March is Women’s History Month, and both of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces for the third year with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series title of: Fiction’s Fearless Females! During this month, we will have six bloggers sharing who they believe is a fictional woman to be admired, and we will share each entry of the series on our blog. Today’s post comes from Michael of My Comic Relief, who is a fine connoisseur of comics and lover of the Doctor Who franchise.
Happy International Women’s Day! In celebration of International Women’s Month, I’ve joined with some other bloggers to write pieces spotlighting some of our favorite female characters. Kathleen, of Graphic Novelty2, kicked off the festivities with her brilliant look at Kara Zor-El/Supergirl and, following me, we’ll have Green Onion, of Green Onion Revival Project; Nancy, of Graphic Novelty2; Kalie, of Just Dread-full; and Jeff, of The Imperial Talker. You can find all their posts here but you should check out their super sweet sites, too. Anyhoo (or AnyWHO, as the case may be (stop…don’t reward that (I’m sorry, I’m so sorry (you deserve better)))), this year when I thought of what “fearless” means, my mind turned to Martha Jones. Played by Freema Agyeman, she was the companion of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor in Series Three of Doctor Who. Martha did a great many things while travelling with the Doctor but, in her faith and her willingness to advocate for her own needs, she models the type of courage which could transform all of our lives if we, too, could be so fearless.
In the wake of having lost Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), the Doctor was travelling alone. I’m not going into how the Doctor lost Rose as a) it’s not the focus of this piece, b) if you know, I’d just be twisting the knife in your heart and, c) if you don’t, you’re better off just watching Doctor Who and taking the journey for yourself. It’s unclear exactly how long the Doctor was alone but he meets Martha while she’s in residency at the Royal Hope Hospital in London, when the Judoon (outer space rhino police-for-hire) hijack the hospital and take it to the moon in search of a fugitive Plasmavore. Martha immediately impresses the Doctor with her calm, compassion, clear head, and quick thinking. In her ability to see the beauty of their experience amidst the chaos, he feels he may’ve found a kindred spirit. So, once the hospital is returned and the Judoon have their Plasmavore, the Doctor invites Martha to travel with him – just one trip, as a thank you – and so begins her time in the TARDIS with the Doctor.
Naturally, traveling with the Doctor is not for the faint of heart. From facing a platoon of Judoon upon to moon to Daleks in Manhattan to the relentless pursuit of the Family of Blood to the touch of the Weeping Angels, Martha demonstrates all the “usual” courage the Doctor’s companions need to travel alongside the last of the Time Lords. But it’s in her faith and in her self-advocacy that Martha Jones is most fearless.
Faith is transformative, but holding it is no easy task. Søren Kierkegaard, the great Existentialist philosopher and theologian, wrote extensively of faith. In his text, The Concept of Anxiety, he describes how the one “who is disciplined in faith” is able to “regard everything inversely, to remain full of hope and confidence when something happens which previously almost made him faint and expire with anxiety, to plunge fearlessly into something against which he previously knew only one means of safety, to flee, and so on.” With faith, comes a once unimaginable courage. And courage is necessary, too, to become such a person, one disciplined in faith, as faith must be nurtured amidst the anxiety and despair of life. We cannot live without anxiety nor can we live without despair – they are hallmarks of a human existence.
We need courage to begin our cultivation of faith but then it is in faith where we find the greatest courage we can ever know. As a result, it is only in faith that we can triumph over anxiety and despair. Kierkegaard explains in The Sickness Unto Death:
Imagine that someone with the capacity to imagine terrifying nightmares has pictured to himself some horror or other that is absolutely unbearable. Then it happens to him, this very horror happens to him. Humanly speaking, his collapse is altogether certain – and in despair his soul’s despair fights to be permitted to despair, to attain, if you please, the composure to despair, to obtain the total personality’s consent to despair and to be in despair…At this point, then, salvation is, humanly speaking, utterly impossible; but for God everything is possible! This is the battle of faith, battling, madly, if you will, for possibility, because possibility is the only salvation…A possibility – then the person in despair breathes again, he revives again, for without possibility a person seems unable to breath….The believer has the ever infallible antidote for despair – possibility – because for God everything is possible at every moment. This is the good health of faith that resolves contradictions. The contradiction here is that, humanly speaking, downfall is certain but there is possibility nonetheless.
