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A Game, A Puzzle - Fic Commentary 
22nd-Feb-2012 04:44 am
DW -- eleven/martha | 2nd chances
As requested by nonelvis, my fic commentary for 'A Game, A Puzzle':

(Okay, this is my first 'DVD' style commentary, so hopefully, it's all right.)

So, my original author notes on this stated: 'Okay, so this was basically a flash!fic to help combat some incessant writer's block I've been having in recent months. [Mostly] written in one sitting, utterly full of schmoop, and a bit incorrect regarding the British and psychotherapy, but, really, it doesn't take itself too seriously, so you probably shouldn't either.'

I think that is a good starting place.

The truth is, I just wanted a simple Eleven/Martha fic and I didn't want to get too caught up in worrying if people would like it or not. I just wanted to write something fun. Somewhere in S5, I got the idea stuck in my head that Eleven would be a much better fit of a Doctor for Martha. He's certainly not perfect of course, but he seems much more self-aware regarding his issues and neuroses and, in general, makes an effort to treat people respectfully despite them. In other words, in many ways, he's the type to see the good in everyone and also see where he's gone wrong and do his best to fix those mistakes.

As for the story set-up, I have to admit that I like that Eleven plays around with time quite a bit in his tenure, cross-crossing timelines when he knows he probably shouldn't. I also like the idea of him doing something nice whilst doing so, like helping a companion-as-a-child with their homework (I'd actually written this before it was referenced in the show – a scene that made me squee!) or just being that cool uncle-buddy character to help said companion on a bad day. And finally, I wanted to try a rare attempt at fluff. So, I suppose from that, a fic was born.


She remembers the feel of his jacket most of all.

Sitting beside him on a couch in the office, trying to work on some maths puzzles instead of sharing her feelings like the usual counselor wanted her to, the arm of his jacket kept brushing against her own bare arm. It was quite scratchy and, she didn't want to be rude, but she didn't like the feel of it very much. Then again, this new counselor was just strange, anyway – all wild hair, tweed, and a bowtie – so, she wasn't so sure she even liked him either at that point.

I'm not really keen on self-insertion in fic and, really, Martha is very different than me, but at the end of the day, I'm kinesthetic (I perceive the world in a very tactile, sensual way) and that seems to bleed into my writing style quite often (something I recently discovered, actually).

So, I guess, Martha is much like me here and would remember something like the texture of Eleven's jacket more vividly than anything else about him. Really, I just found that a nice image to base a fic around. I also really liked playing around with the idea that something that was originally quite off-putting to her, becomes something Martha ends up cherishing.

(Oh, and I could totally imagine wee!Martha trying to immerse herself into some sort of nerdy activity like maths puzzles to hide from being open about things. That feels like something she would even do as an adult, to some extent.)

Part of her missed her usual counselor, Dr. Ladd, and wondered why he wasn't there that week, why she had this stranger sitting next to her instead, asking her about her life, and her family, instead of just letting her (mostly) fob him off with her usual, curt non-answers, so she could focus on her puzzles instead.

(Martha doesn't like talking about her life, really, about the kids that tease her for being the class swot. And she doesn't like talking about her family, either, with her older sister Tish getting all the attention from boys – ones she's started to notice, though she'd never admit it to anyone – or her young brother Leo just running around the house like a hellion all the time. And she certainly doesn't like to talk about how her mother always drives her incessantly to want to succeed in everything and be perfect, or how her dad just likes to take her out to the ice cream shop now and again or buys her some new record, but never really gives her much in the way of actual affection.

But Dr. Ladd never pushes her. And she never gives. Much. It's like a game, a puzzle. Fun, in a way. And, really, she's always liked puzzles.

Plus, she already knows how embarrassing it is for her family to have her in therapy in the first place – 'just not something you do' -- and if it wasn't for her hippie Aunt Kath, who lives in New York, finally getting her Mum to begrudgingly agree to it, she wouldn't even be there anyway.

So it's not as if she's going to let herself open up easily, give them all that pleasure, she often thinks to herself with a triumphant half-smile.)

Yeah, I know – Brits don't really do therapy (not like Americans, at least, and certainly not back then). Still, I didn't want to stress out too much about such things with this fic and instead just have fun with it. I did try to smooth it over a bit with references to how embarrassing it was and the whole Aunt Kath bit, though.

I mostly wanted to touch on how I think Martha has pretty much been the peace-keeper of her family (much like we saw in 'Smith and Jones') ever since she was a little girl and also touch on how a lot of those issues were set into motion at such a tender age (issues such as comparing herself unfairly to Tish or trying to live up to her mother's high expectations).

