Women, men & minorities in geek culture and pop culture
No companion on Doctor Who doesn’t get dissected and analyzed and criticized again and again, but no companion catches more flak from the fandom than the one and only Martha Jones.
Even before becoming an avid Whovian, I noticed the hatred towards Martha, and while watching, I couldn’t figure out why she was the target. Medical student, UNIT member, all-around badass – there’s little to dislike about her.
Officially fed up, I wanted to debunk the groundless complaints against Martha Jones. I only focused on her appearances on Doctor Who (primarily season 3, when she is regarded as a companion and not a guest appearance) and not her guest appearances on the spinoff series Torchwood. This probably won’t change anyone’s mind, since if you want to hold a grudge, there’s little stopping you. However, I hope this will help people think more objectively about Martha’s presence and purpose, especially in season 3, and the impact she has on the Doctor.
Complaint #1: Martha was dependent on the Doctor/Whiny/Needy
One of the most common criticisms I’ve heard from Whovians is that Martha was always depending on the Doctor to save her, and she would bellyache the whole way. The very first episode that we meet Martha (“Smith and Jones” 3.1), she gives her last breath of oxygen to save the Doctor so he can stop the aliens. In “Gridlock” (3.3), Martha is kidnapped in the first five minutes, befriends her kidnappers, and has to figure out how to fight the bad alien and get back to the Doctor (and succeeds).
The two-part episode “Human Nature” and “The Family of Blood” (3.8/3.9) is when Martha really proves herself. The Doctor transforms into a human to avoid an alien family trying to steal his Time Lord life force in order to live forever. Martha is forced to live three months as a maid in the English countryside in 1913 while the Doctor barely knows who she is or acknowledges her presence. She puts up with racism, sexism, low quality of living, and being treated as a second-class citizen because of her station, despite being a medical student in her own time. Not surprisingly, the Family of Blood finds them anyway, and Martha has to figure out how to fight them off while she drags the Doctor back to himself.
Martha’s shining moment was in the final two episodes of season 3 and her run as a companion, when she helped the Doctor fight the Master, a fellow Time Lord hell-bent on taking over Earth. The Doctor is completely helpless, literally put into a 900-year-old body and a cage (look at this guy – not pretty). To save the entire world, Martha Jones walked from end to end of the Earth, taking an entire year. I won’t spoil everything that goes on, but trust me: She is the hero of this one.
Beyond Martha (very thoroughly) proving her worth in her run as companion, take a moment to think of every other companion – Were there any who didn’t constantly have the Doctor saving him or her, and vice versa? The point of the Doctor’s companions is that they are symbiotic. He may have a greater knowledge of the aliens and planets (obviously), but he and his companions are constantly saving each other. It is standard for any Doctor Who episode for the companion to help him get out of a tight bind so that he can officially save the day in the end. Why would Martha be any different?
Complaint #2: Martha fell in love with the Doctor/tries to replace Rose
Imagine a handsome, intelligent man holds your hand, kisses you, and saves your life the very day you meet. Odds of you not getting a crush are pretty slim (I mean, I know I couldn’t resist the Tenth Doctor’s charm). She has no prior knowledge of a girl named Rose, or anything about the Doctor’s romantic history, or even personal history at all, until a few episodes into Season 3.
She puts up with this unrequited love (and the Doctor frequently referencing this other girl who is apparently so much better than Martha – he even dreamed of Rose while human, and thought nothing of Martha) for the entire season, never wavering in her loyalty and bravery to him.
Despite a few snarky comments regarding Rose (we all have to vent in some way), she keeps her options open to other men and even makes a few connections along the way. The moment I realized how much I loved Martha was her cameo at the end of Season 4, when she meets Rose for the first time, and says:
It really exemplified that through everything, in the end, she just wanted the Doctor to be happy, and she realized that he could not love her the way he loved Rose Tyler.
Complaint #3: Martha left the Doctor.
This is a big one for some people, which I will never understand. I have heard a lot of Martha haters say “Rose and Donna never would have left the Doctor on his own, and I know I certainly wouldn’t, either!” so this hatred seems to stem from the jealousy of an overzealous fan.
Martha’s departure from the show made nothing but sense. After walking the earth for a year, saving the world to the point where that year was reversed entirely so no one remembered it – that can be exhausting. After seeing her family enslaved and risking her own life literally dozens of times, Martha had reached her end point. Here is her goodbye speech:
“I spent a lot of time with you thinking I was second best, but you know what? I am good… Right then. Bye. [she leaves for a moment.] Because the thing is, it’s like my friend Vicky. She lived with this bloke—student housing, five of them all packed in. And this bloke was called Sean. And she loved him. She did. She completely adored him. Spent all day long talking about him… He never looked at her twice. I mean he liked her. That was it. And she wasted years pining after him. Years of her life. ‘Cause while he was around she never looked at anyone else. And I told her, I always said to her, time and time again, I said, ‘Get out.’ So this is me, getting out.”
One of the hardest things a person can do is walk away from the one they love, knowing they’ll never be loved in the same way. Martha really showed her strength, courage, and self-respect by leaving the Doctor so that she could find her own happiness, and not find herself hung up on an emotionally unavailable man for the rest of her life. She had too much going for her, a medical degree and her experiences with the Doctor, to give it all up. She does find happiness and success, too, through her work and her love life (but I won’t spoil that the way I spoiled her exit).
The point is, Martha Jones is awesome. She saved entire worlds, including ours multiple times. She respected herself, put her own feelings first, even if it would hurt in the process. She helped Shakespeare defeat witches with spells from Harry Potter. She was intelligent, clever, and kind. There were certainly moments in the series of flawed writing and character development, but Freema Agyeman pushed through all the barriers and really made something of herself in this show, more than I think Russell T. Davies – the creator of her character – had even intended. I loved Rose Tyler as a companion, but Martha was someone different – she didn’t base her decisions on how she felt about the Doctor, but on what she knew was right, and what would keep all of her loved ones safe.
Sometimes people say there’s nothing to like about Martha Jones. I constantly wonder, What isn’t there to like?
Amber Midgett is a graduate student in Publishing with a focus in editing at Rosemont College. She grew up in North Carolina and has no idea where she’ll live next. Her ultimate fandoms are Harry Potter and Doctor Who, and she could recommend a book to probably anyone.