This may seem a bit far afield from our conversation of the incomparable Martha Jones, but it is precisely because Martha has this sort of faith that she is able to foster the courage she demonstrates. In the Doctor, Martha comes to believe in this possibility, seeing it through the contradictions which would otherwise tell her the nightmarish horror has come to pass and her downfall is certain. No matter how hopeless things seem, time and again, she believes in the Doctor.
Shortly after meeting him, stuck between suffocating in their powered down car and being consumed by the Macra on the Fast Lane far below New New York, Martha and her carjackers – Cheen (Lenora Crichlow) and Milo (Travis Oliver) – discuss their situation and her relationship with the Doctor in “Gridlock” (S3E3):
Cheen – “How much air’s left?”
Milo – “Two minutes.”
Martha – “There’s always the Doctor, that friend of mine. He might think of something.”
Milo – “Martha, no one’s coming.”
Cheen – “He looked kinda nice.”
Martha – “He’s a bit more than that.”
Cheen – “Are you and him…?”
Martha – “Sometimes I think he likes me but…sometimes I think he just needs someone with him.”
Cheen – “I never asked. Where’s home?”
Martha – “It’s a long way away. I didn’t really think. I just followed the Doctor and…they don’t even know where I am. My mum and dad, if I died here they’d never know.”
Milo – “So, uh, who is he then, this Doctor?”
Martha – “I don’t know, well not really. There’s so much he never says.”
Cheen – “But that means that…the only hope right now is…a complete stranger. Well that’s no use!”
Martha – “But it is, though. Because you haven’t seen the things that he can do. Honestly, just trust me, both of you. You’ve got your faith. You’ve got your songs and your hymns. And I’ve got the Doctor.”
Again and again Martha reaffirms her faith in the Doctor. She see possibility in the face of the impossible. As her faith builds, so too does her courage, until, ultimately, she saves the world. During their time together, Martha and the Doctor end up on the planet Malcassairo, with Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), in the year 100 trillion C.E. There they learn the Doctor isn’t the last of the Time Lords. His childhood friend-turned-liveslong-adversary, the Master (John Simm), is still alive and he’s hidden himself away at the end of the universe. The Master, hellbent on creating a new Gallifreyan empire, uses the TARDIS to return to Earth in 2007 and succeeds in bringing the entire planet under his brutal control.
Martha, the Doctor, and Captain Jack try and stop him but their resistance ends with Martha’s family enslaved, Jack held in chains, and the Doctor trapped in the withered body of a being who feels the full weight of his 903 years of life. Martha, however, using Jack’s Vortex Manipulator, teleports off the Master’s ship. As the Master’s despotic reign descends, she spends the next year travelling the world – sailing the Atlantic, walking across America, going from the ruins of New York to the fusion mills of China, crossing the radiation pits of Europe and the vast expanse of Russia’s Shipyard Number One stretching from the Black Sea to the Bering Strait, and was the only one to get out of Japan alive before it burned.
The Master hunted her with an ever-increasing ferocity, certain she was seeking a weapon capable of killing a Time Lord. When his agents finally succeed in bringing her onboard his sky ship, The Valliant, Martha tells the Master the “weapon” wasn’t what he thinks. Kneeling before him with a smile spreading across her face, Martha reveals the truth of what she’s done:
Martha – “Don’t you wanna know what I was doing travelling the world?”
The Master – “Tell me.”
Martha – “I told a story. That’s all, no weapons, just words. I did just what the Doctor said. I went across the continents all on my own. And everywhere I went I found the people and I told them my story. ‘He has saved your lives so many times and you never even knew he was there. I know him.’ I told them about the Doctor. ‘I love him.’ And I told them to pass it on, to spread the word so that everyone would know about the Doctor.”
The Master – “Faith and hope, is that all?”
Martha – “No. ‘Cause I gave them an instruction [standing], just as the Doctor said. I told them that if everyone thinks of one word, one specific time…”
The Master – “Nothing will happen! Is that your weapon? Prayer?”
