Clunes plays Dr. Martin Ellingham, a brilliant and successful vascular surgeon at Imperial College London who develops haemophobia (a fear of blood), and as a result is forced to stop practicing surgery. He obtains a post as the General Practitioner (GP) in the sleepy Cornish village of Portwenn, where he spent childhood holidays with his Aunt Joan (played by Stephanie Cole). Upon arriving in Portwenn, Dr. Ellingham - who, to his frustration, is addressed as "Doc Martin" by the locals - finds the surgery in disarray. He inherits an incompetent receptionist, Elaine Denham (played by Lucy Punch). Her character is replaced in Series 2-4 by new receptionist and later phlebotomist Pauline Lamb (played by Katherine Parkinson).
The show revolves around Ellingham's interactions with the local Cornish villagers. Despite his medical brilliance, Ellingham is a gruff man, ill-mannered, and lacking social skills. His cold, abrasive manner offends many of the villagers. He is perceived by them to be short tempered and lacking in a bedside manner, whereas he feels he is going about his duties in a professional and no-nonsense manner, not wasting time chatting with the villagers. His haemophobia, which results in frequent and debilitating bouts of nausea and vomiting, eventually becomes known amongst the villagers. His aunt, Joan Norton, provides emotional support in the face of the disquiet his abrupt manner causes among the villagers. Caroline Catz plays primary school teacher Louisa Glasson, for whom Doc Martin finds it difficult to express his romantic feelings, often spoiling a rare tender moment with a comment about an unpleasant medical condition.
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