The Great Doc Martin Watch Continues On with Series 5 – Episodes 5 and 6

Our Doc Martin viewing marathon here at Telly Visions is currently making its way through Series 5 – up this week “Remember Me” and “Don’t Let Go.” It’s odd – we’re two thirds of the way through Series 5 now, and it doesn’t entirely feel like we’ve made a tremendous amount of progress storyline-wise. (Though, I suppose that's possibly because we keep coming back to the same emotional ground? Not sure.)

The two episodes up this week had both a lot to recommend them, as well as some difficult moments. Will be especially interested to hear the thoughts of others this week – as a I personally can’t quite decide how I feel about them, though I think that I’m generally on the more positive-than-not side. Mainly because even though several storyline events were frustrating to watch, it was still compelling television. 

At any rate, onward! Click through and come chat with me and, as always, feel free to leave your thoughts, favorite moments, funny lines, general rants, whatever, in the comments.

Series 5, Episode 5: “Remember Me”

This is the One Where: PC Penhale’s ex-wife Maggie appears in Portwenn, who appears to have amnesia and doesn’t remember that they’ve split up. Martin and Louisa have to register a name for the baby. Louisa’s mother goes out on a date with an old school friend. Al and Bert Large are at odds over the restaurant’s financial situation.

There are some lovely parallels going on in this episode about all sorts of relationships, whether they are parents and children or romantic partners. It’s very well done, all around – and at least all our subplots of the week are actually about characters we know and/or care about, so that’s a nice change!

Martin’s Dream About Turning Into His Father. It’s always interesting whenever Doc Martin attempts to delve into Martin’s childhood and relationship with his parents, even in a small way.  Martin’s dream that kicks off this episode – in which he yells at and is dismissive of his son – reads as a direct transplant of something that must have happened to him repeatedly as a child and something that, clearly, he’s anxious about potentially doing himself now that he is a father. Such anxiety, given his own upbringing, is natural – but it would be nice if this were something he felt comfortable about or compelled to share with Louisa. The things he does tell her about parenting (his desire to send his son off to boarding school that we’ll see in the next ep) often come off as distant and slightly well, weird, when we have seen in the past – particularly when Martin’s alone - that he’s a very caring, if slightly unconventional, dad.  Much like dating, apparently his feelings (be they happiness or abject terror) are something that Martin simply cannot verbalize out loud.

Penhale Asks Martin on a Friend Date! I wish, just once, when someone (Penhale here, Mark in earlier seasons) made friendly/friendship overtures toward Martin that he’d take them up on it. He must want some form of social interaction/bonding beyond just Louisa, yes? He can’t have gone his whole life without real friends? (Not that I think Penhale would be the Best BFF Ever for Martin or anything, but to me it’s so sweet how he just wants someone to like him!) But honestly, Martin needs a friend – it would not only be good for him, I think, but it would be nice for us as a viewer to have some sort of sounding board/reflection for Martin’s point of view from time to time, especially on those issues (Louisa) where I think we viewers often feel most baffled/confused/lost about where he’s coming from.  

Ruth and Al Are So Sweet. “Most parents think their children are incompetent.” Insert obligatory “Ruth is awesome” paragraph here. I still have no idea why, but I find Al and Ruth’s oddball friendship to be so sweet and I love that she’s the voice of reason about Al’s fight with his father. I wonder if Ruth wouldn’t be sort of uniquely positioned to referee some of the conflicts between Martin and Louisa, but it’s also understandable that she doesn’t seem to want to get too involved. (Except for that one moment in the next episode where she points out that the two of them shouldn’t stay together just for the baby, which is true, and more than I thought she’d ever say on the subject.)

Penhale’s Wife is Back – with Amnesia. PC Penhale’s ex-wife Maggie – who is played by the fabulous Julie Graham from Survivors and William and Mary – arrives in Portwenn looking for Joe. It turns out that she has some sort of amnesia and she doesn’t remember that she and Penhale aren’t together anymore, that they’re divorced, or that she’s got a new boyfriend (who’s looking for her since she just vanished).  She thinks it’s 2008 and that she’s in love with Joe.  Penhale doesn’t know what to do because he’s still in love with her and has missed her and is enjoying the feeling that he’s got her back. He spends half the episode trying to keep Maggie from realizing that she’s missing several years, before finally coming clean. In an unexpected twist, Maggie’s not actually angry about Penhale covering the amnesia up, and is going to stay in Portwenn for a bit, because apparently that’s going to help her memory come back? Okaaaay. This subplot’s a bit predictable, but I was so pleased about having a medical plot-of-the-week that was in any way related to the main cast of Portwennians, that I didn’t mind.  Plus, Penhale and Maggie are really sweet together, and it was nice to see him so happy.  I must admit, I’ve forgotten why they broke up in the first place – or don’t know if the show’s ever explicitly said, but Penhale’s so obviously in need of someone in his life I sort of can’t help hoping these crazy kids work it out.

