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Previously on "Doc Martin"
Martin (Martin Clunes) thought he'd met someone else who understands how awkwardly provinvial Portwenn can be: the town ranger, Stewart. However, Martin soon learned that Stewart's best friend was a six-foot-tall squirrel. Louisa (Caroline Catz), meanwhile, went on a date with Officer Mark (Stewart Wright).
This Week's Episode: "Of All the Harbors in All the Towns"
This one's about love and the pain we suffer as a result of it. Surprisingly, given the theme, Louisa barely makes an appearance. We see her for about five seconds at the beginning of the episode, where she explains that she's off to a surfing class. Hang ten, Weezy!
Martin heads down to the marina, just in time to see a man drive his boat directly onto the rocky shore. Martin rushes to help the sailor, and when he asks the man if he can remember his name, the man replies "Marty." In fact, the sailor remembers Martin as a young boy. At Martin's office, the sailor, John Slater (John Alderton), insists that he's fine, in spite of Martin's concerns about what made him so dazed that he lost control of his vessel. Martin, however, has no recollection of encountering John during his childhood trips to Portwenn, and he especially doesn't remember John's story about young Martin wetting his pants. Whatever the truth, John clearly hasn't been in Portwenn in years, because he's shocked to learn that Martin's Aunt Joan (Stephanie Cole) is now a widow.
Suddenly, there's screaming in Martin's waiting room. He leaves John to find a pair of Portwenn siblings. The sister, Melanie (Stephanie Leonidas), is caterwauling that her brother "killed her arm." As the sailor skips out, Martin pops Melanie's arm back into place, making her marvel at Martin's magical medicinal skills. She's instantly smitten.
While Martin heads to the pharmacy, Elaine reveals the source of her bad mood to Al Large (Joe Absolom), who is in the office helping out with the computer system. (Martin hired his services back in episode three, don't forget.) Elaine has broken up with her boyfriend, and it only takes Al's hand over hers (over the mouse) to make her consider using Al as a rebound.
Speaking of awkward relationships that happen in Portwenn, Martin soon enough sees Aunt Joan and explains that he examined John Slater. The news clearly surprises Joan, who begs Martin to tell John she's not in town. Instead, Martin tells his aunt that John is actually right behind her. He is.
Joan, stammering, declines to see John. And that's not the even the extent of the awkwardness. Moments later, Martin bumps into Melanie, who offers him a cake she baked as a thanks for fixing her arm. Martin accepts, but clearly isn't comfortable being the target of a teen girl's affections.
(You have to wonder: Can anyone take a walk through Portwenn without bumping into everyone they know?)
Back at the office, John returns with Martin's shoes, which Martin took off at the beach. He's breathing heavily, and Martin insists that he examine John again. As John explains it, he suffers from hypertension. Martin, noticing John's irregular heartbeat, worries that John could be dangerously ill, but John won't hear it. He leaves, just warning Martin not to tell Joan of his problems. Martin: "It's none of my business." John agrees.
We cut to a bar. Elaine's there, listening to her iPod, when Al approaches her to make small talk about music. It's a nice time capsule of what people in rural England might have been listening to in the earlier half of this decade -- The Corrs, Eminem, Dido, Portishead. Al and Elaine almost connect, but then her ex rings her on her cell phone. Al slinks away.
Despite what John asks Martin to avoid doing, Martin goes straight to Aunt Joan's. He says that John is bad news and that Joan should avoid him, but Joan brushes off the advice. See, the relationship is not how Martin imagines it -- that John broke Joan's heart. Instead, it's that Joan rejected John. And it didn't happen before Joan was married to Martin's uncle. It was during. Yes, Aunt Joan had an affair.
We next see Joan, who's now about a thousand times more interesting that she's been so far in the series, popping into the same bar where Elaine and Al were earlier. There, she spies John chatting with one of a group of Portwennian hussies, but one look at Joan and John abandons them.
Walking together on the beach, John admits that he's single now too. They express their regrets for the past, but Joan isn't interested in resuming the affair. As she points out, "Anyway, we're both 105 now."
