In Defence of Love Interests
Part 1: Martha Jones
Man, if I have to read one more hot take on why this female character is worthless because how she dare fall in love, I will probably put my forehead right through my desk. I typed her name into google and what d’ya know? Already some shit hot takes on why she’s the worst companion.
Every time I bring up Martha Jones, the first thing people will bring up is that they didn’t like her because she fell for the Doctor. You know. Like Rose Tyler did. Like Jack Harkness did. Like literally every Doctor Who fan did. The irony of people who adore David Tennant, of Superwholocks, not being able to put themselves in Martha’s shoes is staggering to me. You saying you wouldn’t fall for a man who could take you anywhere in time and space? Who had lived for centuries? Who thirsted for adventure and wanted to bring you for a ride? You would give your back teeth and more besides for such an opportunity.
But Martha is a weak character because… uh… she got to do all those things?
The only difference between her and Rose (apart from the incredibly bleeding obvious one) is that her love was unrequited, but she still stayed with the doctor. She suffered sexist and racial abuse in The Family of Blood two parter, wandered the entire world in the season finale and nearly died hundreds of times. Her first instinct, in every episode, was to be a doctor. Even on aliens, on people who threw period appropriate abuse at her, on strangers… her calling is as strong as the Doctor’s… and yet…she still didn’t win the Doctor’s heart in the same way Rose did.
And that’s her fault apparently? I mean… cool. Okay.
Look, I’m sure it’s not a race thing, but it does look a wee bit suspicious when you are happy to defend Rose’s romantic feelings for the Tenth Doctor, but not Martha’s? I mean, if you don’t like romance in general, fair enough, but if that’s the case, are you really going to begrudge the companions for admiring the Doctor? For following him out into the wide reaches of space and time? C’mon.
I’m not even going to entertain the whole ‘bad writing’ defence. Again, when this was Rose, you lapped it up. Exploring unrequited love isn’t bad writing, Martha suffered and deserved to catch a fucking break, but the tragedy is that she didn’t get it in the same way Rose did. What would ‘good’ writing of a woman of colour look like to you? One where she’s not there? One where she’s not getting in the way of your ship? One where she’s not showing any emotional conflict?
Look, the thing is- white fandom has a long, ugly history of not giving black characters the same breaks as white characters. Your hatred or indifference of Martha Jones may not be linked to the fact that she just happened to be the first black female companion on the show, but it kind of doesn’t matter. Whatever your intentions are, you are still contributing to the general toxic racist atmosphere. You need to look at why you don’t like a rare character of colour and whether you forgive those exact same traits in a white character. That is the kind of insidious racism that’s baked into our perceptions pretty much from day one. It takes an enormous amount of self-examination to realise this, but it’s vital. All characters of colour deserve this, but I would argue that WOC in romantic positions deserve it more. Romance, as I plan to argue in other parts of this little series, is not a bad thing. It’s a weakness, sure, but it’s a weakness we do not tolerate in female characters, especially women of colour. They are meant to be strong all the bleeding time. Cannot just be rewarded for being in love. Cannot win the heart of the hero.
Again, I’m not saying that that’s the only way to measure a woman’s worth, but being in love is something we forgive in male heroes. No one would argue that, say Captain America is ‘weak’ for being in love with Peggy or that Thor is a ‘weak male character’ for being in love with Jane Foster. Women, especially women of colour, deserve a chance to be weak. A chance to take the weight of the entire world off their shoulders and have someone love them for it.
(All this said, it was refreshing for Donna to be happily uninterested in the Doctor, not going to lie. She is a very close second behind Martha as my favourite companion. Look, I want variety in my women, I want emotional complexity- including being in love. It’s seen as a weakness because relationships are ‘women’s work’, therefore to be avoided if you want to be taken seriously except in the case of dudes.)
The Doctor however, treated Martha with indifference. The difference is… Martha got out. Martha, brave, perfect, brilliant Martha, stepped away.
I’m just angry she had to give up travelling the freakin’ universe because she had to chose between her emotional well being and adventuring through time and space. I posit that if there’s a person who deserves some flack in this situation- it’s the Doctor himself.
But criticising the Doctor?! We can’t do that clearly!
I often wonder if my love for Martha is linked to the fact that her season of Doctor Who came out the same year my daughter was born? Maybe, but the animosity towards her character still baffles me. I’m a self-admitted romantic, I love romance, I want love stories and I thrive on the tragic in particular. My therapist will be hearing about it on a weekly basis. If there’s one story that is quintessentially romantic and tragic in Doctor Who, I’d argue it’s Martha’s.
(Donna’s is as well, but in a different way).
Martha’s story is one of adversity and bittersweet triumph, where she has to be strong so damned often and her one weakness blinds everyone else to her brilliance. To her determination and self-sacrifice that is ignored primarily because, I’d argue, we expect women of colour to prop up sad white people. Any request for reciprocation or even acknowledgement JESUS H CHRIST is beyond the pale. She has a weakness for a man who has seen all the terrors the universe has to offer, but doesn’t let it turn him bitter.
It’s a weakness, need I remind you, we as fans of Doctor Who, all share. If Martha Jones is a weak character, then so are you my friend.
So. Are. You.