Martha – “Right across the world! One word, just one thought, at one moment, but with fifteen satellites.”
The Master – “What…?”
Jack – “The Archangel Network.”
Martha – “A telepathic field, binding the whole human race together, with all of them, every single person on Earth thinking the same thing at the same time and that word…is ‘Doctor.’”
United in Martha’s belief in the Doctor, the Doctor – having had a year as a prisoner to tune his own psychic ability into the Archangel Network the Master used to conquer the planet – is able to feed off the world’s faith. In humanity’s belief, the Doctor is made whole once more. He is reborn, his youthful body restored, and the Master’s lasers bounce off him harmlessly. The Doctor sets right all the Master did. He saves the day…but not really, not on his own at least. The Doctor can only stop the Master because of Martha’s faith.
When the entire world descended into a dystopia hell, with her family, friends, and allies lost to her, Martha Jones had the courage to keep putting one foot in front of the other and travel the world, telling a story. In that story she shared her faith, her love, and her courage. Those it touched were transformed. They saw the possibility she saw. The certainty of the nightmare horror in which they lived became less certain. Things were inverted. They, too, were able to find hope, confidence, and fearlessness where once was only despair. Then all those to whom Martha spoke told a story. They showed their faith. They shared their faith. And as their faith spread, they saved the world – not with weapons but with words, words born in love and shared in faith.
Yet uniting the entire world in her faith and her love is not, to my mind, the most courageous thing Martha Jones does. Yes, she’s doggedly pursued by the Master’s agents – his soldiers, his spies, his Toclafane forces – literally from one end of the planet to the other, unable to fully trust anyone other than herself for an entire year. She’s brilliant, as the Doctor would say. But I’d argue it is in her relationship with the Doctor where Martha illustrates the most courage.
Almost immediately, Martha is taken with the Doctor. Who wouldn’t be?? He’s charming, witty, handsome, and so intelligent. Plus, the Doctor has a way of naturally pulling people into his orbit. People trust the Doctor. They listen to the Doctor. You add to that the fact that the Doctor’s your entry into worlds and experiences once beyond your imagination and it’s natural you’d start to fall for him.
With the loss of Rose still aching, the Doctor brings Martha into his world while intentionally keeping her at a distance. On her first trip, the Doctor takes Martha to the Globe Theatre to see Shakespeare in 1599. However, they soon find themselves wrapped up in a mysterious murder that looks a lot like witchcraft. As they talk in their tiny room, trying to sort what they’ve witnessed, Martha asks, “So who’s going where? There’s only one bed.” The Doctor replies, “We’ll manage, c’mon,” as he hops in bed. The disconnect between them is painfully obvious:
The Doctor – “You gonna stand there all night?”
Martha – [lays in bed beside him] “Budge over a bit, then. Sorry, there’s not much room. Us two here, same bed, tongues will wag.”
The Doctor – “There’s such a thing as psychic energy but a human couldn’t channel it like that. Not without a generator the size of Tottenham and I woulda spotted that. No [rolling over to face Martha], there’s something I’m missing Martha. [she lays down, turning towards him so they’re laying eye to eye, mere inches apart] Something really close, starring me right in the face and I can’t see it. Rose’d know. A friend of mine, Rose, right now she’d say exactly the right thing. [abruptly turning back over] Still, can’t be helped. You’re a novice, never mind, I’ll take you back home tomorrow.”
Martha – [turning over abruptly herself to blow out the candle] “Great!”
This is such a sad, frustrating scene. Whenever I watch it I wonder, does the Doctor really not see it? Is he so lost in his grief over Rose that he can’t see how Martha looks at him? Can’t he see the feelings she is clearly developing for him? Or is he so lonely, so desperate for companionship that he is willfully ignoring Martha’s feelings for him, hoping she’ll be fine with being his friend or, maybe, not even caring if there’s emotional wreckage left behind?
