Dateline: Port Isaac – On the set of ‘Doc Martin 7’, pt 1


As I mentioned earlier this week, for those ‘Clunatics’ in the States who have been waiting (im)patiently for the return of Doc Martin, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Not only is the light shining brightly with series 7 set to air on public television stations beginning in January 2016, there is a brand new behind-the-scenes special, Doc Martin – Seven Grumpy Seasons, headed our way in December to wet our collective appetites, courtesy of our colleagues at American Public Television.

Doc Martin 7 clapperboard_bill

Working extremely hard on your behalf, Eric Luskin and David Rubinsohn traveled to Port Isaac this past Summer to spend time on the set of Doc Martin during the filming of series 7 to produce the upcoming Doc Martin – Seven Grumpy Seasons special. Having had the opportunity to do the same the year before on the set of Father Brown producing a ‘making-of’ special, Father Brown: Saving Souls, Solving Crimes, I can attest to the fact that while the work was hard and the hours were long, I’ll bet both Eric and David had more fun than the law allows also.

To give Tellyspotting readers a bit of insight into his trip to “Portwenn”, APT’s Eric Luskin found time between the long days of filming and the even longer nights in the pub to file this report from the picturesque seaside village of Port Isaac.

Another Doc Martin Adventure
By Eric Luskin

As Series Seven of Doc Martin gets ready to make its way to these shores, it’s a good time to reflect on how far public television has come with the blood-phobic, socially inept, short-tempered but brilliant physician who has fathered an adorable son, married a captivating local school teacher, and made everyone in the quirky fishing village of Portwenn better – while managing to place his personal life in shambles. Yep. That’s Martin Ellingham, uniquely played by actor Martin Clunes. Doc Martin started out as just six episodes when it launched on ITV in 2004. There was no guarantee that it would ever get farther than that. When Doc hit the air in Britain and was immediately embraced by the viewing public, a 2nd season was commissioned. And the rest, as series Executive Producer Mark Crowdy has noted, is history!

While the final episode of Series 6 may have suggested that Doc and Louisa’s romance might end – as the couple began a temporary separation – viewing figures remained strong on ITV and it soon became apparent there would be a subsequent season, produced according to the usual 2 year timeline. Production would start in May 2015 with an eye toward a UK premiere on ITV in September.

Martin, Philippa Braithwait (producer) and Caroline Catz (Louisa)

Fast forward to June 2015. APT and Acorn Media, co-producers of previous Doc Martin behind the scenes material for public television and DVD extras, once again teamed up to undertake a companion series of fillers, DVD bonus material and pledge specials. Based on the trust and good will built up from our previous visits to the set, Buffalo Pictures agreed to allow us a full week with the Doc Martin cast and crew. David Rubinsohn and I would be joined by producer Dennis Allen (Doc Martin: Revealed) for this trip, adding his expertise to our on-location production team. Of course, there was an 11th hour “catch!” The Doc Martin shooting schedule during our visit called for something we hadn’t seen before – simultaneous filming with two film cameras. This meant Tom Harding, our cameraman for the prior projects, couldn’t be spared to work with us this go-round since he was needed each day to be part of the 2nd unit filming. Yikes!

We were, thankfully, able to hire in an experienced videographer and sound technician from London. Enter Pete Lloyd-Williams and Will Doer who, along with Dennis, were to be “the new guys.” We were supported by long-time Doc Martin press officer Naomi Phillipson and Paul Glanville, our local driver and production associate. Doc Martin Associate Producer Sandy Poustie quickly dubbed us “Team America.” We’d hear that moniker frequently throughout the week, usually in a positive context — occasionally in ways that were less endearing. On the whole, given that we had become a seven-person entourage, we managed to be unobtrusive most of the time. All of us on Team America knew the Doc Martin team had a formidable job to do. Each day was packed with scenes that had to be lit, staged, shot, and completed to keep the overall shooting schedule on pace.

Set up...

It turned out to be quite a week. David, Dennis and I flew to the UK on an overnight flight and arrived in Port Isaac early Sunday evening. We met our crew for the first time late that night. Since Pete (camera) and Will (audio) were last minute additions, there was, literally, no room at the Inn. None of the local hotels had any vacancies at that point, so they had to drive to a B&B in a nearby town, which was probably just as well. As anyone familiar with Port Isaac knows, there would have been no place to park their car full of camera and sound gear!

Early Monday morning, we staged a rendezvous at the production base — a farm located about 15 minutes outside the village. If you’ve seen any of our previous Doc Martin specials on public television, you know that the interior sets, the production offices, and the support infrastructure (food, dressing room trailers, makeup, wardrobe, scenic design and editing facilities) are all based in this amazing location. Right off the bat we met and interviewed Robyn Addison, who plays Janice, the Doc’s new nanny. We spent some time with Archer, one of four toddlers who play James Henry, and his mom. And, we got on to the interior sets where they were filming a scene in Doc’s kitchen with Martin and Louisa. This was the first time that we had access to interior filming at the surgery. On previous visits, all the shoots were in other locations.

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Later that afternoon we drove back into Port Isaac to capture some scenes being filmed around the village. We got a great look at how visitors and fans begin to congregate around any scene shot in a “public” location. People do love to watch the magic of television, even though there are often long stretches with really nothing to see. We were able to shoot with actor Ian McNeice (Bert Large), who wasn’t on the schedule but was walking around the village interacting with folks (drawing his own crowds) and collecting money for a local children’s charity. That was one full day!

Tomorrow, in part 2 of “Eric and David’s Excellent Adventure” in Port Isaac, Eric gives us some insight as to how a day of filming Doc Martin unfolds and recalls shot by shot, several scenes that were filmed during the remainder of the week, in particular, being present for a very special celebration – James Henry’s first birthday party! And, we’ll hear a little bit more about the upcoming Doc Martin – Seven Grumpy Seasons special for public television. Stay tuned!