Why does Martha call Richard Gadd’s character ‘Baby Reindeer’?
(Credits: Netflix)

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Why does Martha call Richard Gadd's character 'Baby Reindeer'?

The hard-hitting comedy-drama Baby Reindeer blew up in recent months to become the biggest TV hit of 2024. The series is based on the real-life encounters of creator and writer Richard Gadd with a stalker who decided to give him a cute and cuddly nickname.

Its authentic portrayal of Gadd’s experiences, which are partly fictionalised for dramatic effect, has won it universal acclaim and millions of viewers. And, famously, a legal dispute between Netflix and the real woman behind the character Martha, the stalker of Gadd’s character in the series.

Martha starts calling bartender Donny “Baby Reindeer” in the early stages of their encounters in the pub where he works during the first episode of the show. At that point, Donny is unaware of the barrage of emails, messages and social media posts he is about to receive from Martha, or the physical confrontations and sexual assault he will later fall victim to.

This titular motif is based on Gadd’s own experience, in which his real “Martha”, now widely identified as Fiona Harvey, gave him the same nickname while stalking him. Some of the messages Martha sends to Donny with this nickname are allegedly the actual words Harvey sent to Gadd.

Why a reindeer?

The reason behind her choice of nickname remains a mystery throughout the series. Gadd keeps us guessing until its very last scene, when Martha leaves Donny a voicemail explaining what “Baby Reindeer” means to her.

“Basically, I had this wee cuddly toy when I was young,” she explains. “It went with me everywhere,” Martha mentions that the reindeer appears with her in her earliest childhood photo.

“I still have it to this day.,” she adds. “It was the only good thing about my childhood.” Her story reveals how and why she’s projected her craving for love and affection onto Donny, just as she did onto her toy reindeer when she was a child. She’d “hug it” when her parents fought, in what sounds like it was a loveless, unsettling home to grow up in.

“Well, you are the spit of that reindeer,” she says, drawing a physical comparison between her toy and Donny. She ends the message by saying, “It means so much to me. You mean so much to me.” Donny naturally breaks down in tears, realising the pain his stalker has been through and the position he has assumed in her life.

This moment humanises the crazed villain we’ve been watching through the series, allowing the empathy we feel for Gadd’s own character to be shared with Martha, too. Such a powerful finale which reasdresses the balance of victimhood in the show epitomises why it has resonated so profoundly with critics and audiences alike.