The Continuing Saga of Martin and Louisa. Honestly: why why why are they so awkward together, now that they are together? When Martin asks about “making some time to discuss the child’s name” I was cringing. It sounded like he was talking about taking out insurance or meeting up to sort out a schedule for cleaning the house! Why do the two of them have such problems talking to each other?? Though it’s tempting to blame Martin for this mess entirely – they really are both at fault – Louisa’s been too accommodating in a lot of ways: she doesn’t seem to ask for the things she wants very often, she puts up with some of Martin’s worst behaviors without telling him that it bothers her, and, quite frankly, she’s settled for a strange, largely unhealthy relationship where yes, she and Martin are together, but also sort of stuck, in a weird limbo. 

And honestly, Martin doesn’t really take Louisa’s thoughts into consideration sometimes – when they’re talking about their London flat, Martin reveals he’s already had it painted, just done it up in something boring, without consulting her. This is going to be her home too, ostensibly, yet she gets no input into making it feel like one.  Further, Louisa’s obviously unhappy – she complains that her mother’s getting to go out on date while she’s stuck at home with Martin and the baby, but stuck “in a good way, though.” Martin of course doesn’t pick up that hi, Louisa would actually like to go out on a date like a normal couple sometime. It’s as though by becoming parents, they’ve skipped out on all the standard relationship markers – fancy dates, anniversaries, all the general milestones and moments that people who are romantically involved go through before they end up settling down with a baby which might mean that they don’t ever do some of those sorts of stereotypical relationship things ever again.  Well, Louisa and Martin never got to do most of them in the first place, so I can’t blame her for feeling as though she’s missed out on something.  Because, in truth, she has. And they’ve still never in apparently 8 weeks (that’s how old the baby is, yes?) talked about what exactly they are to one another, which is slowly driving me insane. INSANE. (If you couldn’t tell.)

The Baby Finally Has a Name! James Henry is a fine name, though obviously not so dramatic or unconventional that it really should have taken so long to decide upon, either. Anyway, I’m just we can finally call him something instead of “The Baby” until the end of time.  But, Martin and Louisa’s late night conversation about finally deciding on a name is sort of a perfect little microcosm of everything that’s kind of wrong with the way they relate to each other and is, frankly, rather concerning. It’s the issue of painting the London flat over again, but on a bigger scale. Martin does tend to do things – important things – without consulting Louisa, even when he’s doing something that he knows she will like or approve of. Yes, he did go with the baby name Louisa wanted in the end, but he also did it without asking or checking or even telling her he was doing it and doesn’t see why that sort of behavior is wrong, even if/when he’s letting Louisa get her way.  It’s not that Louisa or Martin “won” in this instance – it’s that Martin apparently fails to understand the idea of compromise and being part of a team. Louisa isn’t innocent in this either – she’s stubborn and frequently guilty of not verbalizing her needs/wants in any sort of productive way, it appears she’d rather just keep it all inside and seethe rather than confront Martin directly and bring any of it up.  It’s unhealthy!

I am curious though – readers, if you tend to come down on a “side” in terms of this Martin/Louisa relationship drama, who do you sympathize with more? Or is it neither? Is the whole thing just frustrating at this point, or still entertaining? I’m curious!

Series 5, Episode 6: “Don’t Let Go”

This is the One Where: Martin and Louisa don’t see eye to eye about Martin’s plan to send James Henry to boarding school, among other things. They also have another fight about Louisa working while the baby is small and whether that’s appropriate. Maggie regains her memory and Joe tries (awkwardly) to impress her by bribing townspeople to let him act tough. 

The Boarding School Thing. We get a little bit more backstory on Martin’s childhood – which I always appreciate, because it always adds a few more layers about why he is the way he is and, honestly, this is what keeps me from ever really disliking Martin, no matter how frustrating he is as a character sometimes. Because, honestly, it’s amazing he functions like a regular person even fifty percent of the time, given how his parents were the worst people ever. Anyway, we learn that Martin’s already considering boarding school options for little James Henry, because apparently you have to get on the waiting lists for such things several years in advance.  He points out how much he enjoyed boarding school, though we learn via Ruth that this was really because his home life was so terrible that boarding school was an improvement.  Louisa is not so keen on the idea of sending her son to one at all, let alone signing him up for one when he’s less than six months old. She sort of wants her son to go to the village school, the same sort of institution she went to herself as a child and where she now teaches.  Martin, master of compromise that he is, refuses to consider this  at all and insists that their son is going to go to a boarding school.  This is just the beginning of a variation on a theme we’ll see all episode, where Martin and Louisa apparently want very different things for themselves and their child and have no idea how to meet in the middle about any of it. 

