Martha Jones: The woman who waited.
The chase is on as the TARDIS door swings open and our heroes hit the deck before an energy beam slams into the console. The Doctor sets the TARDIS into motion but their enemy is following them courtesy of a stolen vortex manipulator. He tells Martha that, as long as they never saw her face, they can be safe. Their lives depend on a simple pocketwatch.
Dr. John Smith snaps awake from a nightmare as a maid named Martha delivers his breakfast. He tells her of a fanciful dream, one in which he is a time traveler named the Doctor. She reminds him that it is 1913 and that he is merely human. After he dresses, Dr. Smith goes about his lessons at Farringham School for the Boys as Martha works alongside fellow maid Jenny. Two unpleasant cadets sling not so subtle racism at Martha, but she dismisses it. Jenny notes that those boys may be running the country in a matter of years, but Martha quietly responds that they probably won’t. World War I is just on the horizon.
Dr. Smith later encounters Matron Joan Redfern, the school nurse, and they awkwardly hit it off. The encounter ends as Dr. Smith falls backward down the stairs. Matron Redfern tends to his injuries as Dr. Smith muses about his dreams and Martha tidies up. Smith talks about having two hearts – Redfern clinically dismisses that notion with a stethoscope – and shows the matron his Journal of Impossible Things. She’s wowed by his drawings and stories, but takes it anyway to read it later. She later discusses the mysterious doctor with Martha and emphasizes that she remember her place.
Later on, young Timothy Latimer is bullied by Hutchinson. The aggressor is irritated by Latimer’s knowledge of things he shouldn’t know, and Jeremy Baines defuses the situation by offering to fetch a beer from a secret stash in the woods. Martha and Jenny also share a drink outside the local pub – they’re not allowed inside due to their social status – as a green light flashes across the sky. Smith arrives and explains it away as a shooting star before retiring for the night. With Smith safely tucked away, Martha runs off to investigate, and Jenny tags along.
The light turns out to be a ship and Baines runs into it, quite literally. He’s able to get aboard just before Martha and Jenny arrive, and the ladies return home. Meanwhile, Baines talks with the ship’s occupants, the Family. He asks to see them but they refuse before attacking and taking his form. Baines returns to the dormitory without any beer, acting not quite like himself. The students call it a night while Latimer nervously polishes his boots.
The next morning, Martha checks in on the powered-down TARDIS while she remembers the events following their pursuit through time. The Doctor used a device known as the Chameleon Arch to become human, literally rewriting his DNA, and hide in 1913 to wait out the Family. He left her a set of twenty-three recorded instructions, including the last-resort directive to open the watch in an emergency. Martha tearfully wishes that he would return home.
Young Latimer visits Dr. Smith and finds the pocketwatch. He sees premonitions of what resides inside and takes the device, opening it and learning about Time Lords. Unfortunately, this alerts the Family to the Doctor’s presence. Baines (the Family’s Brother) telepathically calls back to the ship and orders the soldiers to be activated.
The soldiers take the form of scarecrows on a nearby farm. They assimilate Mr. Clark on the farm as the Family’s Father and Lucy Cartwright (a nearby girl in the wrong place at the wrong time) as the Family’s Daughter.
Smith is engaged in weapons training as Latimer deals with visions of the pending war. Latimer is dissuaded by the thought of killing African tribesmen with machine guns, and Hutchinson takes the opportunity to punish Latimer. Meanwhile, Redfern and Smith take a walk and talk about warfare. Smith saves a woman from death by falling piano with a cricket ball and a good arm. They walk the countryside and talk about Smith’s journal, and when they stop to fix one of the scarecrows, Smith talks about his childhood in Gallifrey, a place that he’s not quite sure about. Later that night, Smith and Redfern share a romantic moment that is interrupted by Martha, prompting his companion to seek solace in the TARDIS.
The Doctor didn’t leave instructions for what to do if he fell in love. Especially if it wasn’t with her.
Latimer has an encounter with the Family as the scarecrows assimilate Jenny as the new Mother. She returns to Martha’s side and learns some clues about the mysterious Doctor Smith, but Martha realizes that something is amiss. She runs to Smith, dodging the Mother’s laser fire, and discovers that the pocketwatch is missing. She fails to convince Smith of the truth, and after striking him, is dismissed from his service. She runs to the TARDIS (encountering Latimer en route) as the Family snoops about in Smith’s office.
Smith and Redfern attend a local dance as the Family track the schoolteacher down. Martha arrives with the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver and talks with Redfern, leaving the dancing duo speechless with the device from Smith’s dreams.
The Family arrives and vaporizes the doorman and the organizer of the party. They put the pieces together, but Smith still can’t recall anything. The Family wants a Time Lord, so they threaten Smith, Martha, and Redfern, but without the pocketwatch he is unable to do anything.
The standoff ends as Latimer cracks open the watch, distracting the Family. Martha takes the Mother’s weapon, forcing them to release Redfern and prompting Smith to evacuate the building. Martha is ambushed by a scarecrow but escapes. The Mother taps into Jenny’s memories and sends the Father to the west in search of whatever Martha walked to each day.
Smith rouses the school to defend against the Family’s invasion. The Sister gleefully sneaks inside to spy on the defense as Martha confronts Smith, urging him not to engage in violence. The headmaster demands an explanation but believes Smith and Redfern. Martha and Redfern search for the pocketwatch – Latimer listens to it as it whispers caution in his ear – as the headmaster and Mr. Phillips confront the Family outside the school’s gates. The Son taunts the headmaster with visions of the coming war, then sends him back inside for Smith after vaporizing Phillips.
