The Great 'Doc Martin' Watch Finishes Series 5

Our Doc Martin viewing marathon here at Telly Visions has finally, officially caught up, getting all the way through Series 5 this week. I feel ever so accomplished and pleased!

Before we start chatting about the actual last two episodes – I did want to take a second and say thank you to everyone who has for read and commented and been generally thoughtful and wonderful through this whole series. While I am very much not looking forward to having to wait through the hiatus with everyone else, it’s also just really going to feel strange not to sit down and wrestle with my personal thoughts about Martin and Louisa and romance and gender issues and strange neighbor every week.  So, thanks for making it so fun.  These recaps will of course return for Series 6, and I hear we’re airing the Doc Martin movies in June on WETA and those sound different/strange enough that I think writing about them will be fun so keep an eye out for that next month.

Oh, and I do want to keep doing more of these series re-watch kinds of things. They’re fun! So if you have any suggestions about what else might make an interesting weekly show to chat about, let me know in the comments. Current things under consideration: Sherlock Holmes (I’m a big Sherlockian, but have only seen about a third of the Jeremy Brett TV series), Doctor Who, Lark Rise to Candleford and Life on Mars. However, I am open to suggestions, so throw any and all ideas at me please.

So, onward! Click through and come chat with me about “Cats and Sharks” and “Ever After,” and, as always, feel free to leave your thoughts, favorite moments, funny lines, general rants, whatever, in the comments.

Series 5, Episode 7: “Cats and Sharks”

Oddly, the non-Martin and Louisa focused bits of this episode are more interesting than the relationship issues. (Or sort of lack thereof, I guess.)  There are a couple of interesting Martin/Louisa moments, but yet again we follow up an episode with a big relationship development (the break-up) with one in which there’s very little focus on the two of them at all. It seems so odd that after everything that happened in the previous episode that Martin wouldn’t try to talk to Louisa in some way or that the two of them wouldn’t have at least some sort of conversation about what they’re going to do now/is it really over/what about the baby/etc, etc. And yet the story moves right past that sort of moment, again, which shouldn’t really be that surprising but somehow still is. 

This is the One Where: Large’s Restaurant is in financial trouble and the Larges are being harassed by loan sharks. Al “borrows” some money from Ruth to try to get his father out of debt. Mrs. Dingley’s cat sanctuary is also having money troubles. Mrs. Tishell seems increasingly obsessed with Martin, who remains estranged from Louisa.

Al and Bert vs the Loan Sharks. Bert reveals to Al that he’s in some trouble with a couple of sketchy guys that he’s borrowed a thousand pounds from to keep the restaurant going. Said sketchy guys have arrived in Portwenn to let Bert know that there will be “consequences” if he doesn’t pay up. I generally love any storyline featuring the Larges, as I think they have one of the sweetest and most fully developed relationships on the show. While this didn’t quite live up to that amazing episode where Al is questioning whether Bert’s his real father, it was still very sweet, watching the lengths that Al is willing to go to protect his dad. And I also liked that they still threw in another reference to the fact that Bert feels irrationally threatened by his son’s relationship/job with Ruth Ellingham, which is so ridiculously petty, but also completely understandable.

Hijinks ensue as the Larges attempt to deal with their loan shark problem. Per Eleanor’s advice, Bert plans to stage a Spanish “theme night” at the restaurant, while Al uses money Ruth gave him to pay for farm fencing to cover part of their debt. The two decide to that they’re going to refuse to pay the “extra interest” they’re told they owe. Even PC Penhale gets a moment to finally be really awesome, as he swoops in to save the day by threatening the loan sharks with repeated legal inquiries into the registration and road worthiness of their van, and manages to actually solve a case on top of it. It’s lovely to get to see Penhale do something right for a change. That character really could be so much more than “bumbling village police officer” if they’d let him!

Apropos of nothing, Norman the loan shark’s assistant/son(?) and his attachment to the kitten they’d taken as payment from Mrs. Dingley? Completely adorable.

Ruth is a Better Friend Than Al Deserves. The slightly strange but very sweet relationship between Al Large and Ruth Ellingham has been one of my favorite things about Series 5 – and has magically prevented me from hating Al for having apparently completely forgotten that Pauline ever existed and never being upset about the fact that she’s gone. So, it’s pretty hard to watch Al steal from Ruth, even though it’s understandable why he felt desperate enough to do so. The scene where Al confesses that he gave Ruth’s money to the loan sharks was so sad, especially the part where he admits that he hadn’t planned to tell her the truth about what happened, ever. “So you just thought you’d keep fobbing off the old lady” was kind of heartbreaking, especially after how good the two of them have been for each other all season.  But, luckily, everything ends happily because Al makes a grand gesture to sell his scooter to pay her back which Ruth refuses, because how else will he get to the farm to work for her without it? I do wish Al had apologized a bit more profusely, but the scene was still very sweet despite it being a bit understated.

