Monday, September 2, 2013

I Borrowed Them From The Hospital (Smith and Jones)

The Doctor learns first-hand what Daft Punk mean by "get
lucky."

It’s March 31st, 2007. At last, the great leap forward. The Proclaimers with Brian Potter and Andy Pipkin are at number one with “(I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles,” presumably much to David Tennant’s delight. Avril Lavigne, Gwen Stefani (and Akon), Fray, Sugababes vs Girls Aloud, Take That, and Fergie (with Ludacris) also chart. In news, the iPhone was announced, Jade Goody got embroiled in the racism controversy that was briefly what she was best known for, and actually not much more happened.

On television it’s Smith and Jones. On one level, this is a straightforward bit of television. It has a job to do, and it gets on with it. That job is to properly relaunch Doctor Who without Rose Tyler, and to introduce Martha Jones. This is done in the context of a story that is clever enough to provide some solid images and moments, but nevertheless firmly in the realm of what feels like traditional Doctor Who. (Though it’s worth talking briefly about those solid images and moments - Davies apparently spent a lot of effort on doing the best running through corridors sequence to date, and on portraying proper panic for the first time. I mention this because it’s such an utterly idiosyncratic pair of things to focus on, especially in an episode that already has so much heavy lifting to do, and seems to me to speak volumes about how Davies works as a creative figure.)

At the heart of all of this is the idea of Martha, which is, of course, also at the heart of one of  Doctor Who’s great Problem Seasons. We talked back in The Runaway Bride about how the major split within the Davies era is Rose and Donna. Certainly this appears to be true in terms of the British public, and, for that matter, within the Davies era itself - it’s telling that Martha is the only Davies-era companion to, in The End of Time, get squared away alongside another companion, and that she’s separated from the Big Two at the end. Martha, in most regards, seems the forgotten companion - the one that didn’t quite work. That’s not to say she doesn’t have her fans and admirers, nor that those fans are wrong. But they are swimming against the tide, and the show itself contributes to that tide.

There are many reasons for Martha’s falling short. For one thing, she’s hobbled from her first appearance by virtue of the fact that the show defines her as Not-Rose. There’s not really a way back from this within the confines of what the show can do. Nor, however, was there necessarily a way to avoid it. The importance of Rose Tyler within the show’s cultural mythology is hard to overstate. Her absence was necessarily part of the story, and this was unavoidable. This is not, to be clear, some judgment about Rose as a companion - rather it’s a judgment about the cultural narrative of Doctor Who, which relaunched in 2005 in a high profile version headlined by Billie Piper as the new companion. This was different from Eccleston, who may have been more respected, but who was also considerably less famous, and, more to the point, was replaced only as an actor, not as a character. Rose Tyler was the officially sanctioned audience lens into Doctor Who as a show. Changing that lens matters.

Because Martha isn’t the lens into this story - at least, not entirely. Yes, the story starts from her perspective, but there’s not the slow prying into the nature of what Doctor Who is that characterized Rose. In many ways it’s right there in the title - this one isn’t Martha. It’s Smith and Jones, with her providing only half of the weight. Much more of the episode is spent with us watching the Doctor weigh and judge her, slowly deciding that she’s up to snuff. This is a different approach, and it leaves Martha extrinsic to Doctor Who in a way that Rose wasn’t initially set up to be (even if, in practice, she was).

Put another way, Martha has to be “the latest companion” where Rose got to be “the companion.” Which is a fundamentally different position to start from. And it explains why Martha’s debut episode is more about stressing familiarity and being standard Doctor Who that nevertheless has some things we’ve never seen before. I earlier mentioned that Davies focused idiosyncratically on running and panic in this episode; while that is idiosyncratic, it’s also telling. The overall message surrounding Martha’s arrival is “it’s OK, nothing major has changed, and we’re focused on other things.”

But implicit in all of this is the hubris that has formed the backbone of the Tennant era. From the start the era was about the fact that Doctor Who went from a show that commented on the rest of television to being the biggest thing on television. In many ways the decision to carry on as though nothing has changed is both consistent with this and emblematic of it. At this point in the show’s life the key fact is that it’s Doctor Who, not who’s in it. This, however, is a problem for the series, or, at least, it has historically not been a good thing when this is true about the series. The memory of the early 1980s, when the show came to uncritically embrace its own myth as its primary reason for existing, was still fresh in plenty of people’s minds. The series is still, in a real sense, about its cancellation. (Even today, the 50th Anniversary seems likely to be in part about that.)

