One of the Doctor Who characters I really like is Francine Jones, Martha’s mother. To be clear, I doubt I would like her at all if I met her in real life, but the character was well-drawn. I’ve seen a number of discussions about the character in which people felt that she was unbelievable and too hostile to the Doctor for no reason, and I disagree. Her opinions and actions may seem to be unbelievable, but that’s because her character was developed with a lot more subtlety than most of the other characters on the show.
People who don’t like Francine point to “The Lazarus Experiment”, where she first meets the Doctor and takes an immediate and fervent dislike of him. Granted, he does not make a good impression. While he thinks he blends in well with humans, he really doesn’t, and he outdoes himself in this instance, trying to make small talk and more or less implying that he’s been sleeping with her daughter. Detractors point to this scene, saying that Francine is extremely judgmental here and should not have hated him so much after just one meeting.
However, Francine’s reaction to the Doctor must be considered with her personality and history in total, which we learned of back in “Smith and Jones”. We only see very little of her and her family in that episode, but the scenes were expertly crafted to give you a very good overview of everyone in the family. We first see her when she’s talking to Martha on the phone, telling her daughter to refuse to allow her ex-husband Clive’s girlfriend Annalise to attend Leo’s birthday party. She only gets about five lines before the next phone call, from Clive, cuts her off, but those five lines are very telling. We see that she lives in a nice house and wears fine clothes. She’s obviously upset primarily about the divorce and her husband’s young and vapid trophy girlfriend, but her exact complaint is that the girl’s appearance at the party would make the family “look ridiculous”. Thus, her concern is status. Her family is well-to-do (as is evidenced by Clive’s ability to afford an expensive convertible sports car), and she’s very concerned about how they’re viewed. Later on, we see that she’s very proud of one daughter studying to become a doctor and the other becoming the personal assistant of a prominent scientist.
That night, her fears about the party come true: there’s a huge, embarrassing fight between her and Annalise, ending with almost all of the family chasing Annalise and Clive down the street yelling. This scene and the cell phone montage paints a complete picture of the entire family, with Francine being the one who’s used to being in control, Clive being ineffectual and letting his women walk all over him, and Martha as the level-headed one who usually acts as the peacekeeper. However, there’s one last thing that happens here: Martha disappears from the party, and no one knows where she went. This is obviously something unusual for her: her mother mentions it the next day, and Tish makes a comment about Martha, the ambitious and studious sister, suddenly having a social life.
Thus, this is the stage that’s set when Martha arrives at Professor Lazarus’ event. Francine is there to celebrate her younger daughter’s success, something that reflects well on her and her family, but her older daughter arrives witth a strange man no one has heard of before, after disappearing the previous night. Rather than tell the approximate truth – that her friend accompanied her because he’s interested in Lazarus’ project – Martha introduces him as a doctor who she’s been working with. However, on speaking with him, Francine finds him to be socially inept and rather idiotic, certainly not someone you’d think was a doctor. He’s unable to come up with anything that he’s done with Martha, and it’s implied that she jumps to the conclusion that they slept together. From a mother’s point of view, this is the worst kind of man her daughter could hook up with: stupid, flippant, distracting her from what’s important. It’s also very possible that he reminds her of the previous stupid, flippant, distracting person who disrupted her family – Annalise – and in that vein, his apparent race does him no favors.
Once the episode’s action starts, the Doctor only makes things worse. As he’s concerned only about Lazarus and the dangers he’s unleashed, he ignores Francine and knocks her drink down her dress, and once the family is safe outside, Martha leaves them to go back into danger to help him. And thus, her hatred of him is cemented: he appears to be everything that’s wrong for her daughter, and her daughter has taken leave of her senses to follow him. It doesn’t matter that he saved the lives of most of the people at the event. Francine’s statement that Martha “abandoned” the family for him is very telling: in her eyes, Martha is giving up all of the things that Francine feels is so important – status, a comfortable life, a good education, a career – for this unworthy man. Any mother would feel the same way.
Things only get worse from here. Remember, from Francine’s point of view, all of the events of Series 3 happen over the course of a couple of weeks at most. “Smith and Jones” occurs only a few days before the election of Harold Saxon as Prime Minister, and in the UK, the new Prime Minister takes office as soon as the old one resigns and the new one is appointed by the monarch. The Doctor and Martha go off to have their adventures, and all Francine knows is that Martha is suddenly never home and not answering her frequent calls, except for a couple of strange emergency calls which imply that Martha has started to cheat on her exams. Of course, Francine is also being swayed by Harold Saxon’s people, who are feeding her exactly what she wants to hear: how dangerous the Doctor is and that she has to get Martha away from him. It isn’t until she’s taken prisoner does she start to realize that the people she’s been listening to are lying and maybe the Doctor isn’t so bad.
Taken as a whole, Francine is an understandable character: a rather imperious but otherwise protective mother who is attempting to prevent her daughter from falling in with who she perceives as the wrong man. The thing is, her history, personality, and values are established in about ten lines of dialogue five episodes before she makes her judgment about the Doctor, and if you didn’t remember them or didn’t pay attention because they didn’t seem important, her reaction to him would seem rash and overly harsh. It’s important to examine recurring characters in this show very carefully, because you might miss something otherwise. The show focuses on the Doctor and his companion, but anyone that it feels deserves enough attention to be brought back is usually beautifully drawn and characterized and often has their own story to tell.