Feminists in Fiction: Martha Jones (Doctor Who)

This post in the second in a series of posts on my favourite feminist characters and female role models in books and TV. You can find my first post on Katara from Avatar: The Last Airbender here.

Martha Jones is easily the most under-appreciated character in the new series Doctor Who world. And yet, I think she’s the strongest female role model out of all of them, and definitely the most feminist.

martha

I love many things about Martha, even though she gets a pretty bad rap in the show and in the fandom. To start off with, Martha’s extremely bright, and she’s not afraid to use that in her favour. She’s studying to be a doctor, and you can tell that she’s dedicated to her studies and her chosen profession. And that’s definitely come in handy in some of her travels with the Doctor. It also gives us that amazing scene in The Family of Blood where Martha recites the names of the bones of the hand and tells Nurse Redfern that yes, she can be a doctor, so shut up with the sexism already! (One of my favourite scenes ever.)

Martha’s not just bright though, but extremely loyal and family-minded. Martha has real, complex relationships with her family – her mother, her sister Tish, her brother Leo and her father. Throughout the third season, she’s the peacemaker in her family, and although it sometimes frustrates her and she feels she needs to get away, her family is constantly at the forefront of her mind. At the end of the series, her family is one of the reasons why Martha chooses not to keep travelling with the Doctor, because she support them after their traumatic experiences in the year that never was. Like Katara from AtLA, Martha manages to balance her own ambitions with her concern for people she cares for.

Above everything else, Martha is capable, resourceful and brave. There’s no doubt that all of the Doctor’s companions share these traits, from Rose right through to River Song. But of the companions, I feel that Martha has the ability to really stand up and take action, even when the Doctor isn’t around to help her at all. It’s funny, because people often ask me ‘what did Martha really do that was so spectacular?’ Well, a whole damn lot. The two episodes I’m thinking of in particular are Human Nature/The Family of Blood, and The Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords.

In Human Nature/The Family of Blood, the Doctor is forced to turn human and erase all his Time Lord memories to escape the Family, creating a life for himself as a school teacher in 1913, and charging Martha with the task of basically looking after him. Martha manages to stay close to him by working as a servant, and is treated like dirt by many of the other staff and students because of her position and her race. It’s not just for a few days, either, but for months. Martha selflesslness in these two episodes astounds me every time I go back and watch it, and if it wasn’t for her, the Family would easily have come out victorious and the world probably would have ended.

In The Last of the Time Lords, it’s Martha who saves the world, again. While everyone else is being held prisoner on the Valiant, it’s Martha who treks across the whole world, talking to people, spreading hope, and finally getting them to mobilise against the Master. She spends a whole year travelling with the fate of the world on her shoulders, and she does it all on her own, with her own skills and resourcefulness and bravery. Rose was instinctive enough to destroy a Dalek fleet by looking into the heart of the Tardis. But she really had no idea of what she was doing.  Martha’s journey took courage and planning and commitment. She had to know what she was doing, because otherwise, the world would not have survived.

But the think I admire most about Martha is her humanitarianism. Martha cares deeply for every living being, be they alien or human, as seen in Utopia. To me, she is the most compassionate of all Doctor Who characters, and the most feminist.

It frustrates me that Martha gets so much shit in the Doctor Who world. Partly, it’s because she’s riding on the back of Rose – whom Russel T Davies seems to have decided was the only one for Ten. In a way, I can understand it, because there’s always a resistance when an old, beloved character is replaced by a new character.

But the thing that people seem to hate about Martha is that she’s also in love with the Doctor. Which I don’t understand at all. Of course, I also think that it is unnecessary for every companion to fall in love with the Doctor, and a little annoying. But how does being in love make Martha so much worse of a character? Last time I checked, people still can’t help who they fall in love with. And that’s not the end of it, because I disagree when people say that she spends all season mooning around after the Doctor like a lovesick puppy. I don’t see it that way at all. If anything, Martha deals with her unrequited love in the most adult, sensible way possible. She doesn’t beat herself up about it, and she doesn’t try to act on it. When it comes to the end of the season, she pulls herself together and gets out.

It’s her most brilliant scene, and it shows just how strong she is and how much respect she has for herself, her family (whom she decides to stay with over continuing to travel in the TARDIS) and for the Doctor. And it’s a brilliant feminist scene as well, because it shows that Martha doesn’t need the Doctor to be an amazing, strong, compassionate person. She can do that all on her own, as she proved by saving the world.

