Mar. 24th, 2017

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BtVS: Prophecy Girl
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Charlie: Are you eating a salad?Toby: Yeah.Charlie: Why?Toby: ‘Cause I am.
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Because I apparently have some inner fount of Martha Jones meta that wells over periodically.

- On Martha hate: the vast, vast majority of this seems to come from people who not only got their introduction to the show with Rose’s seasons, but weren’t… familiar with the way the show works, the revolving door of companions, and the way the Doctor and the TARDIS are the only true constants.  It’s a perception shift: Rusty billed the series so hard as The Doctor And Rose Show, probably trying to get as broad an audience as possible, dispel the old stereotypes of DW being fanboy fodder with disposable eye-candy companions, and grab female viewers who weren’t necessarily sci-fi fans already.  And so he gives us Rose, an everywoman character who knows and cares about sci-fi shit about as much as the audience Rusty’s trying to reach, but who is totally in love with all the aspects of the show that transcend genre–and he reassures us that she is integral to the fabric of the show.  She’s not going to get sidelined so the boys can play.  She is just as central as the Doctor himself.

Which is great for getting the show re-established, but then Billie Piper leaves.  And I can easily see how, if s1 and s2 are all you’ve got to go on, this is tantamount to trapping the Doctor in a parallel universe and letting Jack Harkness step in as the main character, or grinding to a halt halfway through Romeo & Juliet and replacing Juliet with some girl we’ve never heard of.  It’s the same principle that drives hatred of Mary Sues in fandom: “I don’t care what this new character is like, I’m in this fandom to read about the further adventures of the characters I love, not to watch your OC skip in and steal the show from them and warp the fabric of the fictional universe so everything revolves around her.“  It’s the exact same “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” fault-finding that produces ludicrous “is your OFC a Mary Sue?” checklists and causes Rose stans to excoriate Martha for all the ways she’s similar to Rose (“you’re just trying to replace her, but you’re not as good at it!”), then criticize the ways she’s different from Rose as character flaws.  The only difference is that in fanfic, no offense, we are all here bonding over an existing fictional universe and not over your OCs, but Martha hate is caused by a skewed perception of how that fictional universe itself is constructed.

Full disclosure: it took me a while to warm up to Rose.  Partly because I was always one of those sci-fi geeks that RTD specifically wasn’t aiming for with Rose, because he guessed (rightly) that we’d all be latching onto the Doctor instead.  And you know, that’s cool and the Doctor is awesome, but it annoyed the piss out of me that the female lead was there to be the pathologically non-genre-savvy ~emotional core~ of the show, which usually translated into the person making me yell advice at the screen as the writers tossed her the Idiot Ball yet again.  I did warm up to her, and will even confess to crying like a baby the first time I saw Doomsday, but the instant Martha walked onto the screen I was bouncing and punching the air in glee, because she articulated all the things I’d been yelling at the screen all this time.  It was a huge relief to discover that Rose was the emotional core of the show because she was Rose, not because that’s the only thing the writers knew how to do with the female lead.

- Anyway!  On to my girl Martha.  One of the accusations frequently leveled against her by the haters is that she’s “clingy” or “dependent."  For the longest time I thought this was utterly bonkers and they couldn’t be watching the same episodes as I was, but I think there… could be some kernel of truth in there?  In the sense that the haters are taking legitimate character development and casting it in the most negative possible light.

Here’s the thing: Martha relies on external validation and guidance.  This is not necessarily a bad thing!  It’s a double-edged sword, like Rose’s reliance on gut instinct and snap judgements.  Martha is fiercely analytical, and if she feels like she doesn’t have enough information to assess a situation, she’ll go after that information like the dickens but she’ll also be at a bit of a loss until she obtains it.  And if she thinks there might be a higher authority or someone more knowledgeable than she is, she won’t necessarily defer to them, but she will seek out information and advice.  Martha needs to feel like she knows what she’s doing.

