The scowling Doc Martin is now a "steely" cop

There are some interesting gems tucked away in the Acorn streaming service -- many of them involving Martin Clunes. There's his "Doc Martin" series, his travelogs ... and now "Manhunt," a quietly involving mini-series that arrives Monday (March 11). Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

In eight scowling,
growling seasons, Martin Clunes has turned grumpiness into an

In “Doc Martin,”
he grumbles through life. What would it be like to live with Clunes,
seeing him before he has his morning coffee?

“I'm much grumpier
than he is,” Philippa Braithwaite said. The role is “so different
to him.”

She should know.
They've been married for 21 years and she produces his key shows,
including “Doc Martin” and now “Manhunt,” a three-part crime
story ... which is another stretch for Clunes.

“I'm not a fan of
the staple fare of TV detectives and murders and things, really,”
he said. “I've had a few of them waved under my nose over the
years, and I'm not that guy. I'm quite happy being a silly doctor in

Then he was shown
the not-yet-published memoirs of Colin Sutton, a retired London
police detective. “I suddenly thought, 'Hey, there's something
worth doing here.'”

Sutton is someone
you might never notice ... but probably should. “For all of his
avuncular qualities, there's a real steeliness to him,” Clunes

Police were stumped
by the 2002 disappearance of Milly Dowler, 13, in a case that became
famous in England. “You just have to say 'Milly' in the UK, and
they know who you mean,” Clunes said.

Then other women
were killed or barely escaped. Sutton resisted the common assumption
that these were unrelated. “I thought he was fascinating,” Clunes
said. “And then it took four years.”

There were “massive”
legal hurdles to clear, he said, plus the effort to be authentic. “We
use the real locations. We use the real killer's house. We use the
real green (park area), the real neighborhood.”

Those are gritty
settings ... the opposite of Doc Martin's seaside town.

“It's nice to come
back into that world,” Braithwaite said. “People are kind to each
other; it's beautiful and it's the kind of place people wish
existed.” And it reached TV by accident.

Craig Ferguson
co-wrote and co-starred in “Saving Grace,” a movie about an
impoverished widow who grows cannabis. It was a low-budget film that
“did better over here” than in England, Clunes said.

He played a
pot-smoking doctor in the film and then in a couple of prequels for
TV. Executives considered a series, Clunes said, but “didn't feel
the need to have a hippie doctor.”

Instead, the
character was rewritten as a grumpy London doctor, reluctantly
working in a small town. The result – on Acorn and many public-TV
stations – has persisted.

“We've often said,
'Thank God, we didn't get a successful returning show in some
horrible industrial village,'” Clunes said. Instead, he's often
“standing around on those cliffs, looking out to sea.”

Clune, 57, wasn't
always a country guy. He was born in Wimbledon, the son of one actor
(Alec Clunes, who died when his son was 8) and nephew of another
(Jeremy Britt, PBS' Sherlock Holmes for years).

Tall (6-foot-3) and,
he says, “funny looking,” he did lots of TV comedy. He was rooted
in London, but then he and Braithwaite “bought this little house
where we thought we would go on weekends.”

That's “just two
counties over” from where “Doc Martin” is filmed, so now it's
their home. He even has two Clydesdales, a new carriage, and a
two-mile route to take them through the woods. It's a leisurely life
... or would be, except that he's “sort of generally working.”

He has a new British
comedy series (“about a horrible driving instructor”), another
“Doc Martin” season, several travelogs ... and now his first
chance to be a TV cop.

-- “Manhunt,”
three-part drama available Monday (March 11) on

-- Acorn also has
Clunes' travelogs and the previous “Doc Martin” seasons, with a
new one coming.