Martin Clunes on final Doc Martin season
Want an idea of just how popular Doc Martin is? When the British drama about a curmudgeonly doctor in a Cornish fishing village advertised for extras in the local Port Isaac press, more than 800 people showed up.
In the giant queue, which snaked around the local church hall, there were no fewer than 150 babies in prams and pushchairs eager to be chosen for the role of the doctor's 11-month-old son, James Henry. That is one well-loved show!
Over six series, Doc Martin s has averaged nine million viewers a week in the UK and star Clunes Clunes, who plays the lovable yet grumpy medic, has won himself an army of die-hard fans. Calling themselves "Clunatics", they lavish gifts on the cast and crew to underline just how much they love the drama. "They are a group of Doc Martin fans who keep thanking us for helping them to make great friendships with other fans around the world. They Skype each other," explains Clunes, 53, who has played the role for 11 years. "When episodes go out, they have discussions on it, and when there are no episodes going out, they have more discussions. There is one woman logging all the ties I wear in the show. She says, 'I don't think I have seen this tie since season two. Mind you, I haven't logged all the season six ties yet'," says the actor, who is married to the show's producer, Philippa Braithwaite. The couple live in rural bliss in Dorset, with their teenage daughter, Emily.
"We've had so many presents; paintings of myself and cast members, a fridge magnet of Jimmy, my Jack Russell, paintings of my horses. A lady from Iceland hand-knitted a sweater for me, one for Emily and one for Philippa – and one for Brian the props man because he was nice to her in the pub one night," continues Clunes.
"We were given a big jar of M&Ms with 'DM' printed on each one of them for us all. Some of the Clunatics even found us when we were filming on the moors."
Clunes, who has just spent a very contented four months shooting the latest series in Port Isaac, is touched, and a little taken aback, by the show's global popularity. "When we started making Doc Martin, we could never have imagined it would have this reaction," he says. "We never anticipated this. You can't predict how successful something will be."
As the seventh series kicks off this week, Doc Martin looks set to remain as popular as ever. Dr Martin Ellingham, the GP with the disastrous bedside manner and a morbid fear of blood, has his work cut out in the new series, set in the fictional bucolic seaside hamlet of Portwenn. Louisa (played by Caroline Catz from DCI Banks), the woman he recently married, has had enough of his grouchiness and has walked out. She has taken young James Henry and gone off to stay with her mother in Spain.
As the new series opens, the doc is left devastated, realising he must make some major changes if he is to win Louisa back. He enlists the help of his indomitable psychotherapist aunt, Ruth (Cranford star Dame Eileen Atkins), to try to convince Louisa to give their marriage one more chance.
The actor, who starred in the hit sitcom Men Behaving Badly back in the nineties, outlines the problems Doc Martin faces at the beginning of the new series. "Their relationship really deteriorated. It left him sort of broken. So at the start of this series, Louisa is with her mother in Spain and he's living this solitary life – miserable, but aware enough to understand that if he wants to fix things he's got to make a change. So he asks his Aunt Ruth for help. She tells him it would be unethical for her to treat him as he is her nephew, but puts him in touch with a psychotherapist, who is extremely bright and very young, and he starts going to see her."
Catz says viewers constantly stop her in the street to ask why Louisa stands for Doc Martin's relentlessly crotchety behaviour. "She puts up with him because she loves him," says the actress, 45, who is married with two children to fellow actor Michael Higgs. "He's a really kind and considerate person who just finds it very difficult to express himself. You know he is good because you can see the way he is, and he has this great integrity. He is a real anti-hero, in a great way, and he has his own quirky charisma, which she loves."
Catz, who has also starred in The Vice and Murder In Suburbia, adds, "The fun of this series for me is that Martin and Louisa go into couples' therapy sessions, which is quite funny. "Dr Timoney (the psychotherapist played by Emily Bevan) is a very good therapist and gets underneath what is really going on between the two of them. I think that will be really satisfying for the audience."
The wonderful characters and the gorgeous Cornish locations, continue to draw viewers in, but perhaps above all, it is the fascinating relationship between Doc Martin and Louisa that keeps us coming back for more. "It is really interesting watching these two people try to be together," says Catz. "They're obviously attracted to one another. It is not sensible for them to have a relationship, but they love one another, and that is a really common story. How many people are perfectly matched in every way?"
So, what can we gather about their relationship from this season of Doc Martin? Caroline answers with a laugh. "What we learn is that they are probably going to drive each other mad for ever more!"
Doc Martin, TV One, Saturday
- TV Guide