So share the Martha love! Stop hating on a character just because she fancies someone and appreciate what really makes her a brilliant feminist role model.

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20 thoughts on “Feminists in Fiction: Martha Jones (Doctor Who)

    1. I understand why she left, and in a way I’m glad she did! But yeah, she gets a lot of flack from people. Probably more annoyance than hate, but people saw her as a mooney doormat. I don’t know why.

    2. From reading The Writer’s Tale it was always planned that she would be in for one season – she had other job offers for the following year and; understandably; the opportunities she was given were the kind that any actor would be going for. It is after all a somewhat precarious profession. So by the time it was being screened; they were shooting the next series with Catherine Tate and the decisions had been made – it wasn’t in response to the fans at all.

      I agree that she was an awesome character; she was a very good female role model for the children watching; and the following series clearly showed that she’d built herself a new career with UNIT – which is a very strong feminist message. I also like the fact that she left him because she knew she would never be able to win him.

      What’s nice in the books is that the year she tramped across the world with her message of hope shows her strengths as well. She really was a character that many writers got; and let her be a strong female.

      The last sight of her, armed, married to Micky and fighting Sontarans as a couple (Micky very obviously appreciating her skills and abilities as well as loving her) is one that is pretty awesome.

      1. No! No! No! You all get it wrong people hated on Martha because she’s black. The Dr really fancies and loves her but the show was not allowing him to react too much. She didn’t come across as fancying him at all she just did her job so you are all making it up.

  1. I totally agree! My favourite companion is Donna, but the more I think about Martha, the more I feel she is underappreciated. I’m currently rewatching the new series, and I’m still astounded by the love for Rose. At the end of the second series, her complete obsession with the Doctor is really overwhelming and offputting (“Do you think you’ll ever settle down?” “The Doctor never will…”).

    1. It’s funny, everyone seems to like Donna. I must be in the minority here for not actually liking her much… It’s nothing to do with how she’s not in love with Ten, but just with her personality. I find her terribly brash and loud and really annoying. But then, I think that’s mainly a Catherine Tate thing, I’ve never liked her much.

      But yeah, Rose’s clingy-ness gets a bit much towards the end. She’s very much the youngest and most inexperienced companion so far.

      1. How interesting! (Also, I like River Song more than Martha, and I generally like all the companions a lot!! Martha is just so under-appreciated.)

      2. I also like all the companions 😀 I just like Rose…less.

        Looking forward to how Clara turns out in the Christmas special!

      3. As am I! I really hope she is less… sassy and flirty. I know that sounds asexual and silly of me, but Moffat’s women all tend to fall in the sassy-sexual-flirty mould or the devoted-mother mould. I really just want a companion who’s a bit quieter!

      4. is it bad that I couldn’t stand her as Oswin? Of *course* she went through a lesbian “phase”. Yawn.

      5. Yeah, I really liked her to start with, and then the more she flirted the more annoying she got. Gah. I did not even notice the ‘lesbian phase’ thing! Oh Moff, if that is your idea of representation, you’re just so wrong.

  2. I love your take on Martha Jones! I also love Martha… and all the Doctor’s companions, really. Though I too was irritated at her lovelorn-ness, it was more that I wanted to take her aside and tell her that she’s awesome on her own. When she chose to leave, I was like WOOHOO MARTHA YEAH, YOU DO YOUR THING! I was also irritated when they later paired her up with Mickey. I love both of the characters, but pairing off the two major black characters when they otherwise seemed to have so little in common just skeeved me.

  3. To be honest my favorite companion is Rose because that scene witht the TARDIS just freaking blew my mind but I always did love Martha too. I had no idea that people hated her…whats up with that.

  4. The thing is, she wasn’t in LOVE with the doctor, she was just plain jealous and thought the doctor was in hot.

    It didn’t anger me so much that she wanted to get in his pants. Cause in her defense, who wouldn’t? What angered me is he lost someone very close to him, and she refused to respect his wishes to let it go.

    In her defense (yet again) I think it was mostly WRITING. I think Martha was way to smart to be, :”in love with the doctor” and such silly things.

    I don’t hate her, but she is not my favorite.

    I tend to rate the doctors travelers, by “Assistant” and “companion.”

    Martha = WAY better assistant. Rose loved the doctor, but she isn’t the brightest crayon in the box.

    Rose= better companion. Whether you like it or not, the doctor obviously saw something special in her.

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