Flashback Friday: My Martha Jones (Fandom) Problem

Note: I originally wrote this back in 2012 in response to a frustrating comment on a tumblr post about Martha Jones. Sadly, after all this time… fandom is not better about Martha Jones or any other Black woman it comes across.


There’s this post with a comic scan from the Doctor Who books going around where Martha Jones snarkily calls 10 out for his treatment of her in comparison of Rose. You can see the post at the link and read the comic for yourself, but basically she looks at him and is like, “Did Rose get this sort of treatment or was it just me?” 

This sort of treatment refers to one awful moment after another. I don’t know if you remember Martha’s run as a companion (and if you don’t, please attempt on fixing that), but she basically got no down time. Where all of the other companions got chances to have fun and visit places where people weren’t trying to kill them either in-show or off-screen, Martha didn’t get any of that. And to top it off, she’s directly referencing the fact that pretty much the only thing 10 talked about were the good times with Rose. Which according to the way he’s telling it, it all of the time.

THIS is the very first comment on the post I saw:

Do you see that?

This was a person who liked Martha (albeit after somehow managing to hate her) and then just because of a single page where she gets back a bit of her own after an entire run with the Doctor comparing her to someone she had never met who apparently could do no wrong, this person wants to go back to hating her. This is how fandom works with Black characters and honestly with Black people (that aren’t cismen) as a whole be they the characters in the source media or the people in fandom.

Instead of thinking that Martha Jones spent an entire run being treated as subhuman by everyone including the man she was in love with and deserves a chance to be “bitchy” because he treated her like shit, this person decides that the angry Black woman has done something to be hated for. Because she dared to call the Doctor out on his shitty behavior (something that Donna Noble, Amy Pond, and River Song are beloved for in their time with him), she’s not worthy of respect or love from the fans.

When was the last time someone compared you to someone?

When was the last time someone you loved and respected looked at you and told you (with their words or their behavior) that you weren’t as good as someone they loved?

When was the last time you fell short of meeting someone’s goals because they were based on high levels and built-up memories that you couldn’t reach if you tried?

When was the last time you just weren’t good enough?

Of all of the companions we’ve seen in NuWho canon, Martha is the one that has lost the most. Mind you, they’ve all lost their agency at some point. Rose lost the Doctor. Donna lost her memory. Amy lost her daughter. However, Martha lost her humanity and her dignity while working with the Doctor and no one ever acts as though there should be battle fought to bring it back the way that everyone clamors for the rest.

You might be wondering what I mean by that.

Well, obviously Martha isn’t white. She’s a woman which affords her some measure of sexist generosity, but she is still Black and therefore not as important to the cultures we see or to the fandom at large that ignores her or demand that she be quiet and calm in the face of crushing emotional instability or the ones that turn her into the Impala in SuperWhoLock crossovers. Where all of the other characters can stand upon their humanity when they walk into a room of aliens (Rose and Donna being the most strident examples), Martha doesn’t have that. 

She doesn’t have the position in the world (even in a sci-fi story) to stand on her humanity because as we see in episode 8/9 of the third series where the Doctor loses his memory, you can’t be human and be Black. How many people must have written off Martha’s feelings from that episode? How many people do you think just excused everything that went on there so that they could ignore the fact that he took Martha –an outspoken woman of color– into a time and place where she could have been killed for the color of her skin.

The Doctor has nearly gotten all of his companions killed at one point or another. It’s a fact of life. To be a companion, you will nearly be killed several times. However, all of the other companions are nearly killed because of their humanity. Martha Jones is nearly killed (and we get two whole episodes devoted to it in depth) and then humiliated because of the combination of her race and her gender.

Everyone else in NuWho got to play around with the Doctor and have fun without worrying that they’d be killed even if it was off screen and if you decide that you’re going to hate Martha Jones after she voices her mind on ONE occasion where she is dissatisfied with the way that she’s been treated and the way her companion experience has been, you probably aren’t going to give a person of color that isn’t fictional the benefit of the doubt in such a case.

And fandom still sees nothing wrong with deciding that poor little Rose is still being wronged even though her run is finished, has been finished for years. As always, whenever someone that isn’t white does something in fandom that isn’t to stay quiet and in the background of their series, they get all of the shit.

Why I’m Writing This

I’m not calling all NuWho fans racist. I’m not even calling the majority racist. However, I’m calling out this racist behavior that I’ve been seeing since day one of lurking in the fandom because it’s completely and utterly disgusting.

When I was first watching Doctor Who and Martha showed up, I was in heaven. Here we had a character who was not only my kind of POC, but she had wits and great hair and this ability to snark at the Doctor and sort of whittle him down to size. I swore that everyone would love her. I swore that I would get into the fandom and it would just be a Martha-party everyday because she did so much good.

Instead, I just seemed to see endless amounts of posts where fandom lambasted her for being “too angry”, “too clingy”, or any combination of “too much of a trait that other companions had in spades”. She was too angry when Donna spent a large amount of time screaming at the Doctor. She was too clingy when Rose kept coming back to the Doctor’s side even once she had her own Doctor. She’s too much for people to handle because of traits that other characters show in spades.

And it’s because she’s Black.

I’m not mincing words, I haven’t yet and I won’t now.

Why?

Because I’ve gone through it with fandom and I’ve continued to go through it with my specific fandom.

I’m too angry.

I’m too loud.

I’m too outspoken.

When everyone else that says the same thing gets the royal treatment and comments saying how brilliant they are or how no one has ever had such an amazing commentary, it was no real question that I was only loud/angry/outspoken because of something that seemed threatening to these people saying so. Even subconsciously, race was an issue. Few people go out of their way to actually do racist things, but that doesn’t mean that the behavior and attitudes aren’t racist.

Race has a lot to do with how people in fandom and the characters in fandoms are treated. Personality traits that would be ignored or deemed positive when possessed by a white character (strength of will or determination) become something negative when possessed by a (usually Black) character of color (pushiness).

And so many people ignore that or act as though it didn’t happen. They rationalize this urge to leap down POC throats for personality traits they deem negative while loving or ignoring those traits in white characters. 

Martha Jones saved the world (in a major way) and she still wasn’t good enough for the Doctor or the fandom. 

About Zeenah

Zina writes about comics, nerd history, and ridiculous romance novels when not working frantically on her first collection of short stories and complaining about stuff. One day, she'll settle down and write that novel.
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