I wonder, too, did the Doctor try to ignite feelings within Martha to help pull her along with him? Was his loneliness so desperate? On the day they met the Doctor needs to slow the Judoon from finding him (another alien being in an otherwise human-filled hospital) before he can find the Plasmavore. The Doctor says, “Martha, stay here. I need time. You gotta hold ‘em up.” She asks, “How do I do that?!” He says, “Just…forgive me for this. It could save a thousand lives. It means nothing, honestly, nothing.” Then he takes her face in his hands and he kisses her! He runs off leaving Martha to wonder, “…that was nothing?” Later, once the Doctor offers Martha a trip as a “thank you” for her help, her reaffirms it’s one trip and he’d rather be on his own. Playfully Martha says, “Well you’re the one that kissed me.” The Doctor snaps back, “That was a genetic transfer.”
There is very little “official” Whovian description of what a “genetic transfer” is. But we can infer it’s his saliva on Martha’s lips which momentarily throws off the Judoon’s scanners. So…why didn’t he just lick her face? It’s hard to read a near-stranger licking your face from chin to nose as anything other than gross. But a long, lingering kiss on the lips with a dashing stranger amidst such an adrenaline-pumping experience? How else do you take that? So was the Doctor, consciously or unconsciously, trying to “hook” Martha? Was it that unhealthy from the start?
Regardless of the Doctor’s motivations, just as her faith in the Doctor continues to grow during their time together, so too do Martha’s feelings deepen. She begins to fall in love with the Doctor. Yet while Martha’s faith yields increasing courage, her love leads to increasing pain. No matter how much she loves him, the Doctor can’t return Martha’s feelings. He has nothing of himself left to give Martha, not in that way.
Hounded through time by a family of alien hunters seeking his near-immortality, the Doctor and Martha hide in 1913. He uses a chameleon arch to rewrite his biology and memories, hiding the truth of himself from everyone – himself included. Only Martha knows the truth and the Doctor entrusts her with the job of reawakening him once the threat has passed. In “The Family of Blood” (S3E9), when these hunters begin to cut a bloody path through Farringham seeking the Doctor, Martha tries to convince John Smith – his human alias/identity of why he must let the Doctor return. Desperately Martha says, “People are dying out there. They need him and I need him. ‘Cause you’ve got no idea what he’s like. I’ve only just met him. It wasn’t even that long ago but…he is everything. He’s just everything to me and he doesn’t even look at me but I don’t care. Because I love him to bits. And I hope to God he won’t remember me saying this.”
On the one hand, Martha’s life is now filled with the whole of time and space. Each day brings with it a dizzying array of endlessly new possibilities. On the other, Martha walks through these worlds with a man she’s falling more and more in love with by the day who doesn’t return those feelings. He likes her well enough. They have a growing friendship. But he doesn’t look at her as she looks at him. There are few more exquisite sorts of pain. As Tom Petty so poignantly sings on “American Girl,” “God it’s so painful / something’s that so close / and still so far out of reach.”
In this situation Martha demonstrates striking courage. She has the courage to identify her own needs within herself and then she has the courage to advocate for her own needs within her relationship with the Doctor.
After their experience in New New York, Martha realizes she’s hit her threshold with how little the Doctor shares of himself. So, as they stroll through the now-abandoned Pharmacy Town on their way back to the TARDIS, Martha demands answers, pressing as the Doctor tries to wave her questions away:
Martha – “But what did he mean? The Face of Boe? You’re not alone?”
The Doctor – “I dunno.”
Martha – “You’ve got me. Is that what he meant? [smiles]”
The Doctor – “I don’t think so. Sorry.”
Martha – “Then what?”
The Doctor – “Doesn’t matter. Back to the TARDIS, off we go.”
[Martha rights a discarded chair and sits down, crossing her legs and folding her arms.]
The Doctor – “Alright, you stayin’?”
Martha – “Until you talk to me properly, yes. He said, ‘the last of your kind’ what does that mean?”
The Doctor – “It really doesn’t matter.”
Martha – “You don’t talk. You never say. Why not?”
The Doctor – “I lied to you, ‘cause I liked it. I could pretend, just for a bit, I could imagine they were still alive, underneath the burnt orange sky. I’m not just a Time Lord. I’m the last of the Time Lords. The Face of Boe was wrong, there’s no one else.”
Martha – “What happened?”