And there’s an easy way to argue the season as being about that hubris. In which case things like the Doctor’s relative obliviousness to Martha (and even though the unrequited love plot doesn’t quite start here, his shutting down of Martha’s flirtation already starts in that direction) become deliberate setting up of the idea that the series is wrong to treat itself as an intrinsic moral good. Certainly this seems to be what the Tennant era ultimately resolves to being about.

But there’s a double bind here that it’s impossible to disentangle. To suggest that the show’s hubris plays into any specific idiosyncrasy or, particularly, a bit of flawed television strains credulity. Season Three is not deliberately hobbled to make a point about the hubris of Doctor Who. This is not necessarily a problem - we made an argument along these lines for Season Twenty-Two, concluding that its flaws amounted to an exorcism of Doctor Who’s accumulated problems over the preceding few years.

But with the Tennant era we have something stranger. The theme of hubris is present in the Tennant era from the start, and, more to the point, at the end. The era invites this sort of critique in a very active way. And yet there’s something difficult about deciding outright to read Martha Jones that way. There’s a blurring between the series’ internal narrative and its meta-narrative that declines to quite reconcile sharply.

This is, in many ways, the peculiar alchemy of the Davies era in particular; its popular reception and its actual contents become, after a point, impossible to disentangle. The ways in which Martha is the companion that didn’t quite work are seemingly written in her origins. This is, however, a cruel irony, particularly considering Martha herself as a character.

Because in the end, there was some real effort put into Martha. One of the most unremarked upon aspects of Smith and Jones is the ruthless efficiency with which Martha gets an entire family life sketched out. The opening sequence of her rapidly switching among phone calls from her family conveys a lot of information very quickly, and makes useful sketches of all five characters. No, Martha’s family never acquires anything like the depth of Jackie or Mickey, but it’s not for lack of trying up front.

Also notable is the way in which Martha notices fundamentally different things to what Rose would notice. Her focus on the oxygen reveals a big-picture pragmatism; Rose might have thought of the question, but the specific consequence of the force field keeping the oxygen in is something just a bit different from what she usually picks up on. Similarly, Martha working out the Doctor’s scheme and scanning the plasmavore is a different sort of cleverness from Rose. Martha follows along the Doctor’s line of thought, just a little slower than he does. Rose, on the other hand, is initially introduced as someone who thinks differently than the Doctor does, and whose value is that she’s connected to a fundamentally different sort of narrative than Doctor Who.

This is significant. Martha is not from EastPowellStreet or any comparable show; she is from Doctor Who, to the point of being a trainee doctor herself. She’s designed to be a successful Doctor Who companion, as opposed to being the audience’s lens on proceedings. For all that it doesn’t quite work out for her, this is laudable in its own way. There is a real sense in which Martha ought, in an aesthetic and even ethical sense (inasmuch as those are distinct), be our favorite companion. She is the one designed to be the best and most capable. From her first appearance, she’s good at being a companion. There’s an important narrative to why that fails, but it’s worth allowing for the narrative where it succeeds, and where the smartest and most capable of new series companions is praised for that fact.

We have all season for Martha, so let’s look at what else we have here. The second season premiere in a row to start in a hospital, and one of (at a quick count) eight new series stories to focus on hospitals or medical technology. This is quite a spate - the series averages more than one a year. Tat Wood has a lovely bit in the About Time entry on New Earth on the way in which health care has become one of the defining fears of the 21st century. While Smith and Jones doesn’t particularly focus on health care, the fact that it features a reasonably idyllic looking British hospital overrun by (literally) hard-nosed grunts. The perennial Davies issue of British/American relations is on display here in full force, in other words.

Speaking of the Judoon, we have another attempt at monsters-who-aren’t-monsters. It’s going too far to suggest that this is the norm for the new series (which has, after all, created plenty of monsters that are monsters), but it is interesting that the non-CGI monsters - i.e. the ones designed to be cheaply reused - have generally been the ones to get some level of complexity beyond “they’re evil!” The setup of people caught between a single villain and a bunch of aliens who are just being callous in trying to catch said villain is clever, and the continued focus on something more interesting than Planet of the Evil People is deeply appreciable.

And then there’s the guest cast, with the divinely good Roy Marsden (Neil Burnside in The Sandbaggers, the greatest spy show ever made) absolutely sparkling in a bit part, and Anne Reid (Nurse Crane in The Curse of Fenric, as well as roles important to non-anoraks) as a rather alarmingly delightful villain. And, of course, the panic and running, which actually are quite well-done. This is a perfectly strong season premiere, well-tailored towards being enjoyed by people who like Doctor Who. For all that there are underlying issues around the series’ embrace of its own charms, it’s also true that the series has plenty of them, and that as an episode of television, this is perfectly serviceable. Doctor Who has survived yet another reinvention, and one of the bigger ones in its history. It may be running at slightly lower than peak strength, but Doctor Who at 80-90% of what it can do is still formidable and fascinating. There is already a giddy thrill in being back.

