Bloody Useless: Martha Jones, the In-Between Companion

Doctor Who Companion Retrospective Part Four

“Ever heard the word rebound?”: Martha Jones, the in-the-middle companion

From what I understand, some people love Martha and some hate her. I’d love her if she found even one different tone of voice.

Martha was Rose’s successor, her replacement, someone who was there to make the Doctor less lonely. She knew this, the entire time. She hated it, and she kept going with the doctor anyway because she instantly fell in love with him.

But Martha’s peripheral position goes beyond her filling Rose’s empty shoes, making the Doctor feel better. Martha was a companion without imagination, without a strong role to play in the story she and the Doctor were living in. With the exception of the season finale, she was never a driving force in the story. Anytime she was playing a strong role, it was on the strict instructions of the Doctor.

Martha had no ability to be independent of the Doctor. She couldn’t wing it like Rose when the Doctor disappeared, or blunder her way to victory like Donna. Her most important job was for the Doctor to save her, to push the story forward. When faced with the 1911 Doctor, she had no idea what to do when he deviated from instructions. She spent an entire year on her own and did nothing but follow his instructions.

Martha suffered for this, for her own lack of initiative. Her family suffered, she and she was left always feeling second best.

Martha was a reduced character, one without the feminine power of Rose or the masculine power of Jack. She was just there for the Doctor to have someone to talk to. Even when she left him, her only strong choice in her whole story, her life was dominated by her connection to the Doctor. That connection got her a job at UNIT, it got her a medical liscense, and eventually it got her a husband.

When Martha breaks away from the Doctor, using a teleporter and a nuclear bomb, it is presented as a betrayal of all that is good. To destroy the planet was obviously madness, but Martha threatened it anyway. Martha Jones could have single-handedly been responsible for the destruction of the earth: the only important decision she ever made that had nothing to do with the Doctor.

In both narrative and character, Martha was a failure as a companion, a shell. She was objectified in the worst way possible, the only way that is really dangerous no matter what anyone says: she was a person around which things happened, a person who followed directions or followed the flow, a person who needed to be acted upon, not an actor in her own right.

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18 thoughts on “Bloody Useless: Martha Jones, the In-Between Companion

  1. I disagree. Yes, she was in a sense the rebound girl. How were the writers supposed to follow up the strictly romantic storyline if Rose and the Doctor? Martha was a doctor — a doctor for the Doctor. After all that had happened, he needed someone there to heal him emotionally and look after him, and that’s what she did. She was able to take directions and assess situations critically. She walked the Earth for a year! I love Rose, but seriously imagine her having done half the things Martha’s accomplished. Honestly, this is why I love Donna. I don’t think a romantic storyline is always necessary. Plus, we have seen the Doctor smooch on Marie de Pompadour. Do you think he has any connection that strong? Lol. I’m loving the 11th Doctor and the new writing — if RTD was on it, he probably would have forced some romance between him and Amy, lol.

    • I understand your points, but I stand by what I said. I think no companion can survive long without being able to assess situations critically, but either Donna or Rose could do better than just following the Doctor’s directions. Martha was never called on to think for herself, or act for herself, and that reduced her to the doctor’s shadow, rather than his companion–a placeholder to fill in between Rose and Donna. Donna and Rose both saved the world just as much as Martha, but they did it without the Doctor telling them what to do.
      Also, I think just because a romantic story isn’t always necessary doesn’t mean it’s automatically bad.
      The Doctor’s connection with Madame de Pompadour was powerful but fleeting; they understood each other instinctively, but they never really knew each other. The Doctor and Rose both knew and loved each other.
      I love 11, but I actually miss RTD. I think the Doctor’s positive fear of Amy’s sexuality, which the whole reason they were never romantic, says something really unhealthy about women’s sex drive when not contained in a “safe” relationship.

  2. Also — Martha Jones in 1910 not doing enough? I think we can agree that being black in that time period (as well as a woman) wasn’t going to help her case whatsoever. It sucks he had to take her to that time! Like taking a Jewish person to 1938 Poland…sheesh.

  3. “racism is no obstacle to wandering around time and space”….way to belittle racism. Anyway, Martha Jones was the only companion so far that actually had a goal in the real world besides working in a shop, as a temp, or a kiss-a-gram. I can’t believe you say Martha could only do what she was told, when Donna was the same way, except worse because she constantly doubted herself. Martha was strong because she stayed with the doctor for as long as she did when she knew she had no shot with him. Unrequited love is the hardest kind, and to end the relationship the way she did was amazing. Most women could learn a thing or to about that from her. Rose was nothing but sex appeal. The only thing Martha Jones did was be black. I’m so sick of Martha haters.

    • I’m not belittling racism in real life, I’m saying that within the world of the show racism is limited to an occasional comment or “Political correctness gone mad”.

      I take your point about Martha having a goal in the real world, but meeting the Doctor changed all that. She didn’t become a doctor, instead she went to work for UNIT, then went “freelance”, whatever that means.

