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Mickey, Martha, and the Message that Doesn't Belong on Who 
1st-Jul-2007 08:52 am
Cut for spoilers for entire season. Crossposted to personal journal.

When Mickey was being treated as the comic relief, I didn't like it much. Here was a guy who was solid, dependable, and faithful - pretty much the salt of the Earth - and he was constantly being dissed by the Doctor, who refused to get his name right when he wasn't just calling him "Idiot" and quite obviously being considered distant second in interest by Rose... a distant third when Jack came along. That he was the only black guy in the regular cast was exceptionally distasteful, but I really didn't think that they were trying to make a racial comment. I mean, they also let Mickey save the world several times.

Yet the only way Mickey "redeemed" himself in the eyes of Team TARDIS was to leave and reinvent himself. It's not like they were going to help him grow as a character, not when the Doctor would forget about him while babbling to Rose while Mickey patiently obeyed the Doctor's orders three feet away! And Rose, who kept claiming how much she loved Mickey, was complicit in that whole scene.

We know that Mickey, in the alternate universe, is still the same sort of stolid, sensible, dependable kind of guy... and that Rose still won't look at him because we know she thinks he's just not as good as the guy she was taken away from.

Now along comes Martha. Martha "the first black companion" even though Mickey was invited in by the Doctor and traveled in the TARDIS for several episodes which has always been the rule of thumb for the title "companion" before. And although the Doctor had been "over" Rose enough to invite Donna - pale, Irish-looking Donna who bitched at the Doctor constantly and showed no interest in travel - on board as a companion without any stipulations, Martha - dark Martha who has already shown curiosity, brains, bravery, and oh, saved the Doctor's life gets a series of "just one trip" warnings. And then to ice the disrespect and lowered expectations, gets hit with the one line the Doctor has never, EVER used in all 43 years of the show - "Companion X would know what to do" with all the implications of "I can't rely on you."

But he does rely on her. He relies on her to restart his hearts twice, his lungs once, take care of his whole being for three months of overt overwork, sexism, and racism , take menial work again to pay their way during exile, and, oh, Save the damn world! in Shakespearean times and modern ones.

All without ever a "thank you" or "I'm sorry" outside of fanfic. But plenty of comparisons to the previous companion, and in full knowledge that she feels second best. At the very end of this season, she outright says "I've felt second best all along, but I'm pretty impressive."

And the Doctor says nothing. Not "you are impressive." Not "I shouldn't have let you feel second best. I only take the best."

Nothing. Leaving us all with the message that like Rose's opinion of Mickey, no matter how solid, dependable, brave, and loyal Martha is, she's just not as good as the one who was taken away from him.

They say we will get "wonderful news" about Freema on Monday. Either way, though, they've already screwed her. If she's off the show, then she is the only companion in history to have blatantly been the rebound girl (even though the loud white chick who came right after Rose wasn't). If she's on the show, it's like Mickey... only able to reclaim her life and grow into her power off screen.

When it was just Mickey, it was an unpleasant circumstance that could be handwaved. Now that it's Mickey and Martha, the implications that the black characters just aren't as interesting to the audience or beloved of the Doctor is unmistakable.

And DAMNIT, Doctor Who is SUPPOSED to be about the dignity of all species! There was a time when they could make us feel the rights of personhood for "people" made of rubber masks and bubblewrap. But Rusty has outright said that we are really only interested in seeing stories about humans. (Really, Rusty?)

As of last night, he made it clear that it's really only pale humans who are all that interesting. And that is a message that doesn't belong on Doctor Who.
1st-Jul-2007 01:32 pm (UTC)
The sample size is small enough that I can still just about handwave it in my head as unfortunate coincidence. But dammit if we get any sort of repetition of the pattern of treating the black characters as second class citizens then ... well, I don't know what, but it will be Bad.