73 comments:

  1. That's an excellent point about health care, and this is absolutely a good episode. But the thing I'm thinking most about is: Why the heck was "500 Miles" topping the charts in 2007?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Comic Relief single. Brian Potter and Andy Pipkin are two fictional wheelchair users, played by Peter Kay in Pheonix Nights and Marc Lucas in Little Britain. The main joke of the single being that they sing "I would roll 500 miles" instead of "walk". Yeah, really.

      Delete
    2. It was the Comic Relief single, and that is rather like the X-Factor winner's single in that lots of non-record-buying people buy it (e.g. me.)

      Delete
    3. Ahhhhhhh. I learn so much about UK culture here.

      Delete
    4. Isn't that the one where Ronnie Corbett falls over in the video?

      Delete
    5. Nah, that was Is This The Way To Amarillo? in 2005. Also featuring Peter Kay, though (although unlike 500 Miles, he didn't sing, just mimed along to Tony Christie.)

      Delete
  2. Over time, I've grown to love Martha as a companion, and prefer her S3 persona to the character Rose became by S2. Davies' neglect of her (most especially in The Stolen Earth, when Rose, Donna & Jack are with the Doctor at the cliffhanger) has always struck me as strange. She's presented as the Not-Rose, which is necessary for the transitory period from Rose to her successor, but she shouldn't have remained as the Not-Rose, and been able to come out of Rose's shadow by the end of S3. Martha's characterisation is one element that made Rose the mythical, irreplaceable figure that many fans loathe her for, and it's a shame Martha was wasted, when stories such as Human Nature made such good use of her.

    Upon reflection however, Martha's most compelling quality is the fact that her love isn't requited by the Doctor, and the fact the Doctor doesn't view her as close is of course a repercussion of Rose's impact.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The Judoon are apparently inspired by Judge Dredd's Judges, though their role as stupid rigid authoritatians is rather less complex than the Judges' as clever rigid authoritarians (which then again would be a bit too demanding for the Judoon's role in this story, though).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's a race of similar rhino-headed aliens in Rogue Trooper, too (although they might also be a reference to the Justified Ancients of Mu-Mu, nee the KLF, nee The Timelords) and the SLABs (Special Labour Auxiliary, Bio-engineered)are from The Ballad of Halo Jones.

      Delete
  4. Have to take issue with this (not least because Moffat once said much the same thing, albeit in more obnoxious and condescending terms):

    The opening sequence of her rapidly switching among phone calls from her family conveys a lot of information very quickly, and makes useful sketches of all five characters.

    Her father and Annalise are nothing but stereotypes - the mid-life-crisis dad with the new flash car and the new younger woman. The rest of the family are defined mainly in relation to this, and are thus pretty generic at this stage. Moreover, the real difference between the sequence and "Rose" is how arms-length it is - Martha has a family, but they're off doing their own things and probably won't impact on the storyline much. Worst of all, this wastes a golden opportunity to say something meaningful about Martha - she could feel harried by the constant badgering and want to gafiate, or she could thrive on problem-solving, either of which would be the beginnings of companion material. But while the script flirts with both, it lands on neither, so we end up with a sequence that tells us that Martha has a family, but they're not interesting and probably won't be very important.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually, it shows us something very useful about Martha -- she keeps them at arm's length. It's not like she's estranged, but she isn't interwoven into their lives like Rose was with Jackie and Mickey. At once this shows us Martha's at an emotional remove (like the Doctor) and that she's more fully realized as an "adult." She has her own life, she isn't dependent, and there won't be the same kind of repercussions to be had when she up and goes travelling.

      That her family is familial without necessarily being "close" helps to explain why Martha falls for the Doctor. On the one hand, it's about him -- he too is familial without being close, which makes him comfortable and understandable. On the other hand, it's all about her -- her need for true intimacy is understandable, because it looks like it was never fully met within her family.

      Delete
    2. she keeps them at arm's length

      I don't see how talking to them on the phone while walking to work tells us that, or indeed anything specific about her attitude towards them. The only thing we might have been able to deduce is that she is seen as the mediator in family disputes, except we don't even know whether this sort of multi-way conversation is usual for them. In short, we learn nothing of any value.

      Delete
    3. Yet Martha did not seem aggravated/flummoxed at all by these multiple phone calls. She seemed to treat it as a normal, everyday occurrence, a slight annoyance, but she still managed the problem well enough.

