13 Fabulous Martha Moments that have nothing to do with unrequited love [WHO-50—2007]September 17th, 2013 at 9:00
You know what? It’s absolutely true that Martha’s unrequited love for the Doctor, his shabby treatment of her for not being Rose, his general mopery, and her flashes of jealousy for the unseen blonde, were all big missteps for Doctor Who in general and Martha’s character in particular.
What makes me sad is that this aspect now seems to represent almost everything I hear about Martha. It’s a disappointing legacy for a companion who was not only the first woman of colour to travel in the TARDIS on a long-term basis, but was also New Who’s first (and to date only) take on one of the most critically acclaimed companion archetypes.
That is: the brainy, intellectual/professional female companion who stands up for herself. Previous examples being Zoe, Dr Liz Shaw, Romana, and Dr Grace Holloway.
I am especially disappointed that Martha’s leaving story, in which she became the only long-term female companion of New Who to date who left the TARDIS properly of her own accord, is remembered as being a symptom of her unrequited love when in fact that entire scene is about her choosing her family’s needs over the Doctor. She only confesses her feelings for him as a supporting (not central) reason for her decision NO MATTER WHAT THE FREAKING WIKIPEDIA PAGE SAYS.
If Martha learned one thing from travelling in the TARDIS, it was that the only way to win an argument with the Doctor was to talk about squishy feelings.
So here, in the attempt to restore Martha’s legacy as an excellent companion, are 13 Fabulous Martha Moments from Series 3 that have nothing to do with unrequited love.
DOCTOR: We might die.
MARTHA: We might not.
The whole of “Smith and Jones” is about Martha auditioning for the role of companion without realising it – by being smart and useful and brave in the right place at the right time. Also it’s pretty awesome that she calls the Doctor on whether or not he has actually earned his title – because she knows how much work it takes to pass the exams!
2. Bringing the Snark To The Shakespeare Code
Martha’s interactions with the Bard are beautifully scripted and performed as she regularly punctures his attempts at pomposity, boastfulness or pomposity. She would have been aces with the Sixth Doctor.
Even better, her cheerful sarcasm is applied to the Doctor too – already she can tell that he needs to be brought down a peg or three. When he tells her with genuine cheerfulness that when she gets back she can tell everyone she has seen Shakespeare, she replies in an ironic reflection of his tone of voice: “Yeah! And then I could get sectioned!”
Basically, she spends the majority of the story being pragmatic, useful (again) and asking the right questions (including a few the Doctor hasn’t thought of, like whether being “not exactly white” is going to be a hardship in the past) as well as fending off Shakespeare’s flirtatious advances with quite a few elegant barbs of her own. Not bad for a first time travel outing.
3. Demanding the Truth in Gridlock
MARTHA: You don’t talk! You never say. Why not?
It actually takes only three episodes for Martha to get sick of the Doctor’s deliberate mysteriousness about his history, which leads to a lovely speech about what his home planet looked like, and what he has lost.
4. Shouts At the Daleks in Manhattan
MARTHA: You can’t experiment on people, it’s insane. It’s in…human!
Compassionate and angry – and again, we are never encouraged to forget that her calling is that of a medical doctor. (that came later)
5. Refuses to Run Away in Evolution of the Daleks.
DOCTOR: Martha, that’s an order.
MARTHA: Who are you then, some sort of Dalek?
Sure, she’s not the first New Who companion to compare the Doctor to a Dalek, but she’s a lot more direct about it than Rose was.
6. Negotiates Boundaries & Demands to be More Than a Passenger in the Lazarus Experiment
MARTHA: But I can’t go on like this, “one more trip.” It’s not fair.
This is the story where the Doctor drops Martha back home as if he hasn’t turned her whole view of the universe upside down. Is he genuinely that unfeeling, or trying to get more of a commitment out of her?
