Doc Martin

Recap for 'Doc Martin,' Episode 1: 'Going Bodmin'

This episode will be streaming online for three weeks from March 12 to April 2. Catch episodes of "Doc Martin" that aren't currently streaming via our recaps here.

A warm, Cornish hello to all of you. What's a Cornish hello? Good question. It's basically a normal hello, but quirky and folksy and grand Portwenn style. It's also the best possible way we can kick off our new series of "Doc Martin" recaps. Now enjoy and follow KCET's trip through Portwenn from the beginning!

This Week's Episode: "Going Bodmin"

Written by Dominic Minghella
Directed by Ben Bolt

A sour-faced man sites on a plane. He seems unhappy and uncomfortable -- indeed, worse off than the typical person might feel during air travel. As if he wouldn't seem awkward enough just sitting there, scowling, he's actually staring intently at a brunette seated opposite him.

She notices. She disapproves. Finally, she speaks a single sentence to him: "You've got a problem."

Lady, you're more correct than you could imagine.

So begins the first episode of the series "Doc Martin." Very quickly, however, the viewer gets to contrast Martin Clunes' mean mug with shots of Portwenn, the picture postcard Cornish town that serves as the show's setting. The camera even zeroes in on an official-looking, historic-seeming building that would make even the "Downton Abbey" folks mutter restrained but impressed noises. Our unsmiling protagonist, Dr. Martin Ellingham (Martin Clunes) is clearly being interviewed for the position of Portwenn's new general practitioner. Indeed, the approval committee seems ready to hire him on the spot, but there's one holdout: Louisa Glasson (Caroline Catz), the woman whom Martin stared at on the plane. "How would you describe your personal skills?" Louisa asks. Martin sidesteps the question, explaining, "My work is the patients."

Eventually, the committee wins out, but Louisa wants to make herself heard: She walks over to Martin and explains that one social misstep and he's out as the town doctor. He stares. And then he diagnoses a spot in her eye as acute glaucoma. Clearly, Doc Martin has a bit of Dr. House in him.

Officially hired, Martin explores the streets of his new town. They're too beautiful to be true, really. None of that seems to occur to Martin, who at first declines to interact with a shaggy dog and then watches a human sort of shaggy dog (Finlay Robertson) react in horror as his car gets enveloped by a rising tide.

Outside his office, he meets Elaine Denham (Lucy Punch), a dreadlocked Brit-hippy who calls him "Doc Martin." He corrects her. He would prefer "Dr. Ellingham."

That interaction more or less sets the mood for Martin's move into the new digs. The office is "rustic," "folksy," "DIY-friendly" and all those other words that realtors use to describe rotting shacks. To make matters worse, Elaine is no help in putting the place together. When he tries to bark orders at her, she merely responds with "Is that how you talk to people up in London? No wonder you're down here with your tail between your legs." Lousy secretary though she might be, you have to wonder: Why has Martin moved from London to Portwenn?

Before he's even tidied up, Martin gets a knock at the door. It's his first prospective patient, Col. Gilbert Spencer (Richard Johnson), a polished former military man who's anxious to see a doctor but even more anxious to disclose his symptoms. His problem? Breasts -- specifically his own.

Martin, unfazed by the colonel's boobery, explains that breast tissue is common in older men, but Spencer won't hear it. He rips open his shirt and flashes his he-headlights at Martin, who's shocked at just how much extra the colonel is packing. "Wow," Martin exclaims with about as much emotion as we've seen so far. Martin diagnoses the colonel with gynecomastia -- abnormal male mammary development. But before Martin can continue his examination, his lack of bedside manor sends the colonel storming out. Elaine's summation? A sarcastic "You're good."

Martin visits his one relative in town -- Auntie Joan (Stephanie Cole), a rough-handed farmer lady who seems all too eager to remind Martin of what a cowardly sort he was as a child. She's also all too reluctant to discuss her brother, Martin's father. And while she seems ready to discuss those heavy matters of life and family with Martin, he rushes out before she can chop the head off a chicken she's preparing for dinner.

Back in town, Martin's not better off. The Larges, a father-and-son plumbing team (Ian McNeice and Joe Absolom, respectively) unsuccessfully try to convince Martin to make like the Portwennians and "go with the flow." (Fitting advice for plumbers, no?) And when a gaggle of local trollops make fun of Martin for being "definitely bodmin," he has to ask what it means. (The plumbers explain that it's a Cornish phrase meaning "wandering around the moors," but used to describe someone who's loopy, loony or otherwise lost.) Lost or not, Martin shortly thereafter bumps into Susan Brading (Celia Imrie), who is quite possibly the only person in town happy to have Martin arrive.

