Martha, Clara, and the Curse of the Rebound Companion
Doctor Who is a great show because of its constantly changing cast. Because the Doctor lives for much longer than the average human, and also ends up in very dangerous situations, the people he travels with often change after a while. Adding in his own regeneration – and therefore the changing of actors playing him – and the Doctor Who of ten years ago hardly looks the same as the Doctor Who of today.
Still, some runs are better than others (I, myself, am partial to the Tenth Doctor) and some companions are better than others.
I got the idea for this post in part because of the announcement that this is Jenna Coleman’s (who plays Clara Oswald) last season – and people’s relief around it – as well as a conversation I had with Robyn about Martha Jones, the companion of season 3 and occasional traveller of season 4. Martha isn’t Robyn’s favorite companion, but she is mine.
Initially, when watching Who for the first time, I liked her for the simple reason that she was black. That may seem superficial, but to me the idea of a black girl traveling in time is revolutionary. There are so few spaces (especially in the past) that are safe for black women, and for Martha to still travel with the Doctor – and eventually save the world –is amazing to me.
After having watched all the episodes, I get why Martha isn’t often at the top of people’s lists (it’s difficult when you have the Ponds and Donna Noble to contend with) but she is still my favorite.
While rewatching some of her episodes, I realized that I also love her because even without the Doctor she is sure in herself. She is studying to be a doctor and while she travels in the TARDIS, she is clear that being a doctor is her overall goal. Unlike pretty much every other companion – except for maybe Clara – she is the only companion who doesn’t look into her future and see only the Doctor.
However, like Clara, Martha suffered from another issue, one I like to call the Curse of the Rebound Companion. Martha Jones came into the Doctor’s life – and onto our TV screens – after the heartbreaking departure of Rose Tyler. Now, after all this time, Rose is my least favorite companion but she is still the first companion of the Doctor Who reboot, and therefore holds a special place in the hearts of many, namely the writers of the show at the time. At the beginning of season 3, the Doctor is mourning the loss of Rose, but it is clear that the writers were too. They had a hard time with Martha’s characterization, giving her a crush on the Doctor after he’s just lost the woman he loved. It forces Martha to become the whiny sidekick, jealous that the Doctor doesn’t like her like he liked Rose, which makes it hard to watch season 3 without getting annoyed. Luckily, they are able to rectify it once Martha becomes a recurring character in season 4, as they are able to ditch the crush and just have her be the valuable asset that she is.
A similar thing has happened to Clara Oswald, the current companion of the Doctor. Clara came after the devastating departure of the Ponds, who were the Eleventh Doctor’s companions during most of his run. Clara came in the midst of the Doctor mourning the loss of his best friend Amy, and it almost feels like his letting Clara on the TARDIS – to find out why she keeps popping up all over his timeline – was mainly just a distraction from his grief over losing Amy. For the last half of season 7, we are bored with Clara and her “mystery” because it’s clear that the writer’s aren’t fully invested either; they too are dealing with their grief over losing Amy and Rory.
Only in season 8 – once the Doctor has regenerated – do we really get to see who Clara is, and (with the exception of the Danny Pink subplot) who she is is badass. She is very similar to Martha in the aspect that she has a life outside of the Doctor. Season 8 is much more about balancing those two lives, but that is actually interesting – especially when you take out Danny (who, if you can tell, I really don’t care for). Clara doesn’t take anything from the Doctor, and is – as she puts it in one episode – his “carer,” meaning that she cares so he doesn’t have to. Clara is a good fit with the Twelfth Doctor because of his dark and seemingly uncaring nature – something much different from Eleven’s incarnation. I actually like season 8 for this reason (though I dislike it for others): Clara is able to get out from under the shadow of Amy Pond. Unfortunately, the writing of her still wasn’t consistently great, but it felt much less like a mourning and more like they just didn’t know what to do with her.
One of the difficulties of having beloved characters in a show that changes it’s characters so often is the pressure of creating a new one just as interesting while also getting over the old ones. Both Martha and Clara embody this struggle, though I still love one more than the other.
1. Martha Jones
2. Amy and Rory Pond
3. Donna Noble
4. Clara Oswald
5. Rose Tyler
*Though River and Missy will forever be at the top.
09/26/2015 @ 2:15 PM
Huh? They were totally invested in Clara, right from the start.
09/28/2015 @ 5:52 AM
It’s definitely open to interpretation! To me it felt like Clara had to get out from under Amy’s shadow when she was initially introduced (even with her being in the Dalek episode at the beginning of 7). Once she was paired with Capaldi, I feel like she felt less connected to Amy and the Doctor’s feelings for Amy and Rory.
03/31/2016 @ 11:40 PM
I love Martha too and Rose and Donna*; while I love Rory, Amy was only palatable to me in child form…but I digress. Though I mourned the loss of Rose, it helped that Martha was really nothing like her, save the stars in her eyes for the Doctor. I also love love love the hero treatment she gets walking the Earth and spreading the tale of the Doctor and respect her lone journey in the face of all that racism when the Doctor hid his memory. I used to watch her and Ten with the biggest smile. *I know he’s part time at best and smarmy as heck, but I also have mad love for Captain Jack. Good article; I do imagine both viewers and writers become attached.
07/20/2019 @ 9:28 PM
Interesting post, it was very enjoyable to read! It’s refreshing to see unbiased discussion of companions since, of course, everyone has those they love and those they don’t care much for. I agree about Martha—she is one of my top companions because, as you pointed out, she was sure of herself and self-confident WITHOUT the Doctor in her life. Rose and Donna, on the other hand, looked to him to make their lives more interesting. And thus, it was Martha who had the wherewithal and strength to walk away from the Doctor in order to take care of her family and pave her own life. I adore her for that.
Not gonna lie, I’m still lowkey bitter at the writers for doing Martha so wrong. Even though the Doctor was mourning Rose, they didn’t have to cage Martha in Rose’s shadow like they did. In The Family of Blood arch, I honestly was so frustrated that despite Martha taking care of "human" Doctor for three months, living as a maid being ridiculed for the color of her skin, etc., the Doctor never even appreciated her. He wrote about Rose in his journal, but couldn’t even make mention of Martha. Then he turned and asked Redfern to be a companion too after being adamant with Martha that she only would get one trip. Idk, it just seemed like Ten used Martha for convenient companionship rather than really appreciating and valuing her as a companion. And she was one strong, self-efficient and smart companion. I pains me seeing how underappreciated she is, by fans AND the writers but especially by the Doctor himself.
I’m a newish Whovian, but so far my personal ranking of main New Who companions is:
I don’t know much about Bill yet because I have yet to watch her season, so I won’t be ranking her. Captain Jack is another top fav and honestly, I would’ve LOVED to see him with Eleven/Twelve x Clara, but especially Twelve XD