      Delete
    4. (However, that night at her brother's birthday party, her thoughtfully laid-out plan was ruined by Annalise and her father arriving early, around the same time as her mother, or something like that. So circumstances played out to ruin her intended plans, probably the same as they did during the series.)

      Delete
    5. Take this as someone who is also frequently treated as the mediator/messenger in family disputes: the fact that Martha's family all instinctively turn to her as the mediator is all the proof needed that she keeps them at arm's length.

      Delete
  5. The panic in the hospital scene rightly or wrongly didn't convince me. Sometimes Davies writes crowd scenes or reaction to the news scenes that feel to me a bit off. This is one.
    In particular the point when Martha's friend Julia collapses feels wrong.
    The show has to simultaneously convince us that almost everyone would panic, and yet get us to feel pleased wonder that we're on the moon. So Martha gets some of Davies' clunky expository emotional dialogue to spell that out so we can emote along with her.

    Also, CPR does not work like that. OK - real life CPR is not dramatic, and the plot means Martha has to do something to save the Doctor's life. The problem though is: neither is film/television CPR is dramatic. The scene is about five to ten seconds of dead time in which the audience has time to think, CPR can't cure blood loss.
    (And on that note, I have a fairly high tolerance of artistic license towards science and technology for the sake of plot, but at adjusting an MRI to kill half the population of the earth from the moon I can't take it any more.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "adjusting an MRI to kill half the population of the earth from the moon"

      Magnetic Resonance Imagining

      Delete
    2. File under "Magnets: How do they work?"

      Delete
    3. The "panic" scene just suffers from some poorly directed extras IMO (especially that one guy - you know who I mean!) but it's not a script problem really.

      I always wondered why Martha or that other intern didn't commandeer the PA to appeal for calm and cooperation with the Judoon - that would have been a pretty logical course of action.

      Ross, you totally win the thread.

      Delete
  6. It's surprising to me how Martha (and Series 3) is disliked in the view of "popular fandom", especially since when one compares the characters of Martha and Rose, one does find Rose somewhat wanting. When I say compare the characters, I don't mean as "Doctor Who companions" but as "people you might meet."

    Martha consistently demonstrates a higher intelligence than Rose. She also comes over as more patient, more compassionate, and generally more level-headed. Look at Rose's first encounter with the aliens in "TEOTW", when her attitude is rightly derided by the Doctor. Look at the way she shamelessly mocks Cassandra in "NE" for using skin from her a**e. This is behaviour you don't get from Martha. She continually shows a tolerance and sensitivity that Rose lacks, and yet the Doctor takes pains to verbally keep her at arms length. In the first few episodes of this series he continues to remind her that she isn't a replacement for Rose, and that she's only getting a few trips in the TARDIS and that's it. Even as far ahead as "Utopia" he loses his temper at her harmless flirting with Jack (accusing her of blogging) in a way he never would with Rose. She takes all that, and still begins to fall for him, regardless of the way he treats her.

    But at the end of the day, ask yourself who would you rather have as a friend? Rose or Martha? And yet fandom loves Rose and hates Martha, for nothing more than not being Rose...who is a far less likeable person.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Does fandom dislike Martha? The usual fandom line, as far as I can tell, is Martha is sadly mistreated by the writing staff. It's not so much that fandom are down on her for not being Rose: fandom think the writers are down on her for not being Rose.
      Her character traits also are less entertaining: she's the sensible calm and competent one - which are good character traits in real life but not so much in fiction. (In a way she would be better paired with Matt Smith than with David Tennant.)

      Delete
    2. Fandom tends to lay the blame for Series 3 at Martha's feet, because she's not as [xxxxx] as Rose (insert your own adjective...or just remove "as [xxxxx] as"). I put this down to people not liking change, missing Rose or the close relationship between Doctor and companion, and generally blaming the one thing that's changed. She definitely brings out the worst in the Doctor though, who spends a lot of time keeping her at arm's length while visibly pining for Rose. Whereas Series 2 saw a somewhat childish Doctor running around with his bezza mate, Series 3 sees the other side of this - highlighting the 10th Doctor's innate petty spitefulness.

      It's an interesting take on the Doctor and his relationship with a companion, whether it was deliberate or not, but not a particularly pleasant one to watch at times, particularly when you quite like Martha, and she does try so hard at times.

      I agree that Smith would have been far more comfortable match. His Doctor's rebuttal of Amy's affections didn't upset her as his portrayal was of an embarrassed child who didn't do that sort of thing. Whereas Tennant's Doctor continually rubbed it in Martha's face that he did do that sort of thing, just not with her.