I'm clinging fairly hard to the NAs at this point.
1st-Jul-2007 01:36 pm (UTC)
The NAs and EDAs are more canon than anything Rusty does will ever be, I say. Which of course means he'll start plundering them and taking a big onscreen shit over them next season just to show he can. (Bitter? Me? Never.)
1st-Jul-2007 01:35 pm (UTC)
IAWTC, and considering I would bet money that the next companion who won't get treated like a fucking domestic servant is yet another under-25 adoring blondie, starting to seriously reconsider continuing with this show at least until Rusty finally (if there's a glowy blue Jesus) steps down as producer. I don't care how it was meant to come across, it all pings as so breathtakingly racist that I'm sincerely disgusted with my show. (And having just started rewatching S1 I must say, MICKEY, YOU DESERVE SO MUCH BETTER THAN THIS.)
1st-Jul-2007 01:36 pm (UTC)
I've reached the point where if the characterizations of POC don't improve I'll be dropping out of Who. It was almost better not to have seen any POC period than to have seen this mess. And it's not just a problem on Who, Toshiko is slotted into so many stereotypes on Torchwood she hurts my head. Essentially white people are important and save the world (or become terrible killers) while pOC are supporting cast who can't find love or a healthy relationship ever. Also POC are never attracted to other POC. It's all about the white penis or vagina. Unless an entire year of slavery has passed, then maybe they can come together. Why no, I'm not at all bitter about the entire cast of black characters spending a year in servitude to the white devil. Or the fact that all three black women were featured in maid's uniforms. Nope, not pissed off at all. Perhaps Martha will get a spin off and there'll be hope of something useful happening on it.
1st-Jul-2007 02:09 pm (UTC)
You know I was not going to agree...and then you mentioned Tosh.

You have no idea how angry I am at the way Tosh gets treated on Torchwood. It is the reason I hate Owen.

Mickey, Tosh and now Martha. All pining away for someone they never get.

It is easy to see what one would think. Oh RTD! *shakes head*
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1st-Jul-2007 01:49 pm (UTC)
I definately agree with this post. I was arguing about the end with my boyfriend last night and how I wanted there to be more at the end -- the Doctor recognizing what martha accomplished for the world.

At least Mickey had a moment to turn Rose down -- remember how Rose started all her wailing and "wait--where are you going? you have to be here so I can ignore you!" bit. I figured the Doctor would have been a bit surprised.

I have no problem with Martha leaving -- if she's not going to be respected or shown a little bit of love (even non-romatic) by the Doctor after treking across the world for a year, then yes, it's time to get out, but the fact that the Doctor was so cold and random about it shocked me the most. I think if it had been 9 instead of 10, he would have at least said something along the lines of "Martha Jones, the woman who walked across the world..." etc, but nothing. NOTHING. and that pisses me off.

1st-Jul-2007 02:22 pm (UTC)
At least Martha left with her head up, a half smile, and having checked on the availability of the next potential interest. (That? That made me laugh, because I loved it. If the Doctor can't move on, Martha certainly can.)

But at the same time, Martha was given an uphill climb that was just unthinkable for any other companion. And it pisses me off even more because this happened to Freema - nothing like dumping on the unknown black actress who got a role that should have made her career.
1st-Jul-2007 01:56 pm (UTC)
All without ever a "thank you" or "I'm sorry" outside of fanfic. But plenty of comparisons to the previous companion, and in full knowledge that she feels second best. At the very end of this season, she outright says "I've felt second best all along, but I'm pretty impressive."

And the Doctor says nothing. Not "you are impressive." Not "I shouldn't have let you feel second best. I only take the best."

I have to give your post a big head nod, and say that while I was trying not to think the exact same thing, I was still thinking the exact same thing. What brought it home for me were the last few moments of the finale. I have always loved and related to Martha Jones, but she just wasn't really completely the MJ I wanted. But, when she explained to Ten why she was leaving, saying that she had to get away for her own sanity *that* was the Martha Jones I had been waiting for the whole season.

That scene also made it very clear that Ten was not as clueless to his harsh treatment of Martha as general opinion seemed to suggest. His unsurprised expression of guilt as she expressed her opinion was so telling. It was as if he was thinking, "Oh yea... yea I did do that. I did make you feel that way. I know."

But, even if Martha doesn't come back, her exit was fantastic. I watched it thinking, "Yes, Martha Jones, you do what you need to do and you're wonderful. You will never be second best."
1st-Jul-2007 02:07 pm (UTC)
This is pretty much my objection to the finale. Even with s4 being the season to invert all of that it's still been written that way in the first place. And, like, why exactly?

Ask yourself: to get to the point where they are now with the Doctor emotionally, did they really have to make Martha not just unrequited but bashed in complete opposition to what we were seeing on screen? And for no other reason than not being Rose?