The headmaster rallies his students, now his soldiers, to war. The Son does the same with his scarecrow army as the Father discovers the TARDIS.
Meanwhile, Martha baffles Redfern with her knowledge of medicine, something that a “girl of her color” shouldn’t know. Redfern leaves to tend to the students and plumbs the depth’s of Smith’s childhood history. She also plants the seed of pacifism in John Smith’s mind.
Latimer and Hutchinson share the younger boy’s visions of the future. Convinced that they survive the battle, Latimer runs but finds the Sister. He opens the pocketwatch and stuns the Sister with a vision of the Doctor at his most merciless, keying the Family into the need to find Latimer and the watch.
They begin the assault and the students mow down the scarecrow army with tears in their eyes, poignantly punctuated by the strains of “He Who Would Valiant Be.” The headmaster assesses the destruction – not a life was lost since they were all filled with straw – and is soon vaporized by the Sister. Smith orders a retreat as the Brother reanimates the scarecrow army and storms the school. Latimer distracts them again with the watch, saving his classmates from execution. The students and staff evacuate the school as the Father brings the TARDIS to the front doors.
Martha shows Smith the blue box and Redfern confirms what the schoolteacher wrote in his journal. Smith has a breakdown and runs into the woods, and Redfern offers them a place to hide as the Family spools up their next assault. The cottage belongs to the Cartwrights, whose daughter is now the Sister. The family is now dead. Latimer arrives soon after with the watch in hand, explaining that he was scared and that the watch asked him to wait. He’s seen the Doctor – “He’s like fire and ice and rage. He’s like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun. He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the center of time and can see the turn of the universe. And, he’s wonderful.” – but Smith refuses to take the watch.
The Family begins an assault on the village. Smith takes the watch, momentarily speaking in the Doctor’s voice, and listens in horror as Martha explains the plan. Smith doesn’t want to go but finds out that if the Family wins, they will be free to burn the universe. Redfern embraces the doctor, and together they share a vision of what could be if Smith remained: They marry, have children, and he dies happy.
But the Doctor could never have a life like that.
Moments later, Smith arrives at the Family’s ship and begs them to stop the bombardment. He offers them the watch and asks them to go, but the watch is empty. It was a ruse. The Doctor has returned, and he’s set their ship to self-destruct.
The Family and the Doctor escape from the ship in time. The Doctor, in his kindness, imprisons each member of the Family in a unique way for all eternity instead of executing them: The Father is wrapped in chains forged at the heart of a dwarf star; The Mother is enveloped in the event horizon of a collapsing galaxy; the Sister is trapped in every mirror in existence; and the Son is a scarecrow, protecting the fields of England.
They all get their wish in the end. They all get to live forever.
The Doctor returns to Redfern when all is said and done. The school is closed for the time being. He won’t change back for her, but he offers her the chance to travel with him. She declines since the wounds of loss are too deep. Especially since had the Doctor never come to her time, no one would have died.
The Doctor returns to the TARDIS and tells Martha that it’s time to move on. He thanks her for her sacrifice, and then together they bid farewell to Timothy Latimer. The Doctor gives Latimer the watch as a good luck charm before disappearing into time and space once more.
Years later, on the battlefield of World War I, Latimer checks his watch and tells Hutchinson that it is time. Latimer saves his former classmate from incoming fire, looks to the sky, and thanks the Doctor for his good luck. The Time Lord’s example continues to influence.
Farther into the future, a wheelchair-bound Latimer attends an Armistice Day ceremony and spots the Doctor and Martha, each wearing poppies. The silently acknowledge each other as the service continues.
This is one of the deeper stories in Doctor Who lore.
First, by taking the hero and title character out of the mix, the show takes an opportunity to look over the mythology with reverence to the history of the show. The Journal of Impossible Things contains the basics (the former eight faces of the Doctor, the TARDIS, the console room, and the sonic screwdriver) along with specifics from across the Ninth and Tenth Doctor’s travels.
Second, it introduces a critical plot device of the biodata module. Carried in this story by the popular time travel trope of a pocketwatch (which we have seen before), it further plays with the ability to separate a Time Lord’s essence from his or her body, much as we saw with the Watcher at the Fourth Doctor’s regeneration. It also introduces the Chameleon Arch, which can literally rewrite a Time Lord’s DNA to any other form.
This brings up an interesting theoretical tangent: What of Susan? It will be definitively established in the future that Susan left Gallifrey with the First Doctor, and since off-worlders are generally prohibited on Gallifrey, we must assume that she’s at least Gallifreyan and potentially trained as a Time Lord. But the First Doctor was also comfortable leaving her behind on post-invasion Earth, circa 2164. Would he have left her behind, knowing that she could potentially regenerate in the presence of otherwise ignorant humans? Is it possible that he use the Chameleon Arch prior to their stop at 76 Totter’s Lane to change her into a less conspicuous human being?
We may never know, but it’s fun to speculate.
Third, I am quite impressed with Martha Jones. I mean, sure, she really wants the Doctor to love her, but her relationship with the Time Lord evidently goes much deeper than romantic love. She willingly sacrifices her mobility, her rights, and her freedom in order to save the Doctor and the universe at large. The amount of racism and discrimination levied toward her in this story is heartbreaking and far from acceptable, but Martha stands strong in the face of it. She withstands the assault on her character in service of the mission, her responsibility, and her love.
She does this because she loves the Doctor, but on a level (honestly, unbeknownst to her) far exceeding anything she ever expected. And the Doctor trusted that she could fulfill her mission.
Martha surpasses Rose with this story. She’s an independent, strong, and worthy companion, even if her emotions are a bit misguided.
Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”
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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.