It's hard on her, so she frames it as a bit of a game – a puzzle – in her head to cope. I think secretly wee!Martha naively thinks that if she can solve things like her maths problems well (best in the class!), one day perhaps she can solve her family and emotional issues too.

"Almost got it, but really that should be an 85/62. I can see why you'd think 82/62, it's a common mistake, but trust me on this," he said, reaching over to tap on her booklet at the calculations she's just made, breaking the silence between them.

LOL at me writing about maths (I keep typing 'math' – does my commentary have to be in British English too? *wink*). I'm pretty sure I've got dyscalculia, as I have a learning disability in maths.

"What are you, a maths teacher?" she asked, trying not to sound annoyed (even if she sort of liked it) by his interruption, and still not looking at him.

"No, not really, not anymore, even though I have done. Well, not on Earth, exactly. It was an Earth colony, to be precise, but there was a war and times were desperate, and, well, it's not important…do you know what I like?"

I've definitely got a thing for the-Doctor-as-teacher/professor. I mean, I have a thing for teachers/professors anyway, but when it comes to the Doctor…anyway, moving on.

"What?" she asked, now daring to look at him, though bemused by his odd ramble.

"Ice cream."

"Ice cream?"

"Yeah, you want to go get some? My treat," he asked, nudging her arm conspiratorially.


"Why not?" he scoffed, "I'm sure we can get some somewhere around here. If not, I've got transport."

"Really, I can't."

"Why?" he asked, looking expectantly at her, eyes wide, almost like a child. He reminded her of Leo a bit in that moment, especially when he was begging their Dad for sweets.

I just love how childlike and naïve the Doctor can be sometimes. I mean, I think in many such instances, it just totally wouldn't occur to him how socially inappropriate he's being. He just wants her to take Martha out for ice cream. End of. Oh, Doctor.

"My mum. She's just out there sat in the lobby, remember? It's not like she's going to let you drag me off somewhere. That's dangerous, going off with strangers."

Can you imagine Francine's reaction to a strange man in tweed and a bowtie attempting to take a young Martha out for ice cream? Yeah, that scares me a bit to think about. ;)

"Good, good. You’re completely right. But not. I'm not a stranger. I'm…the…your doctor."

"Doesn't matter. Still a stranger."

"Oh," he replied, sounding deflated, picking at a loose thread on his sleeve.

Poor Doctor. *sad trombone*

"Yeah. Sorry."

She frowned, the idea of ice cream had actually sounded nice, to be honest, even if it reminded her of –

"My Dad always likes to take me to get ice cream," she confessed quietly, though just as the words came out, she flexed her fists in aggravation at giving him such personal information.


"Because you're such a good girl?"

"I don't know," she replied with a shrug.

"Well, I think you're absolutely brilliant."

"You've only just met me."

"Perhaps, but you're really good at maths. I can see that. What do you want to be when you grow up, Ms. Jones?"

I like that he calls her 'Ms. Jones' here. Eleven is so good with kids and I like that he treats them respectfully, just like little adults.

She bit her lip. "A doctor. It's silly, but – "

"No, not silly at all. You're going to be an amazing doctor and save the world one day. Or many days, really. I just know it."

"Save the world. Right."

"You will and no matter what you think of yourself, now or later, no matter if you think you're not being appreciated by someone or seen, you are. Trust me. You're going to make a big impact on people's lives and hearts, Martha, I promise you."

"So, you're psychic now?"

"No, I just have a good idea of what's going to happen in the future. Call it a talent."

Spoilers, Doctor! Tsk, tsk. Still, I like to think of this as his awkward way of both trying to make young Martha feel better about herself and also trying to make himself feel better about the way he treated her when she traveled with him.

"So…are bowties going to be popular in the future? Because I don't think they are now, mate," she asked with a cheeky smile. She didn't know why, but within minutes, this doctor had put her at ease enough to banter with him a bit.

"Hey, bowties are cool," he corrected her, with a big smile, straightening the tie and preening.

Heh, I couldn't resist. I might be a bit in love with his bowtie.

+ + +

It's the jacket that brings the flood of memories back.

And…the jacket coda.

Until now, she'd forgotten that strange day at the therapist's office, herself all thirteen and awkward, and him so reassuring, going on about how brilliant she was and how brilliant she was going to be. She'd told him all about her life that day, all the truths that had been locked inside spilling out without her control.

I can see Martha just bursting to actually have someone to talk to about herself and her life once her trust was in place. Not sure if Eleven had said something like 'Trust me, I'm the Doctor' or some such in their conversation, but somehow he'd managed to make her feel comfortable enough to confide in him and, I don't know, I like that -- even if it isn't 'very English.'

