– Credit: ITV
For 18 years the North Cornwall harbour village of Port Isaac has been the location of the hugely popular TV series Doc Martin. This month sees the tenth and final series arrive on our TV screens.
By Catherine Courtenay
Filming for the final series of Doc Martin began in February this year and ended in July. For the stars behind the globally successful series, those final takes truly marked the end of an era.
Many members of the cast, led by Martin Clunes (who plays Martin Ellingham, the grumpy medic with an appalling bedside manner – and blood phobia), have been with the series for several years, some starting with its inception, way back in 2004.
Ian McNeice and Joe Absolom, who play Bert Large and his son Al, have forged strong links to Cornwall in that time, as have Caroline Catz, who plays the Doc’s wife Louisa and Jessica Ransom who plays receptionist Morwenna Newcross.
They all return in the new series, along with Dame Eileen Atkins, who plays Doc Martin’s Aunt Ruth, John Marquez as policeman PC Joe Penhale and Selina Cadell as pharmacist Mrs Tishell.
‘We’ve been so lucky to get to come here for so many years and the cast and crew have made lasting friendships with a lot of the people who live in Port Isaac,’ says Martin.
‘We’re going to miss the place and all the people we have made the series with, but it’s a perfect time to say thank you very much, put the back cover on the book of Doc Martin and go and try something new.’
The final series ‘closes the circle’ he says, although, he adds, ‘I will never get a job as good as this again.’
Martin and his wife Philippa Braithwaite, who is the show’s producer, have rented the same house each time they came to film, ‘apart from the first series when we had a swishy house in Rock’.
What will Martin miss most about Port Isaac? ‘Just being here. It is a lovely place. Famously, acting is a lot about standing around and waiting, and the amount of time I have spent outside that surgery, just standing waiting and gazing out to that view over the harbour and out to sea, I don’t think there is any point in my own garden where I have stood that long. Driving myself to work every morning through the lanes, seeing the sea. Just the whole vibe.’
It’s the camaraderie between cast members that Caroline Catz will miss. ‘We’ve all watched our families grow up and we have got to know each other really well from spending every other summer here. It is always a real joy when we get together for all the set pieces. There is a real ease about that. It is really lovely and I will miss that.’
Not having a car in Cornwall, Caroline made the most of the local walks. ‘If I needed a bit of air and a bit of space I’d walk up the coast path and it is the best view. It is an unbeatable cliff top walk. You can sit and watch the sun set there. All those things are beautiful perks of the job. I have started to go swimming in the sea and I’ve been rowing with the Port Isaac rowing club, who were so welcoming.’
Every Wednesday evening the cast would go to the pub quiz. ‘It’s always really fun, rowdy and raucous and bonds everybody.’ says Caroline.
Jess, who play Morwenna, adds, ‘On days off when you are in the village for the weekend you see a load of people from work on the beach or in the pub – it is just that sense of community that you don’t get on anything else. It is really special because you don’t just go home after a day’s filming, you are here and everyone becomes part of the community and the crew and cast have their own community. I have got to know people in the village from being here.
Eileen Atkins also got to know the village well. ‘Because I don’t drive, the first year I only had the village supermarket to use. Then I used the bus. People would do double takes of me on the bus.
‘I now know quite a few people in the village because every day I do a bit of shopping in Port Isaac. The Co-op know me very well. I know most of the assistants by name. There is an art gallery and I got to know the couple who run that.’
Jess also made the most of public transport. ‘I learnt lots about playing Morwenna by catching the bus to nearby Wadebridge and listening to people talking to each other. You can get a lot by just observing people.
‘I took driving lessons when I was in Cornwall and even my driving instructor helped me to master a Cornish accent.’
Joe Absolom’s three children are all closely tied to Cornwall and have grown up with Doc Martin. He and partner Liz married in Cornwall and their youngest child was born here. His eldest daughter Lyla and brother Casper both appeared in the wedding scenes between Al and Morwenna. ‘I have so many lovely memories of Port Isaac, pushing crying children in their buggies up the hills, and the fact we had Daisy here. There are loads of good times and I’ve met so many lovely people.’
‘This area is just so beautiful,’ says Jess. ‘You can sit and look out of the window, and look at a scene and think I don’t need to put the telly on because I can just look at the nice view, even when it is chucking down with rain.’
Doc Martin has been ‘a massive part of our lives,’ says Caroline. ‘It really has been a very special and unique time. I don’t think I will ever be part of something like this again.’
Doc Martin will be on ITV mid September. A Christmas special has also been filmed and there will be a documentary for ITV which looks at the longevity of the series and gives viewers a glimpse behind the scenes.
A Doc Martin memento
What would the actors love to take home with them as a memento of the series?
Martin: The Guide Dogs for the Blind spaniel model from outside the chemist – the gift shop which becomes the chemist shop in the series. It is one of those old models that you put money in to raise funds for the charity.
Caroline: There is a painting of Port Isaac in Doc and Louisa’s house that I have my eye on. There are a few little jars too. Things that have been there in my peripheral vision for all those years. I’ll be at the front of the queue for that painting.
Ian: I think I am going to keep my little grey hat, and my blue jerkin. I always make a joke that my costume budget has always gone to Caroline Catz because I don’t have anything new. I am still wearing the same costume I wore from day one with an occasional change of tie.
Joe: Al’s costumes have always been questionable, but there’s a pair of bootcut jeans I’ve had since 2005. I’d like to take them and burn them! Maybe a bottle of Large whisky that Ian distilled?
Eileen: If I took a souvenir from Port Isaac I know when I got to London it wouldn’t look right, but I love the seagull who visits me here every day on my balcony, and taps on the window. The seagull will be in my mind forever. I can do a drawing of him.
Jess: I am going to steal the painting next to Morwenna’s desk. It is a horrible painting of a dog that has been there all the time. I have spent so much time looking at it I’m going to have it. I think that would be a nice memento.
This tenth series sees the arrival of a new member of the Ellingham household. Baby Mary Elizabeth joins James Henry, the couple’s first child. Two sets of twins were used for the part of Mary Elizabeth, Willow and Bette Pollard and Austyn and Everly Daniels.
Willow and Bette’s mum, Emma Benney from Truro, responded to an appeal on a local Facebook page set up for parents of twins.
After sending in a photo, followed by a visit, the twins were given the role of Mary Elizabeth. Because babies are unpredictable, and due to strict rules on how long they can be on set, several are needed for filming.
Emma would take the girls along, ready dressed in their costumes, and then would wait on set. A qualified chaperone was in attendance.
She says that six-year-old Elliot Blake, who plays the couple’s son, James Henry, was ‘a darling’.
‘We had a lot of waiting around and he’d do little dances for us and he was very good at distracting the babies and playing with them.’
Emma says, ‘I was a bit star stuck meeting Martin Clunes. I’d grown up watching Men Behaving Badly, but he’s just charming and chatty and was really interested in everything about you and your babies.
Martin and Caroline ‘were wonderful’ she says. ‘The first time I arrived with the girls they made a really big effort, understanding how my girls like to be handled and manged. And they were a lot of fun too, they had a good sense of humour – there were a lot of onset jokes about sick and poo!
‘Willow was sick on Martin a couple of times but he was quite good at holding her out the way, so nothing too terrible!’