The "Doc" of the title, in case you haven't come across him yet, is a brilliant surgeon from the big city, whose mid-life onset of hemophobia has driven him from his London practice to this rural setting. To say he's deficient in bedside manner would be an understatement. The man is totally lacking in the social graces needed to make life comfortable in an environment where everyone knows everyone; his gaffes make him the unfortunate laughing stock of the village, a victim of his own short fuse and intolerance of ignorance and stupidity--of which there is plenty to be had. And yet...
The man has incredible skills and dedication as a physician. And even though it remains for the most part well hidden, he has a heart. Though he's careful not to show it, he cares for his patients, and is vulnerable to their barbs. His sense of humor--the driest of the dry, an irony bordering frequently on sarcasm--is excruciating, and he is unable to take a tease. We watch in agony as he sabotages every attempt to get close to him, notably from the charming local school teacher. Their mutual attraction, though unmistakable to viewers, remains thus far (we're in the middle of the second season) unconfessed on either side. Again, a wild understatement to say that their relationship is prickly. We await further developments.
The cast of characters--villagers, all--manage to be quirky in that British way, without being stereotypes. The schoolteacher, the local PC (police constable,) the publican, the odd-job man, the pharmacist... they all weave in and out of the complex--yet coherent, intelligently worked out--plots in a manner familiar to anyone who has lived in such a village. From the outside, I suspect, it merely seems quaint. It's Agatha Christie without murders and Miss Marple. The only character who is glaringly absent from the mix is the local vicar. The village does not even seem to have a church. Perhaps times have changed since my own rural English days.
The episode we watched last night made me think of the spectacle of Charlie Sheen on the morning television news rounds. The patient in question was a radio talk show host whose slurred speech--along with her enjoyment of a glass of cool Chablis--suggested that she had a drinking problem. Turned out, in her case, to be a case of undiagnosed diabetes. The good doctor cottoned to it just in time to save her life. As for Charlie Sheen, it is sad to watch a man so clearly "in denial," as they say, so unable to curb his out-of-control grandiosity and his anger. In attempting to address what appeared to be her alcoholism, in last night's show, Doc Martin asked his patient a test question: did she find herself getting angry when asked about her drinking habit. She flew into a rage. "I suppose," he said tersely, "that qualifies as a Yes."
Asked about his anger by an interviewer, Sheen was quick to deny it--angrily. His very public, very obvious cries for help are wonderful fodder for the news media, which greedily caters to the actor's mania. It's a pathetic sight. I sat on a bicycling machine in the gym yesterday, next to a man who is now nineteen years sober. He told his story as though it were yesterday--I'm sure for the thousandth time--with the gratitude of one whose life was literally saved by AA. Addiction is clearly a dreadful disease. We can be thankful to be addicted to nothing more harmful than Doc Martin.