Change is a fundamental aspect of TV. Actors, writers, directors, shows themselves, they all come and go, and Doctor Who is certainly no exception (it’s arguably defined by it). But change can still sweep you off your feet if it’s unexpected, as my younger self certainly discovered when Martha Jones left the show.
Welcome back to The Exact Moment When, our irregular listing of a moment where something changed—for better or worse.
Martha’s exit from Doctor Who in the 2007 season finale “The Last of the Time Lords” has to be one of the series’ most amicable exits, especially in its revived incarnation. Rose was carted off into another universe; Donna had her mind wiped in a moment of endless tragedy; Amy and Rory were warped back in time and took the long way round. But Martha’s was something done of her own volition—she’d just gone through hell and back, and it made her realize she didn’t really want to hang around someone she’d fallen in love with and didn’t reciprocate, and wanted to live a life of her own. Here’s a (sadly not great quality) clip of her exit:
It’s a great moment for her, and an unfortunate, yet fitting end for a character that arguably spent much of her sole season on Doctor Who not being used anywhere near as well as she should have been.... or that’s pretty much how a reasonable person would view it.
In 2007, though, I was a 16-year-old. That’s like, the direct opposite of a reasonable person. So when the moment dawned on me that Martha was really leaving, my reaction was a bit closer to “WHAT NO WHYYYYYYY HOW COULD YOU DO THIS.” *endless sobbing*
Accurate recreation of James Whitbrook’s face circa June 30th, 2007. Only, you know, much better looking.
To this day I’m still not sure why the reaction was so viscerally emotional—I did like Martha a lot, but it’s not like I’d experienced a departure on a TV show before, even Doctor Who. But being a naive teenager, after Rose’s exit the year before, I guess there was part of me that had just assumed “No, the next one won’t leave so quickly. Not again, they wouldn’t put people through all that again.” Billie Piper’s exit had been announced, planned for, and teased throughout much of 2006—it was sad, but I’d had time to process and acknowledge it by the time the actual event came around. Martha’s exit from the series had been kept a secret pretty much until it happened, so it was a big surprise to me.
And being an idiot teen, it was shocking enough to basically make myself vow to never be hurt by television again. Oh, teen James. TV drama basically exists to hurt us on an emotional level, you silly fool. But it kickstarted a habit I still have to this day—if I’m invested in a television series, be it Doctor Who or anything else, I keep up with all the behind the scenes info I can. I go as far as to hunt out spoilers, just to see what’s happening or if people are leaving a show, so I can prepare myself. If I’m binge-watching a show and find myself liking a certain character, I absent-mindedly Google them on my phone to find out if they inevitably die or leave the series before it ends. It infuriates my friends and family, but it’s a force of habit for myself now.
My younger self did it out of a misguided sense of protecting him from a future Martha Jones Crisis™. But over time, it’s ultimately made me appreciate spoilers, knowing things in advance. I get why people avoid them, to keep that genuine moment of surprise for themselves, but for me, it lets me view the media I consume in a different way. I’m prepared for the shock, but I can focus on the journey up to that shock rather than spending all my attention waiting and dreading whatever twist may be upcoming.
Teen me was kind of stupid, sure. But even in a world where I find myself having to constantly keep up with the comings and goings of actors on shows I love for work, I’ll never really forget the first cast change that came out of nowhere and had a surprisingly big impact on me—and how it turned me into a lover of all things spoilers.