Mrs. Dingley’s Cat Sanctuary. While this particular subplot is kind of weird, it’s refreshing to see a return to the quirky bizarre village-based stories with patients who are charming but also kind of crazy. I mean, this is an actual crazy cat lady story and it’s still more interesting than some of the other medical mysteries of the week we’ve had this season. It was also nice that Mrs. Dingley’s poor vision and animal obsession actually played into several storylines within this episode. It made everything feel very connected and intentional, which was a nice change after some of the other completly random plots recently.

Louisa and Her Mother. Now that Louisa’s moved out of the surgery, Eleanor is taking care of James Henry while she’s at work. Eleanor, in an act that should surprise no one, turns around and farms out her babysitting duties to one of the local girls while she helps Bert Large with planning for a “tapas night” at the restaurant. Worst grandmother ever!

But, honestly, Louisa’s relationship with her mother is fascinating.  She’s basically spent her whole life knowing that her mother isn’t the trustworthiest person and being let down by her over and over again, including several times very recently, yet she still keeps right on trusting Eleanor.  This makes a certain kind of sense, given that Louisa is the sort of person who is loyal and loving and values family and also maybe is a little too forgiving. But her behavior toward her mother does illustrate that she's got a pattern where she’s willing to forgive people she cares about almost anything, which may explain a bit about the way she interacts with Martin. Though, is it simply that she is loyal and has a forgiving nature, or is she so desperate for something like affection/closeness from the distant people she tends to care about that she’s willing to give way a lot? I really don’t like that second reading, so I hope not. But it’s definitely interesting that Louisa is so quick to give people – people that have hurt her repeatedly – so many second chances without them having to really earn them or to even listen to how their behavior  has hurt her -  whether its passing off her child to a teen criminal to babysit or scheduling a christening without consulting her. Much like her relationship with Martin, it would seem Louisa really needs to have a good fight with her mother and lay down some basic boundaries about her emotional needs.

Sidebar: This entire subplot was worth it just for that shot of the random pack of teen girls that roam Portween going about with a baby stroller.

I Kind of Love Morwenna. Granted, Morwenna has had about six scenes in total since she started as the surgery’s receptionist, but I still think she’s kind of awesome. Enough so that I wish we’d gotten to see more of her and hope that we will be able to do so in Series 6. When Martin told her that she’d be assisting during his emergency surgery on Eleanor and she lets out a gleeful “Yesssssss!,” that was the moment I sort of started adoring her, and the part where she volunteers to have a go at closing up Eleanor’s incision clinched it.  

The Increasing Weirdness of Mrs. Tishell. Because we live in an internet age, I’ve been sort of spoiled already for a fairly key plot point for the next episode that involves Mrs. Tishell.  I get that what they’re doing here, with her suddenly ramped up Martin obsession, is to lay some sort of groundwork for that, and I do appreciate the effort to add in some continuity so that twist doesn’t come out of nowhere.  However, the sudden change from Mrs. Tishell’s previously harmless seeming flirting to this sort of creepy obsessiveness is quite jarring and feels not only a bit over the top, but a bit out of character when compared to everything we have seen of her before.  (Sidebar: I would still love to know what the backstory is between Mrs. Tishell and Eleanor. It must be something good!)

The Continuing Saga of Martin and Louisa. For all that the last episode was such a big deal for Martin and Louisa and their relationship, there’s really not a lot of fall out or follow up in this episode. We learn that Martin’s decided to continue on with his plan to move to London and that Louisa will be staying in Portwenn. The two have a couple of awkward conversations and a small sweet moment after Martin performs emergency surgery on her mother, but other than that, not a lot happens. We do get a very interesting tiny scene between Martin and Ruth where she brings up the fact that his parents stayed together for his sake, to disastrous results, but that’s as far as it goes. Sigh. I apparently will go to my grave requesting just one episode where these two sit down and have an actual conversation that’s about something deeper than whether or not Martin can watch James Henry while Louisa pops over the road. The fact that the writers apparently don’t think that’s interesting to watch at all, is mad. To be honest, I’m still so frustrated by the previous episode that part of me thinks that giving viewers a break from this romantic relationship plot is actually a good idea, but the other part is irritated that there’s only one episode left in this season and so many things that are still unaddressed (and look likely to never be addressed, if I’m honest).

And even though I liked the return to more quirky village subplots, I’d rather swap out the story of Mrs. Dingle and her cat sanctuary if it meant that we could have gotten a more in-depth look at the aftermath of Louisa leaving. Was Martin upset? How did he react? Did he try to convince her to change her mind? Did he even think that he could change her mind? Did he make any sort of gesture at all that indicated he wanted to fight for their relationship? Could we have gotten a better look at what drove Louisa to her breaking point? Why this sort of thing – the moment that happens immediately after some big event – is a part of the story the writers clearly have no interest at all in telling, I don’t know. With so little time left in this season and so much emotional ground still to cover, the drips and drabs we got regarding this storyline in this episode certainly don’t feel like enough.

Series 5, Episode 8: “Ever After”

This is the One Where: Mrs. Tishell is becoming more and more obsessed with Martin aided by a cocktail of drugs affecting her judgment. After giving PC Penahale the wrong eyedrops which cause him to crash his car, she mistakenly thinks Martin has sent her a covert romantic message and takes James Henry and runs off to a nearby town. Martin has to convince her to give the baby back by saying a lot of romantic things about wanting to stay in Portwenn, which are really directed at Louisa. The baby is saved, Martin and Louisa get back together, everyone seems happy, the end.

