A world away from Doc Martin

“Doc Martin” tops the television ratings in Canberra, but in this EXCLUSIVE interview, its star and co-writer Martin Clunes tells HELEN MUSA he’s more at home with horses than medicine

IF it’s true that the hit TV series “Doc Martin” outscored the summer cricket on Canberra TV, British actor Martin Clunes is flattered, for as he says, “nothing moves Australia like cricket.”

And he knows what he’s talking about, for he’s been here many times. He’s even been to Canberra, just before the Olympics, with the documentary series, “Men Down Under”, and claims to have interviewed a female rower by the lake.

I’m talking to Clunes by phone at his Dorset farm in England, far from any theatres and TV stations and 177kms away from the village of Port Isaac, where “Doc Martin” is filmed.

The quietly-spoken Clunes would absolutely hate to be mistaken for a soap-opera actor, confused with the character he plays. So he doesn’t know anything much about medicine and, as he enters his 51st year, he’s finding it increasingly hard to remember the complicated medical names in his on-screen diagnoses.

Rather, he comes from a professional theatre background. His father played Hastings in Laurence Olivier’s “Richard III” and his mother was on the board of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

Clunes trained at a London arts academy (“it was the cheapest”) located above a truant school in Kings Cross. There was no one there, he tells me, “they were all truants.”

“Early on I did the odd, little telly jobs but far more theatre than TV,” Clunes says, “but I haven’t done theatre for a while simply because I don’t live near a theatre.”

Now President of the British Horse Society and Patron of Animal Care in Egypt, Clunes is absorbed in farm life, but it’s hardly the quiet life.

“Most of my mornings are taken up with feeding cats, dogs and horses – and a 12-year-old daughter,” he says.

The “animal” side of Clunes’ life, quite unlike the animal-hating Doc Martin, was something he fell into.

“My daughter, like most children, loved animals and Philippa [his producer wife Philippa Braithwaite] used to have a pony, now we have 14 horses… I just, kind of, caved in.”

He is also a doggy person, so deals with “two very different creatures to be treated differently…one is a predator and one is the prey.”

So how and why does he fit his TV career into this bucolic existence?

“Well, as you can see, my private life is really expensive,” he explains and that’s why he and Braithwaite have just started writing series six of “Doc Martin”.

“We do it every other year,” he says “that way our daughter gets to see us every other summer.”

Additionally, he notes, it gives Port Isaac a break – “we are quite obstructive, but largely welcome there”.

One of the challenges in writing “Doc Martin” is to keep it original so it’s not in danger of becoming just a long-running soap opera.

Though each episode is intended to be quite different, there’s a common thematic thread, the relationship between Doc Martin and Louisa, and he loves doing the scenes between them.

“Caroline’s so brilliant,” he says of his co-star Caroline Katz.

“It’s a different thing with the Doc when he’s with her than when he’s with the others.”

While not giving away much, he does give me some hints.

“We’re going to have a go at co-habiting seriously; it’s almost the only thing we haven’t tried.”

So, to the almost unanswerable question: why does everybody love Doc Martin so much when he is so dysfunctional?

“I dunno, because he is so good at his job, I suppose… I’m very impressed by him… he’s such a good doctor, but I wouldn’t want to meet him,” says Clunes.

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