      Delete
    3. Honestly, I saw Martha-hate back in the day, but nowadays, it's pretty much all Martha-love.

      Delete
    4. Well, as is traditional, Martha love probably began after people realized how much they hated Donna and said 'Martha, come back, all is forgiven!' :) (I am not one of those... I would have wanted Rose to be the one season companion and Martha or Donna to tag along longer).

      I always found the Doctors hands-off approach towards Martha interesting, especially with the facts that (1) he pops in on the street to snog her without so much as a by-your-leave (no other way to transfer DNA? hokay..) and (2) the second she expresses an interest in someone else in 42, he ups and finally gives her the TARDIS key.

      (and I am quite enjoying today's photo caption - hee hee!)

      Delete
    5. I don't know that fandom loves Rose, either. Seems like hating on Rose is what all the cool kids do.

      Delete
    6. In my experience Doctor Who fandom doesn't do anything. Elements of the fandom hate just about every companion, Doctor and aspect of the series, but there's never enough of a consensus that you can make a generalisation that doesn't start "about half the fandom..."

      Having said that, Martha seems to have a form of middle child syndrome. It's not that fandom hates her, it's that fandom, split as Phil says between the Donna-hating Rose fans and the Rose-hating Donna fans, kind of forgets she was actually there.

      Delete
    7. I think Martha's reputation has improved in hindsight. I don't think there was any significant anti-Martha feeling per se, but her character was hobbled by the unrequited love plot which seemed totally at odds with her competent, no-nonsense and grown-up character. Plus, a lot of people were sick of the "shipping" and hoped that with Rose gone that aspect of the show was done. Plus, it made the Doctor look callous in the bargain.

      "Competent, no-nonsense and grown-up," now that I've typed them out, point to another problem with Martha - she is a bit on the bland side. Rose and Donna both had spiky aspects to their personalities that made them more interesting to watch and put them in conflict with the Doctor in interesting ways - whereas Martha's only conflict was her unconvincing mooning. She was definitely better served in her appearances in S4 and Torchwood, once she was free of that albatross.

      Delete
    8. Saying fandom thinks X of character Y is doomed to inaccuracy. Having said that: opinion on Rose is quite sharply divided between love and hatred, with a small band of indifference and mild opinions. Martha has a small band of love and hate, with more people mildly liking/disliking her and mostly just forgetting about her.

      Another thought: she's quite demanding/commanding too; I think you, Seeing_I, are right that she never quite got enough conflict with the Doctor--she's one of the few who could say "No, you're doing it wrong, you're going to get us all killed" and, furthermore, be right. Rose and Donna could challenge him on a moral level, but not like that. (River, Amy and Clara have.)

      Delete
    9. Unrequited love is a rather difficult dramatic trait to handle: there aren't many things a character can do specifically out of unrequited love that aren't undignified. So the character runs the risk of either just expositing their feelings in dialogue (which is boring) or of losing the audience's respect or both.

      Delete
  7. "the narrative where it succeeds, and where the smartest and most capable of new series companions is praised for that fact."

    Well, as long as we've established that, we should be okay.

    ReplyDelete
  8. For me, 2007’s one of the two absolutely terrific seasons since the show returned, where I’d say yes, no doubt, one of the best the series has ever had. Like 2005, it has a thematic coherence that really grips me (it’s also, for me, where Tennant’s by a long way at his best). And Martha was a big part of that, too. I can never get my head round the idea that Martha ‘failed’, unless the only criterion for any companion now is that ‘the Doctor fancies them’. OK, I’d say that she was much less successful in her second year – like Rose – but that – unlike Rose – she had the excuse of only being the spare wheel on her partial return.

    From her first appearance in Smith and Jones, Martha was a breath of fresh air for me – not just Freema Agyeman’s performance and giving as good as she got to the Doctor (and him not being interested), not just that she was the Doctor’s first full-time TV companion who was black (after Sharon, Roz and others elsewhere), but that she wasn’t going off with the Doctor only because her life was a bit rubbish. Martha is the only companion since Sarah Jane Smith with a decent, fulfilling, even exciting career – and for all of us who are so utterly gripped by the Doctor and his adventures, that’s a more inspiring example than the implicit suggestion that travelling in the TARDIS is only slightly better than being in a dead-end job you’re bored by or hate, or than having your parents killed in front of you. If you’re an achiever with a lot to give up, but the TARDIS is still so exciting you’d go off in it without a second thought – well, you would, wouldn’t you? And, for me, she has by far the most satisfying (and self-chosen) exit from the new TARDIS, too, again after impressive achievements in her own right.