      I’m confused: you say that Martha is strong for living with her unrequited love for the Doctor for so long knowing it was hopeless, and she proved that she was strong by walking away from her unrequited love?

      And although I agree that, within the text of the show, unrequited love can be portrayed as a strength, for Martha I think it’s portrayed as a weakness. She does everything in spite of the fact that the Doctor will never really love her, and her desperate need to be loved limits her, keeps her from thinking straight, from coming up with her own ideas and exercising her own agency.

      I’m not talking about women learning a thing or two in real life–I’m talking about comparative companions within the show.

      I’m of the opinion that Rose was a lot more than sex appeal, which I wrote about extensively on this blog. Actually, if we’re going to talk about sex appeal, I’ve gotta say that Martha’s skimpy tanktop is a lot more sexually appealing than Rose’s t-shirts and jeans. Ant that’s not even getting into Amy’s miniskirts…

      I think Martha did a lot more than be black–actually, being black had almost nothing to do with her character. Martha’s race is treated by the show, for better or worse, as little more than a casting quirk. I think the problem with Martha was that she was boring, ineffective, and a terrible actress. If that makes me a “Martha hate”r, so be it.

      • I happen to like Martha, but I cringe when people who also like her are so quick to play the race card. *Liking* her just because she’s black isn’t much better than disliking her for the same reason. I liked Martha because she was devoted, reliable, intelligent and very strong-willed. I have to scratch my head when people say she was dependent on the Doctor and ask “what part of the Master plot line did you miss?” Was it the part where she single-highhandedly rallied an entire world to SAVE the Doctor, while he was playing Doby the Captive Houseelf? lol

      • I have to say, I’d have been much more impressed with Martha’s abilities if she had come up with the plan on her own, instead of just following the Doc’s plan.

  4. i think what pissed me off the most was that she was needy for his attention even though the first thing he told her was that it meant nothing when he kissed her in her first episode and as far as hes concerned he would just drop her off at home if she could just ask him to. but she INSISTED on being rebound girl. but she just kept complaining.

  5. I can see your point but I disagree. Yes, she couldn’t wing stuff like Rose because she isn’t Rose. Martha Jones is more analytical.
    (1) You said that everything that Martha Jones did was because of the Doctor. Well she saved the Doctor with her last breath, and realized that the hospital has some oxygen left impressing hime with her wit without the Doctor’s input. (Smith and Jones). Martha manages to restart his heart and thought of a rhyme to get rid of the Carronites (The Shakespeare Code). When Martha was kidnapped by Milo and Cheen to get into the fast lane, Martha convinced Milo to turn off the power to distract from the Macra (Gridlock). Martha has made a makeshift lightning rod from spare pipes to divert the lightning into the elevator killing the pig slaves (Evolution of the Daleks). Martha goes around answering pop quiz-style questions (42). Martha also suspected the identity of the Master before the Doctor does (Utopia). She also helps a Hath with it’s injury (The Doctor’s Daughter). Plus she has ambitions outside the Doctor. She was planning to be a doctor herself before she met the Doctor.
    (2) She had to do things that no other companion had to go through. She went to a racist time and have toe serve as a made for months “So tell me Miss Martha Jones. With hands like those, how can tell if something is clean?” (Human Nature). She got a job to support the Doctor in 1969 (Blink). Her whole family and “luv of her life” were personal slaves for the Master (The Sound of Drums). Unlike Donna and Rose, she didn’t need godlike powers to save the world or be forced away from the Doctor.
    (3) Yes she got a job at UNIT because of the Doctor but she done it on her own terms (The Sontaran Stratagem) She also her experiences of her travels with the Doctor to do something with it and not wait on the Doctor 24/7.
    (4) You said when Martha used a teleporter and a nuclear bomb to break away from the Doctor, she could potentially destroy the Earth. She wouldn’t be the first companion to risk a world or two universes. When the Doctor was saying goodbye to Rose, he told her he can’t physically come to beach or else two universes will collapse. Rose response, “So?” (Doomsday).
    (5) Who wouldn’t want to f#$k the brain out of 10/David Tennant? He can take you anywhere and anytime you want. Sounds like a perfect date!

    • So basically, what people dislike about Martha is that she’s a perfectly normal human being with a life and ambitions outside of travelling through time and space, and no major plot twists making her anything above humanity/different from everyone else. (see: Bad Wolf, the whole Doctor-Donna thing, and the influence the crack in the wall had on Amy’s life and how it made her ‘special’).
      Martha was a good companion because she was different to the rest of the companions in New Who (excluding Clara, who while also having her big ‘eyyyy more special than anyone else’ thing, is also hated by a large portion of the fandom). She lived a normal, human life until it was really messed up by her interactions with the Doctor, and most people in the audience can relate to her on so many more levels simply because of that. She doesn’t need any fancy plot arcs; Martha is strong willed and determined, and she was intelligent too.
      I’m pretty much just adding my option on to Belinda’s comment here, and I agree with very word of what she said.