This episode was so strange. Funny, but also over the top. Satisfying, but also frustrating. The episode flew by, but oddly also felt like not much happened. I don’t know – perhaps my own personal issues with the way that much of this season’s gone has made me overly jaded, but I was hoping for something a bit different than what we ended up with.

The Madness of Mrs. Tishell. Mrs. Tishell’s husband is back and she’s less than impressed by both his return and his grand plans for a retirement together. This is not helped by the fact that Mrs. Tishell’s getting progressively weirder and Martin-obsessed, seeing his name in magazine advertisements and believing he’s sending her messages through a couple who come to the pharmacy for antihistamines. It’s a bit…of a stretch to believe that this lady who previously seemed very nice if slightly dotty has suddenly gone completely ‘roud the bend and escalated to the kind of crazy that keeps creepy shrines to the local surgeon in her wardrobe and kidnaps children. There’s a nod to the fact that she’s on apparently a serious cocktail of drugs that’s making her crazy – though it seems a bit convenient that this is the first that we’ve heard of it until this point. Again, this is another one of those instances where a character does something because the plot requires it, and not necessarily because we’ve got there naturally. Yes, Mrs. Tishell’s always been sort of loopy and has had a crush on Martin, but this just seems like such a long leap!

Talking the Crazy Lady Off the Ledge. This show needs to let Caroline Catz and Eileen Aitkins do more comedic scenes together. The bits where Louisa and Ruth were arguing over the correct tack to use in convincing Mrs. Tishell to come down with the baby were hilarious! And Louisa’s general coaching skills throughout this sequence were also very funny. Let her do comedy more, Show!

The Continuing Saga of Martin and Louisa. Mrs. Tishell has barricaded herself in with the baby and is refusing to come down. Martin, Louisa and Ruth must come up with a game plan to try to convince her to bring the baby to them, while PC Penhale (why?) occupies himself with trying to scale up with side of the building. Martin is forced to try and talk to/reason with Mrs. Tishell by “admitting” that he cares about her which he does by saying a lot of very sweet things but actually directing them at Louisa.

Martin even admits he is difficult! And hard to talk to! Yes, it was under duress and whatnot, but STILL. (Though honestly, Martin, if you know all of this, why can’t you actually ACT like you know these things sometime?)  But, it was really lovely to finally see Martin say that he doesn’t even like Portwenn, but wants to be there because it’s where Louisa is. And in some way, it at least felt a bit like an admission that he could give up something he wanted/endure something he didn’t like, for her. And finally after what seems like has taken a million years, Martin says “I love you” and asks for a second chance. And it’s of course very sweet and the music swells and we all sigh a bit, because, well, it’s hard not to. And Martin and Louisa reconcile, finally, and he decides not to move to London, just like we all knew he would eight episodes ago.

The Part Where I Complain a Bit: Why Does It Feel Like We’re Back Where We Started? Don’t get me wrong, it is, in fact, hugely satisfying to see Martin say a lot of the things that we’ve always wished he would say to Louisa, that viewers have waited so long for. It was sappy and heartwarming and I would hazard a guess that it makes everyone happy because it’s finally a real moment of joy for this couple we’ve been rooting for for so long. There’s a lot to love about the last few minutes of the Series 5 finale and it’s about time the show finally threw the fans a bone after an entire season of us wondering if Martin and Louisa were even together at all. Martin talks about his feelings! He admits he loves Louisa! He says he'll stay in Portween to be with her! And yet. I can’t be entirely happy about it because in some ways it feels too much like the end of Series 4, where I thought, oh, hey, FINALLY progress only to find out that what I thought was a season-ending gamechanger really wasn’t. Thus, I am afraid that this is what will happen again, when Series 6 finally rolls around.

Additionally, I can’t help but feel that we’ve gone through all of Series 5 and basically ended back up where we started, in a way. Yes, Martin and Louisa have found their way back together in the wake of another traumatic and emotionally fraught experience, but it’s hard to know whether or not their reconciliation will stick this time. Particularly as their reunion occurred without the two of them really dealing with the problems between them or discussing the reasons that their relationship keeps stumbling. Yes, Martin said some lovely things that any woman would want to hear from the man that they love, but saying something emotional – no matter how big a step that is for Martin and don’t get me wrong, it’s huge – isn’t the same as, oh, I don’t know, having an actual boring conversation about it and negotiating how to live a day-to-day life together. I don’t know that I’ve seen enough to convince me that real growth or change has happened for either of them.

Am I being too harsh here? Not sure. I’m not made of stone – I did quite enjoy the ending and it was very sweet, but it was also not really what I wanted to see, ideally either. Well, not entirely. Would love to hear some thoughts on this bit because I can’t decide if I’m being too hard on what is otherwise a fairly silly but still fluffy and mostly happy series finale.

And so the wait for Series 6 begins….

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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