Oh, PC Penhale. You’re So Sweet/Embarrassing.  Somehow, and let’s just not bother with the logistics of how this is possible, Maggie has her memory back now and remembers that she and PC Penhale are no longer together and all of that.  Despite Martin clearing her to return home – with a warning that her amnesia could return randomly – she decides to stay in Portwenn to hang out with PC Penhale.  (I think I may have missed a bit here, because I was so paralyzed by secondary embarrassment over poor Penhale’s behavior.)  Poor Joe decides that the thing to do now is to try to impress Maggie by demonstrating how tough he can be, how important he and his job are around the village and how respected that makes him. He even goes so far as to pay random folks around town to be mean to Maggie so that he can swoop in and defend her/save the day.

Oddly, his behavior is sort of sweet, but just so hard to watch.  Martin is – as ever – rude to Maggie when he examines her so Penhale calls the surgery and pretends to give the good doctor a verbal talking to over his behavior (really, he’s talking to Morwenna, who has no idea what’s happening.) There are several other awkward moments in this vein throughout the episode, but I may have had my face in a pillow cringing. Penhale tries so hard and just wants someone to like him and think he’s the best.  He just wants to be important to someone, and it’s hard to stay annoyed at him. I am sad that even though he and Maggie didn’t ultimately get back together in the end, that she let him save face and pretend that he was sending her off for her own good. 

The Continuing Saga of Martin and Louisa.  Seriously I am not entirely sure that I even like them together right now. They’re horrible to each other and so unaffectionate, it’s becoming harder and harder to remember why they’re together at all or why I wanted them to be. They just seem so unhappy! All they do is fight: about boarding schools, Louisa’s work schedule, the quality of the students at Louisa’s school, Louisa’s mother, chocolate digestives and whether Louisa’s successfully lost the baby weight yet. Martin’s assumption that Louisa’s not going to get a job in London, his refusal to keep the baby with him at the surgery because obviously Louisa can just cart the kid to work with her, it’s all so irritating and makes him very unsympathetic.  (I am apparently firmly Team Louisa in this faceoff?) I’m not even really upset with Louisa for taking James Henry and going off to her mother’s for a bit, because Martin’s given her no sign that he’s capable of change or compromise or even just the basics of taking her wishes/needs into consideration.

Oddly, I was glad to see that they’re actually fighting rather than just sitting around passively seething about whatever thing either one of them is angry over, but on the other hand, it is difficult to watch because neither of them seem at all willing to give any ground about anything (though, really, it’s probably Martin’s turn – Louisa IS moving her whole life to be with him after all?). After all, Martin knows – because Louisa had told him – that she doesn’t like him making unilateral decisions that affect their lives and their son without consulting her – and he just keeps right on doing whatever it is that he wanted to do in the first place and expecting her to be okay with it. The final straw for Louisa is apparently his decision to set a date for their son’s christening without consulting her about it, but

It’s also interesting that apparently they’re so unhappy with one another that other people can see it (see also: Aunt Ruth’s aforementioned comment about not staying together only for the child.) I wonder whether Martin sees how unhappy Louisa is, if he is equally unhappy, or if he thinks that this is just how relationships are supposed to work (again: poor role models for him in this area, so who knows?) Because he’s just so unwilling to compromise – I wonder if that’s also not some sort of relationship tactic that he learned from his parents?

Martin’s Attitude Continues to Grate. Every time I start to feel sort of sympathetic towards Martin, he has to trot out the archaic Louisa shouldn’t work while the baby’s little thing. It drives me insane that he has so little respect for the work that Louisa loves, as well as her ability to decide what she wants to do. And it’s not just predicated on the fact that her staying home is “good for the baby,” which I am sure on some level is true –it’s because Martin doesn’t think Louisa’s work is as important or meaningful as his. His instant assumption that Louisa will/can/ought to take James Henry to work with her when their chidcare for the day falls through – it’s obnoxious.  His holding the baby out towards her like it’s something he can’t wait to get rid of because it’s being inconvenient, is sad. The fact that Louisa ends up taking the baby with her to work anyway after her (finally!) moment of standing up to Martin about it, is depressing.  

To try and be fair, I am unclear why Louisa hadn’t worked out appropriate childcare prior to her mother arriving in Portwenn in the first place – if she didn’t know her mother was planning on coming back to town, surely she should have tried to figure out what she was going to do about arranging care for the baby once she went back to work. (That bit of the equation wasn’t news.) But Martin’s attitude is horrendous - there’s got to be a better way to hit the same emotional beats in this storyline without making everyone so unlikeable!

Readers, do tell what you thought of these episodes in the comments - will be very interested to hear how people felt abou them and particularly whether the Martin/Louisa story is working for you!

Lacy Baugher

Lacy's love of British TV is embarrassingly extensive, but primarily centers around evangelizing all things Doctor Who, and watching as many period dramas as possible.

Digital media type by day, she also has a fairly useless degree in British medieval literature, and dearly loves to talk about dream poetry, liminality, and the medieval religious vision. (Sadly, that opportunity presents itself very infrequently.) York apologist, Ninth Doctor enthusiast, and unabashed Ravenclaw. Say hi on Threads or Blue Sky at @LacyMB. 

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