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.
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.