“I know it sounds mad,” says Martha, “but when the Doctor became human, he took the alien part of himself and he stored it inside the watch. It’s not really a watch, it just looks like a watch.”
“And ‘alien’ means ‘not from abroad’, I take it,” enquires the frankly incredulous Joan.
“The man you call John Smith… he was born on another world.”
“A different species.”
Joan is a sensible woman from 1913 and she’s not having any of this nonsense.
“Then tell me,” she presses, “in this fairy tale, who are you?”
“Just a friend. I’m not… I mean, you haven’t got a rival, as much as I might… Just his friend.”
“And human, I take it?”
She humouring the deranged girl. As John said earlier, it must be culture shock. Someone from a less developed culture trying and failing to understand the scientific romances of an ordinary school teacher… an ordinary school teacher, by the way, with whom she is far too familiar.
“Human,” confirms Martha, “Don’t worry. And more than that: I just don’t follow him around. I’m training to be a doctor. Not an alien doctor, a proper doctor. A doctor of medicine.”
This is too much. Aliens… that’s one thing. But this? Joan has tipped over from pitying disbelief into brusque irritation. This is more than just silly, this is… indecent.
“Well that certainly is nonsense,” she snaps, “Women might train to be doctors, but hardly a skivvy and hardly one of your colour.”
“Oh, do you think?” She holds up her hand. “Bones of the hand. Carpal bones, proximal row….” she indicates the areas she names as she goes along, “Scaphoid, lunate, triquetal, pisiform. Distal row. Trapezium, trapezoid, capitate, hamate. Then the metacarpal bones extending in three distinct phalanges. Proximal, middle, distal.”
She is as irritated as Joan. The two face each other across a chasm.
“You read that in a book,” says Joan weakly.
“Yes,” snaps back Martha, triumph in her voice, “to pass my exams!”
I have issues with this story. There’s the strain of bellicose liberalism, for a start. Even as attitudes to war and empire are critiqued, the underlying assumptions valorize an ostensible ethical commitment to fighting for liberal values in the context of empire. The story is, essentially, about anti-war cowardice leading to the assault of fanatical nihilism upon the heart of liberal England. Run away from a fight with an unappeasable evil and you just defer your problems until that unappeasable evil comes to the English heartland (probably bringing Sharia law or something). It shows most directly in the Doctor’s donning of a red poppy, when he voluntarily assimilates himself into an increasingly ugly and intolerant trend in British society: the implicit acceptance of imperial misadventures on behalf of neoliberalism, dressed up as ‘respect for the fallen’ and ‘help for heroes’ and all that dishonest guff. It seems that the character of the Doctor is allowed to get involved in contemporary politics if he’s on the right side, the side of assumptions that ‘we’ supposedly all agree on. …