This year’s best Christmas TV movie doesn’t arrive until after Christmas. And isn’t quite a movie.
Still, we’ll count it. It does have guys in Santa suits, some mistletoe, a proposal, a pregnancy and lots of small-town charm. That should be enough.
We’re talking about the finale – the series-finale, sadly – of “Doc Martin” (shown here, with CAroline Catz and Martin Clunes). It’s available Dec. 31 at www.acorn.tv, the streaming service that has all 10 seasons of the series plus (starting on the 31st) a documentary about it.
All of this began more than two decades ago, with “Saving Grace,” a comedy movie about a pot-growing widow. Moviegoers liked her doctor – Martin Banford, played by Clunes – and he got two TV movies of his own, followed by a transition: He was given a new surname (now Dr. Martin Ellingham), a new personality and this TV series.
Starring Clunes and produced by Philippa Brathwaite (his wife), “Doc Martin” has spread its 10 seasons over 18 years. It began with a big-city doctor moving to a pleasant, seaside town in Cornwall, where he exhibited no bedside manners … or charm of any sort.
Still, he eventually had a lovable wife (Catz), a son, a dog, and the admiration (reluctant, sometimes) of the retired doctor, the bumbling cop, the pharmacist (secretly in love with him) and others.
This finale starts with a visit to Santa Claus … which Martin manages to disrupt. Soon, his son is mad at him, his wife is exasperated and the cop is excited about becoming a Santa sub.
Bigger things are looming. There’s a death, some close calls, three Cornish hens, two doves and a pheasant without a pear tree. There’s also a rogue turkey, triggering an emergency and a rare chance for Martin to confront his own somber past.
All of this runs just over an hour, without commercials. It’s two-thirds of movie length, with 10 times the wit and charm of most Christmas movies.
Clunes fits the role perfectly. Standing 6-foot-3 (and forever having to duck in the doorways of old houses) and wearing a perpetually perturbed look, he seems forever above it all and yet below it.
Doc Martin seems to understand little about his neighbors or himself. But it’s been a pleasure to meet all of them.