The doctor is in, once again. Season seven of fan-beloved British dramedy “Doc Martin” makes its U.S. debut on Thursday, and star Martin Clunes is excited for his American fans to see what’s in store for the dwellers of Portwenn in the episodes to come.
Clunes stars as the grouchy Dr. Martin Ellingham on the ITV series, bringing his medical services to a sleepy Cornish town after he must leave his post as a top London surgeon when he develops a fear of blood. Season six ended on a question mark as Ellingham’s beloved Louisa (played by Caroline Catz) and their baby were headed for Spain without him.
Calling in from his home in Dorset, Clunes spoke to Variety about the future of the series, the (vast) difference between the show’s British fans and its American ones, and whether Doc’s rudeness ever goes too far.
Season seven of “Doc Martin” makes its U.S. network debut Jan. 14. Southern California residents can find “Doc Martin” at 8 p.m. on KCET.
Doc has been on quite an emotional trip through the first six seasons. After that cliffhanger, what can we expect for his emotional state?
He’s in a bad place at the end of season six. When we meet him, he’s really lonely, really sad, but aware that he needs to make a change. With the help of his aunt, he’s got enough self-awareness to know that he needs some kind of therapy. But he’s sort of in denial about that because it doesn’t sit well with his beliefs. I start seeing a therapist, who quite soon asks if she can meet Louisa as well.
What did you think when you got that script?
We have to be medically accurate in this country. If you’re going to put it on the TV, it has to be correct procedurally. We hired a therapist who was a friend of one of our producers to sit in and have discussions with the writers. She turned out to be a fan of the show. She said, “Never mind him getting therapy. What about her?”
We just knew that Caroline would enjoy playing that. “What do you mean me?” Sure enough, they were a real joy to play, all the therapy scenes, both with and without Caroline.
This cast is such a great ensemble. How is it to work with them?
It’s really great. We’re kind of slightly maverick. Geographically we’re a long way away from everything in England. But also, we’ve been there so long now, we’ve been through three rounds of administration at ITV since our first audience. They let us get on with it, so we’ve got the confidence in our cast to let them fly with it. Actors like that! It’s just great because everyone gets to flourish. Everyone understands what they’re doing there. What my wife and the writers do in the lead-up to the series is they make sure that every single character has an arc that will take them through each season. Everything seemed to go right. It’s never gone particularly wrong before — we’ve had crises and panics and things, but this season all the scripts were in really good shape. Everybody had lots of stuff you knew they were going to like doing.
Having gotten quite serious and emotional in the previous season, we thought it was a good time to sort of revert to being funny again, or funnier, which always cheers a cast up. So that’s what we did and we’ve had really fantastic feedback from people in the States who watch it illegally.
Let’s talk about those U.S. fans. Do you notice a big difference between your fans in the U.K. and your fans in the U.S.?
Massive. Massive. Over here, we’re sort of mainstream primetime TV. Our American fans seem to sort of have to seek us out, because when they write, as much as they tell you how much they enjoy the show, they tell you how they came across it and the discovery. It’s like going to a delicatessen and finding something your friends haven’t tried. They seem to cherish it in that way. They’re really intelligent, interesting letters that people write about character development and progression, when English fans just kind of say, “Can I have a signed photo? Thanks.”
It’s really interesting. They’re so generous, the American fans. They send money to the various charities I support. I tried to raise a little bit of money to send to Nepal and they were straight in with thousands of dollars. They fly over here. We hold a fair every year on our farm for local charities, and for the last two or three years, we’ve had quite a strong contingent of American “Doc Martin” fans helping out. It’s really nice.
Portwenn has become a tourist destination for fans who wish to make a “Doc Martin” pilgrimage. How do you feel about that?
I think it’s fine. These things are always a mixed blessing for the communities there. We didn’t make the place famous, as such, because it was a beautiful tourist destination before we turned up. But it was only busy during the season, and now they get people all year-round, which is great for anyone with a business. There’s a lot of people who have done really well out of it.
I’ve heard rumors that this might be the final season. Can you tell me anything about that?
No. No. We keep horses. I have to keep working. We’ll keep going as long as there’s an appetite for that. I’m never going to get a better job as an actor than this. I’m 54, you know!
Do you ever get a script for an upcoming episode and read some of Doc’s lines and think, “He’s just gone too far. He’s said something too rude this time”?
No. Unfortunately if it’s really rude, I’ve generally added it myself! I think it’s funnier, the ruder he is. People tell me they enjoy it when he’s rude. Sigourney Weaver showed up this season and I haven’t been that rude to a patient in years.
How do you reconcile your own personal kindness with your character’s attitude? Does it end up being a type of catharsis?
Possibly. It’s quite liberating having that license. But also, when people say, “How come you pretend to hate dogs so much when you really love dogs?” I say it’s because I think it’s quite funny when someone says they hate dogs. I think, “How could you not love dogs? They’re great.” That’s part of the freakishness of the character, I suppose. We never want to cure him. I guess we just have to investigate and celebrate him.
I’m so glad you brought up the dogs. Will the dog be in season seven?
Oh, so much. He’s really good in it and he’s such a clever little dog, too.
If you had to describe the upcoming season with one adjective, which would you use?
Improvement. Is that an adjective? It’s about the Doc trying to improve himself and then actually finding he’s fantastic anyway. It’s about the two of them trying to improve, trying to change, trying to fix things. I won’t spoil it!