The second Doc Martin TV movie picks up where the last teleplay left off, as Dr. Martin Bamford contemplates buying a run-down farm outside of the village center, only to have his dream home snapped up by a greedy, rude family.
Over a pint at the local pub, Bamford hears of a local folk magic solution involving a piece of cloth tied to a tree (branded a Cloutie) that has the power to remove a kind of illness as the cloth rots and falls from the tree, which for Bamford, is extended towards the usurpers who nefariously nabbed his dream home.
Woven into the fabric of this primary story is the bartender's brother who's smuggled a father and two sons from Africa, an annoying pair of customs agents dressed as Men In Black, the woman who gives Bamford the Cloutie and casts her own spell to meet her future husband, the barmaid that's slowly being positioned as the doctor's potential love interest, the local creature Bamford impersonates but may actually exist, and Bamford's fractious relations with the dream home owners.
What the series writers, producers, and directors discovered in this teleplay was how to interweave multiple story threads that converge towards a big wrap-up, but they also learned an exceptionally vital lesson prior to embarking on further Doc Martin adventures: how to run a potential series concept into the ground.
More so than in the first TV movie, Bamford is reduced to the same level as the supporting characters; dramatically and functionally, he's been neutered, has little impact as a primary character, and his only major scenes has him camouflaged in black to frighten the family from the dream home. It's low, G-rated humour, and it's an embarrassing contrast to the clever wit that dominates the popular TV series.
The teleplay also involves another local mystery; in the first TV movie, it was the moral jelly baker, whereas here it's a local creature that worries the locals once Bamford initiates the Cloutie ritual. (The creature is ultimately revealed at the end in a nonsensical scene that has a placid Bamford in close proximity of a creature known for its aggression and danger. Whether designed as a twist finale, there's no scene telegraphing this, making the ending feel very tacked on, if not abrupt.)
Martin Bamford, unlike the reworked Martin Ellingham, is also a very nice guy; he's intrigued by his patients instead of annoyed by their whining, personal ignorance, and the circumstances that led them to become ill; he wants to live in a house previously inhabited by an ageing bachelor and his free-roving swine; and more importantly, he's accepted by the village.
Midway through the teleplay, the local barmaid explains the nature of the close-knitted lifestyle of Port Isaac, and when Bamford does an exceptionally good deed for the community, they in turn return the favour, aiding him in acquiring his rustic dream home, and embracing him into their lives with deep affection. Unlike Martin Ellingham who doesn't give a damn what the locals think, Bamford is simply giddy.
This humanized doctor with no conflicts with locals may have set up his character as he appeared post-divorce in Saving Grace, the feature film from which Doc Martin sprang, but for a regular TV series, let along subsequent TV movies, Bamford was a dead end.
That's probably why the TV series' creators did the overhaul: amiable Bamford became socially inept Ellingham, all the teleplay characters were dropped, and even perspectives of the village were shifted from a sprawling port community with an inclusive attitude towards new citizens to a densely packed village whose physicality seems to encroach on Ellingham's patience, and sanity. Even the local roads, seen empty and inviting in the teleplay, became dangerous funnels where truck drivers and local loons try to run Ellingham into a stone wall.
Also altered was the teleplay's use of local mysteries as plot devices, since further adventures would've had Bamford behaving even sillier as more wacky hijinks ensued. For the TV series, the writers perhaps took a nod from the U.S. show House, in which a singular medical mystery formed the episode's dramatic backbone; that simplification mean singular crises would test Ellingham's skills, and offer a counterbalance for the villages who have to wrestle daily with their G.P.'s unsocial brusqueness and his brilliant life-saving techniques. Add Ellingham's fear of blood, and you have a deeply flawed character from which to craft ongoing conflicts which themselves foil audiences' hopes of Ellingham ever enjoying a love life with the school teacher, a less mystical character than Bamford's barmaid.
Fans of the TV series may well find Doc Martin Bamford to be a rather wimpy, if not shockingly emasculated character, and beyond the curiosity value of seeing from whence Doc Martin Ellingham sprung, the two teleplays that preceded the TV series are perhaps best regarded as minor extensions to the world within Saving Grace, as the humour and gentility have less to do with the acidic TV series, and more in common with an audience pleasing movie that engaged in outright fluff.
Both teleplays - Doc Martin and Doc Martin and the Legend of the Cloutie – were released on separate Region 4 PAL DVDs that are now out of print.
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan