I keep coming across posts in fandom about how poor the writing for Martha's character really is—posts that I can't not (mostly) agree with. Human Nature/Family of Blood aside, Martha gets jack for character development. Outside of these episodes, most of the character's progress is down to the actors' chemistry, the nuances of their interactions, and vivid fan imaginations. And the most serious complaint, one I can't argue with, is that Martha gets practically nothing in the way of realistic faults, or at least zero exploration of same outside of her complicated feelings for the Doctor.
I can see all of that. I'm fairly observant of writing from a technical perspective; perhaps less so of nonnative mediums like television, but I'm not oblivious. Poor character development in the series does indeed irritate me.
I still fangirl Martha absurdly and want to write endless fic for her.
Martha gets the short end of Davies's stick: She gets written with very few in the way of interesting flaws. I think I would have liked S3 better had that not been the case; I'll like S4 better if they take the opportunity to ameliorate matters in the presence of well-developed Donna. But it also gets my fingers itching to pry under her scalp and come up with the messy, messy story we all know has to be in there. Not to mention all the ways in which her relationship with the Doctor might be wonderful and simultaneously screwed up. It makes me happy in my plotbunny gland.
Shallow? Yeah, well, that's why I'm not writing the Ishmael/Queequeg.
2. Martha is a dork.
Yes! Oh, yes, she is! Dorky-dork-dork! Dorkorific! Dweeb! Beautifully, not-so-subtly awkward DORK!
Just in case this point is not obvious, some support:
Martha has always come across to me as subtly out-of-touch with the social elements of the world around her and that fucking rule book that's always there that nobody ever explains but nevertheless assumes you know just like they do. Yes, I know, that's all of us at one point or another. Some of us have more trouble with it than others, though.
The more common image of somebody with trouble decoding subtle social messages is someone who's a blatant ass, a là House, or Holmes or, you know, the Doctor. However, lots of us are in fact quite nice. Some badly want to please. Badly want to be liked, say.
That's Martha in Smith and Jones. She's the only one in her family who doesn't seem to mind Annalise, which, when you think about Annalise's treatment of her, is pretty bizarre. But she doesn't much care what she gets called if she can just have her family together. The scene at the end where she tries to play peacemaker, getting left out of interactions like Leo and Tish's banter in the process and ending up alone for it, reads like a familial version of geek social fallacies.
Shakespeare Code! "Verily! Forsooth!" "Please don't do that!" ♥♥♥! Total dorkiness! Painful awkwardness, and she doesn't even seem to notice it! Likewise with the "power of a name" thing (I couldn't help cringing a bit; only the Doctor can really get away with that, but bless her, she doesn't feel silly or self-conscious at all. And the Doctor stands back and lets her have her go; oh, bless).
Then Gridlock, getting all weepy over the motorway bonding rituals which she hasn't anything to do with. Most people, in my experience, are shy of significant participation in foreign, emotionally loaded observances, out of… a sort of sense of decorum. Martha's missing it. For the same reason, her insistence on having the Doctor talk at the end, and her very awkward error in thinking the Face of Boe meant her, struck me as dorky, too, actually: Too earnest, too unconscious of the scope of her cluelessness. The Doctor, bless him, seems charmed by and gentle about it; in many a life, he wouldn't have softened his answers with "sorry," much less confiding information he might reasonably consider none of her concern. And a good thing he's got that to put in the bank, too, since it's credit he needs.
I should note here that the Martha quality I'm glomming onto here as "dorkiness" has been skewered by others as "amateurish acting" elsewhere. I don't know who's right, and I don't care. Since I already can't turn off my professional ear for musicians even if I want to, I'm just not fussed if this is a case where my tastes are insufficiently refined. I'm in love with Freema's performance. Bully for those who aren't.
In any case, the dorkiness, it doth continue. At the end of 42, where she asks the Doctor if he's all right because her incomplete, un-finessed roadmap of interpersonal relations tells her she should—out of both love for him and guilt at her own high spirits—and it's entirely too earnest and not in tune to the situation at all? Dorky. (And the Doctor seems to feel bad for making her feel awkward and frustrated and closed out. Bless.)
Dorkiest of all, perhaps, is the scene at the end of Family of Blood. Martha stands anxiously outside of the TARDIS, getting rained on, to ask the Doctor how it all went, how is Joan, should she go back and talk to her herself?—and, generally, can't take nonverbal cues from him most of the time. Or verbal ones, as in this case.
Another reason that moment is also dorky/awkward is that it seems to proceed from the faulty premise that if something concerns the Doctor, it concerns her. This is clearly not true of the Doctor/John/Joan trainwreck, to which she is an outsider; hell, the Doctor himself is almost accidental to it. On the other hand, the Doctor is far harsher toward Martha when he tells her that the Master is none of her concern—and he is quite wrong. The Master's interest in Martha goes back a ways and becomes overtly personal. So, I suppose the muddled point I had in there somewhere is that Martha tends to commit a classic social fallacy in assuming that the business of people she's attached to is her business. This has obvious pitfalls, but could be regarded as something that lets her be right by accident about some relationships that, if she had more social finesse, she never would learn a thing about. Furthermore, this tendency could be written off as an intrusion she commits because of a crush on the Doctor—and that's undoubtedly part of it—but I suspect it's a more general facet of her character. It's just a classic dork trait.
Her dorkiness, explicated still further:
Globally, Martha has a sense of interiority that isn't a result of shyness. She's not shy. She's separate. The Doctor, even when he manages to grab the wrongest possible set of them, has a flair for words; he always has had. Likewise Zoe, Sarah Jane, Romana, Turlough, etc. Rose too, actually ("Five days? Or is that just when we're out of milk?"). Rose exists in an easy, aggressively normal relationship with the external world, which makes her very fun, and fun to watch: She can easily communicate herself into the world, so easily that she doesn't really think about it. She's good at making her self visible.
Martha, however, really isn't, and she's completely mediocre with words. Maybe she occasionally comes out with something snappy or eloquent, though just now I can't remember an instance. But it's almost by accident. Her ability to come up with words that give an immediate, natural, unignorable communication of what she feels or thinks is extremely hit or miss. The confession of love in Family of Blood: We know from what she does that there's a consuming, very real passion behind them, but her actual words are a couple of lame clichés. Sound of Drums: "I'll do what I like" is utterly unequal to how pissed off she is; it's a brilliant moment, but because of the actor's delivery, not because the words are special. Hell, even her big Storytime with Martha Jones in Last of the Time Lords is pretty, um… suffice to say, Cyrano de Bergerac she isn't. She's like a band with great music and shitty lyrics. And, since she's the Companion Who Saved the World with No Weapon but Words, this is an irony I rather enjoy.
In conclusion, Martha Jones is a big fat dork, and despite the amateur-level character development given her in the scripts, that has helped to make her someone who is as immediately engaging to me as characters who get much better writing, and sometimes even more so.
Addendum: Note that those of us who have a more clumsy than average interface with the outside world are more likely to be a prey to completely untenable romantic feelings. This has a few benefits as well as the obvious and plentiful downsides. And, as one strike against St. Martha of Cardiff, it also tends to be a paradoxically self-centered.