The Doctor – [sitting down beside her] “There was…a war. A Time War. The Last Great Time War. My people fought a race called the Daleks, for the sake of all creation and they lost. We lost. Everyone lost. They’re all gone now. My family. My friends. Even that sky. Ah, you shoulda seen it, that old planet. The second sun would rise in the south and the mountains would shine! The leaves on the trees were silver, and when they caught the light every morning, it looked like a forest on fire. When the autumn came, the breeze would blow through the branches like a song…”
Martha, unwilling to be completely shut out of his life any longer, has the courage to dig in and hold her ground until the Doctor is honest with her. But Martha also has the courage to hold all he offers. She allows the Doctor to be seen as he is, to be heard. She holds him in his trauma and the wounds he carries. She picks that up, as she travels with him, and that takes some courage, too.
Martha continues to honor herself and her needs when, after Shakespeare and New New York and regular ol’ New York in the 1930’s, they end up back in 2007 (S3E6). Martha won’t just get back in the TARDIS with the Doctor, no matter how much they’ve seen and done, not without setting some boundaries:
The Doctor – “So what d’you say? One more trip?”
Martha – “No. Sorry.”
The Doctor – “What d’you mean? I thought you liked it.”
Martha – “I do but I can’t go on like this, ‘one more trip.’ It’s not fair.”
The Doctor – “What are you talkin’ about?”
Martha – “I don’t wanna be just a passenger anymore, someone you take along for a treat. That’s how you still see me…I’d rather stay here.”
The Doctor – “Ok then, if that’s what you want.”
Martha – “Right. Well we’ve already said goodbye once today it’s probably best if you just go. [turning back toward the Doctor] What is it?”
The Doctor – “Well, I said ‘ok.’”
Martha – “Sorry?”
The Doctor – “Ok [gesturing towards the TARDIS].”
Martha – “Oh, thank you! Thank you!”
The Doctor – “Well you were never really just a passenger, were you?”
In the wake of this discussion, the Doctor gives Martha the “frequent flyers privilege” of universal roaming on her phone. After a bit of tinkering with his sonic screwdriver, she can now call anyone anywhere in time and space and she never has to worry about a signal again. The Doctor also gives Martha her own TARDIS key, which is a BIG moment. TARDIS keys are not lightly given.
In each of these moments Martha honors herself. She acknowledges her needs and she knows she’s worthy of having her needs met. Each time she hits a threshold moment, as it were, in regard to her needs and her relationship with the Doctor she communicates clearly and openly. She lets the Doctor know what is nonnegotiable and, if the Doctor can’t meet her needs, then she lets him know she’ll leave. It’s not a powerplay. It’s not emotional manipulation. It’s not an empty threat. It’s Martha knowing her worth and being sure it’s honored.
Her most courageous moment then comes in the wake of their defeating the Master. With the day saved, the Doctor is eager to begin their travels again but, looking at Martha, he realizes she isn’t coming back with him:
The Doctor – “…ok.”
Martha – “I just can’t.”
The Doctor – “Yeah.”
Martha – “I spent all these years training to be a doctor and now I’ve got people to look after. They saw half the planet sorted and they’re devastated, I can’t leave them.”
The Doctor – “‘Course not. Thank you.”
The Doctor – “Martha Jones, you saved the world.”
Martha – “Yes I did. I spent a lotta time with you thinking I was second best but you know what? I am good.”
Martha – “You gonna be alright?”
The Doctor – “Always, yeah.”
Martha – “Alright then. Bye.”
Martha gives the Doctor and quick kiss on the cheek and leaves the TARDIS. She hesitates outside and then goes back in:
Martha – “‘Cause, the thing is, it’s like my friend Vicki. She lived with this bloke, student housing, there was five of them all packed in, and this bloke was called ‘Shaun.’ And she loved him. She did. She completely adored him. She spent all day long talkin’ about him.”
The Doctor – “Is this…going anywhere?”
Martha – “YES. ‘Cause he never looked at her twice. I mean he liked her, that was it. And she wasted years pining after him, years of her life. ‘Cause while he was around she never looked at anyone else. And I told her, I always said to her, time and time again, I said, ‘Get. Out.’ So this is me, getting out. [tossing him her mobile] Keep that, ‘cause I’m not having you disappear. If that rings – when that rings – you better come runnin’. Got it?”