    Like Phil, I was one of the contributors to Wonderful Books’ “Dr Who 8th Anniversary Special”; I don’t know how Phil settled on Rose, but while I pitched ideas for a few characters, I told Paul the editor straight away that I’d love to do Martha, and it was the article for her that popped into my head instantly and was pretty much there in the published draft. I wanted to celebrate her, because I felt she bloody well deserved it. So, inspired by the Radio Times Special’s pull-out quote headlines like “THE NUTCASE PROFESSOR SWEPT ME OFF MY FEET,” I knew immediately that I wanted to write an ‘After the Doctor’ interview in that style, for the character rather than the actor, and that though I was going to be tongue-in-cheek as well (playing with her earnestness, sexual innuendo, and how she felt about the Doctor), first it was going to say ‘She’s brilliant’. So, though Paul chose a different pull-out quote in the end, what it’s all about for me was always “I LEFT THE TARDIS WITH MY HEAD HELD HIGH.” It’s sold out, now, but if you click to enlarge and then squint, you can just read my piece as one of the samples…!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awwhh, thank you! (HUGS)

      I enjoyed your The Thin Man review, incidentally. They have wonderful chemistry and it's a brilliant plot... And as for "It could have been worse," well, the sequels are variable, let's say!

      Delete
    2. Thank you! I'm going to try to keep those from becoming anything more than light "here's what I liked" remarks, but I know sooner or later something's going to suck me into a heavier essay. It might be INLAND EMPIRE, which I'm going to have to set aside a whole evening for one of these weeks.

      Delete
  9. Oops – forgot to put in the silly bit. One of the reasons I love Smith and Jones is that, after two years of ‘homaging’ Lawrence Miles (and much more to come), Russell switches to Pat Mills in taking another much-loved other-media Who story off the back of a lorry: read this and tell me that it’s not Doctor Who and the Star Beast!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A story this always reminds me of is The Stones of Blood. Escaped intergalactic criminal hiding out on Earth with two stones or slabs as her servants, where at least one of these parties drinks blood. The action shifts to a very different location, where officious alien lawmakers who are apt to execute other people on the slightest pretext or alleged offence, are trying to locate and also punish her.

      Delete
    2. Excellent point! Thank you - that had never occurred to me (and the "slab" pun is so good it might just be deliberate). Same period, too, and it's a story we know Russell likes (he wrote about it for DWM years ago)...

      Delete
  10. I always thought Martha was wasted as "the one who fell in love with the Doctor but the Doctor didn't love her back." With the rest of the companions, the Doctor helped bring meaning to their lives - from Rose to Amy, all of them had fairly drab or frustrating lives and the Doctor helped bring excitement and depth. With Martha, she already had a fairly lively and what should be a meaningful life as a Doctor-in-Training. I would have liked her to have the flip side of what the Doctor brought the other companions, in that she should have this meaningful aspect to her life already but exams and the other stresses of becoming a Doctor have exhausted her. The Doctor could help her re-realize her passion for helping people. It also would have provided the perfect out for her - she would leave when she was revitalized enough to realize she was more helpful on earth than with the Doctor instead of just getting annoyed with him.

    Also, I found it very annoying that besides this one story, they never used her medical skills. They should come in very handy, even with alien races!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I found it very annoying that besides this one story, they never used her medical skills.

      She has a go at being a doctor with one of the Hath in the Doctor's Daughter, at least. But that doesn't happen until half way through season 4.

      Delete
    2. She also treats people after the Dalek attack in New York. She tries to do some I. Shakespere code but gets shut down for it. She uses her medical knowledge in Family of Blood as well. She might not do a lot of Doctoring, but the idea that she doesn't do any until series 4 or that they did not try their damnedest to make it part of her character is just blatantly untrue.

      Delete
    3. Hm, perhaps it was more than I remembered. Nonetheless, I still think it was quite underused, considering that was her entire career and very competent knowledge-base.

      Delete
    4. Martha's best scene, IMO, is completely shutting down Joan Redfern by calmly listing off the bones of the hand to prove that, in the future, black women can go to medical school.

      Delete
    5. "You read that in a book."

      "Yes, to pass my exams. Can't you see this is true?"

      Delete
    6. Yes, I completely agree, that's her best scene and pretty much the best companion scene that doesn't involve Donna or Ace.

      Delete
  11. By the way, will you be doing any of the Sarah Jane audios in the spinoffs book? I find it fascinating that Big Finish was doing this just before SJA happened.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I always found one aspect of this episode really strange: the fictional Royal Hope Hospital is located exactly on the site of the absolutely real St Thomas' Hospital. With Davies' love of real London landmarks, I was surprised he fictionalised it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that's just standard operating procedure in TV fiction in general.

