Doctor Who #754: Smith and Jones

"Blo so fo do no cro blo co so ro."
TECHNICAL SPECS: Episodes from Smith and Jones through Last of the Time Lords, excluding only The Infinite Quest, are available in the Series 3 DVD set. First aired Mar.31 2007.

IN THIS ONE... Martha Jones comes aboard, the Judoon on the moon, and a plasmavore with a straw.

REVIEW: With a splash of hip-hop soundtrack (really?), we're introduced to Who's first official black companion (because everyone forgets Mickey) - Martha Jones. A personal favorite, Martha is more of a mental equal for the Doctor than Rose was, though she was hampered by the redundant unrequited love subplot/motivation that starts here (what WAS in that kiss--sorry, genetic transfer?). This must still have had its fans, or else there wouldn't have been a "teenage girl" backlash agains Peter Capaldi's casting. For a lot of New Who fans, will they/won't they dynamics and youthful heartthrob leads was evidently part of the attraction. So Martha gets stuck in love-sick puppy mode very early on and never really recovers. That's too bad because I like what else she brings to the table. She's more assertive than Rose was, and certainly more accomplished professionally. The Doctor takes note of her because she's brave, logical, open-minded, and asks the right questions. It's clear he's testing her to see if she's companion material, but at the same time - and this is crucial to my love of the character - she states that he's got to EARN the title of Doctor before she calls him that, and focuses on the pomposity of the name "Time Lord". And this is, in short, the dynamic here. The Doctor doesn't want to replace Rose, and yet keeps challenging the new girl, forging her into a super-companion (which Martha becomes), but even though she surpasses Rose, he never gets that old feeling again. Martha, on her end, doesn't just anchor the Doctor in reality and morality the way all companions do, but actively brings him back down to Earth, sits him down, call him out on his bull, cuts through the crap. This happens again and again, it's even thematically manifest in his literally becoming human in Human Nature, and from this first episode, you get the sense managing people's craziness is something she's done all her life, at least, judging from her family.

Smith and Jones, as an introduction to a companion, works well. Martha comes off well, even saves the Doctor's life. Her larger family is a contrast with single mum Jackie Tyler, while keeping the same kind of zany energy. For the first time, a casting anomaly (that Freema Agyeman just played a Cyber-controlled Torchwood agent in the previous series) is canonically explained (cousins). And there are some fun variations on the companion's first TARDIS scene (the Doctor mouthing the famous "it's bigger on the inside" is particularly memorable). The plot itself is secondary too this vital function, and it shows. Not that it's not entertaining, but Davies is once again involved in image-making that doesn't really resonate with any kind of thematic clarity. Space rhinos who act like Judge Dredd bring a hospital on the Moon using a rain-based technology so they can catalog everyone looking for a vampire that drinks blood out of a straw and who makes a brain EMP weapon that will kill half the world (that's the thing the Doctor makes but can't use in The Parting of the Ways) with an MRI machine. What is this jumble of ideas? Juxtapose a scene for the kiddies in which the Doctor absorbs radiation and shifts it into his shoe (might have come in handy way back in The Daleks) with a leather fetish joke, and you've got the kind of RTD script that annoyed the more discerning fans.

Oh the Judoon are a fun monster with an impressive animatronic head, and I love love love their language. The episode moves at a fast clip, has fun with a small temporal paradox (a "cheap trick"), and has a sense of humor. I would say burning out the sonic screwdriver was a step in the right direction given how much of a magic wand it's become, except that it's soon back, and in this episode is apparently used to jack up the tension when the Doctor has to stop the MRI EMP... which is done by pulling the plug. Hm... That sonic really is a crutch, isn't it?

THEORIES: The Doctor mentions he doesn't have a brother anymore, playing into the idea that he and the Master are blood related, a revelation that was almost made in Planet of Fire, but never canonical. Seeing as the Master returns this series (and indeed, is already around AND mentioned under his assumed name), how much of this is meant to be foreshadowing?

SECOND OPINIONS: In Martha'll do juuuuuust fine, I reviewed the episode mere weeks after it aired, and was just as enthused about Martha.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - A good introduction for Martha Jones, but the frenetic plot is all over the place.


Zundian said...

Poor Martha, rarely gets a fair shake. She's the only companion whose other work I've tracked down (Law & Order: UK is phenomenal)

Siskoid said...

Oh is it? I've always wondered!

Tim Knight said...

For my money Martha was the best of the new companions until Donna came along. I found her a more interesting and rounded character than Rose ever was.

jdh417 said...

Awfully fun episode. That "Cheap Trick" is an absolute classic Doctor Who moment.


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