Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Problem With Martha Jones

I wrote a bit about this on one of my other blogs. But since I had another thought on it - and since we're going to be a bit content shy this week since I'm going without my comics - I thought I'd post it here.

I recently had a chance catch up on the new Doctor Who and watch the Third Season. I've been meaning to do this ever since the new Doctor Who comic started and the reason for that is Martha Jones - the Doctor's latest companion.

The new series started with an episode called Rose - centering upon Rose Tyler - a 19-year old shopgirl in London who still lives with her widowed mother, has a casual boyfriend named Mickey and is painfully ordinary. Rose's life is changed forever thanks to a chance encounter with time-traveling, world-hopping Doctor and she impressed him enough with her courage and willingness to be a hero when nobody else would stand up for him to invite her to come with him.

This was a brilliant way to start the series and whatever may be said of some of his more recent decisions regarding the show, Russel T. Davies deserves credit for this point. In bringing back a legendary show and making it accessible to first-time viewers, he needed a good entry point. By bringing in Rose as the focus of the show, he was able to go hog-wild on the rest of the usual Doctor Who weirdness for the old-fans guilt free. As Rose was growing used to the whole new universe around her, so did the new fans.

Even the more skeptical of the old fans like me came to like Rose as she brought back another aspect of Doctor Who that appeared to have been lost in the new series; she brought The Doctor back to being a person, not a force of nature. It is clear that The Doctor has been traveling alone for quite some time and that the time alone has changed him as much as The Time War. He doesn't seem to like people very much and seems to be saving The Earth out of habit as much as any true love or respect for all life. As the first season went on, The Doctor softened a bit and went from being this hardened, sarcastic and embittered warrior into a harder, but still recognizable version of The Doctor we grew up with. This culminated in his regeneration into the David Tenant doctor - who was generally kinder, but still capable of disturbing harshness as witnessed in The Christmas Invasion.

But back to Rose Tyler. She and the Doctor both had an equal effect on each other. The Doctor exposed Rose to a literal universe she had never dreamed of and Rose grew far beyond being a shopgirl. She helped him to rediscover the part of himself that was capable of relating to others - to be a true healer instead of a hero who just fixes things. You can't deny that theirs was a powerful relationship based on mutual discovery, no matter how you may feel about how the love between them was one-sided, purely romantic or simply two best friends who know each other completely and complement one another perfectly.

So it was unlikely then that anyone could step into the void that Rose filled and do a good job. The Third Series seemed to acknowledge this itself. First, when Martha herself described herself as being "The Doctor's rebound". Second, in the final episodes, when The Master said of Martha - "You used to have companions who held the time vortex in their head and now this. Pathetic."

So why did Martha go wrong? Here's a quick list.

1. No Character Growth As Time Passed

Rose developed and changed as the series continued, starting out as a confused shopgirl but growing into a heroic woman who could look Daleks in the eye with a smile on her face. Martha, for better or worse, never really changed until the very last episode and most of her hardening took place over a year that took place completely off-camera. And while she apparently decided, in that time, that she had better things to do with her life than spend eternity pining over a man who couldn't love her back, that didn't stop us from getting an entire series of her being wowed by one kiss and then whining about "why can't he love me?"

2. Mary Sue-ism

Rose got a lot of complaints about being a Mary Sue. "Oh! Rose wound up charming a Dalek, took control of the Space/Time Vortex and literally rewrote reality so the Dalek's never existed, got to kiss The Doctor and got basically got the closest thing to a declaration of love that anyone could out of him!"

Fair enough. Rose, DID do a lot more than previous companions. However, Rose had to WORK for all of that to happen and would have died several times over if not for the Doctor's intervention. Pretty much every time Rose did something to save The Doctor, she had to fight to do it. And there were quite a lot of times when Rose was uncertain or incapable of doing anything effective. If Rose were a true Mary Sue, she'd never doubt herself, everything would have come easy and she ever would have had anything really bad happen to her.

Compare that to Martha who - in the third season finale - became the great last hope of the Earth because there was literally nobody else left to do it. And she would have been totally useless if not the key and the knowledge The Doctor gave her. Hell, they had to hamstring The Doctor AND Captain Jack in order to give Martha a chance to prove she COULD do something useful.

In the end, Martha had hordes of strangers telling us how great she was when she became the only person who could save the universe. But Rose just showed us how great she was, in defiance of everyone (her mother, her boyfriend and even The Doctor) who said that she couldn't save the universe.