      Delete
  13. So...Martha. You don't want to discuss her here, but something the I feel needs to be brought up is that the Martha in this episode, is not the Martha I so dislike. Here (as you say) Martha is almost a proto-Doctor (Which is problematic later). She's an attempt to do Romana without the lens of the Time Lords. And here she works. I was very very happy whenI saw this episode. I liked the idea of a booksmart companion that could (if not keep up) follow the Doctor along with something closer than wonder.

    Martha does get problematic, and I will likely dive neck deep into those discussions. However had Martha remained this good, Donna and Rory would have a run for there money as runner up to the best companion.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Good call out for The Sandbaggers...what made that show really good was that it made the viewer genuinely worry for the field agents. Most spy shows (including the increasingly ludicrous Spooks) gave the lead characters a free pass and they were either invulnerable or else given epic death scenes (pre-empted by media press coverage) which weren't a case of "will they get killed?" but "when in this episode will they get killed?". The Sandbaggers, being as low key a series as you could get, would kill the people you'd expect to survive, and the ones you thought were cannon fodder made it through. No spoilers.

    ReplyDelete
  15. This is one of my favorite nuWho episodes. Like the freeway chase in "The Runaway Bride," it revels in its madness: a hospital teleported to the Moon by space rhinos in search of a vampire with a bendy straw.

    I adore the Judoon. Not only are they brilliantly realized, they're a refreshing change from all of the would-be conquerers. They provide opposition without descending into villainy. And they fill an important niche in the Whoniverse: galactic law enforcement. I'm disappointed that they've been relegated to cameo appearances (and the odd SJA story) since then.

    The mention of Anne Reid reminds me that "Last Tango in Halifax" comes to PBS starting September 8. In it, she has a December-December romance with Derek Jacobi. Or, as I prefer to think of it, a team-up between the Plasmavore and the Master.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. space rhinos

      One of RTD's favourite tricks - see also space-trees, space-cats, space-cacti and space-vultures!

      Delete
    2. Also one of his most annoying gimmicks -- coming up, "Gridlock"!

      Delete
    3. Yes - the motorway chase is one of my favourite scenes in any episode, really.

      Absolutely ludicrous, funny, deadly serious - the image of the TARDIS wobbling in pursuit of the taxi turns me into one of the kids who watch from their family's station wagon. :D

      Delete
  16. Oh, another point, which may have been done to death at the time, but hasn't been mentioned much since, is that the Judoon are big stompy aliens in full armour with an oddly-shaped helmet. Then when they take the oddly-shaped helmets off, it turns out to be because they have oddly-shaped heads. I remember at least one commentator on radwm jumping from "that's the same gag as the Sontarans" to "the Judoon are the NuWho incarnation of the Sontarans".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. IIRC, early versions of the script actually had them be Sontarans, but for some reason they couldn't use them (or else RTD just changed his mind).

      Delete
    2. I always felt the Judoon costumes would've suited the Sontarans better.

      Delete
    3. They should've just stayed the fraggin' Sontarans; I don't see the Bob Holmes estate complaining over that, and it would've been one heck of a better reintroduction of them to the series than just another crappy Helen Raynor two-parter.

      Delete
    4. I really don't see there being any mileage to the Sontarans in that role, though. The Sontarans aren't policemen, so you'd have to recast the whole thing as pretty much a rewrite of 'Shakedown'. You'd have to ditch the whole angle of "And then they leave and send everyone home because they didn't actually care to hurt anyone, and were just doing their jobs with callous disregard for innocent lives" because that's just not the Sontarans; the sontarans would be planning to blow up the hospital all along "just to be sure". Instead, we get the Judoon, who fill this new niche of "Officious and callous, not actually evil, but you're still pretty well hosed if they show up", and leaving the Sontarans to be the joke they were always meant to be: Warrior Races Are Silly.

      There's nothing particularly great about the Judoon themselves, but the role of "Slightly dimwitted overly officious space police who end up making everything worse" is an interesting role to have around, and a role very distinct from the Sontarans.

      Delete
    5. It would be awesome to learn that "Sco bo tro no flo jo ko fo to to" translates to "Oi! What's all this then?!?"

      Delete
    6. In that respect the Judoon remind me of the Vogons from Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy - just as bureaucratic and officious, but more militant;y pro-active and - dare I say it - competent.

      Delete
    7. @Alan: Whenever I speak of the Not Especially Noteworthy australian K-9 spinoff, I always describe the robot cops therein as marching around saying "RIGHT-WHAT-S-ALL-THIS-THEN!" in Dalek voices.