But it didn't bother her then, not with him, and when he kissed her forehead sweetly (which was probably quite inappropriate in hindsight, even if it didn't feel naughty at the time) at the end of their session and wished her all the best, her heart raced and her cheeks blushed at the mere thought of him for days afterward.

Forehead kisses! I couldn't resist, even if said kisses are for a young teenage girl from a way older man and definitely naughty for our 21st century human social mores. To Eleven, it was an innocent gesture of affection, of course. Still, I definitely don't blame Martha for getting all crushy and hot and bothered as a result. I know I'd sure be.

She'd never seen him again (or so she'd thought, it seemed) and honestly just eventually forgot about her daydreams of him when other pressing things, such as spots and tests and boys, became more prominent in her teenaged thoughts.

But he's here now, back again – a different/the same man.

She's still reeling a bit -- they both are – having almost just died, all alone on an alien ship, stuck in a bad situation due to a busted UNIT-reclaimed alien transporter device, but out of nowhere, he was there for her and saved her. Just like that, just like always.

She'd almost not even recognized him at first, of course, with his new face and body, but when she saw the familiar glimmer in his eyes as he'd offered her his hand to run with him, just like he always used to in pinstripes and trainers, she knew who he was immediately – her Doctor.

I figured that's got to be a bit of a mind-f*ck for Martha, when all of it hits her about who he is and how he was a mysterious part of her past. I'm sure she is delighted, of course, but I can imagine it being pretty overwhelming as well. I still can't decide if he was there on the spaceship on accident or purpose though (I like the idea of both in different ways), so I left it relatively open to interpretation.

The escape from the ship that followed had been a challenge, hours long and filled with several harrowing obstacles, and it left the two of them visibly shaken and weary in the end from the near-death (for her, at least) of it. But now, finally safe in his familiar-yet-unfamiliar TARDIS, floating somewhere out in the vortex, they take the time to simply stand just inside the doorway as he just holds her to him, quietly letting their breathing finally begin to slow and their hearts (his two beating hard against her chest, with a fierce thump-thump) stop racing.

I don't know, maybe it's that I can be a fan of hurt/comfort, but I like the idea that even though the Doctor was there, escaping from the ship was still a big, arduous challenge for them both. I like to think that it helped them bond again and drew them closer together (like, say, 'Flesh and Stone' did for Eleven and Amy).

Oh, and I admit I like the post-danger cuddles, especially now in the safety of the TARDIS. I like to think that Eleven would be much more up for cuddles in the scenario than Ten, who at his worst was like 'Never waste time in a hug' with Martha.

The material of the jacket now scratches a bit at her face, but she lets the memory of it and her past (both of them) with him wash over her, as she rubs her cheek against it this time, her face buried in the safe cocoon of his embrace. It's so nice and perfect, and so much better than all the daydreams of her youth, back when she tried in vain to recreate that texture in her head.

And then she fully realizes, as things finally come into focus again, that he's still holding her to him, holding her longer than he ever has before, tighter even –

And it's heaven to her.

Aww. *wibble*

"I remember this jacket, now. That day at my therapist's office, when I was just thirteen," she observes, her words mostly muffled by its material.

She's stroking his back now, just to feel it more against her skin and she really can't remember now why she didn't like it very much at first before. She then blushes when she remembers how often she used to dream about it.

"We never did get that ice cream," he replies simply, and really, he should, by rights, be letting go of her by now (his other self always would), but he doesn't, and so she doesn't.

Part of her wants to see who will let go first. It's like a game, a puzzle.

This seems totally plausible to me with Martha – the whole let's-see-who-stops-the-hug-first game
"Mum was there, remember?"

"Oh yes, Francine. Perhaps she might've come along?" he asks, but then laughs, laughs with his whole body, it's movement rumbling against her and she is so very surprised, because she's never seen him laugh like that (and, really, never thought he could). "Who am I kidding? That would've never worked."

I like that Martha is seeing a happier side of the Doctor here. Eleven is not without his own angst, of course, but I think he is more comfortable with joy than he was as Ten – at least around Martha. He's past mourning his loss of Rose and can now just let himself enjoy Martha's company for once. <3

She wants to ask him why he was there back then (or even why he's here now), why he had made a special trip to visit her at such a tender age when he'd always warned her about the dangers of crossing timelines. She wants to ask if the Martha that she is now is different than the Martha-she-might-have-been without that visit that day or if he'd even made a difference at all.

