As a dedicated Whovian, I’ve given certain topics a lot (probably too much) of contemplation. I’ve recently rewatched series 3, and it made me think about why Martha Jones is such a disliked/discounted/underrated companion.
My mission statement: Martha Jones is a great companion, at least in my opinion. Martha was the only RTD era companion to defeat the Big Bad without supernatural alterations to her physiology, like Rose’s absorbing the power of the Time Vortex or Donna becoming imbued with Time Lord-y-ness (?). She’s also the first (and only, if you don’t count Mickey) companion of color on Doctor Who ever. She’s quick witted, brave, kind, and everything you could want from a companion.
So why is Martha Jones one of Doctor Who‘s least popular companions?
It depends a lot on point of view, but, if you ask me, the solution lies in two words: Rose Tyler.
Rose was most people’s first companion, and much like the way one never forgets their first Doctor, you never forget your first companion. Not too mention, much of the way we view the companion depends on how the Doctor himself views them. As we all know, the Doctor worshipped the ground Rose walked on. He loved her. Yes, I do believe he was in love with her. So, most of us couldn’t help but fall in love with Rose as well. And her exit from the show (the first one, I mean) was heartwrenching to say the least. I’m a diehard Doctor/Master shipper, but if you don’t get at least a little glassy eyed watching “Doomsday”, you must be made of stone.
Then came Martha. *Jan Brady voice* Martha, Martha, Martha!
I always say, it’s hard to be the first replacement. I imagine it must’ve been a challenge for Patrick Troughton to take over from William Hartnell back in the day. Bill Murray definitely struggled when replacing Chevy Chase in the cast of SNL in the ’70s. Rose had been around for two seasons, and was beloved by much of the fandom. So Freema Agyeman had a large gap to fill (despite Billie Piper’s actual physical diminutiveness). The fact that Russell T. Davies wrote her as having a crush on the Doctor didn’t help. Most people felt loyal to the idea of the Doctor and Rose together romantically, and didn’t like the idea of someone coming between that.
And then there was the Doctor himself. The way he dismissed Martha’s usefulness as his partner affected the way the viewer saw her. The Doctor would bring Rose up at every turn, as if Martha just wasn’t enough. Even the Master himself makes a remark about the Doctor’s other companions (i.e., Rose) being of a higher caliber, being able to take on the power of the Time Vortex. I mean, really??? As if Martha didn’t have enough opinions against her being good enough! Was that remark absolutely necessary?!
As a matter of fact…it was.
That’s what so important about Martha’s character arc, in my opinion. The fact that there was this stigma to her character, of being second best, and her disproving that. (One could even say it’s symbolic of society’s oppression of black people, but I don’t feel I’m qualified to discuss civil rights.) The Doctor, eventually, begins to see Martha’s worth. I think he officially realizes he’s treated her badly at the end of “The Family Of Blood”, after witnessing how she fares on her own, in an unfriendly, racist setting, and having to take care of him to boot. But too little, too late. Because all they have after that is “Blink” and then the Master trilogy. But even then, Martha overcomes the obstacles set in her path like a pro, beating the Master at his own game. When she’s departing the TARDIS, she flips the Master’s words on their head. “I spent a lot of thinking I was second best. But you know what? I am good.” Not even “as good as Rose”. Just “good”. She doesn’t need to prove that she’s up to par with her predecessor (a white woman). Martha is great, all on her own. This is a character who has grown in her time with the Doctor, and that is the mark of a high caliber companion.
Will Martha Jones ever be recognized as the great character she is? Probably not. But I ask you, go back and watch series 3. Try to forget all you know and love about Rose Tyler for a second. Really watch Martha. You’ll see a lot more in her than you originally did, I bet.
To Martha Jones, the Woman Who Walked The Earth. A star. ~TRL