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A world away from Doc Martin

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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6 Responses to A world away from Doc Martin

Claire Borowski says: 30 March 2012 at 2:56 am

Having recently met Martin in Dorset, I can attest to what a humble, soft spoken, lovely man he is. And an absolutely brilliant actor in my estimation. I only discovered him in “Doc Martin” here in the US last summer and was instantly hooked. Though he plays an arrogant grouch, his real character comes out loud and clear!! I absolutely love him!!

susan canavan says: 10 May 2012 at 1:28 am

i love the series . i am 68 years old and fine it wonderful its believeable and and plays with your heart strings and hope he and his lovely wife keep it up sincerely susan canavan

Jean Asher says: 17 May 2012 at 7:09 am

Confession: I’m addicted. Great story line and acting. Martin and Louisa are perfect for each other, but they do need to get a move on. And the medical part of the series is fascinating. Where do they come up with these diseases, I often ask myself.

NeeNee says: 13 June 2012 at 5:50 am

I believe the Doc Martin Series is a wonderful chronicle of a gifted, wounded soul’s journey into love and belonging. Seriously, that’s why, in my opinion, so many (what eleven million or so people) really love it. We would love to see the Doc married to Louisa and coaching football to James Henry’s team. It’s as if all the wounded, rejected people have a chance at happiness. Louisa says, “people can change.” and the Doc should prove she is right.

Aspie says: 28 January 2015 at 4:08 am

Series 3 has a psychologist tell Martin he is an Asperger.

As an Asperger I can understand why the character behaves like he is portrayed.

The possible reason the character is so popular (I do not use the word loved as it is a word us Aspergers are said not to actually understand, at least so my trick-cyclist told me when she was testing me) is that we tend to be innocent and naive like a child’s mind locked in an adult body.

Not brilliant at reading body language so unaware we are about to get a knuckle sandwich or a rolling pin round our ear-hole when we utter some remark we think is going to be helpful.

Not usually given to all of the typical male traits that annoy women so much either.

Also some of the fascination may be the amusement that we cause when we make yet another social gaff and say what we think, with no though to the consequences, because we “know” it is important to provide the information.

Obsessive in our narrow interests, often becoming expert in whatever field we pick on to devote our lives to exclusively.

A lot of the charm must come from Martin’s excellent portrayal of the blunt life-bewildered Asperger character, if it was not done correctly he would not be so popular.


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