While we have been on the topic of Martha in class, I wanted to take a moment to compare how Martha is treated in “The Shakespeare Code” and in “Human Nature.” After watching both episodes, I was shocked at the differences I saw. From what I know of history, 1599 was around the time when white Europeans were of the opinion that native peoples were an inferior species, and their sole purpose was to be enlightened and civilized. Yet, in “The Shakespeare Code,” Martha’s color serves as a point of interest for Shakespeare, making her more attractive rather than an inferior being to be scoffed at.
Although I applaud the decision to make Martha the object of affection, I then had higher hopes for “Human Nature.” Surely a show that upends racial stereotypes that far in the past would do so in 1913 also, but I was disappointed and shocked at her treatment. For example, the boys in the school make racial slurs at Martha, claiming that they do not know how she can tell when anything is clean with hands that color. John Smith also thinks less of Martha, especially when she is trying to convince him that he is really the Doctor. He chalks her ranting up to cultural differences and proceeds to treat Martha like her brain is incapable of understanding rational conversation.
The difference in Martha’s treatment might come from the points each episode is trying to make. “The Shakespeare Code” emphasizes what an extraordinary man Shakespeare was, and portraying him as having positive feelings towards people of color is the perfect example. On the other hand, “Human Nature” emphasizes how human the Doctor truly has become. He cares for Martha as a Time Lord, but seeing him as a human and treating Martha as inferior is used to show how complete the transformation was. In any case, I was disappointed that the writers chose to display such racial distinctions when they had previously been so progressive. I already feel bad for Martha as the rebound companion, and I feel she deserved better.