      @Ferret: That image kept coming to me as I was writing that. I think they are very close to the Vogons as they're described in the narration, though whenever Adams actually showed Vogons doing something, they always came off as a lot more Just Simply Nasty than they did bureaucratic and officious.

      Delete
  17. Nothing insightful to add, except best caption ever.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I would definitely prefer Martha as a friend to Rose or Donna, though I have to add that latter-season four Donna would be a better friend than she was earlier. But that's something I haven't though of...the difference between good characters and good people. Martha's identification with the latter causes a tension with the role she plays

    ReplyDelete
  19. Love the caption up there. When I first saw this episode I immediately thought of Florence's bodyguards as Daft Punk, so I'm glad to see I'm not the only one.

    I wonder how much Martha's relatively marginal position has to do with her getting less respect within the series. The Doctor seems to pick on her more than his other companions, or at least in a less affectionate way. If you take a sophisticated view of the narrative then you can say that this demonstrates his flaws as a hero, but the mass of viewers seem to take things at face value.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Love the caption up there. When I first saw this episode I immediately thought of Florence's bodyguards as Daft Punk, so I'm glad to see I'm not the only one.

      I was very mildly disappointed he didn't go with "All we know is, he's called The Stig."

      Delete
  20. I remember very clearly a lot of hostility to Martha in Season 3, and I blame RTD for it. She was deliberately set up as the girl who pinned endlessly for the oblivious Doctor who only had eyes for his lost love. To fans of Rose, this could only result in Martha being perceived as at best a rebound girl and at worst someone trying to "steal" the Doctor away from his "one true love." I literally cringed at the kiss scene because it was plainly coded as Martha "falling in love after one kiss," thereby turning potentially one of the most educated and intelligent non-alien companions since Barbara Wright into a lovestruck little girl.

    In the end, I think RTD himself realized his mistake. Hence the bit at the end of Partners In Crime where Donna establishes in the strongest possible terms that she just wants to travel with the Doctor, she is not at all attracted to him, and she is frankly astonished that anyone else ever could be.

    ReplyDelete
  21. If Martha is what you get if you cross Leela and Romana, Donna must be the new Tegan.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nonsense. Donna may have been a loudmouth, but her entire character was defined by a joyous desire to see the cosmos. Tegan spent her whole first season whining endlessly about her desire to go home. She only came back to the TARDIS because she was unemployable and needed to mooch off the Doctor. Donna solved problems. Tegan created them.

      Delete
    2. Well, from the first time I saw him, I always called David Tennant "Peter Davison DONE RIGHT". So while it was a joke, I stand by what I said.

      Delete
  22. "One of the most unremarked upon aspects of Smith and Jones is the ruthless efficiency with which Martha gets an entire family life sketched out. The opening sequence of her rapidly switching among phone calls from her family conveys a lot of information very quickly, and makes useful sketches of all five characters."

    May I just take a moment to crow? I commented upon this very thing on (the original version of) my blog the day after the episode went out. *looks smug*

    ReplyDelete
  23. I love Rose. I generally like Donna. But if I have to pick, I'm Team Martha.

    Season 3 is wildly uneven, but what that means is it's also home to a handful of the best New Who episodes we've had, and possibly the best single disc of any of the New Who box sets. Season 3 is the one that sold me on the new show. There's a lot to dislike about how Martha was treated, but I think there's almost nothing to dislike about Martha herself.

    Incidentally, I'm sure someone must have commented on this, or perhaps it's going to come up in a later post, but what do we make of the fact that Freema Agyeman is the only actor in the RTD era to play a "primary" companion without having previously been a huge celebrity?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think we can make terribly much of that, really. Three examples isn't much to make a pattern out of (well, I've known cosmologists who would happily draw a best-fit line through three data points and call it a paper, but that's another issue). The fact that Rose was played by a C-list (at the time) celeb was an accident. Lots of actors auditioned for the role, and if Piper hadn't aced the audition the part could well have gone to Lenora Crichlow or whoever. As for the third companion, that was all set to be a new character and presumably not played by any great celebrity until Davies realised that when Tate kept saying how much she'd like to do more Doctor Who she wasn't just being polite.

      There doesn't seem to have been any plan behind the celebrity or otherwise of the companion actors, just a lot of messy contingencies.

      Delete
  24. the smartest and most capable of new series companions

    THANK YOU

    Martha isn't the most interesting NuWho companion to watch (that's Donna) or the most entertaining (Amy), but she's without question the smartest and most capable, and it's nice to see someone acknowledge it.

    Also, I'm totally fine with her being Not-Rose. Not-Rose is the main thing I wanted in a companion in 2007.

    ReplyDelete