She's not Jack, she's not an anomalous and fixed event - so what were they trying to say? What about all the kids who particularly identify with Martha? Are they going to be thinking that in order to be liked they have to be more like Rose?

The logic here is disturbing.
1st-Jul-2007 09:25 pm (UTC)
It's not logic, though. It's a manifestation of white supremacy. Whether the writers meant it or not, in the two instances where characters of color got lots of screentime otherwise, the context was that no matter what they do, with what heart they do it with, no matter how successful they are at it, they will never receive the acknowledgment from the people that matter most to them that they are worthy of praise equal to that of other heroes. And that, what's heroic for others is just baseline acceptable behavior for them.

It's a hateful lesson.
1st-Jul-2007 02:07 pm (UTC)
It's weird though, because every time she raised herself above the shit the Doctor was throwing at her I loved her even more. Both my husband and myself are extremely sad to see her go (and hoping that there was a big enough out to bring her back next season).

We were thinking the RTD's problem might be with, well, women. When there's a woman on screen for most of an episode(s) she ends up a) a total shrew b) evil c) screwed over by the Doctor d) dead and/or e) childlike (by this I mean innocent/naive, not in possession of a self-determined life; that the primary mental and emotional characteristics of her would not be out of place on a child)

Shall we review? In order of introduction:

(Season 1)
Rose (childlike, screwed-over)
Jackie (shrew)
Cassandra (shrew, evil, dead)
Gweneth (childlike, dead)
Harriet Jones (screwed-over and arguably evil)
Blon Fel Fotch Passaday Slitheen (aka Margaret) (evil)
Lynda (childlike, dead)

(Season 2)
Queen Victoria (shrew)
Sarah Jane (so very, very, screwed-over)
Reinette (childlike, screwed-over, and depending on how you look at it, dead)
Mrs. Moore (dead)
Ida (you know, she may be an exception...)
Yvonne Hartman (evil, dead, possibly a shrew)

(Season 3)
Donna (shrew)
Martha (screwed-over)
Francine (shrew, screwed-over, and when she was cooperating with Saxon, a bit evil)
Tish (child-like, screwed-over)
Florence (aka Plasmavore) (evil)
Valerie and/or Cheen (childlike; their male partners seemed to do most of the speaking for them, although no-one in the episode was particularly well developed)
Hame (Another possible exception...)
Tellulah (childlike)
Captain McDonnel (shrew,dead) (All of her female crew; dead)
Matron Joan Redfern (possibly childlike, definitely screwed-over) (although I will admit that there is great difficulty at being an adult in an era that treats women like children at best and property at worst)
Sally Sparrow (another exception, although a bit childlike)
Chantho (childlike, dead)

So, in the entire new series I can come up with three women who don't fit one or more of the molds - Ida, Hame, and Sally Sparrow. I think that the only reason that Sally doesn't fit into a mold is that she had to be, more-or-less, the Doctor for her episode.

I completely agree that "Now that it's Mickey and Martha, the implications that the black characters just aren't as interesting to the audience or beloved of the Doctor is unmistakable" but I also think that the Doctor's scorn allowed them (especially Mickey, who was clinging to Rose's legs in an alley when we first met him) to grow. This is perhaps less true for Martha who seemed to be an adult the day the Doctor walked into her life and still an adult the day she walked out of his.

I don't know. I share your anger and discontent, but I think that unless the companion is young enough to be be dazzled by the Doctor and distracted by the things he says we're going to get more of him treating them badly, no matter the color of their skin.

(I also think that the Doctor was trying to make Donna into the rebound girl but she was so self-centered that she wouldn't take any of that second-best shit)

1st-Jul-2007 02:21 pm (UTC)
Good points. Is it fair to add in Jabe? She might be hard to categorize. She did end up sacrificing herself in the end for the greater good.
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
1st-Jul-2007 02:11 pm (UTC)
This may have gotten lost in my previous comment. I think you're spot-on about how POC are portrayed.
1st-Jul-2007 02:13 pm (UTC)
The Doctor only ever seemed to say thank you to Martha and even Rose got Defender of the earth Martha got very poor appreciation for the Doctor for going round the world for a year and even though he knew he had treated her poorly, at the end he could have said something more :-( as so off she went... and not a tear did he shed just a stary look and then 'click' back to business
*shivers with the coldness*
Why do we come back again and again to a alien character who treats earth people so poorly when he goes on about how amazing they are (remember Impossible planet hug to black character)
This fan is bit confused
That aside Martha was a lovely endearing character I look forward to seeing her again soon, but the character writing for her must improve
1st-Jul-2007 02:20 pm (UTC)
Why do we come back again and again to a alien character who treats earth people so poorly when he goes on about how amazing they are