  6. The main point here is basically a comparison of two completely different characters. Let me explain:

    Rose is a lovely girl, with little to no great achievements in here life. She has a mum, a slightly dopey ex-boyfriend-turned-friend, a complicated relationship (to say the least) with her father and the magical Doctor who basically rescued her from the banality of her life. Rose is someone who never thought she could be anything more than just a “girl in a shop” until she met the Doctor and proved to herself that she was so much more. Rose acts primarily on her emotional side, having no technical knowledge of anything. However, she makes up for it all by learning from the Doctor and uses moments of inspired genius to help the Doctor.

    Martha, by contrast, has a loud, big family. As we saw in her first episode, she’s mainly the person her entire family complains to and expects to solve all their problems. On top of that, she’s a medical student with her own career and education. She is intelligent and quite resourceful to the Doctor, in my opinion.

    The “rebound” part first: it is so hard, so *incredibly* difficult and painful and frustrating to be the rebound. Having to live up to the past failed relationship sucks in a big way. Trust me, I know. Martha acts exactly as any other girl would act in that situation. She is strong. She doesn’t live for herself for the simple reason that she is basically a selfless person (refer to the part she plays for her family members).
    The reason Martha sticks around for the most part is because she believes she can help him get over Rose and, possibly, commence a relationship with her – something every rebound thinks they can do for the person they love. That is called human nature. Rose, by contrast in this particular area, is quite a selfish and jealous person, understandably, because she’s never had to be the rebound. She gets jealous of other companions and saves her father, altering history, despite the Doctor warning her not to. Again, human nature. Martha and Rose are two different people in different situations.

    When Martha actually did give up on the Doctor ever responding to her feelings, she left – for her own good. She left and carved out her life after that, on her own terms. There’s an act of strength right there. For someone who’s whole life is dedicated to helping others – remember, she’s a doctor herself, not to mention an emotional punching bag for her family – this is a very positive step to take. She did branch out and join UNIT, but only because she saw a whole new universe from her time with the Doctor and saw that she could do so much more. Anyone who’s been on an adventure with the Doctor couldn’t possibly be expected to just carry on their old lives as if nothing happened – that is unrealistic. There is no way Martha could have remained simply a normal Doctor after traversing a whole universe.

    The “useless” part second: Miss Marshall’s comment above illustrates sufficiently, I think, Martha’s usefulness to the Doctor apart from her following his instructions. Although, if a centuries-old Time Lord who has expertise in matters gave me instructions to help save the world, I’d listen. Another point I’d like to make here is that the reason Martha keeps calling the Doctor back is not for her own need, but to help the planet. The Doctor would have been involved anyway because he is intertwined with the work of UNIT. He is basically a consultant for UNIT and Martha calls him on that basis.

    It’s not Martha specifically that people seem to dislike, I think. It’s more the concept of Martha, because she seems to present a foil to the relationship that Rose and the Doctor shared because of her feelings towards the Doctor – and let’s face it, nobody could blame her for that. Whoever the Doctor selected to be his next companion, be it Martha or anybody else, the same basic storyline of the rebound would have ensued because the Doctor was hung up on Rose.

    Also, notice Martha’s reaction to meeting Rose. Does she go off on a jealous tirade? Does she hinder their relationship in any way? No. She says, “He found you.” She is glad that the man she loved finally found the woman he’s loved for so long. She is happy for them.

    In conclusion, I believe that it’s unfair to compare Martha to Rose. I love both characters intensely and I will defend both of them with my life. They remind me of my two sisters, actually: one, rational and knowledgeable and technically proficient, and the other, emotionally-inclined and brave and tempestuous. I love them both. One of them is not better than the other, just different. And I think we can all agree that the one thing we learn from Doctor Who is that we should never, ever prosecute someone for being different.

    This has been an unwarranted opinion 🙂

    • I couldn’t agree with this more! I could add more to this but you’ve captured my sentiments exactly! Thank you! I think the OP is way off base about Martha. Thanks for defending her. 😀

    • I have been reading a lot of comments on Martha, and your explanation is by far the most well thought-out and logical. Thank you so much for putting it in words so well!

  7. Thank you for articulating, with examples, what I’ve never been able to manage regarding why Martha was a terrible companion.

    My problem has always been explaining that my problem is not really who the character is but what the character was meant to be vs. the reality of what they were. In this case, we kept having to be told that Martha was different than Rose and that she was more of an equal to The Doctor… while seeing no evidence of this through her actions. Informed Ability, I think, is how TVTropes would define it.

    And for everyone saying it isn’t fair to compare Rose to Martha, it’s impossible NOT to define Martha apart from Rose since the show couldn’t be arsed to define Martha beyond those terms. We were told that Martha was smarter, yet she still had to be told what to do and never took the imitative like 90% of the female companions in the classic series. We were told Martha was more mature, yet she whined like a love-struck teenager about her crush to anyone who would listen and more than a few people who wouldn’t.

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