I’ve addressed this other places, but it needs to be here too. I re-watched this episode quite a while ago, and more than once, and it still sticks:
The Doctor said no.
This is a problem. It’s addressed on some level, in some media, in certain contexts: no means no, consent, etc etc. Doctor Who has mostly* not depicted a man forcing his attention on a woman, as that would be clearly and unassailably wrong, in spite of what the Twilight/Outlander romance crowd might think. However, New Who in particular has no problem with women forcing themselves on men.
I mentioned it with regard to Amy in ‘Flesh and Stone,’ but Martha has the same problem, at two major points in her initial episode:
- The kiss. He tells her it means nothing; it’s a quick and effective means of transferring DNA (I’m not sure about the factuality of this, whether there’s enough DNA in saliva to make a difference, also an issue in ‘The Lazarus Experiment’ later in the season) and it successfully distracts the Judoon just long enough. Martha actively refuses to believe in ‘nothing.’ How is the Doctor so great a kisser that he can deliver such a blow to someone’s emotional intelligence? Have Martha’s family problems left her so stunted?
- At the end of the episode, the lonely Doctor shows off his TARDIS and invites this intelligent, interesting woman for a ride. True, in the modern world it’s hard not to construe such a thing as a date. However, he explicitly says no, TWICE, and she refuses to believe it. Not only that, but she lies to him in return, telling him she’s not interested. Maybe she’s in denial, or maybe she wants to not be interested, but the fact is that she lies and assumes he lies as well. (At some point I will find and add the dialogue from the scene, just to make it crystal clear.)
This is RTD’s biggest problem. He said prior to S1 that he wanted to make the show sexier, and he clearly retained interest in romantic storylines across his run. He even tried it in Torchwood. I suppose he thought an unrequited love story would make a nice contrast to Rose’s tale, or help illustrate the Doctor’s grief, or express his own – and presumably his fans’ – dogged love for the Doctor. (Newsflash, Russell: a good contrast would have been NO romance.) But he sets it up to fail with Martha’s stubborn, inappropriate – and uncharacteristic, as it turns out – blindness.
I’m actually okay with Martha falling for the Doctor. Everyone falls for the Doctor, this Doctor in particular. But Davies’ treatment of the idea is terrible. Don’t make a smart woman go stupid over a kiss. Don’t make her ignore someone’s expressed feelings and fool herself into believing the opposite. The story can be told without that, and it shows weakness as a writer that he chose to do what he did. He also uses mouth-to-mouth resuscitation as a romantic trope: not the first line of treatment for a person drained of blood, but a common cheat to give characters some intimate face-to-face. Very icky, especially given Martha’s supposed medical training.
It’s one of my long-term plans to rewrite bits of S3 with a proper romantic storyline. Martha is a great character, and Davies does wrong by her to make her a Twilight child. How would a normal person react to being abruptly and emphatically kissed by a not-unattractive near-stranger? She might be upset, she’d certainly be embarrassed, she might want to forget it as quickly as possible; it’s unlikely (unless I’m really really ignorant here) that she would leap directly to ‘this must MEAN something!’ let alone ‘he loves me!’ How would she react to his TARDIS, his invitation? Maybe it’s just me, but I’d be much more interested in the ship, the possibilities, the opportunity for adventure, than the man. Is she so hard up that even surrounded by wonder she’s primarily focused on a quick lay? That’s all it could be at this point; they’re barely friends, let alone anything resembling potential lovers. I think a proper Martha would be up for the adventure, and discover a growing infatuation more gradually over time. Of course an inquisitive and overburdened person like Martha would jump at the chance to ride in the TARDIS, and anyone could be excused for developing personal feelings. Martha’s instant and unfounded passion is insulting to the viewer and the character, and puts an unattractive spin on an otherwise very good season.
*Some fans have a problem with the Doctor kissing Jenny in ‘The Crimson Horror.’ I can see both sides of this, as within the context of the poorly-defined relationship, it might be just fine. Or it might be an appalling misbehavior, devoid of appropriate consequence.