the role of Mayor Len... Robson (not Brown).

But after the first scenes you may wonder where the story is going, let alone what is coming, as a seemingly ordinary English suburban family in a seemingly ordinary English town is rocked by an inexplicable tragedy.

"It's very different, very unusual," says Clunes of the drama. "I loved it - I was on board quite early on. I don't know why it tickled me to be a mayor and to have some robes of office. I got to quite like old Len. He's not the happiest of souls really."

The fact that Len is drinking his way through his life and mayoral duties hints at a troubled soul camouflaged by an old-fashioned local politician's talent for bluster and bravado.

Where he fits into the mystery of the family tragedy, however, takes time to emerge.

He doesn't even take centre stage at the start of the story, with the shocking event that is intended to keep everyone guessing.

It is the affected family that holds that place, with the focus falling on the estranged son, played by Andrew Scott.

"I think that's quite good," says Clunes. "That sort of thing puts people on the edge of their seats rather than in the back of them.

"You're going into the thing going 'What's going on? What's going on?' rather than sitting there and having everything spoon-fed to you. I quite like that about it - the fact that it makes you work for it.

"There was only a first script in existence when I read it, so I read that and there was an outline for the second. I had no idea."

Admittedly, it may take some getting used to seeing Clunes, of Doc Martin fame, slipping on mayoral robes and playing a different man of authority to the irascible physician-out-of-water that we have come to love since 2004. But he had no qualms about playing Len.

"I was only too pleased," says Clunes. "He's the opposite of Doc Martin because he relishes that position of authority."

And has he ever thought of taking up a political career himself? "No, never," he says. "If I do, shoot me."

But then, why would Clunes ever consider such a move?

In a TV acting career going back to 1982, he has repeatedly shown his class in family drama (Doc Martin, William And Mary), comedy (Men Behaving Badly, The Man Who Lost His Head) and in the factual thriller A Is For Acid, in which he portrayed the real-life acid-bath murderer, John Haigh. He really enjoyed that one.

"He was a con man who inveigled his way into people's lives, ruthlessly killed them and had absolutely no remorse," recalls Clunes with relish.

"When he was caught by the police he was proud. And they changed the law of habeas corpus because he dissolved the bodies in an acid bath. He thought he would be scot-free because there would be no body."

Over all that time, Clunes has displayed a talent for serving up hugely contrasting characters despite the fact that it would take a Weta Workshop effort to change his distinctive appearance.

Even so, breaking his well-established Doc Martin image for Mayor Len in The Town would have had its challenges.

They are, after all, both men of authority and social standing in the community.

"There will always be comparisons and similarities because it's me and I'm quite distinctive-looking," Clunesconcedes.

"But I never sit down and think 'Is this role like another role?' or anything like that.

"It either appeals to me or it doesn't and I wouldn't seek to do another thing because it wasn't like Doc Martin.

"It was quite liberating playing a broken-down old drunk. I did quite enjoy that, although he's not a happy drunk."

And, on the subject of happiness, will Doc Martin ever be happy?

Viewers may find out soon as Clunesis just finishing filming series six of the series.

Series five ended with Dr Ellingham and Louisa walking off together with their baby following yet another Cornish crisis.

And that is where series six will pick up from.

Although another series was never a certainty after that, Clunesis loving the opportunity to slip on the Doc's smart suit again.

It will probably be a lot cooler than Len's mayoral robes.

The Town Vibe Tuesday

- TV Guide