Of all the elements in Doctor Who, the companions who travel with the Time Lord are arguably the most important. As the audience vehicle and voice of reason, companions define their seasons almost as much as the Doctors himself (himselves?). While Whovians have their favorites, the most misunderstood of the modern era is still Freema Agyeman’s Martha Jones, the med student turned rebel fighter from the 2007 season. While Martha isn’t solely responsible for that year being one of the show’s best, she played a huge part in what made David Tennant’s run as the Tenth Doctor memorably compelling.
As Doctor Who enters its tenth season since the revival with new companion Billy (Pearl Mackie) boarding the TARDIS, Billy, it’s high time Whovians recognize that the grossly misunderstood Martha is, in fact, deserving of better recognition. Here are five reasons why:
1. She Achieved Greatness
It was Shakespeare himself — someone Martha Jones happened to meet — that once wrote, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” For most companions, greatness was thrust upon them: Bad Wolf, the Most Important Woman, the Girl Who Waited, the Impossible Girl, all poetic nicknames for companions who evolve from average nobody to Someone Really Important.
A lot of those companions had greatness thrust upon them. Rose Tyler was just a London shopgirl who became something more, while Clara Oswald’s mere existence throughout time was deemed “impossible.” Donna Noble, an aimless 30-something temp, wound up kicking ass as she destroyed Davros.
But for Martha, as she went from med student to rebel fighter, she earned her nickname: the Girl Who Walked the Earth. Literally walking all around Earth to inspire people during the Master’s fascist rule, Martha is the rare companion who actively worked to save the world instead of just existing or wielding a superpower to do something great.
2. She Didn’t Waste Time With the “Refusal of the Call”
Joseph Campbell’s monomyth necessitates that all plucky protagonists reject the call when they’re presented with their first challenge. For Martha, a student whose hospital is teleported to the Moon, she neither panics or bargains with her situation. Instead, she confronts the problem head on while soaking in the once-in-a-lifetime scenario she’s stumbled upon.
However the Doctor’s other companions treated their call to action, Martha’s was refreshing, exciting, and as we’ll later learn, fitting for her character whom we’d soon come to know as fearless.
3. Her Episodes All Fell Between Moderately Good and Outstanding
At just 14 episodes with a ton of two-parters, Martha had more or less the best season density-wise, with more good episodes outweighing the mediocre to downright bad (let’s all just ignore “Daleks in Manhattan”). Here’s a sampling of the best adventures that Martha Jones found herself in:
- “Smith and Jones”: Fun, prototypical Doctor Who in which the modern world clashes with the galaxy. Great introduction to Martha and her chemistry with David Tennant’s Doctor.
- “The Shakespeare Code”: Another prototypical Doctor Who that shows an arrogant but charismatic William Shakespeare. It wouldn’t be Doctor Who if it didn’t try to play with your imagination of world history.
- “42”: Modern Who is no stranger to concept episodes — see “Love & Monsters” or last season’s “Sleep No More” — but the 24-style “42” is the sort of experimental television that one wouldn’t even think Who could pull off. But it does so quite admirably.
- “Blink”: Enough has been said about the introduction of the Weeping Angels. But “Blink” is a genuine horror classic even if Martha and the Doctor’s total screen time is maybe less than five minutes.
- “The Sound of Drums”/“Last of the Time Lords”: A satisfying, colossal finale in which the Doctor squares off with John Simm’s Master. The Master’s return in “The End of Time” would be less spectacular; though it’s hard not to love Grandfather Noble, he didn’t have the same energy Martha had.
4. She Used a Harry Potter Spell
I’m not even a Harry Potter fan, but even I loved how Martha used “Expelliarmus!” to defeat the Carrionites. It’s just a cute moment that shows why Doctor Who should never be so dreadfully serious but an escapist romp through time and space.
5. Her Unrequited Feelings Made the Doctor More Interesting
The common criticism at Martha is how her 21st-century, independent woman persona gets hung up on the Doctor so quickly. Besides saddling a fresh, new character with a trite “will they, won’t they” dynamic with the emotionally elusive Doctor, what took Rose two seasons to earn is condensed to some five episodes for Martha. Their “romance” is undercooked, yet it defines Martha’s singular season. For whatever reason, fans have put the blame on this failing on Martha.
It’s not an unreasonable complaint, but it’s also underserved. True, Martha never needed a romantic subplot with the Doctor, but because that’s her arc she’s pretty much defined by that emotion. But it’s not her fault. Because she comes into the show so soon after Rose, it limited the writers: If they flat out ignored the empty void Rose left in the Doctor’s hearts, that would have been weird.
Romance shouldn’t be the default setting for two attractive TV leads, but in choosing that route, the writers achieved giving the alien Time Lord a compelling flaw: Despite being pretty immortal, the Doctor can still miss people and fuck up someone else’s feelings like we humans do all the time. Without this flaw, the Tenth Doctor’s goodbyes to his companions in “The End of Time” would have been nowhere near the tear-jerker it still is today. Martha might have left after one season, how Whovians understand the Doctor will forever be her legacy.
Doctor Who returns to the BBC on April 15, 2017.