Dr Martin Ellingham has been forced to give up his career as an eminent surgeon, and retrain as a GP, after developing a phobia to blood.
A vacancy arises in the sleepy Cornish hamlet of Portwenn following the death of the local GP. Martin has fond memories of the little fishing port where he spent happy childhood holidays with his Aunt Joan.
On the lengthy train journey to Cornwall for an interview for the post, Martin takes a close interest in a pretty woman sharing his carriage. His intense scrutiny unsettles the woman and forces her to find a seat in another carriage.
When he arrives to be interviewed, he finds the woman is schoolteacher Louisa Glasson, the lay member of the interviewing panel. Louisa is particularly tough in her questioning of Martin. Despite his distinguished qualifications she questions whether he has the social skills and bedside manner for the job. But she is outnumbered by the rest of the panel, who are only too delighted to have a man of such eminence as their village GP.
As Martin leaves the interview Louisa challenges him about why he had been staring at her on the train. He curtly advises Louisa to see an eye specialist as he has detected acute glaucoma.
Martin takes in his new home, the picture postcard village of pretty little white-washed cottages and narrow alleys. He thinks he is going to be happy here.
But as he moves in and meets the locals he begins to realise that adjusting to village life is not going to be plain sailing. In his sharp suits and flashy car, he's like a fish out of water.
Dr Martin Ellingham's practice is officially open for business. Despite his disastrous introduction to life in the sleepy village of Portwenn, the former surgeon has decided to stay and give it a go.
The waiting room is full with patients enjoying tea and biscuits served by Elaine, who is busy with a personal call on the phone. It seems the previous GP allowed his patients to treat the surgery as a drop-in cafÃ© to share their ailments, but not necessarily to seek medical treatment.
Martin announces to the packed waiting room that unless they have a genuine ailment they should all leave. Stunned and embarrassed, everyone shuffles out, leaving just one man, sour-faced former teacher Roger Fenn who has a nasty cough.
Martin tells Fenn he must be referred to a specialist for a biopsy on a lump on his neck. But Fenn accuses the doctor of time-wasting and storms out.
Elaine's inefficiency pushes Martin over the edge when she gives him an unreadable message about a sick child, with no name or phone number for him to contact. Angry at Elaine's consistent complacency, Martin sacks her on the spot.
News of the sacking spreads around the village like wildfire, and Martin becomes universally disliked. The cafÃ© won't serve him, and patients are cancelling appointments.
Martin takes a call from the hospital about the results of Roger Fenn's biopsy. It's not good news, and Martin decides he must tell Fenn face to face.
Dr Martin Ellingham makes his debut on the local radio station, Radio Portwenn. He's not a natural in front of the microphone, and the interview is like pulling teeth for presenter Caroline. She's furious with his monosyllabic answers to her questions.
Bert Large is in dispute with his son Al over his future in the plumbing business. Al desperately wants to change career. He's determined to go to college to learn about computers and break away from the family business. His father won't hear of it.
Their row prompts Al to leave, breaking his dad's heart. Bert shares his woes with Martin, who tells him he fell out with his father too, and still doesn't speak to him.
A nasty stomach bug is sweeping through Portwenn. People are dropping like flies, and filling Martin's surgery. The local pharmacist has been busy with customers seeking remedies.
Martin decides he must try to track the source of the bug, and heads for the swimming pool. The staff assures him the water is checked rigorously.
But Martin tells them they must close the pool immediately. When they refuse Martin makes his own announcement to every one in the pool about something dangerous in the water. It creates mass panic as everyone tries to scramble out at once.
Martin's theory loses credibility when patients who have never been near the pool develop symptoms. He makes a return visit to Radio Portwenn to warn people on air that the culprit is Portwenn's water supply. Caroline is furious.
The last time the village had a scare about contaminated water supply it almost closed down. After the broadcast villagers are equally furious with Martin, and vent their anger on him as he walks away from the radio station.
Bert thinks he has the answer to the problem. He's been bottling spring water as a side line, and presents a bottle to Martin to try. Bert claims it is from an ancient spring “”beneath the green hills of France“”. Business is booming since Martin's radio warning.
It's the Portwenn Players dance, an auspicious event in the village's social calendar, and Bert is in charge of selling tickets.
Louisa buys two tickets and invites Martin. But Martin doesn't do dancing, and most certainly doesn't do social occasions. Even Bert with his sharp sales tactics can't persuade him.
Louisa offers her spare ticket to Mark. He thinks it must be his lucky day, especially when Bert suggests that Louisa fancies him.
