It’s kind of sad: I really like Martha Jones as a companion, but upon rewatching series 3 from start to finish, I really see why she’s unpopular. She was a great companion: very intelligent, strong-willed, faithful. She was willing to get right into the heart of the situation and do whatever she needed to do. She was also called on to sacrifice far more than Rose or Donna: She spent two months as a maid in 1913, ridiculed for her station and race; she worked as a shop girl for an unspecified (but implied long) time in 1969 to support that deadbeat Doctor; and she traveled the world for a full year, on foot, while the Toclafane were hunting her, to spread the legend of the Doctor.
The thing that really ruined her character was that she fell in love with the Doctor. And it wasn’t just that she fell in love, because a storyline about a companion who loves a Doctor who doesn’t love her back could be interesting. It was that she fell in love immediately. The Doctor kissed her in “Smith and Jones,” and she was already moony-eyed in the next episode, “THe Shakespeare Code.” The first two episodes are tightly tied together – the Doctor insisted on “one trip only,” making it impossible to insert novel or comic book adventures between them – so she really did fall in love as soon as she met him. She knew him for about 8 hours in “Smith and Jones” (she enters the TARDIS after Leo’s party), then, then they land in London, watch “Love’s Labours Lost,” meet Shakespeare, and then they’re lying in the bed and she’s upset he’s talking about Rose – perhaps 6 hours. That’s a total of 14 hours and she’s already sighing about how she loves him and he isn’t seeing her.
This was the writers’ fault. After the reciprocated romantic involvement between the Doctor and Rose, they wanted a story of unrequited love, and I’m sure they also saw the opportunity to use Martha’s love to motivate her (to give her a reason for making the sacrifices she did in “Human Nature”/”The Family of Blood” and “The Sound of Drums”/”The Last of the Time Lords,” though I would argue that Martha’s walking of the earth is far more heroic if she’s doing it to save the world from the Master and not out of love for the Doctor). They just started Martha too early. As it was, she fell in love with the Doctor way too fast, which wasn’t realistic, and then her occasional expressions of that love weren’t worked into the episodes well, and therefore came off as her just mooning stupidly for him. It didn’t help that the Doctor’s mourning the loss of Rose was also poorly handled sometimes, such as the bed scene in “The Shakespeare Code,” making Martha look even worse.
Martha does return as a much better character later, in “The Sontaran Strategem”/”The Poison Sky” and “The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End,” but by then, either we were more interested in Donna or we’d already formed a poor opinion of Martha and didn’t care to see her again. In my “if they could do it all over again” world, after “one more series of the Tenth Doctor and Donna,” I’d ask for Martha’s series to be redone with her romantic feelings starting somewhere around “The Lazarus Experiment.” In fact, that’s the best place for it: up until then, she’s just a loyal companion, but when her mother starts to question the Doctor, Martha starts realizing she’s in love. It’s actually still too early in her real timeline – it’s only been a couple of days since she met the Doctor – but to the audience, five episodes into the series is enough time.
When I watch her episodes now, the romantic storyline bugs me, so I just sort of ignore it, and I still prefer Martha over second-series Rose (Donna ftw!). I find her to be a lot better in the novels, which tend to not address that aspect of her, and that’s the Martha that I picture to myself.