The Doctor – “Got it.”
Martha – “[turning back and smiling] I’ll see you again mister.”
SO MANY of the Doctor’s companions part ways tragically. But Martha chooses to leave because her needs weren’t being met. She has the courage to look at this man who she is so deeply in love with, tell him the truth – not just of her feelings for him but of how his actions hurt her – and then walk away. She doesn’t sever the relationship. She doesn’t have to. But she gets out because she needs to.
In an age where our popular culture offers so many, often romanticized, unhealthy models of relationships (Twilight, “Reylo,” etc. and so on), there is SO MUCH power in what Martha teaches us. Martha finds a full and fulfilling life, too! She doesn’t live with longing and regret. She becomes a doctor herself. She joins UNIT (the Unified Intelligence Taskforce, the international organization which monitors alien activity and protects the Earth from threats). She works with Captain Jack’s black ops team, Torchwood (Torchwood S2E6,7,8). And she crosses paths with the Doctor several more times (S4E4,5,6,12,13). Each time we see her, Martha’s truly happy and she’s as confident, compassionate, and clear-headed as ever.
While she can continue to be close friends with the Doctor, valuing their time together and the relationship they have, Martha doesn’t remain hung up on him. She heals. She moves on. After helping the Doctor and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), his new companion, stop a Sontaran invasion of Earth, Donna asks Martha, “So, you gonna come with us? We’re not exactly short of space.” But Martha says, “Oh, I have missed all this but, you know, I’m good here, back at home. And I’m better for having been away. Besides [holding up her engagement ring], someone needs me. Never mind the universe – I’ve got a great, big world of my own now.” Martha gets engaged and ultimately marries a man who loves her as she loves him and she continues to save the world with everyone from UNIT to Torchwood to the Doctor, all while honoring herself.
The Doctor first met Donna briefly before Martha. Upon reconnecting, watching the Adipos babies they were investigating levitate up to their nursery ship, she asks him, “What are you gonna do then? Blow ‘em up?” The Doctor replies, “They’re just children; they can’t help where they came from.” Donna says, “Oh, well that makes a change, from last time. That Martha musta done you good.” The Doctor agrees, “…ah, she did, yeah, yeah. She did.” Martha certainly did. The Doctor is better for having known her. And we can be, too! In Martha Jones we see a character who is fearless in her faith and in advocating for her own needs and honoring her own worth. In her model, she gives all of us permission to be and do the same, to be courageous enough to be filled and fueled by faith and to never accept less than what we’re worth.
 Søran Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety: A Simple Psychologically Orienting Deliberation on the Dogmatic Issue of Hereditary Sin, trans. Reider Thomte, (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1980), 172.
 Ibid., 150.
 Søran Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death: A Christian Psychological Exposition for Upbuilding and Awakening, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1980), 38-40.
 Or, as the Doctor points out to Rose in “New Earth” (S2E1), it would more accurately be called, “New New New New New New New New New New New New New New New York.”
 Dan Abnett’s novel, Doctor Who: The Story of Martha, explores this year in far more detail, expanding what we hear of in the two-part story, “The Sound of Drums” and “Last of the Time Lords” (S3E12,13). The novel is fascinating, switching between Martha navigating the dystopian world the Master’s created and short stories where she tells of her adventures with the Doctor. I’d recommend checking it out!
 Martha Jones’ time with the Doctor is a hallmark of the Doctor Who novels and comics, too. The Tenth Doctor is the star of more Doctor Who New Series Adventure novels than any other Doctor. He’s in thirty-one novels as compared to the six starring the Ninth Doctor, eighteen with the Eleventh Doctor, nine with the Twelfth Doctor, five starring the Thirteenth Doctor, and one featuring the War Doctor to date. Of those thirty-one novels, Martha is his companion in thirteen of them, compared to the six with Rose, five with Donna, and seven he’s travelling alone. All the IDW Tenth Doctor Doctor Who comics see him travelling with Martha, too. People love Martha, is what I’m saying. And with good reason!