'I've had a lot of knitwear sent by fans of the show, which is lovely'
Doc Martin is back, with Martin Clunes and Caroline Catz reprising the grumpy GP and his wife Louisa. Georgia Humphreys reports
Seagulls are squawking above Port Isaac harbour. Signs for homemade Cornish pasties catch your eye. Hordes of eager fans line the narrow streets winding down towards the sea. There's only one show this can be the set for - and that's Doc Martin.
Stars Martin Clunes and Caroline Catz are on a break from filming, sat in the bottom bar of the Golden Lion pub (better known to viewers as the Crab and Lobster).
Discussing the popularity of the ITV comedy drama - now in its ninth series - they reveal the elaborate gifts they receive from fans of the show.
"I've had quite a lot of knitwear - socks and gloves for all the family - which is lovely," says 57-year-old Clunes, also famous for Men Behaving Badly, Warren and Manhunt.
"Lego - there have been some lovely Lego figures," Manchester-born Catz (49) chimes in. Then there's the poetry, the songs and the paintings.
"Lots of paintings," the DCI Banks star enthuses. "It gets quite interesting, the fan artwork is brilliant."
For anyone not in the know, the series centres around Clunes's character, grumpy GP Martin Ellingham, his wife, Louisa (played by Catz), and their lives in a sleepy, beautiful hamlet in Cornwall (Port Isaac in real life, it's called Portwenn in the show). The job is a family affair for Clunes, as his wife, Philippa, writes the show.
"It's an immense pressure, getting eight scripts of the quality that we like together, that serve everybody's story arcs - all of our regular characters," Wimbledon-born Clunes confides, gently. "But it is worth it.
"I think, once again, down to my wife and Mark (Crowdy, executive producer) and the various writers and everyone, they've really got it right. They're really good scripts and all of the cast are happy with their bits."
Storylines this series include the Doc coming up against the General Medical Council. They want to take his badge away, following complaints about his irascible approach to patients - and there's also his phobia of, erm, blood.
"It is a very serious threat and he is very annoyed by everything they (the GMC) throw at him, because as far as he's concerned, he's fit to practice and a little bit of vomiting here and there shouldn't necessarily get in the way of that," explains the father of one (daughter Emily was born in 1998).
Back at home, we can expect to see the Doc and Louisa in a "very healthy" place, with lots of lovely scenes with them and their young son, James Henry.
"We've explored the 'not getting on thing' quite elaborately, haven't we?" reflects Clunes, when asked how their relationship is now.
Plus, he points out, the couple have got their "own unconnected agendas" - Louisa is pursuing a career in child counselling, having left her job as headmistress at the local school.
"I thought I was going to really miss the school," says Catz. "But I've been in the playground loads, because the nursery has now moved to the school. So, Louisa drops James off and finds out what's going on behind the scenes.
"There's a really fun episode with a new headmistress, which has been really great. Louisa gets a bit protective and suspicious about what's going on and then realises that the headmistress might have a very different approach.
"And then her curiosity gets the better of her, because she has sort of been shut out. I won't ruin it, but there's an intervention that she does.
"It's a very, very embarrassing episode for Louisa," she adds with a laugh. "She lets herself down a little bit!"
Meanwhile, the Doc is as irritable as ever, with the main causes, Clunes quips, being "patients and having to live with a dog".
So, we can surely expect some comedic moments with the family's pet pooch Dodger (ironically, Clunes is a huge animal lover in real life - his own dog Jim sits cosily on his lap during our chat, before he starts throwing a ball for him to fetch).
Asked whether it's easy to slip back into character after so many years playing him, Clunes replies: "Funnily enough, no, because as I get older everything gets harder. So, it should be but it's not, because of the ageing. But it (Port Isaac) is always a nice place to be, isn't it?"
"A really nice place to be," agrees Catz, who has two children with her husband, actor Michael Higgs. "When you walk on to the set and you're there in the house and in the surgery, all of a sudden everything starts to come back."
The last series of Doc Martin was on our screens back in 2017; Catz finds having a year out from the role "fantastic".
"You never, ever tire of it," she says. "You come back and it's always like this familiar world and we're so lucky with incredible scripts, fantastic storylines. What's brilliant about Philippa and Mark and the writers and the way they bring everything together is that nobody wants to repeat the same beats, so we're always adding other possibilities.
"Like, the idea of Martin and Louisa being together at one point seemed impossible."
Indeed, she's always surprised by the scripts, suggesting that's why Doc Martin has outlived many other comedy dramas (a genre which Clunes notes was the "go-to TV show for that time of night" when it first aired in 2003).
"There's always something that undercuts something else, but then there's a real heart to it and serious medical stories through it and there's romantic stories and a lot of comedy that has been built into the quirkiness of the characters, so it never feels forced," suggests Catz.
"It feels very natural and that's what gives it longevity, really."
Doc Martin, ITV, Wednesday, 9pm