Friday, April 10, 2015

Enter Martha Jones, The Next Great Companion: “Smith And Jones”

The Good: Good continuity, Decent initial characterization for Martha Jones, Decent performances
The Bad: Nothing superlative on the acting, plot or character fronts
The Basics: “Smith And Jones” shakes up the usual Alien Of The Week Doctor Who formula in favor of a familiar setting besieged by aliens . . . but without world-destroying potential consequences as Martha Jones first encounters The Doctor!

One of the enduring conceits of Doctor Who is that the Doctor does not travel alone. Within the modern Doctor Who narrative, that is explained by The Doctor’s desire not to become insular and disconnected. As a practical element of science fiction storytelling, the Companion serves as an exposition device. The Doctor, encountering fantastic things, needs someone to affirm his brilliance to and to explain the plot contrivances encountered by the alien time lord. Without someone to explain things to, The Doctor might be brilliant, but virtually anyone who was watching the show would be lost for most of the time the show was on. In “Doomsday” (reviewed here!), The Doctor lost his most consistent Companion since Doctor Who returned to television. “Smith And Jones” sets up the next Companion, Martha Jones.

Unlike Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble in “The Runaway Bride” (reviewed here!), Martha Jones was introduced to be an enduring Companion and her initial characterization was quite different. Martha Jones is characterized as smart, quiet and methodical. She is aware of the slew of alien incursions on Earth and she is intrigued by her surroundings. Martha Jones is characterized as young and exuberant, much like Rose Tyler was, though she has more in the way of internal goals and motivations built into the character from almost the first moments of “Smith And Jones.”

Opening with Martha Jones, walking to work, talking to her family about her brother’s impending 21st birthday (and the date her estranged father is planning to bring to it), the Doctor appears in her path, removes his necktie and she finds herself bewildered. Arriving at the teaching hospital she is working at, noticing people in motorcycle gear, Martha Jones is shocked to see The Doctor as one of the patients and she immediately notices that he has two heartbeats. Almost immediately, people notice that the rain outside is going up and suddenly the hospital appears to be on the moon.

Shortly thereafter, a ship arrives and alien soldiers invade the hospital. Assimilating the English language, the Doctor identifies the aliens as the Judoon, a race of alien police for hire. As the Judoon search the hospital for the nonhuman they are hunting for crimes it committed, The Doctor and Martha work to find the guilty party before the hospital runs out of air. . . or the Judoon discover the nonhuman Doctor!

“Smith And Jones” is a study in how little details can make the mundane feel wonderful. As The Doctor and Martha find themselves confronted by one of the villain’s goons, The Doctor needs Martha to activate a diagnostic tool that uses radiation. As a medical student, there is no real reason Martha Jones would know how to use such equipment. So, rather sensibly, Martha Jones goes for an operations manual and has to look up how to activate the tool. That makes for a good moment that enhances the initial characterization.

Similarly, those who like details will be thrilled by how The Doctor grabs Martha’s hand to run through the hospital. That mirrors the first action of the prior incarnation of The Doctor in “Rose” (reviewed here!). That simple act fueled the virtually instantaneous belief that The Doctor had a protective instinct for Rose and it might imply that The Doctor has a really short grieving period (or that Martha just tickled his fancy that quickly)!

“Smith And Jones” manages to take the usual “creature of the week” episode and make it feel fresh again. The plasmavore is an intriguing adversary and the Judoon are a neat idea that make a potentially absurd idea (the gravity on the moon is never addressed, though the air is!). The combination of the hospital being teleported to the moon and the hunt within the hospital by both the Doctor and the Judoon makes for an engaging episode.

Freema Agyeman explodes onto the screen as Martha Jones. She had a very minor role in “Army Of Ghosts” (reviewed here!) and in “Smith And Jones,” she is able to do quite a bit more. Agyeman has a screen presence that gives her decent force, making for a good pairing for The Doctor. Unlike Billie Piper’s flirtatious Rose, Agyeman plays through the technobabble exceptionally well and while the lines she was given might establish her character as a woman of intelligence and ambition, it is Agyeman who lands them. Agyeman and David Tennant play off one another very well.

“Smith And Jones” might not be flawless, but the plot flow and chemistry make the episode work fairly well and offer a promising start to the third season of Doctor Who!

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Third Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the second season of the Tenth Doctor here!


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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