She manages to even get a little flirty while asking him to refill a prescription for some medicine needed by "ladies of a certain age," as Laura puts it. Martin also spies Lousia, who's apparently a school teacher. She's wearing an eyepatch.

Upon looking into Mrs. Brading's medical records, however, he finds that she's been going through her supply of lady cream at an unusually fast rate. Then, an idea: "Does she know Gilbert Spencer? She does. In fact, they're lovers. Immediately, Martin zooms off to the colonel's house, and there the truth comes out: Susan admits to using more than the prescription dictates -- it "smoothes the works," she says in a way that won't seem appropriate no matter how you read it -- meaning that the colonel's man-boobs are caused by excess estrogen transferred to his body when he and Susan make life. '

Feeling pleased for the first time so far this episode, Martin returns to his office only to find that the same shaggy dog guy from earlier -- the one whose car got covered by the rising tide -- is waiting for him in the clinic. Why? The patient blurts it out: "I'm growing breasts."

Figuring a different cause may -- may -- be at root here, Martin rushes out to find the colonel, who's presently attending a town fair attended by all the episode's major characters. (How handy!) Not wanting to reveal his condition to the whole town, the colonel pulls Martin side for a private conversation of man boobs... only to put them both within full view of Susan embracing the surfer dude. Awkward? Yes. However, it does eliminate the need for Martin to develop a second medical hypothesis.

In what an English major might call a form of pathetic fallacy, Martin's office has now completely flooded. No need to call the plumbers, however: The Larges are still there and not at all worried about the small lake forming on the floor. Finally at his breaking point -- and wouldn't you be? -- Martin orders the plumbers out and decides to take his recent run of hard luck as a sign that he doesn't belong in Portwenn. However, he will at least tie up a few loose ends before he goes.

First among these, Susan. He meets with her and she realizes the error of her ways. She loves the colonel and realizes that her affair with the surfer dude will be short-lived. "In a month or two, there will be a sultry nineteen-year-old who will let him enjoy her breasts without giving him a set of his own," she quips. But then the colonel walks in. He's furious, of course, and demands to know if she was with Ross when the tide washed his car away -- because, as he pointedly asks, "The tide takes how long to come in?" Susan looks down, ashamed. As if to make matters worse, the surfer dude also shows up. Roger decks him, and then the just-decked dude promptly smacks Martin in the nose. Mission accomplished, Martin!

After taking one longing look at ol' Eyeptached Louisa through her classroom window, he gets back to the clinic and begins packing. The elder Large makes one request of Martin before he leaves: Just see a few patients. Martin seems amenable, but Mr. Large's list goes on and on. Martin declines. The plumber: "The way I look at this is that you need patients, and we need a doc. And we don't all have to love one another, do we?"

After he considers it for a few moments, Martin retrieves a handsaw from a box and cuts down the "for sale" sign in front of his house. A pair of local fisherman walk by. "Evenin', doc," they say. Martin simply returns the greeting, taking one more moment to look at the Portwenn bay before he goes into his new home.

Hey, I know that actor!

Here's a new section in which I'll be explaining why "Doc Martin" guest stars may seem familiar to you. I have a running theory that there's only about 50 working actors in the United Kingdom, and they just appear together in varying configurations in every British movie and TV show. If you watch a handful of them, actors are going to start looking familiar.

This episode's post-menopausal seductress, Susan, is portrayed by Celia Imrie, an actress who's appeared in British works as wide-ranging as "Briget Jones's Diary" and "Highlander." She also randomly played a fighter pilot in "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace." More recently, she starred in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," the last film in KCET's spring Cinema Series. Although you won't see Susan again on "Doc Martin," Richard Johnson will make a return appearance as the colonel. You may recognize this legendary actor any of a great number of movies. He was the male lead in the 1963 horror classic "The Haunting," and more recently he appeared in the 2008 concentration camp drama "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas." Johnson also has a recurring role in the seventh series of "Mi-5."

Speaking Portwennese

Yes, "going Bodmin" is a legitimate turn of phrase. It's just not a well-known one, even in England. In fact, judging from online postings inquiring about the phrase, many British viewers heard it for the first time while watching "Doc Martin." Something else you may have heard of for the first time while watching this episode of "Doc Martin"? " "Gynecomastia." It's totally a medical condition, and you can learn more about it by looking at the Wikipedia page, but be warned: The images posted there are debatably not safe for work.

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About the Author

Drew Mackie, associate producer of new media, liked shows about old British people before it became fashionable. He also says silly things on Twitter.
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