Philip Bates attended a full day's filming of Doc Martin on the 25th June 2013, as they filmed scenes for the final episode of the sixth series. Here's what he witnessed...
It's early morning in Port Isaac, which has doubled for Doc Martin's fictional village since the popular show made its debut in 2004. There aren't many sightseers around, but the locals have been up and about for a fair while now: the small hours of the morning are punctured by the screeches of seagulls as the fishermen come in after a hard night's work.
Nonetheless, crowds heading up Roscarrock Hill are held back by a film crew. People are pulled safely back into alleyways and shops because there's an emergency in Portwenn and the Doc rushes to his car. The door slams, his engine revs and he speeds down the narrow road, sticks whipping at his wing mirrors.
The camera swoops high over the village following his journey down and cuts when the Lexus stops at the bottom and a smiling Martin Clunes gets out. It takes a lot of bravery to go at that speed down the tight slope, but he's had plenty of practice. It's just the start of a long day's filming for both Martin and the perfectly-tuned crew.
EXT. HOMELANDS COTTAGE - DAY.
That scene continues later, just across the harbour on Fore Street, where Martin crashes his car into an already-assembled fruit stall. But while Clunes disappears, walkers are let through before filming begins again, this time with Joe Absolom and Jessica Ransom (better known as Al Large and Morwenna Newcross, respectively). Fans are pushed up and down the hill as the camera changes angles, and it's soon 'in the can'. Joe attempts to leave - but is mobbed by holidaymakers looking for a photo and a quick chat. He doesn't seem to mind, though he's supposed to be learning how to ride a scooter he's never been on before for a scene at the end of the day.
The mass pilgrimage up the confined and steep Dolphin Street is tortuous, especially for the crew who have to lug heavy equipment around. Martin has a very brief scene a quarter of the way up, just outside the idyllic Homelands Cottage, the new home of his Aunt Ruth (Eileen Atkins). Homelands is, in fact, a self-catering holiday cottage, but for now, a camera stares out as the crew rehearse the scene.
A hush falls across the crowd and a chorus rises from the runners, indicating the scene's start: "Rolling". Martin runs up the hill and bashes on the door. He calls for his Aunt, peering through the windows. A shout comes from his right, informing him that she's gone to the farm - and he rushes off.
The take ends and the onlookers applaud. Martin smiles and takes an exaggerated bow, jokingly.
He hangs around, tapping a tune on the property's fence, as the crew re-dress the scene. The crowd builds, those at the back desperately trying to catch a glimpse of the show's leading man, and children even hang out the windows of their rented properties. "You can take pictures during rehearsals, but can everyone lower your cameras when we're actually filming please", the runners beg. The crowd concede, but a much more troublesome element is the seagulls. With their constant cawing, it's a miracle the crew can film any exterior scenes at all!
EXT. THE FISH CELLARS - DAY.
Much of the day is taken up on a complex scene on Fore Street, in which Doc Martin crashes his car and has to run up and down the arduous hill numerous times.
Elsewhere in Portwenn, the villagers strut their stuff in fancy-dress. PC Penhale (John Marquez, pictured) has donned an impressive moustache and seems to be channelling the Village People.
The fans obviously love the cast and the cast obviously love the village: they can be seen wandering around on their days off. Joe Absolom temporarily moved to the village during filming and was seen every morning walking his kids to school; a very brave Eileen Atkins effortlessly strolled up Roscarrock Hill and onto the glorious expanse of field that overlooks the stunning coastal village; and Ian McNiece (Bert Large) could often be seen having a pint and sharing stories with the locals.
The cameras start rolling again. PC Penhale's Land Rover is parked outside The Slipway Hotel and Restaurant, opposite Portwenn Pharmacy (actually a very proud local confectioners'), and as the comedic copper approaches the vehicle, some of the crowd don't even recognise the disguised policeman. The attention to detail is admirable: onlookers have been parted to either side, cars and vans trying to approach have been stopped and the restaurant is entirely populated by supporting artists. It's all to make sure nothing goes wrong. It's almost tempting fate...
With the air bags in his own car deployed, Martin is in a hurry and gets into the PC's vehicle, closely followed by a wary Penhale. It roars into life and the two speed off. Everything's worked out perfectly.
EXT. HARBOUR - DAY.
With the lead man heading back to his home in the Lexus, many of the crowds disperse, but the day's filming is far from over. Joe rounds the corner of Roscarrock Hill on his bike; he's clearly nervous as they plan out the scene: as he drives down past the Fish Cellars, a pile of paper slips off the back and Jessica Ransom, as the Doc's loveably sarcastic receptionist Morwenna, calls after him and gathers up his copious notes. The two then sit down on a raised platform at the harbour front and have a heart-to-heart.
The devotees have crowded around the local pub and at the entrance to Middle Street, opposite all the action. Joe's family are all there too, his kids running up to him and giving him a big hug. Jessica also spots a friend in the crowd and gives a thumbs-up. Dodger the Dog sits to one side with its owner, wagging his tail excitedly.
Location manager Johnny Bamford and director Nigel Cole check out all the angles and go through the script with them one final time. Cole directed Saving Grace, the 2000 film starring Martin Clunes which inspired Doc Martin, but his first actual episode for the series was this year's Sickness And Health, in which Martin and Louisa finally tied the knot. Bamford, however, has worked tirelessly on the ITV hit since its very first episode. Needless to say, he knows Port Isaac inside out!
The rehearsal goes well - though the strong wind means that the paper flies everywhere. They re-set the scene, with Joe getting on the bike once more and disappearing around the corner. Sound levels are checked and the cameras start filming.
It doesn't all go smoothly: the bike's kickstand keeps slipping from under Joe's shoe so it takes him some time to get to grips with it; he comes around the corner too fast and misses his mark; once, the bike even spins from underneath him and he does an impressive wheelie. They carry on regardless - true professionals.
The team go through numerous takes; each time the paper has to be saved from flying into the darkening sky. The supporting artistes, whose job it is simply to stroll past and make Portwenn appear a real place, have to find their positions again. By the end, Joe's getting used to that bike. The still-considerable mass of onlookers have to breathe in and squash against walls and into doorways as vehicles ebb through.
There's a flurry of excitement as the runners announce there are only ten minutes left. One final take - and the day is at an end. It's 7pm and the team have all been working tirelessly since 7am. In the end, as we discovered when the episode aired in October, the bike scene didn't even make it through the edit!
Everyone disperses: Joe and Jessica disappear into their cars; a few crew members pop into the local fish and chip shop; the extras head up Fore Street and pile into a mini-bus; the equipment is all packed away into a lorry. A rainy haze falls on Port Isaac, but the locals still congregate at the pub, the seagulls play their insistent tune and the village is a warm haven once again. Within 30 minutes, the Doc Martin crew have disappeared completely - like they were never even there.
There's no news yet on a seventh series, so if you're planning to visit Port Isaac you won't currently see the show being filmed. BCG will publish the news if and when another series is announced.
See also: On location with Doc Martin
Published: Friday 25th October 2013