Now there's a point and a half. :|
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1st-Jul-2007 02:26 pm (UTC)
You forgot to mention that Jack was chained to the wall in a manly fashion, while *every single one of Martha's relatives* were turned into servants. Uniformed servants.
1st-Jul-2007 02:28 pm (UTC)
Leo wasn't he was on holiday buying sticks of rock and playing on the slot machines ;-)
1st-Jul-2007 02:46 pm (UTC)
There was some meta I was going to write, about how Martha and Mickey seem to share the oddly paradoxical character trait of being treated for the most part reasonably well by the show on their departure (given a lot more agency and dignity than certain characters), but are utterly shafted in terms of how the Doctor acts to them.

It wasn't until I was part way through planning it when I realised that also? They were both black.

And then I decided that I didn't want to write that meta after all. Because it's saying something about the Doctor I really, truly, don't want to hear.
1st-Jul-2007 03:07 pm (UTC)
I realised that also? They were both black

My point with the post. The black characters have been treated exactly the same, and it is far more shabbily than any of the white characters.
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
1st-Jul-2007 03:24 pm (UTC)
I might quibble on the individual interpretation of a few minor details but I agree with your overall analysis.
1st-Jul-2007 03:36 pm (UTC)
Yup, completely agree. Don't have anything new to add to the discussion really. Did my ranting on my journal last night.

And the Doctor says nothing. Not "you are impressive." Not "I shouldn't have let you feel second best. I only take the best."

Nothing. Leaving us all with the message that like Rose's opinion of Mickey, no matter how solid, dependable, brave, and loyal Martha is, she's just not as good as the one who was taken away from him.

That was what really upset me. I understand Martha walking away (and it was needed) but to have the Doctor say nothing at all just...hurt. I'm really dreading the announcement of the next companion - but I'll scream if it's another blonde young female. Ugh.
1st-Jul-2007 05:26 pm (UTC)
. I'm really dreading the announcement of the next companion - but I'll scream if it's another blonde young female. Ugh.

I will scream if she has feelings for him and he returns them. Then there will be no place RTD can hide.
1st-Jul-2007 04:04 pm (UTC)

Is it worth writing to BBC about this?

I mean, I totally agree with you that there is a bad message being spread by the shoddy treatment of Black characters on this show. I wonder if we starting voicing our opinions to BBC, that it would make them at least realize that there is something wrong with how Black characters are portrayed on DW?

Tries not to think of how Jenny was shafted on S5 of Spooks.
1st-Jul-2007 04:11 pm (UTC) - BBC complaints website


I think I may have to drop a few lines to them.
1st-Jul-2007 04:09 pm (UTC)
The bit that gets me is that it makes us ask "why doesn't he love Martha" and the instant thought is "because she's black". And that is not something I want DW to put in people's heads.
2nd-Jul-2007 06:41 am (UTC)
The first thought that came to my head was "because she's human"...
1st-Jul-2007 04:20 pm (UTC)
I'm prepared to give a little bit of leeway on the Doctor's reaction to Martha going, given that this year he's had Joan turn him down, the Master allow himself to die rather than be stuck with him, and now Martha leaving him isn't going to do wonders for hi abandonment issues. Seeing as this incarnation really is an example of "uncommunicative male syndrome" writ large, the failure to acknowledge her awesomeness means he can remain in denial about what it is he's about to lose. I really hope one of the scenes in the Christmas special is him having a conversation about the girl he was travelling with recently, and how didn't really appreciate her enough until she'd gone. If this happens and Martha's back for season 4 then I might consider forgiving RTD.

As regards the Mickey / Martha parallels, the patterns you've identified are pretty depressing, although one of the things I really liked about Mickey was the fact that he wasn't dependent on the Doctor for his personal growth in the way Rose appeared to be. With Martha, it seems like they wrote her as a fairly rounded human being to begin with, and then didn't know what to do with her.

