Okay, so if you’re a fan of the current series of Dr. Who, but haven’t seen the finale yet, or you have somehow missed the advent of the interweb and have just started watching Season 3 on CBC, this is going to have spoilers for the season finale, so if you don’t like spoilers, go away. Come back later when you’re enlightened.
The season finale had some good parts and some bad parts. Overall it was… a bit disjointed and discombobulating and stretched the suspension of disbelief in some interesting directions. (Seriously… Gollum???) The first two beginning-of-the-end episodes were much better than the final one, in my opinion. However, the finale illustrated some excellent truths about life, love, and the meaning of it all.
I quite like Martha as the Doctor’s companion this season. She’s much smarter, sassier, and more capable than Rose was. Martha was also never given a chance. After the first couple/few episodes she became secondary, even tertiary (or at least sort of… parallel but separate), and the writers leaned way too hard on that old chestnut of girl-pines-for-boy-who-doesn’t-know-she-exists.
Note to Russell T. Davies: smart girls can crush and pine like the wind. We still manage to take care of bidniz.
I mean, God forbid we have a strong, smart heroine who can hold her own AND gets the guy, you know? (As much as any companion “gets” the Doctor.) A heroine who can make her own decisions and rally armies and *gasp* even defy the Doctor for her own family’s sake. Believe me, you could unpack and rail against this season from a feminist perspective all day long. And quote Joss, of course. Plenty. 🙂
You see, Martha doesn’t need the Doctor. Yes, she’s in love with him, but that’s in good part awe and infatuation more than actual love. (To love someone you have to have access to them. Martha has a key to the TARDIS, but not to the Doctor.) Trust me, been there.
Before the Doctor, Martha had a nice little upper-middle class life. A social life, strong ties to her (oft-bickering) family, her studies and goal of becoming a doctor, etc. I mean, sure, who couldn’t go for a bit of time travelling, universe traversing adventure? But even without it, it’s not like her life sucked.
Rose, on the other hand, was a bit of a different story. From distinctly working class origins and environs, she had a crappy retail job, her father had been dead for years, and her mother was… a bit of a piece of work. Things with her boyfriend tended to be kind of… meh. (And his life was no more exciting than hers.) If ever there was a girl in need of a dashing, handsome stranger and some interstellar derring-do, it was Rose. She needed the Doctor.
And therein, my friends, lies a great secret. These two women illustrate the only way that long distance relationships ever work long-term. The secret is this: if you find yourself in a long distance relationship, and you and your partner are equals, you will lose each other. Doomed, I say.
You see, when a long distance relationship ramps up, it tends to suck. Large. You can’t have what you want when you want it, you are acutely aware of when you’re alone, and for how long, and mundane co-domesticity gets elevated to a near-sacrament.
And with the exception of a few very special people (presumably — I’ve never met anyone who’s done this indefinitely), eventually you have to figure out a way to be together more than once in a while. That means Point A Person and Point B Person have to decide if they’re going to both reside at Point A or Point B. That means one person’s going to have to pull up stakes and move.
And this is where the danger of equality (or balance, if you will), comes in. The person who moves is always the person who has less to lose, less to leave behind, and who is more willing to do so. (It doesn’t hurt to be 23, between jobs, and in a significant period of life flux.) The person who moves is the one who needs more. And yes, one partner pretty much always has more than the other. Could just be a nicer apartment and better job. Or, the older you get, it could be a capital-C career, a mortgage, and kids.
If this is not the case, the relationship, as previously noted, is doomed. Long distance relationships between equals can’t survive indefinitely. (Again, I’m sure there are exceptions to this, but I suspect these people would prove the rule by being people who don’t thrive within the bounds of traditional types of relationships and their expectations anyway.)
In Dr. Who, Rose has much less to give up than Martha does. Rose needs. Martha doesn’t. And for the Doctor, who’s been doing this a helluva long time, there is a strong draw in being needed. Ahh yes, the Saviour Complex. Being able to provide, protect, and dazzle — that’s powerful stuff (especially for men). An equally strong draw lies in being chosen.
And so after choosing him, and giving up her job and family and boyfriend and life for him (and, hell, eventually her entire dimension), Rose gets to be close to the Doctor. She gets to love him. She gets to be his partner in their adventures, truly, his Companion. She gets to share the entirety of time and space with him. (Literally, in the season finale of Season 1.) Fancy deal, that.
Martha, on the other hand, doesn’t give things up the same way. You never get the sense that she’s said “screw it” to her medical career. In fact, there are points throughout the season where she makes use of her medical training, and it seems to bother her that she’s getting behind in her goal. She’s in contact with her family pretty much every episode, and they never cease to be a priority for her, even when she’s bickering with them. To the point where, in The Sound of Drums, she openly defies the Doctor when he tries to get her to abandon them in favour of her own safety. She chooses, but she does not choose him.
And for the entirety of Season 3, Martha pines, and hopes, but she’s not stupid. She knows the Doctor’s heart remains with Rose (…and somewhere out in the universe, and in the past, and with Gallifrey, and tangled up in the significance of the Master’s death…). She knows that he can’t accept that Rose (or anything else) can never come back, nor can he find his way to her.
At various points Martha bitches about the martyred Rose like any self-respecting woman stuck with a boyfriend who can’t get over the past would. That’s why some of Martha’s scenes with Captain Jack in the final episodes are so much fun. They’re both in love with the Doctor, and have been for some time. And neither can have him, despite being alive, present, and deserving, and so they commiserate by bitching. Neither is blonde, you see. As the Doctor demonstrated at the end of Human Nature, you can’t fake the funk. But you also can’t fight a phantom.
And so, in the season finale, Martha is left with no choice. There’s always a choice, you might be thinking, but no, there isn’t. Not for someone strong, smart, and sassy. Someone who enjoys her life and pursues it actively and doesn’t need to escape it. True, Martha would experience adventures with the Doctor well beyond the bounds of imagination, but for her, it’s not enough. The adventure she truly wants is with him. It is him. And she can’t have it. She knows that if she doesn’t save herself — if she chooses the Doctor over herself, her family, and her life — in the end all she will have is a heap of regrets big enough to fill the TARDIS. On the inside.
So Martha makes the choice. She gets out. No “what if” the Doctor may eventually come around and reciprocate her love. Hell, she’d be lucky if he eventually woke up and saw her, really saw her.
Would Rose have left? Rose who gave up her life and loved ones for the Doctor (and, by extension, his adventures). Not in a trillion years. Which heightens the irony (and twists the blade) in that when the Doctor saves Rose’s life, the condition attached is that they lose each other, and she gets back the life she had before him, which she was so eager to give up when he came calling. In losing each other, they’re finally equals.