I recently randomly rewatched some of my favorite Doctor Who episodes and realised that quite a few of them were episodes from season three of New!Who. It didn’t take me long to recognize what made me give this season such a special place in my heart: It was Martha.
Within lists of the most annoying Doctor Who character or companion, Martha quite often ends up comparatively high and also had to endure quite a bit of hate throughout her tenure as a companion. Part of it may be the simple fact that Martha showed up directly after Rose Tyler had left the show and almost instantly drew the fans’ ire – which is understandable, considering that for some people, Rose was their very first companion.
But now, almost nine years have passed and in the light of last month being Black History Month, I feel like it’s time to present an (incomplete and rambly) list of reasons why I personally love Martha Jones, Doctor Who’s first black companion.
Yes, I am aware that that is a pretty shallow reason, but let’s be honest: Martha Jones is gorgeous. She’s fun to look at. And she has (mostly) good taste with regards to fashion.
2) She’s wicked smart.
We see that Martha isn’t stupid within the first ten or so minutes of her first episode, “Smith and Jones”, where she turns out to be training to be a doctor. But she proves that she’s clever not only multiple times throughout the episode (whether that be by realizing that the hospital must be within a sort of protected bubble on the moon because the air isn’t being sucked out through the windows or by getting and completing the Doctor’s plan) but throughout the whole season, often providing important pieces to solve the puzzle of the episode and save the world.
3) Her relationship with her family is interesting, complex and realistic.
I’m not going to lie: part of why I almost instantly related to Martha was because I could relate to her family situation. Martha’s parents are divorced, her father has a new girlfriend who doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the family, her mother and father don’t get along and Martha is the one to whom everyone else seems to turn. While we do see Martha be annoyed and exasperated because of her family – she walks out of a birthday party and into the Doctor’s TARDIS due to a family feud – we also see her care deeply about them, especially when she thinks that they might be in danger. One of her most powerful moments, in my opinion, is in the season 3 finale when she realizes that the Master/Harold Saxon may be targeting her family and tries to call them. As the Doctor tells her not to call them, she furiously tells him off, stating that she will do as she likes. The fact that Martha is almost blind with fury and worry at the thought that her family might be harmed despite them also occasionally making her want to run away is, in my opinion, the sort of realistic portrayal of family relationships that early New!Who does so incredibly right.
4) She is brave.
Martha’s reaction to being told that they might die on the moon if they step out onto the balcony is “We might not”. She faces off with alien witches in her very first time – traveling adventure, pulls a gun first on her unknown kidnappers in “Gridlock” and then later on a member of the Family in the double episode “Human Nature/The Family of Blood”, wanders the dystopian Earth that the Master created all by herself to bring him down and finally laughs into his face when he proclaims that he will now execute her. Martha not only takes charge and acts in the face of danger, she literally laughs. If that isn’t bravery, I don’t know what else is.
5) She is genuinely kind, friendly and caring.
As already mentioned, Martha is training to be a doctor, a job where at least part of it is to care for and about other people. We see this caring side of her again and again during her tenure with the Doctor, especially when she meets new people like Chantho. And the people she meets notice: Every other episode someone becomes smitten with Martha – including Shakespeare.
6) Martha does what needs to be done, even if it comes at a great cost to herself.
As already mentioned, Martha spent a year traveling the world by herself after the Master took over in the season finale of season three to bring the Master down and from what is hinted at during these episodes, she saw some truly terrible things – but never gave up. In an earlier two-parter, Martha became a maid at a boy’s boarding school to protect the Doctor who had to go into hiding, erase his own memories and become a teacher at said school. Because they’re hiding in 1913, Martha has to deal with constant racist remarks not only from the condescending pupils, but also from the school nurse that the Doctor falls in love with that tells her that while women may be able to study medicine in the future, such a thing would hardly be possible for a woman of Martha’s color. She still endures these things not just for the Doctor, but for the good of all humanity and she doesn’t let them get to her. And when we see Martha again at the end of season 4, working for UNIT, she’s willing to blow up the Earth using the Osterhagen key to stop the Daleks from destroying the whole universe.
7) Martha doesn’t take anyone’s bullshit, especially not the Doctor’s.
But while Martha endures things, she also doesn’t: From the very beginning, she is outspoken around the Doctor and does not let his bullshit pass. When he introduces himself to her as the Doctor in “Smith and Jones”, she makes it clear that, in her opinion, people need to earn that title. She expresses her annoyance when he compares her to Rose and refuses to come with him if he refuses to be honest with her. While she endures hardships, she doesn’t do so if she deems it unnecessary and she talks back if people treat her badly.
8) She knows when to do what is best for herself and walk away.
We’ve already established that Martha is a kind, caring person who is willing to endure a lot of bullshit and hardships for the greater good. But Martha is also able and willing to say “No, this is not good enough for me – I deserve better than this and I will walk away now.” which is exactly what she does at the end of season three. I have to admit that Martha looking the Doctor, on whom she had a huge crush, straight in the eye and telling him not only that he made her feel like she wasn’t good enough, but also that she was getting out now without an ounce of bitterness is definitely one of the things that makes me like her the most. It takes strength to turn your back on somebody you deeply care about but who just can’t make you happy and it takes extra strength to do so without being unfair or bitter towards that person. But Martha pulls it off. And that is pretty admirable to me.
Images courtesy of the BBC