'Sigourney Weaver will be back too, it was her idea!'
Doc Martin has fans all over the world, but what can the 'Clunatics' expect from the show's eighth series? Georgia Humphreys reports
It's been 13 years since Martin Clunes took on the role of Doc Martin, and his huge fan base - known as the 'Clunatics' - shows no signs of shrinking. In fact, the "fans have organised themselves", the 55-year-old actor reveals in his distinctly calming voice, so apt for playing a doctor.
"They're incredibly generous, they send presents and they supported a show we did on Nepal and gave money to our appeal. There are some British Clunatics, Australian, New Zealand, all over the place.
"We're all pleasantly baffled by them, but they're so kind, they're at such pains to tell you why they like the show, lots of people recovering from, or going through, illness."
And Clunes confides his fans don't always come in the human form you might expect.
"People have started saying thank you to me after I've said hello to their dog, like I've blessed it or something," he exclaims.
The towering 6ft 3in actor, who previously starred in Men Behaving Badly, is more than happy to meet people's pooches though.
While his recurrently irritable character Dr Martin Ellingham can't stand dogs, Clunes himself is an animal lover who spends months organising Buckham Fair for charity. Held on his farm in Dorset every August, it has 1,000 dogs in attendance as well as a pony show and fun fair.
"If I'm at home, there's always a million things to do on the farm or with an animal, which I love," says the star, when discussing what he does with his time off. "That's as far away from performing as you can get."
London-born Clunes had a whole year away from filming Doc Martin in the tiny Cornish village of Port Isaac last year, instead spending time abroad working on his ITV documentary, Islands of Australia. So how well has the actor moulded back into the role of the nation's favourite grumpy medic?
"It's funny, it's a little tentative and you think, am I doing an impersonation of something I did before?" he admits. "And then you get back into it. You reach a period now where there's a love affair among the whole crew, they're so tight and fond of each other and they're all flourishing."
The new dose of Doc Martin sees the bad-tempered GP and his wife Louisa (Caroline Catz) facing the challenge of living happily together with their baby, James Henry, after having therapy to save their marriage in the last series. And while there's no longer a will-they, won't-they element in their relationship to explore, there's still drama in store for the couple - Louisa decides to have a career change, which Clunes says his character is "supportive plus slightly dismissive" of.
"He's so twisted and old-fashioned about everything, I don't know what he thinks she ought to do," he explains.
"I don't think he thinks she should stay at home, but there's a lot of her torment at being a working mother and getting the balance of time with James, but the Doc has a more disciplinarian approach."
Doc Martin's job in the idyllic hamlet of Portwenn remains the same though, with his brusque bedside manner and a phobia of blood very much intact, plus plenty more medical stunts for Clunes to get stuck into.
"We always have a few knocks and falls, and a good few procedures," Clunes says. "There's a femoral artery, the one in your leg, that's a bit of a gusher, in real life you'd bleed out in about four minutes and we have an episode with one of those that's quite Tarantino-esque, but unavoidably so, it's a thing in our story. I anticipate some negotiation editorially with ITV."
And what about guest stars - can we expect a similarly impressive billing again, maybe even Sigourney Weaver perhaps? After all, the Alien actress surprised fans with a cameo in the show two years ago as brash American tourist Beth Traywick.
"Yes, she'll be back really soon", reveals Clunes excitedly. "I think it was even her idea again, because last time it was all quite tentative and the part had to be quite self-contained so it could be lifted out, or someone else could play it. But she turned up and she so loved it."
Filming the show is even more of a family affair for Clunes, as his wife Philippa Braithwaite - who he has 17-year-old daughter Emily with - is the producer of Doc Martin. However, that doesn't mean the actor gets a head-start on reading through the script.
"It does crop up at home, but we're partners in enough things outside of this as well, so it's fine," Clunes remarks. "There's so much else to talk about that goes on between us. I can't stress enough how much pressure it is on her getting eight hours out. She only lets me read the script really late."
Doc Martin, ITV, Wednesday, 9pm