In any case, Martha proves herself useful and valiant yet again, including the theft of a DNA sample as they battle her sister’s new boss Dr Lazarus and his anti-ageing machine. By the end of the story she is confident enough to refuse to travel with the Doctor again on an ad hoc basis – she wants all or nothing, and he gives in so easily that it’s clear she has earned her place.
“You were never just a passenger,” he admits as she flings herself back into adventure and the unknown.
But it’s important that she says no to him here – she says no to him a lot, in fact. If the role of the companion during the Tenth Doctor years (as Donna suggested a few months earlier in “The Runaway Bride”) is to make him stop when he gets carried away, then Martha is the perfect fit.
Much like Liz Shaw before her, though, she’s somewhat overqualified for the job, which suggests she isn’t likely to be around for the long term.
7. Rules the Intergalactic Pub Quiz in 42
MARTHA: Anytime you want to unnerve me, feel free.
Chris Chibnall may have been uneven in his writing of female characters in Torchwood, but I really like his take on Martha, especially the emphasis on snark and the de-emphasis on her romantic interest in the Doctor.
The ridiculous security system on the spaceship that requires Martha and Riley answer questions to get through every door, with the clock ticking, something creepy haunting the ship, and risks at maximum, brings out the best in our hero. Nothing like a cocktail of adrenalin and wit while running for your life with a cute boy.
Also, I think Martha’s phone call with her mother provides Francine Jones with just about her only likeable moment in the season as she chides Martha for using a phone to solve a pub quiz. That’s cheating!
8. Befriends Jenny in “Human Nature”
Martha rises beautifully to the challenges of “Human Nature/The Family of Blood”, protecting the Doctor in his vulnerable state and putting up with the menial job of a maid (which means being mocked for her status and skin colour by the horrible posh boys at the school where they are hiding). And of course, she never loses that snarky sense of humour.
MARTHA: He’s just kind to me, that’s all. And not everyone’s that considerate, what with me being a…
MARTHA: Exactly! Good old London Town!
My favourite scenes for her in this episode are those which show the friendship she has forged with her fellow maid Jenny, sharing a laugh and the occasional illicit drink out the back of the pub. Martha’s loss when Jenny is taken over by the Family isn’t given a tenth of the weight of John Smith’s storyline, which is a shame.
MARTHA: Don’t just stand there, move! God, you’re rubbish as a human!
Martha gets to be the hero in this story because frankly the Doctor in his John Smith state isn’t up to the task. She saves both John and Joan Redfern, keeping them protected and even trying to deal with some of their emotional fallout from the relationship that was never supposed to happen.
She’s marking time until she can get the Doctor back to save the day, and until then she has to BE the Doctor. And she doesn’t do too bad a job of it, considering.
Bonus points for the scene in which Martha proves (with a recitation of bone classifications) to Matron Redfern that she is a doctor, despite the fact that the other woman’s cultural (and racial) biases deem this is impossible.
10. Makes the Most of Minimal Screen Time in “Blink”
MARTHA: Oh, the moon landing’s brilliant! We went four times. (dirty look at the Doctor) Back when we had transport.
“Blink” is not about Martha, and indeed is only tangentially (which is to say, thematically) about the Doctor. But what I love about her brief apperances here is how much she is MARTHA with those lines – sarcastic, witty and yet still supportive both of the Doctor himself and of anyone who has the misfortune to have to deal with him.
She might, as she admitted in the previous episode, love him to bits, but she’s still calling him on his bullshit every step of the way, and providing a quick translation service/instruction manual for everyone else.
MARTHA: Trust me. Just nod when he stops for breath.
11. Sees the Future of the Human Race in “Utopia”
MARTHA: Is that what happens though, seriously? You just get bored of us one day and disappear.
Speaking of calling the Doctor on his bullshit! “Utopia” is where we finally find out why he ditched one of his best friends in the far future and Martha is understandably not happy to hear about it.
