Moody medic Doc Martin is back in rude health - and he just loves Delabole!
Doc Martin may be the grumpiest GP ever, but he sure is popular - all over the world. The new series will treat viewers to a good dose of marriage and meltdown, the show’s star Martin Clunes tells Susan Griffin
Sitting down to enjoy an ale at a cosy Cornish pub tucked away on Bodmin Moor, Martin Clunes chuckles to himself as he recalls a poignant moment he was reminded of recently.
“We had a party during the first series of Doc Martin and I said to someone, ’I could very happily do this for the next 10 years if we have the chance’.”
And that’s exactly how things have panned out. Clunes can raise a pint to the monumental successful of the comedy drama which was first screened in 2004 and is now back for a sixth series.
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Based on the tricky and truculent GP, who boasts a brusque bedside manner and lives in the idyllic village of Portwenn, Doc Martin has become something of a worldwide phenomenon, spawning a novel, numerous spin-offs and an army of devoted fans who travel from all over the world to Port Isaac, on the north coast of Cornwall, to see where the series is shot.
“We get so many Americans and Australians and Kiwis, it’s extraordinary,” says 51-year-old Clunes, who’s enjoying some downtime following a promotional photoshoot earlier in the day.
“You can get two or three hundred people watching. It’s nice, they’re very on-side. It’s not like filming in London where people beep their horns and try to ruin your shot.”
There have been some difficult times, however, with certain locals taking umbrage with the filming.
“For the last five or six years I felt semi-loathed when I was in the area,” the actor reveals. “You know, people trying to extort money from us in one way or another, or very public displays of public dissatisfaction with us.”
Clunes, his wife Philippa Braithwaite, who’s one of the show’s producers, and the rest of the Doc Martin team have always tried to be sensitive about shooting in such a small village, he insists.
“It’s one of the reasons we don’t film it every year. Anyway, I don’t want to be dragged into that,” he says.
As friendly as Clunes is, there’s a touch of bristle to some of his banter, his conversation dotted with numerous one-line responses. Perhaps he’s just cautious about giving away too many plot lines.
The last series ended with the Doc and his long-suffering love interest Louisa’s son James being kidnapped by the well-meaning but deranged pharmacist Mrs Tishell.
Their baby returned safe and sound, the nightmare actually brought the couple closer together and the opening of the new series sees the Doc donning his wedding suit.
“We really wanted to hit the ground running and they had to get married because it’s the only thing they haven’t done,” says the former Men Behaving Badly star.
“An attempt at functionality was our theme for their relationship this season. We knew it was a good idea because it’s the one thing that people always ask us about, but we ummed and ahhed about how to present the wedding. In the end we went for the traditional approach and I’m so glad we did.”
Wedding and honeymoon over, the couple hire the services of a male nanny to assist them, but it’s not long before the trials and tribulations of married life begin to weigh heavily on the Doc.
“He does get a little unhinged. And the blood phobia comes back and then his mum (played by Claire Bloom)comes back and that’s worse than any phobia,” he adds. Will viewers see him unravel?
“I think you might see him as close to unravelling as you’ve ever seen him, yeah,” says Clunes.
But the people closest to him rally round to help, surely? “That I wouldn’t want to spoil,” he says, with a slightly stilted laugh.
He does disclose that the Doc turns out to be a revelation on the dance floor, remarking: “It’s beautiful, Louisa’s the clumsy one.”
Earlier this year the actor was forced to take two weeks off – “which is sort of unheard of” – when he was taken ill with a viral infection. “It left me with no stamina. I couldn’t cross a room, couldn’t walk the dogs certainly, and couldn’t really eat,” he says.
Today he’s fully recovered, although a slimmer version of his former self. “I always try to lose a bit of weight before I play Doc Martin but I have lost nearly three stone since January,” he reveals.
And he was touched that some of the Port Isaac locals let him know he’d been missed.
“Your detractors are usually more vocal than your allies, aren’t they, but people have been so sweet saying that they’re pleased I’m well again,” says Clunes who, unlike the majority of cast and crew, stays in the nearby village of Delabole during the four-month shoot.
“I need to be tucked away, I have so many lines to learn,” he says. He’s usually joined by his wife and daughter Emily, along with her pony, during the school holidays.
“It’s not picturesque like Port Isaac and it gets a lot of fog and rain but I love Delabole. I’ve never seen such a close-knit community,” he adds.
Born in London, Clunes recalls visiting Cornwall as a drama student. “If you’re from a city, it’s exotic down here. Dogs and children don’t lie, and every dog and child I know just lights up when they get here, they just go mad,” he says.
A true animal lover, Clunes visibly softens when talking about his passion for dogs and horses. He’s made several documentaries including A Man And His Dog and Martin Clunes – Heavy Horsepower. The latter was “no-one’s idea but mine and they weren’t sure of it to be honest”.
He’s also flown to Kenya to make a documentary about the wildlife conservationist Tony Fitzjohn.
“When it’s animals I absolutely love it. The opportunities and the places and the people I get to go and see are too good to pass on, even if I worry that I might spoil my chances as an actor,” he says.
Not that it seems he has any reason to worry. He has two new dramas, The Town and A Mother’s Son, coming up, along with a cameo in Sky’s spy show Strike Back. And how about more Doc Martin? Although there are rumours this could be the final series.
“Are there? Oh damn!” jokes Clunes. “It’s always tough to write. The main protagonist doesn’t like anyone and no one likes him, but we can’t start to fix him or we’d lose our premise.
“But I think people enjoy that silly face and I want to go for as long as we can get away with it.”
EXTRA TIME – DOC MARTIN
*Doc Martin averaged 10.6 million viewers when it last screened on ITV in 2011.
*The team behind the programme will be donating a percentage of the profits from this series to a special trust fund set up to benefit the Port Isaac community.
*A primary school in the village of Delabole was also given a donation to create a nature trail, which Clunes officially opened.
*The show has been sold to Africa, Australia, Chile, Colombia, France, Italy, Russia, Malaysia, Mexico, Poland, Sweden, Uruguay and Venezuela.
*During the summer months Port Isaac resembles an open-air theatre as people line the streets and clifftops to catch a glimpse of the filming.
*Doc Martin returns for a new eight-part series starting on ITV on Monday, September 2