1st-Jul-2007 04:51 pm (UTC)
Martha's exit is also low-key in a way that feels almost unimportant after the 15 hours minutes spent on Rose going. And she's the main female character. It should be a big deal, it should feel like our protagonist going to care. It felt like they just wrote her out at the last minute. She goes with dignity at least, but it really felt like she'd been discarded in passing.
1st-Jul-2007 04:53 pm (UTC)
You know what? I agree with you on EVERY DAMN COUNT!

And another thing? I pray that you are right because the only thing that would be even worse and more insulting than this having been done on purpose would be that it was done by accident, an unforgivable coincidence, out of blind ignorance.

They better fucking make Freema Agyeman QUEEN tomorrow or I think I may explode with rage.

No love for Rusty. He really fucked up this time.
1st-Jul-2007 04:58 pm (UTC)
1st-Jul-2007 05:26 pm (UTC)
I love this post. I want to marry it and honeymoon with it in Greece.
1st-Jul-2007 06:57 pm (UTC)
Then I come with it, because I love lokumades!
1st-Jul-2007 06:44 pm (UTC)
Total agreement. Only one thing to add: The one positive thing I find in all of this is the sheer number of people here on lifeonmartha who actually agree heartily with this post. I found on OG (and one of the reasons I stopped posting there) that if anyone mentioned race, everyone came out immediately with, "I don't see race." Yeah. Right. I actually posted way back when about how unhappy I was that Martha's dad had abandoned his family for a white bimbo, and I got myself totally bashed.

As a mother, I really do believe there's a terrible message for kids in all this. As I said on my own lj, I'm afraid that quite a few little black girls (and white ones, for that matter) will now wonder why the Great White Hope likes white chicks better.
1st-Jul-2007 08:24 pm (UTC)
The boys on the OG refuse to see anything wrong with the Doctor being a twat to women like they'd like to be able to.
1st-Jul-2007 06:50 pm (UTC)
I love this post, and the comments. It's exactly everything that has been troubling me about seaon three.
1st-Jul-2007 07:34 pm (UTC)
I just had a really disturbing thought.

I was thinking about the surreal debauchery in which we find the Master and Lucy living on the Valiant, and it reminded me of something... And then it came to me. Oh, yeah, just like that weird, surreal debauchery in which Casanova found his ex-finance living when he met up with her again all those years later. That Moorish person, Bellino, who had been passing for a male castrato but then turned out to be a woman. And Casanova had been quite smitten with her, totally hooked up with her, until she realized...

...that the woman Casanova really loved was the cute little white girl -- the one Casanova would pine away for all the rest of his life. And despite being so completely fabulous, the dark Bellino just walked away from Casanova.

Mickey. Martha. Bellino. Now THAT'S a pattern.
1st-Jul-2007 08:23 pm (UTC)
And not that he's sexist but... the strong independant woman with her own career is expected to know her place and step aside for the petite white woman who got immediate love for no real reason and has a few negative traits that Simply Don't Matter.
1st-Jul-2007 07:52 pm (UTC)
All I am going to say is this: Thank you for posting this. I have read the build up about this and had some thoughts myself, but no one has actually said it outright.

You make some outstanding points and its just so well thought out. You didn't just whip this up, you thought about it and put it out there for the rest of us.

So...thank you, again.

2nd-Jul-2007 09:43 pm (UTC)
I agree with everyone on this post, the race thing hasn't bothered me, that is untill i read this post and realised how bad it it. But to be honest I don't think it was intentional, but what is, the way rusty has been so touchy about Rose, mentioned her far too often, i mean that "Rose would know what to do" coment in episode 3 just insensed me. MNo she wouldn't! Martha is 100 times smarter and more resorceful, maybe its the fact taht martha can take care of herself that the doctor isnt atracted to. I mean he needs sum1 whos brave but likes sum 1 he can save to feel better about him self. in shgort to prove to himaself he can save everyone just once. I just love martha to bits , i preferr her to be truthful , its better than season 2 with Roses constant jealousy.
1st-Jul-2007 10:36 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this post.
This has been bugging me all season, in fact the Mickey thing's been bothering me since S1.
Race in Who is so very problematic.
Martha was shafted as a character to the worship of the blonde white goddess. Martha is one of the best characters on television, period.
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