Think I’m pulling this out my ass?  Smith and Jones.  Yeah, she’s endlessly speculating, trying to figure out what’s going on, questioning the Doctor, but the most telling moment is when he goes "Martha, when I say now, push the button!” and she says “Which button?” and immediately runs for the instruction manual.  Would Rose have immediately gone for the biggest most prominent button?  Probably.  Would it have been the wrong one?  Quite possibly, given that this was basically how the writers kickstarted half the plots in s1–but this is not a companion pissing contest, it’s an illustration of how differently Rose and Martha react to things.  Rose might’ve gone for the wrong button, Martha might not have found the correct instructions in time–double-edged swords all ‘round.

Shakespeare Code.  Martha gets her first chance to time travel, and spends the first ten minutes grilling the Doctor on how time travel works and what the rules are and how she can operate safely without causing a fuckton of paradoxes.  Ten is flippant to the point of rudeness even though these are all valid, intelligent questions, because he’s used to traveling with someone who trusts herself to wing it and trusts him to warn her if she’s about to fuck something up.  And here we have prior examples of how Rose approaches this stuff: Father’s Day.  In an analytical light Rose did something incredibly dumb, but what matters to the Doctor isn’t that it was smart or dumb, it’s that she acted on instinct and did something incredibly human.  One of the other accusations leveled against Martha is that she’s a “stuck-up bitch” or a “know-it-all” or “thinks she’s better than everyone else,” and while I have yet to see any TV canon that supports this, I do see where the defensiveness comes from.  If you judge Rose by the things Martha values or the standards Martha sets for herself, Rose comes off pretty poorly.  On the flip side, if you judge Martha by the things that made Rose awesome, Martha starts looking insecure (because she has to analyze before she can act, because she looks to the Doctor for knowledge and validation) and overly willing to go along with the Doctor’s views instead of stubbornly wandering off and looking at things from her own perspective.

I could go on. “Blimey, did you have to pass a test to fly this thing?” “Yes, and I failed!” The mere fact that he thought to leave video-recorded instructions for Martha in 1913, and her frustration when she encountered problems way beyond the scope of the video.  But we’re not talking blind deference to authority or lack of initiative here–if Martha knows she’s the most competent person in the room, she will totally step into a leadership role, going right back to the scene where she tells everyone to shut the fuck up and calm down when her hospital ends up on the moon.

And she analyzes.  She puts pieces together.  Once she has a sense of what’s going on, she and Ten can pull off brilliant two-prong plans: he can just wink and pass her the psychic paper and let the Daleks take him prisoner, and she will figure out they’re off to the Empire State Building and bluff her way in to investigate what the Daleks are using it for.  She can lure the Lazarus monster up into the belltower to put it in a position where Ten can get at it, in symmetric payback for that one time she figured out he was using himself as bait to get the plasmavore in a position for Martha to bring smackdown.  As the series goes on, he starts abusing the privilege somewhat, and Martha ends up on her own for long periods–not executing half of a two-prong plan, but doing all the work while he’s incapacitated.

And that right there is Martha’s character arc.  She starts out needy, yes, and desperate for the Doctor’s validation.  Because she needs to feel competent, she needs to understand things in order to deal with them, and she’s just been tossed into a whole wide unknown universe where her only guide–her only external source of knowledge and context–is a moody overgrown teenager who keeps weighing her in comparison to his ex and finding her wanting.  What she learns over the course of the season is that even if she doesn’t know the rules of time travel or the customs of the time period she’s in, she is good.  She can figure shit out on the ground and come up with a plan, and she doesn’t need 900 years of experience to be a brilliant fucking badass.  The Doctor’s validation?  It’s nice when he gives it, but she doesn’t need it, and if he wants to be an ungrateful ass that’s his problem.

And yeah, her crush is fuelled by desire for validation more than anything else.  It also only happened in the first place because Ten spent half a season being Mr. Mixed Signals Alien Tease and Martha, true to form, didn’t reject the possibility of a romantic entanglement until she had enough evidence to be sure he wasn’t interested.  By then it was waaaaay too late to nip it in the bud.  I don’t like the unrequited-crush subplot and I think it distracts from what’s really going on with Martha, but it develops for reasons that are consistent with her character, and she sure as hell deals with it like a mature motherfucking adult.
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Mar. 24th, 2017 11:09 pm
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