I really love the combination of Ten – Martha – Jack, and the two humans gang up beautifully on the Doctor, bonding through adversity and their shared methods of dealing with the most frustrating person in the universe. They make an excellent team, and as with Shakespeare the Jack-Martha vibe is made up of a combination of casual flirting, sizing each other up, and sharing an adventure.
More importantly, Martha’s the one who puts it all together about Professor Yana and who he is, before the Doctor does, when she spots a certain fob watch. Oh, and thanks to her habit of being genuinely interested in the people she meets, she provides the most emotional connection for the audience with two doomed characters: the kid who thinks the sky of Utopia is made of diamonds, and the sweet but modest Chan-Tho, whom Martha encourages to be a teeny bit naughty.
12. Carries the weight of the world in “The Sound of Drums”
MARTHA: I mean, who’d call themselves the Master?
This is the story where Martha loses everything – her flat, her family, and the world she always expected to come back to. Understandably, most people talking about this episode tend to focus on John Simm’s extraordinary performance as the Master, and his relationship with the Doctor, but nearly every other emotional beat in this story is about Martha, and how her life has been wrecked just because she is the Doctor’s companion.
At the end of the story, she is given a quest by the Doctor, something hugely important – and for once it’s him who stays in captivity while the companion goes out to do the active, necessary legwork to save the day.
MARTHA: I’m coming back.
MARTHA: What does the legend say?
TOM: That you sailed the Atlantic, walked across America. That you were the only person to get out of Japan alive. “Martha Jones,” they say, “she’s gonna save the world.” Bit late for that.
It’s an ongoing theme of the first four series of New Who that the Doctor not only inspires humans to save themselves and to become better than they are, but that his nearest and dearest tend to ‘level up’ once they are out of his sight. We’ve already seen elements of this with Martha, where some of her strongest scenes (apart from those involving sarcastic banter) are when she is away from the Doctor, carrying her half of the story.
This last story with Martha as one of the regular cast takes her role one step further by turning her into a folk hero. Her job here is to make the world believe in the myth of the Doctor as the one who will fix everything, but in doing this she has become a legend in her own right.
Along the way she has lived through a harsh twelve months of war and suffering, and learned a hell of a lot about weapons and resistance movements. When the reset button is hit, Martha doesn’t lose this experience – and it’s clear from her future reappearances that the memories of this year have forever changed her into a harder, more ruthless woman with military tendencies and a talent for survival.
Too often, I see this storyline (and much of Martha’s involvement in this season) dismissed because of the unrequited love angle, but Martha isn’t walking the world to tell them all that David Tennant is kinda hot. Her job is to make as many people as possible believe and trust in the mythological figure of the Doctor as the man who can save them – and her own belief, trust and even love for the Doctor is essential to that.
I do wish that the romantic angle hadn’t been harped on (and in many cases, tacked on) as often as it was in the scripts, because it’s pretty clear that a great deal of Martha’s esteem and respect for the Doctor is not just about wanting to knock boots with him – it’s about everything they have seen and done together as friends and travel companions.
MARTHA: I told a story, that’s all. No weapons, just words. I did just what The Doctor said. I went across the continents, all on my own. And everywhere I went I found the people and I told them my story. I told them about The Doctor.
While the Doctor is hiding out in the Master’s kennel, Martha sets up the world’s most elaborate red herring (a gun in four parts, scattered across the world? I mean, come on!), inspires an entire world to think the same thing at the same time, defeats the Master’s most elaborate scheme since that time he blew up a quarter of the universe, and figures out the secret of his cruel and powerful “alien” allies.
She does all this in response to a single whispered sentence from the Doctor, a year previously.
She deserves to be remembered for more than that bloke she fancied for a while, once upon a time.
ELSEWHERE on 2007:
Blink or They Might Miss It: Why Blink Works As a Doctor Who Starter Story [Fangirl Knits Scarf]
Utopia [The Angriest]
Watching New Who: Voyage of the Damned [TansyRR.com]
The Sarah Jane Adventures Season 1 [nwhyte.com]