Age is also working against Melanie in her efforts to win Martin's heart. She drops a thank-you card with hearts dotting the I's through Martin's mail slot. (No, his actual mail slot. Don't be gross.) And just moments later, she shows up with her dog, so she and Martin can walk their dogs together. Her reasoning? "So no one would know."
She's not taking the hint, to the point that Martin has to tell Melanie not to show up at his office again without a grown-up accompanying her.
It's up for debate whether Elaine and Al are faring better. Elaine confronts him and essentially forces him to ask her out. He does. She says she needs to know if he's a good kisser, first, and then she proceeds to ascertain this information in the most straightforward way possible:
But when the pair gets spotted by some of the giggling idiot girls who seen roam around Portwenn in packs, Elaine chases them off, telling them they "haven't seen nuthin'." And then she tells Al that she's not his girlfriend. Within the day, she has Al calling her on a set schedule, and she's reprimanding him when he breaks the schedule.
Next, Aunt Joan is going about her daily farm-widow chores when John shows up, looking all dashing and Connery-esque, and simply says, "Spend the day with me." The pair heads out to the cliffs overlooking the ocean, where John surprises Joan with a picnic. They talk about where John plans to go after Portwenn, and he asks her to accompany him. She agrees.
This couple's future, however, is soon complicated by a call from the hospital. They've got the results of John's blood work. As Martin soon explains to John, he has not only rheumatic heart disease but also endocarditis. Martin estimates that John has between six and twelve months to live. John does that thing where the old man looks to the sea and contemplates life and love and living, then he tells Martin to leave. Martin, however, questions the morality of John "carrying on like a teenage with my aunt." John, however, turns the tables on Martin, and asks him why he's return to Portwenn and Aunt Joan. Is it a midlife crisis? Something more? Does Martin still wet his pants? Martin stomps away.
Arriving at Martin's office, Joan just comes out with it: "I think I still love him. Except when I didn't." But Martin insists that the relationship is a bad idea. Joan continues, however: The reason that Martin stopped being allowed to visit Portwenn as a child is that Martin's father found out about her relationship with John. She let John go -- for the sake of both Martin and her husband. Martin is speechless. Joan simply hugs him. "Be happy for me," she pleads.
Martin, clearly anguished by this turn of events, heads to bed. But there's a surprise waiting for him: Melanie.
Martin makes this face:
And then he sends Melanie on her way. "I thought it would be like Romeo and Juliet," she says, sobbing.
After Martin gets a visit from Melanie's hulking rugby huddle of a father -- he's a rational and understanding man, it turns out, so jokes on you, TV viewers expecting the expected! -- we see Al popping over to Martin's office to drop off a gift for Elaine. It's an iPod loaded up with his music. As he's stepping in the back door, however, Elaine's cell phone rings. It's the ex-boyfriend. Al stops dead in his tracks.
Meanwhile, Joan eagerly walks to meet John at the bar, but there he tells her that he is, in fact, married, and that his wife is coming to meet him. At first incredulous, Joan becomes embarrassed and hurt. When she explains the turn of events to Martin, Martin angrily approaches John, demanding an apology or his deceit. It's there that John explains himself. He couldn't let Joan nurse two dying men. It's better to break her heart and leave her.
Martin is sad. This is what that looks like:
In the morning, Martin drives back to Aunt Joan's, where he spots her walking toward the cliffs. She's watching the ocean. There, as John sails away, Martin admits that he may have feared Joan abandoning him. But there's also the matter of John's character: "I underestimated John as well." Joan demands that Martin tell her what he knows. He does, though we don't hear it. She cries.
So yes, it's a sad ending all around. Even in a charming town like Portwenn, love conspires to make everyone feel sad, foolish and regretful. Whomp whomp.
Hey! I Know That Actor!
If you get a vague Sean Connery vibe from John Alderton, the actor playing John Slater in this episode, you may be interested to know that Alderton actually appears in the 1974 sci-fi flick Zardoz, which also starred Connery. He may be more familiar, however, from roles on Upstairs, Downstairs and the recent BBC miniseries adaptation of Little Dorrit. Stephanie Leonidas, who played Melanie, also starred in MirrorMask, the cult favorite, Neil Gaiman-scripted fantasy film.
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