3. The Mark of a Hero

In the end of the First Season, Rose defied her mother and insisted that somebody had to save The Doctor after he sent her back to her own time without her consent. She persuaded her mother and boyfriend - who had no reason to trust or even like The Doctor - to help her with breaking into The TARDIS so she could become the cavalry.

In the end of the Second Season, with her family in danger and The Doctor captured by hostiles, Rose bit her tongue about her mom being in danger but accepted that there were bigger stakes. Then she acted on her own and was fairly self-sufficient in breaking into a secret alien-hunting facility. Even after Torchwood caught her, she was never really helpless or dependent on anyone else for survival and was able to fast-talk a group of Daleks into sparing her.

In the end of the Third Season, with her family in danger and The Doctor captured by hostiles, Martha pitched a fit about her family being in danger, walked into an obvious trap while telling The Doctor that he couldn't tell her what to do and then had The Doctor hand her the solution to their problems... and even then, Martha needed help to move around and actually accomplish anything as she spent a year getting the plan to work.

Rose was equal parts Kim Possible and Biggles. Martha was Dr. Whovey from Horton Hears a Who.

4. Love, Actually

Ironically, despite being younger and probably more inexperienced, Rose was a good deal mature in how she handled her relationship with The Doctor than the older, maturer Martha.

Rose seemed to start building a romantic attraction to The Doctor in the Second Season. In the episode where she encountered Sarah Jane, she asked The Doctor point blank about why he didn't let this woman who obviously loved him stay with him and he said - basically - that as much as he may like a companion, he can't spend his whole life with them even if they spend their whole life with him and that would hurt both of them too much to consider it.

Rose takes this in stride and in a later episode (The Satan Pit) she's the one to bring up the subject of how they MIGHT consider living together and trying a normal relationship if they are doomed to be stranded in one time - a notion the Doctor dismisses not because of the idea of a relationship but because of the idea that he could ever live a normal life.

By the end of the Second Season, the two seem to have reached an acceptance of their relationship and there is definitely romantic love if not sexual love. The penultimate episode, Army of Ghosts, actually opens with a scene of the two watching a beautiful scene, The Doctor asking how long Rose will stay with him and she says "Forever" with no protest from him. Rose has decided that she can live with spending the rest of her life with The Doctor and he - for better or worse - seems to have accepted this as well, though he hasn't vocally acknowledged his feelings for Rose. Feelings which are made all too apparent in Series 3.

In short, Rose grew into her relationship with The Doctor and was mature enough to address how it changed from friendship to love directly.

Compare that to Martha, who falls in love after one kiss and then spends the better part of the season alternating between flirting with any other attractive man who pays her any attention and whining about why The Doctor can't love her.


  1. Frankly, I found the whole "Martha yearning for the Doctor" subplot of season three incredibly boring. It seemed like Martha spent most of the season competing with Rose, trying to supplant her in the Doctor's affections, which struck me as incredibly shallow. I mean, she is literally travelling through time and space from week to week, with the opportunity to see things that almost nobody else she knows will get to see, and she's fixated on a crush, and the Doctor's ex?
    I think it is very sad that the writers never really gave Martha a chance to grow beyond her feelings for the Doctor on the screen. I do like Martha, and I think she has the potential to be a great addition to the Who-verse. I just wish we could move beyond the crush aspect, and focus on Martha herself. She's a doctor, for crying out loud. She's smart, and good under pressure, and no stranger to stress. I'd much rather see her utilizing her own skills than eating her heart out over her unrequited love for the Doctor.

  2. Exactly. I liked the idea for Martha a lot better than the execution. I also didn't like how we had a sudden rash of stories where a medical doctor was needed so Martha would actually have something to do to show how useful she was.
    Rose never got a chance to use her gymnastics training again. That's all I'm saying.

  3. Martha, Martha, Martha
    The shame is that the Martha I liked best was the one who was in "Blink." She seemed to have Rose's love for the life, teasing the Doctor about having to be domestic to suit him, and then, at the end, racing off into an adventure with a spider, armed with a bow and arrow.
    We never really got to see that Martha again. I know it's a tough one, because the argument is that they wouldn't want Martha to be a carbon copy of Rose. I think they could have worked in the love angle, while making Martha more of an equal of the Doctor's.
    Either way, they seemed to have learned their lesson with Season 4. Without spoiling too much, Donna, as a character, is a much better companion than Martha was.
    And judging by her Season 4 appearance and Season 2 guest role on Torchwood, I think they found a good direction for Martha.

  4. Re: Martha, Martha, Martha
    I've heard as much on both fronts and am glad to hear it.
    And I love what I've seen of the 2nd Half of Series IV trailer. Or rather... what we didn't see. ;)