A major part of Martha Jones’ companion arc is something we never saw on Doctor Who. She spent an entire year on her own during a time of death, destruction, and strife. In season three, the Master took over Earth with his army of Toclafane and incapacitated our Gallifreyan hero. The Doctor then leaves a massive task in Martha’s hands. We know that she succeeds because she’s the best but we never got to see how. It’s one of the many time gaps in the series ripe for storytelling. Big Finish took full advantage of this opportunity, bringing a snippet of the woman who walked the Earth’s journey to our ears. The Year of Martha Jones debuted on December 16, delivering a peek into the epic quest. It’s a fresh perspective and examination of this lonely and dangerous mission to deliver hope and save the Doctor.
The Year of Martha Jones delivers a mixture of rich storytelling, action, and new realizations. Like the Doctor, Martha has become somewhat of a mythical and divisive legend. People whisper her name across the world, a woman who traverses through danger, bringing fantastical stories of hope and adventure to those willing to listen. To some, she’s a beacon of light in this dangerous and dark time. To others, she’s overrated, her stories nothing more than distracting fairytales in the midst of ever-present strife. Martha perplexes them as they wonder about her true motivations and if she indeed has a plan to destroy the Master. Is she a liar? An evil agent? A savior? Who knows.
In the midst of this stands Martha, a human being trying to remain emotionally and mentally sound in a seemingly insurmountable situation. She’s seen unspeakable horrors and constantly parses through loneliness and paranoia, wondering whom she can trust in the world. Her hope still firmly rests in the Doctor, always accentuating his admirable qualities in her tales, but the reality rests heavily on her heart. She faces this unprecedented and difficult situation alone.
She can never feel quite sure that her stories will resonate strongly enough on a global scale to achieve her mission. Like an evangelist relaying stories with moral messages, she can only hope that there are enough nuggets to cultivate a profound belief and collective action. And as much as these stories encourage others, they are cathartic for her as well.
The set quickly finds its footing, specifically through a reunion with her mom. Any Doctor Who fan’s antennas will raise at this for obvious reasons but it comes as a narrative godsend. Freema Agyeman and Adjoa Andoh, who voices Francine Jones, juxtapose each other well. The latter’s commentary and staunch opposition to virtually everything her daughter says, does, and believes brings a new level of depth to their relationship. It’s sweet, tense, and a vital part of Martha’s evolution. Their interactions point to her ultimate decision to leave the Doctor following these events. We also meet a host of characters, including Holly (Serin Ibrahim), who has a tenuous friendship with Martha.
Francine’s viewpoint cements something that many of us fans forget: not all love the Doctor. In fact, some despise him and his philosophies/choices for valid reasons. Martha experiences a portion of this in these stories but with a greater degree of harshness. This set does not overtly discuss this but Martha is a Black woman. Her mission to get some people to listen, respect, and believe her is not lost on me.
These stories lean into the underestimation of Martha’s power as an engaging, influential human being. She’s not seen as a threat nor someone taking actionable steps to change the world. But, underneath her vivid stories is the seeding of an idea, an actionable request that requires humanity to connect. The enemies count her out, some people view her as nothing special, and her own mother questions her seemingly ineffective actions. But, by the final moments, we see validation that she is indeed good and enough. Martha pushes through strife, moving on to the next place to continue to spread hope to the masses.
The Year of Martha Jones doesn’t have any bombastic Doctor moments, instead infusing some quiet reflections and direct confrontation. But there’s certainly action as enemies track Martha down and close her in. They set her up cleverly but what they send to harm her works out for her greater good. She wields the power of her knowledge like a sonic screwdriver, coming out on top. She presses on with her head held high with an ending that’s ripe for another set of stories. Overall, The Year of Martha Jones gives its titular hero a chance to shine in her own right. And, hopefully we can one day get more adventures of Martha freelance alien hunting, working for UNIT, and doing general badass things.