For a whole year, Martha Jones travelled the world, telling stories of the Doctor in the hopes of ending the Master’s reign of terror. Now, thanks to Big Finish Productions, we get to hear exactly what she got up to during that year. The wait is over, Freema Agyeman is back and The Year of Martha Jones is here! Read on for our thoughts.
1. “The Last Diner” by James Goss
As its title suggests, the opening story of this boxset, The Last Diner, revolves around an American diner wherein those resisting the Master’s rule have assembled to tell stories. One such visitor is none other than Martha Jones herself, who has plenty of awe-inspiring tales to share from her time travelling with the Doctor. But, when her mother turns up out of the blue, having escaped from the Valiant, this hidden utopia begins to collapse…
This is a low-key, character-based story which delves into the world created by the Master in ways that the TV didn’t have time to. Seriously, Goss’s worldbuilding here is excellent, and little asides such as the headaches caused by lack of coffee, or the characters’ glee at finding crisps and noodles, really bring the setting of this boxset to life. For fans of intergalactic adventure, there’s a bit of that too, as Martha narrates to the gang one of her adventures with the Doctor, Companion Chronicles-style. If that range ever moves into New Series territory, here’s hoping they take a leaf from this story’s book and we get some more Martha-narrated tales set during the Year That Never Was.
Freema Agyeman is, of course, back as Martha Jones, and it’s like she’s never been away. Right from the off, she completely recaptures Martha’s vocal rhythms which, along with James Goss‘s fantastic writing, ensures she comes back to life. Martha was my very first companion when I started watching Doctor Who way back in 2007, so she’s always had a special place in my heart, and I’m happy to report that she makes a triumphant return here.
Also returning from the 2007 TV series is Adjoa Andoh as Francine, Martha’s overbearing mother. Andoh gives a great performance here, and her chemistry with Agyeman certainly hasn’t diminished since they last appeared on screen together in Journey’s End. She’s a bit more snipey and critical of Martha here than she was on TV (yes, even more than that!), but that’s nothing if not true to her character, and the emotional scenes where she hauntedly recollects the horrors she saw while imprisoned by the Master are some of the best parts of the episode.
The cast is rounded off by Marina Sirtis of Star Trek fame as soccer mom Karen, Ewart James Walters as jovial Tucker and Serin Ibrahim as Martha’s old friend Holly. The latter is probably the best developed, shedding some light on Martha’s past while having an interesting character of her own, but Karen and Tucker are also strong enough, helping to shed light on how the world has changed since the Master took over.
This is one of the major strengths of this story; while the plot is fairly simple- quite literally Martha telling stories to people-, the worldbuilding is vivid and admirable, bolstered by frequent cutaways to the Toclafane (Clare Louise Connolly, with a chilling, child-like performance) as they threaten the human race on the Master’s behalf. This, along with a set of compelling central performances, makes The Last Diner is a strong opener to the boxset.
2. “Silver Medal” by Tim Foley
Tim Foley continues Martha’s adventure in Silver Medal, which takes the team to a forest camp in Nevada. But Martha has been here before, while travelling with the Doctor, and her story from that time may prove pertinent to the goings-on here.
Like the first episode, Silver Medal is split up between a present-day narrative, and a narrated flashback from Martha’s travels with the Doctor. Unlike The Last Diner, however, Martha’s story is fully-dramatised, with every character aside from the Doctor being performed by an actor, rather than just Freema Agyeman speaking their lines. This makes for a nice change and brings the nestled secondary narrative to life in a more engaging way than in the first episode.
Overall, Silver Medal is another strong story, expanding more on this post-Master world and on Martha’s time with the Doctor, and finishing with a tantalising cliffhanger, leading into the finale…
3. “Deceived” by Matt Fitton
Martha’s journey comes to a climax in Deceived, as she, Francine and Holly arrive in Las Vegas. But there’s betrayal at every turn, as the Master’s agents Mr Strand and Ms Beecham are lurking behind the scenes, plotting to curry favour with the evil Time Lord by getting rid of this band of fighters. Martha is about to learn that not everyone is who they seem… but will that crush her sprit, or only make her fight back harder?
This is the only story in the set where there isn’t a secondary, narrated narrative, and I’m in two minds as to whether this is a pro or a con. On the one hand, there’s more room to focus on Martha in the present, with there only being one main plot, but on the other hand, the main plot here feels a little thin. Nevertheless, this is still a strong script, with some nice twists and turns.
Julie Graham guest stars here as Ms Beecham, and what a performance! Those who have seen her villainous turn as Ruby White in The Sarah Jane Adventures know just how deliciously evil Graham can be, and that’s certainly true of her in this episode, where her character proves more than a match for Martha. Meanwhile, Gethin Anthony puts in an admirably snivelling and snotty performance as the slightly incompetent Mr Strand, who is more of a thorn in Ms Beecham’s side than Martha’s.
Overall, this story doesn’t quite reach the heights of The Last Diner or The Silver Medal, but it’s still a strong conclusion to the boxset, ending this chapter in The Year of Martha Jones, and hopefully heralding the start of a new one.
Martha Jones is well and truly back! While Freema Agyeman made a triumphant return in last year’s Torchwood: Dissected– playing an older, more jaded version of the character- this boxset brings back the Martha we all fell in love with back in 2007, and does so with aplomb. Along with Serin Ibrahim and Adjoa Andoh, Agyeman carries this whole set with her performance, elevating three already-strong scripts and offering us a long-awaited insight into her adventures through the Year That Never Was. Brought to life by direction from Scott Handcock and sound design/music from Howard Carter, The Year of Martha Jones is a huge success from start to finish, and, with its core message that a good story can help us get through even the darkest of days, is a pertinent listen during these trying times.
The Year of Martha Jones is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com