Steve O’Brien argues that David Tennant’s middle companion deserves a lot more love than she gets (and not just from the Doctor)
Prosecution: M’lud, this week we have in the dock Russell T Davies’ greatest screw up when it came to the basic set-up of the show. For the most part, this man had the Midas touch, creating characters that were strong and vivid and shimmering with personality. Everyone loved Rose, and everyone (in the end) cherished Donna. And is there a character like Captain Jack anywhere else on television? So we are saying, no, there’s no way we’re giving the simpering, lovestruck Dr Martha Jones another chance. Her only character trait was to look all doe-eyed at the Doctor,
Defence: M’lud, if is there any Doctor Who companion that remains criminally under-appreciated, it’s Martha Jones. But that’s unjust. She was a character every bit as vivacious as Rose Tyler and every bit as tragic as Donna Noble. She was the one who loved but was unloved back. If there’s a criticism of Russell to be made here, it’s that we didn’t get a chance to see that attraction mature. Her storyline was cruelly curtailed in “Last Of The Time-Lords” and though she returned for spit and cough appearances she wasn’t granted a full story arc like Rose and Donna. It was a crying shame, because the unrequited love angle actually did make an interesting contrast to Rose. At least Russell didn’t just make her a by-the-numbers Rose replacement. There was a lot of fun to be had from watching her try to make the Doctor notice her, and when she finally realised it wasn’t going to happen, that was touching too.
Prosecution: And why do you think that is? If rumours are to be believed, her stint on board the TARDIS was brought to an abrupt end because she just wasn’t gelling with audiences. She had 13 episodes to escape from Rose’s shadow and she never did. Look at their comparable popularities – Martha has only 1,136 Likes on her Facebook page, compared to 8,811 for Rose Tyler and 4,236 to Donna Noble.
Defence: If the RTD team regretted her so much, why did they bring her back for so many curtain calls? She turned up in Torchwood for a multi-episode appearance and Doctor Who for five episodes of series three and a spot in “The End of Time”, not to mention her holographic cameo in “Let’s Kill Hitler”. She’s hardly been written out of Doctor Who history...
Prosecution: If only she was. Imagine how much better “Human Nature” would have been with Rose faking it as a school cleaner, and think about how “Blink” could have been made even more perfect with Catherine Tate doing her thing on that television screen.
Defence: She’s brilliant in the “Human Nature” two-parter. Donna’s character certainly wouldn’t have worked in that. Her wounded love for the Doctor, watching from afar while he falls head over heels for Joan Redfern is powerful stuff. And Freema Agyeman (let’s not forget about her here) plays it with such delicateness. It’s a heart-breaking couple of episodes.
Prosecution: Yes, heart-breaking, because it’s got Martha Jones in it, and not Rose Tyler. But let’s not forget her family, who were possibly the dullest group of characters ever to come en masse for the new Doctor Who . Her dad’s relationship with that blonde strumpet hinted at an interesting dynamic which was never capitalised on. And as for that sister and that brother... dreary doesn’t begin to describe them.
Prosecution: That’s another trial. Being middle-class doesn’t have to mean bland and forgettable. They’re hardly in the same league as Jackie and Pete or Wilf and Sylvia. When I go to sleep I don’t count sheep I count the members of Martha Jones’ family...
Defence: Anyway, back to Martha herself. Wasn’t it good to have a woman, as opposed to a girl, by the Doctor’s side? Someone with a career and a brain? Look, we love Rose, but that love affair was one of the least convincing on television. It’s like Jonathan Miller falling in love with Cher Lloyd. With Martha, who looked at him longingly and had actually read a book in her life, the Doctor should have noticed a spark. It was just bad scripting that Rose caught his eye and not Martha.
Prosecution: The Doctor’s never been attracted to vanilla personalities, which is what Martha was. Jeez, I’m amazed he even invited her into the TARDIS in the first place. Might as well invite Nicola Roberts on board. Pretty to look at, but zilch to say.
Defence: Well, she was good enough for UNIT to employ her as a medical specialist. And for Captain Jack to want to recruit her for Torchwood. And even if we’re talking about Freema, then she was good enough for Law & Order: UK to want to snap her up.
Prosecution: And thank God they did, otherwise she would have ruined Children Of Earth .
Defence: Hmmm, we will concede, Martha did feel like a spare wheel in Torchwood so maybe that was a good thing. But she also deserves some recognition for being the first black companion. For a series as supposedly liberal as Doctor Who , it took an awful long time to get a non-Caucasian person inside that TARDIS.
Prosecution: But it’s her character we’re prosecuting, not her race. It’s brilliant that Doctor Who finally embraced multi-ethnic Britain, but it doesn’t excuse such a sloppy attitude to characterisation. And the blandness of her family seems like a white scriptwriter running scared of depicting black people in anything but a glowing, respectable light for fear of controversy.
Defence: Whatever a writer does with a black character, whether they be working class or middle class is always in the line of fire.
Prosecution: And what of the final scene of Martha’s story, where we find that Dr Jones has become a freelancer alien hunter and she’s married MICKEY SMITH! A pairing as likely as the Brigadier hooking up with Jackie Tyler.
Defence: Yes, even we find it hard to argue that one.
Prosecution: So you concede?
Defence: Hell, no! We maintain that Martha Jones was one of the great companions. A worthy companion for the Doctor who will be remembered for intelligence, bravery and for being the first black person to travel regularly in the TARDIS. And for anybody who doubts Agyeman’s ability, rewatch her final confrontation with the Master in “The Last Of The Time Lords” where she delivers the killer blow. If for not other reason, Martha Jones should go down in Who history for that moment. And her final scene in the same story was one of the best speeches Russell ever wrote for the show, because he made it truly emotion without a death or forced separation or some other tragic event to spur it on it. It was just one woman, pouring heart out and putting the Doctor in his place. You go, girl!
Prosecution: Okay, okay, you win. But we still prefer Donna.