She wants to thank him for helping her confidence, even if it feels silly, and how he made her feel so brilliant with his words that day, even if it dissipated a bit with the high emotion of her late teens and the emotional struggles of always being the mediator of her family, especially when things began to fall apart between her parents.

And, honestly, she wants to kiss him, more than she ever has before, and it frightens her a bit, even if it feels right somehow. And part of her wonders, with the way he is holding her against him so long, if he might too.

I can definitely imagine all these things buzzing in Martha's head in a moment like this – analyzing, pulling it all apart, with all of her desires just bubbling to the surface. And I admit that the romantic in me likes that she notes that he might just want to kiss her too (he does, in my head, but he's taking things slowly).

She doesn't do any of that though, but instead just relaxes in his embrace, memorizing how that jacket feels against her skin, remembering how the memories of the feel of it comforted her in nightmares when she was still young and how it comforts her even now, as she finally calms down from the danger they've just evaded. It feels daring, but she lets herself deeply breathe in his scent as well, a scent she is sure must hold time and space and so very many years of experiences, along with the ashes of civilizations lost and the stains of happy tears from civilizations saved.

I admittedly have a bit of a running thing in my fics with the Doctor having the 'scent of time' on him (or, in some cases, marking companions with said scent). I'll admit I just like the idea of that somehow. I have no idea what such a scent would translate into in Real Life, but it's all a bit poetic. Or something. My brain is weird, okay.

It might be the closest she'll ever be to him and she doesn't want to let the opportunity pass.

He finally pulls away, but he seems almost reluctant, his arms still loose around her, hands linked together at the small of her back. He looks a bit younger than his old self, now that's she getting a proper look at him, but as she studies his new features, she sees his eyes still look so very ancient and unfathomable.

She smiles to herself when she thinks of how he's been in her life even longer than she'd originally thought, guiding her, molding her. And maybe he'll tell her why sometime, but right now, it doesn't feel important enough to her to know.

She then notices that he's smiling, too, reflecting hers, and something in her belly drops at the sheer look of affection he's giving her.

(I might really want this to happen between them. Lots. I mean, I truly think the Doctor loved Martha is his own way, but was just crap at showing it. Eleven, here, is finally expressing those feelings a bit.)

"So…that ice cream…still wanna go?" he asks, his words almost nervous, as if they mean something more. And maybe they do. She's no longer sure.

Of course they do, Martha. This is the Doctor's awkward way of beginning to ask you to travel with him again. ;)

"Sounds like a plan," she replies, reaching up to straighten his now-askew bowtie.

Her fingers linger there, not wanting to stop touching him for some reason, worried a bit that if she does, he might just disappear again. "What?" he whispers, cocking his head in confusion as he looks down at her hands.

"Bowties are cool," she replies with a smile, repeating his words from her childhood, and then slips her hands down to reach around for his hand. Her fingers interlace with his, palm to palm, and while it feels different than the touch of her last incarnation, it feels good. "Now, let's get some ice cream."

I just want to draw lots of hearts with Eleven/Martha in them when I think of things like this. I suppose that why I committed a bit of that fluff to paper when I wrote this. Happy things. Happy, happy things.

Glad that some of you could enjoy in the fluff, too.

22nd-Feb-2012 05:02 pm (UTC)
I like Martha refusing to go get ice cream.

That's a little bit of the 8th Doctor creeping in with the Spoilers.

Yeah, we Mums and Dad are kind of dodgy about affection from teachers and counselors towards our children. But then again we live in a small community where a teacher or counselor may very well be a family friend or family.

It was sweet.
23rd-Feb-2012 12:27 am (UTC)
Thank you for this commentary! I always love reading about authors' thought processes, and it's especially nice to see how much attention you paid to the characterization here -- it really shows. This seems particularly accurate: It's hard on her, so she frames it as a bit of a game – a puzzle – in her head to cope. I think secretly wee!Martha naively thinks that if she can solve things like her maths problems well (best in the class!), one day perhaps she can solve her family and emotional issues too.
13th-Mar-2012 11:08 pm (UTC)
*waves from the Calufraux rec*

My favorite Doctor, and my favorite Companion! I am giddy with joy! And I've never read one of these dvd-commentary-things before, very good insights. But most most most of all I loved

he is more comfortable with joy than he was as Ten

because, YES. Thank you for writing this!
14th-Mar-2012 12:22 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for your comment! I am so glad that you enjoyed the story (and even took the time to read the commentary on top of that)! I am so flattered. :)

P.S. They are my favorite companion and Doctor as well! I have a few more half-written fics about them languishing on my hard-drive that I hope to finish someday. :)
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