The Weekend's Television: Doc Martin, Sun, ITV1
Merlin, Sat, BBC1
Spiral, Sun, BBC4

Quickening of the pulse

"If we can keep it going imaginatively, without just trotting it out, I think it's worth it," Martin Clunes said recently about Doc Martin, now in its fourth series.

As a very irregular viewer of ITV1's home-grown grumpy doctor drama (more Bungalow than House), I'm not well equipped to comment on its current gait, but I would have said that last night's episode counted as a canter at the very least, rising to a gallop for short sections. To be frank, I'd expected nothing more exciting than a carthorse trudge, this being one of those Sunday-evening calendar dramas, full of postcard wideshots and characterful locals. But then it kicked off with the arrival of Doc Martin's old flame Louisa, six months pregnant and knocking on his door to find another old flame with her feet under the kitchen table. "Don't think you have to rescue her," said Edith sternly, her medical training clearly having equipped her to make a rapid diagnosis of Doc Martin's symptoms, which include sweaty pallor, stammering and a bilious expression. But, since Louisa and he go way back and Edith is a tiny bit daunting in her manner, one imagines that rescuing her is precisely what's going to happen in the long run.

In the meantime, there's plenty to while away the hour, the chief running gag being the complicated interplay between patient confidentiality and the everybody-knows-everything intimacy of a small village (also a theme in Jennifer Saunders's Jam and Jerusalem, which is a composition in the same key as Doc Martin). Doc Martin has a receptionist who tends to giggle at the more lavatorial complaints of his patients and the doctor himself is not always as discreet as he might be when checking up on his patients. "How's that constipation coming along," he bellowed at the local headmaster, when he happens across him in the school. The headmaster, as it turns out, has more to worry about than sluggish bowel movements, since he's suffering from porphyria (full marks for all viewers who'd seen The Madness of George III and shouted out the diagnosis as soon as we saw the blue urine specimen). His derangement peaks when he takes the junior children on an unplanned field trip to a nearby beach, orders them to scrub the rocks clean of seaweed and then marches fully clothed into the sea, which is the sort of field trip one can treasure for life.

Even more startling – for a first-time viewer – was the revelation that Uncle Jimmy's splenetic outbursts were actually roid rage, brought on because he'd been secretly topping up his testosterone levels with anabolic steroids. Doc Martin assumed that this was because Jimmy and his wife had been unable to conceive and Jimmy had been indulging in a bit of ill-informed home doctoring, but then Jimmy fretfully confessed to getting carried away while sharing a tent with a fellow coastguard colleague while on a refresher course in Pengelly Bay and asked whether the doctor can cure homosexuality. His wife thinks he's bi, he explained tearily, but he thinks "bi is just homos wanting to say they're not". I don't know whether this is an accurate representation of the sexual politics of north Cornwall... but I have a feeling Jimmy is eventually going to come to terms with being the only gay in the village.

Merlin is back too, provoking in me an awkward question. I know Uther Pendragon is very enchantophobic and that Merlin can't come out of the closet as a fully fledged wizard, but surely we could have a bit more magic per programme. This week, Arthur was the target of an assassination attempt by a hired killer with a very fancy arsenal of customised crossbows – one with a telescopic sight and another handy pistol sized affair for close work – and Merlin spent most of the episode moaning about the enormous number of chores he had to do. I happen to know, from careful study of such canonical texts as Bewitched and Mary Poppins, that this is not an insurmountable problem for the magically gifted, but although we were shown one almost subliminally short scene in which Merlin had enlisted his powers to help out, he mostly just plugged away at it the hard way, to the extent that he fell asleep mid-scrub. Either he's stupid or he secretly likes hard labour – but in either case he should stop complaining. Guinevere got snogged by Arthur this weekend, incidentally, so if you heard a low sustained groan from the small boys of Britain at around a quarter past seven on Saturday evening that would have been it.

I haven't a clue what's going on in Spiral, pitched in some quarters as the French Wire but the confusion is very stylish. The subtitles are great incidentally. It's actually just a fairly ordinary police serial with a bit of Gallic polish, but if you squint you can pretend to yourself that you're watching Godard.

Arts and Entertainment Musical by Damon Albarn


Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'