On a school wildlife trip, Louisa has to deal with troublesome ten year old Peter Cronk. He's a clever boy, but he's a rebel, and hates every minute of his school days. He's determined to wreck the trip to Mrs Potter's house where the children are learning about bird life.
Sure enough when Mrs Potter steps into her garden she finds her prized bird tables have been smashed, and Peter is the prime suspect. Peter is called to the school head's office to be reprimanded. Mark says there has been a spate of criminal damage in village gardens. He suggests to Peter that he could help to make some new bird tables. But the belligerent boy says he'd rather be arrested. Peter's mother despairs of her son.
At the surgery Mark has an appointment with Martin to discuss an embarrassing dilemma. He fears his lack of success with the opposite sex is something to do with size, and wants to hear the doctor's opinion of what is normal! After all he has a date with Louisa, and money is no object if he can make things ‘normal’. Martin is flabbergasted by Mark's confession and may be just a bit jealous?
Martin has to make a home visit to Stewart James, the park ranger on Bodmin Moor. Elaine tries to warn him about Stewart before he sets off, but Martin isn't listening. He's in for a shock.
An old flame of Joan's sails back into her life and whisks her off her feet. But John Slater is seriously ill with a life threatening heart condition, as Doc Martin discovers when he insists on running tests on John.
Slater wants to rekindle the love affair with Joan and sail off into the sunset with her. But Martin is anxious for Joan that she will have to nurse a very sick man.
Schoolgirl Melanie Gibson, one of Port Isaac's bevy of teenage beauties, develops a crush on the doctor. He's her hero after he puts her dislocated shoulder back, and stops the agonising pain she has been suffering. Martin fears the wrath of her father when the girl keeps turning up at the surgery. She's only 15. But when Melanie's father Alan comes to visit, it is he who does the apologising for his daughter's behaviour.
Martin warns Slater that he should be in hospital. If he doesn't get treatment he could be dead in six weeks. He also tells him it's inappropriate to be carrying on like a teenager with his Aunt Joan.
Joan confesses she still loves John. She fell in love with him when she was still married. Now with her husband dead there's no reason for her not to be with the man she really loves.
Martin tries to warn Joan not to get involved with John Slater again. He knows the prognosis is not good, but patient confidentiality prevents him telling Joan just how ill John is. Martin can also see how happy his aunt is, and learns how Joan had given up John for her husband Phil, and for Martin when he was a boy. Martin's father had refused to let his son stay with Joan while she was having the affair with John.
There's romance in the air between Al and Elaine. He's always had a soft spot for her. Thinking that she has split with her boyfriend, Al tries to woo her, by downloading a special selection of music onto an expensive ipod for her.
The tourist season has arrived in Portwenn. Disgruntled by the invasion of holidaymakers, Martin grimaces as he makes his way through the crowds.
Then he notices an attractive woman, and stops to stare…at her chest! Not surprisingly she's annoyed at his blatancy. And she can't believe it when he says he'd like to examine her chest.
Martin was actually trying to warn the woman about the dangers of sunbathing for fear of skin cancer, but his usual abrupt and quirky manner has caused offence. She tells him to go away in no uncertain terms.
Louisa has witnessed the encounter, and advises Martin that he should have explained to the woman that he is a doctor to prevent her from thinking he is a pervert.
At the surgery Adrian Pitts is waiting to see Martin. He's hovering lecherously over Elaine, getting a perfect view of her cleavage. He's one of Martin's former pupils, and has come for a reference. But Martin recalls he was not exactly a star pupil.
Gossip about the blood phobia which forced Martin to terminate his brilliant career as a surgeon seems to have spread round the village like wild fire. Two patients in the surgery can't resist mentioning the ‘b’ word to Martin. Then he gets an urgent call from the pub.
Bert has had a terrible accident while working there, and he's bleeding profusely. The sight of blood pouring from Bert's wound begins to trigger the all too familiar panic attacks for Martin. But on closer examination he realises the blood is actually tomato ketchup. Martin is not amused.
He deduces that Roger Fenn must have been blabbing to the village, even though he promised to keep the phobia a secret. Martin challenges Roger as to why he has been gossiping. Roger is angry that Martin thinks he cannot be trusted with a secret, and denies spilling the beans.
The whole village is buzzing with the rumours about the doctor's phobia. It even becomes the topic of hot discussion on Radio Portwenn's phone-in show. Martin can't believe what he is hearing on his car radio.
He stops and phones into the radio station to put the record straight. But still he is the butt of village jokes.