Martin Clunes talks Doc Martin - "I'll never get a better job"
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 it (the show), lots of people recovering 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 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."
The comedy drama has become one of ITV's most successful long-running series with seven successful runs already under its belt.
Clunes uses the word "bizarre" to describe turning up to a job and becoming so connected - "we added up the amount of time I've spent and it's 3.5 years I've been married to Caroline Catz bouncing around these false walls," he says.
"There are very few new people on our crew. We've all got kids that have grown up bouncing into each other every two years, we've watched each other's kids grow up."
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, parenting and farming and horses and dogs and all of that, so it's fine, it's all we've ever done," 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!"
In what is a surprising - but undeniably welcome - move from ITV, two series of Doc Martin were commissioned at once this time round, and a ninth instalment is definitely on the way for Clunatics the world over.
But what about after that - would Clunes carry on playing Doc Martin until he's grown old and grey?
"Probably," he reasons. "I'll never get a better job, I love playing him and being here and I like all the people. I think it's a once in a lifetime, something like this."
:: Doc Martin is back on ITV from Wednesday, September 20.