When I arrive at Bodmin Parkway, there’s a taxi waiting to take me to Port Isaac, a beautiful fishing village in Cornwall that has become a popular destination thanks to the success of Doc Martin. The show, starring Martin Clunes as a curmudgeonly GP, is filmed there (although it’s called Portwenn on screen) and shooting has begun for the fifth series.
As I ride in the cab – it’s about a 40-minute journey – I chat with the driver about the programme, and how it’s helped tourism. The last series in 2009 attracted a whopping nine million viewers in the UK, but Doc Martin is also popular in other countries, particularly Australia, and many fans are flocking to Port Isaac to get a taste of the Doc’s life for themselves.
After navigating a few narrow streets (and having a stand-off with a large truck) the cab arrives at The Slipway, the hotel where I’m staying for the night.
In the morning, I’m introduced to the associate producer, Sandy Poustie. He reveals that the Doc is now a father, but he’s still having a fractious relationship with his estranged partner Louisa, played by Caroline Catz. Other main news is that Stephanie Cole, who played Aunt Joan, has left (and is now playing Roy Cropper’s mother in Corrie), but Dame Eileen Atkins joins as another straight-talking relative, Aunt Ruth. Ian McNeice, John Marquez and Joe Absolom reprise their roles, while the Doc has a new receptionist called Morwenna, played by Jessica Ransom.
Once I’ve been updated on the cast, I’m taken on a walking tour of the location, beginning with Bert Large’s restaurant. In reality, it’s just a normal house, but it’s made to look like a quaint eatery because its cliff-top balcony is decorated with tables and chairs. It’s very convincing, and has fooled the occasional tourist hoping to book a table!
I’m also happy to reveal that the Portwenn Chemist is really a sweet shop, and the school is a hotel called The Old School Hotel, Bar and Restaurant. En route, I stop off at the Stowaway tea shop, a café selling official Doc Martin merchandise. It also does a nice line in massive pieces of cake.
Then I’m taken back to then centre of Port Isaac, where Ian McNeice, who plays Bert, is filming a scene with the guest star Tom Goodman Hill. They’re shouting at one another, and the action is taking place in a marquee on the harbour. Here, I witness the appeal of Doc Martin for myself – as a large crowd gathers behind the camera to watch the scene unfold. They’re a mix of tourists and pensioners, and they wait patiently. They also oblige a crew member who shouts out, ‘Nice and quiet, and no flash photography, thank you,’ before a take. I’m told this is a common occurrence, and often people bring along their dogs, because they know Martin Clunes is an animal-lover.
In a break, I ask Ian McNeice about the crowds. ‘It’s so funny seeing the change over the years,’ he says. ‘In the first couple of years, there was nothing. But now, it’s almost like you’re doing theatre out there.’ As we’re talking, a married couple comes over and the wife says, ‘We watch your show in Australia.’ Ian turns to me and says, ‘Even now, we’re inundated with people.’ And then he jokes with the couple by saying, ‘Go back to where you came from!’
I also meet Tom Goodman Hill, who’s pleased that the hotel has wi-fi because it’s impossible to get a mobile phone connection.
By now, it’s lunch time, and after a fresh crab sandwich, my tour continues with a trip to a nearby farm. Here, a massive barn contains sets, including one for the interior of the Doc’s home. Having this make-shift studio clearly makes sense, as everything needs to be convenient for the shooting schedule.
After meeting the costume designer Les Lansdown, I’m introduced to Martin Clunes, and he’s very welcoming. He makes me a cup of tea in his trailer, as he talks about his love of Cornwall, and the show, which is produced by his wife, Philippa Braithwaite, and made by their production company, Buffalo Pictures. You can read more about my time with him in TV Choice and our sister magazine Total TV Guide when Doc Martin is shown on ITV1 in the autumn.
Then, as I’m driven to the station, I share part of the ride with John Marquez, who plays the hapless policeman Penhale. I make the train back to London just in time, and relax into my journey home by looking out of the window at the picturesque Cornish coastline.