This entry is going to contain spoilers for the entire third season of the new Dr. Who, which Kam and I just finished watching. I won't be talking about everything about the show; mainly just one character. But I will include spoilers for the whole second half of the final episode of the season, so if you haven't seen that episode I strongly recommend skipping the rest of this entry.
I'm very disappointed, and even a little angry, about the way the writers treated Martha Jones over the course of this season.
"Smith and Jones," at the beginning of season 3, was one of my favorite Dr. Who episodes. The plot was nothing to write home about, but Martha was something special. Not only attractive, but smart, competent, independent, adventurous, and willing to stand up to the Doctor, and they played very well off each other. I adored her instantly. There've been plenty of other companions I've liked, including Rose, but in general the ones I've liked best have been the most competent ones (my favorites were Romana II and Nyssa, so I guess I should say "the most competent ones who I found attractive"), and I was really looking forward to a season with smart, capable, medically trained Martha Jones.
But then something happened.
I don't know what it was, unless it was just that the writers were so in love with David Tennant's Doctor themselves (and who could blame them?) that they couldn't make room for another capable recurring character. (Except that in the last few episodes, they featured two other major characters who were smart and competent, and gave them plenty to do. Though, granted, one was a villain. Is it a coincidence that both of the characters in question were male, and white? I can't blame them there, either--both characters are great--but why couldn't they give Martha that important of a part?) Or maybe they were so caught up in their core idea of her as being in unrequited love with the Doctor that they didn't think they needed to give her any more of a role.
But for whatever reason, in episode after episode, Martha had nothing to do. Here's what she showed herself to be capable of:
- Saying that she was medically trained, but then being stymied by unfamiliar medical problems or plot developments.
- Mooning after the Doctor, and/or telling other characters that she was in love with him.
- Being jealous about Rose.
- Occasionally helping save minor characters in subplots that had little to do with the main plot.
- Being competent and capable offstage.
- Explaining to minor characters that the Doctor will come and save them.
And that's about it. I don't think we ever got to see her put her medical skills to much real use. She almost never figured things out on her own. Rose may not have been the brightest card in the deck, but she did that great thing where she would instantly go off and make friends with the working-class beings in the area; Martha sort of did that once or twice, but mostly only in order to tell the others that the Doctor would save them.
She had a couple of nice moments of being non-homophobic. She got to flirt a bit with Captain Jack and William Shakespeare. And the Doctor entrusted her with the incredibly important task of keeping him safe in his human form--by making her a servant, and giving her nothing else to do. And then he rubbed salt in that wound by going and falling in love with someone else while in human form.
In the final episode, we got to see what appeared at first to be a battle-hardened Rebel Leader version of Martha, and I had a moment of thinking that finally she was going to come into her own. And then we discovered that what she'd really been doing, for a whole year of trekking alone through a very dangerous world, was telling people how great the Doctor is.
Martha certainly had wonderful moments here and there. But I wanted her to be a major character--obviously not the Doctor's equal, but more than just a sidekick who's in love with him.
And now she's gone. Feh. I knew she was leaving, and I really liked her departure scene, but I'm nonetheless annoyed that the writers wasted an entire season's worth of opportunities to show one of the best characters they've come up with yet.
. . . On a side note: while I was writing this entry, for unrelated reasons I happened across the lyrics to a Kenny Chesney song, "Better As a Memory." If I were the sort to make a fan video of season 3's doomed love, this is the soundtrack I'd use.
By the way, Television Without Pity's mad genius Jacob has posted a recap of all of season 3, which is long and detailed and brilliant and occasionally incomprehensible and quite mad (in a good way), and also contains an in-passing spoiler having to do with season 4 companions, which sadly I already knew because it's nearly impossible to read anything online about the show without someone mentioning it.
(Thanks for the TWOP pointer, Wendy!)