So far, we have gone through two of the major companions during the first few years of the “Doctor Who” reboot, and the first two major companions of the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant). First, we had Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), who served as a romantic interest to the Doctor. Then, we had Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), who became the Doctor’s support system despite the fact that her feelings for the Doctor were unrequited. And then finally, we had Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), who became one of the Doctor’s best friends, and who was actually connected to the Doctor in ways that both of them could have never imagined.
Tate’s Donna Noble first debuted on Nu Who in the Christmas Special “The Runaway Bride”, which took place right after the events of the Series 2 finale, “Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”. Because of that, Donna witnessed both the wonders of the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant), and his lowest point, and ultimately declined his invitation to travel with him because what he did during that episode scared her, and would have frightened any sane person away.
However, after getting over Rose after spending an entire season with Martha, who allowed the Doctor to move on a little bit, he was ready to take on a new friend aboard the TARDIS, but this time, he made it clear that he just wanted “a mate”, and that was what Donna was.
Donna, when she finally started going on adventures with the Doctor full time, had regretted that she had turned down his offer, and had been actively searching for him. I think that that point in time, for both of them, was the best time for them to go off on adventures with each other, as the Doctor was finally ready to move on from Rose, and Donna was now ready to be transported away from what she thought was a mundane life.
Donna is still my favorite companion in Nu Who for a number of reasons. Donna’s chemistry with the Doctor was very much different from Rose’s and Martha’s as she was not interested in him romantically, and because of the fact that she could just tell the Doctor off and sass back at him anytime she needed to. She was also older than the two previous companions, which meant that she could somehow understand what the Doctor was feeling, and sometimes did serve as the Doctor’s conscience. She was also pure empathy, and this was often highlighted in many of the episodes in Series 4. Aside from this, Donna was brilliant and noticed things and details that others might have missed. She was operating at her full potential while she was with the Doctor, even if only the Doctor was the one who could see how brilliant she was, and it was something that he often told her.
Not many people enjoyed Tate’s performance when she first debuted, but during Series 4, Tate was given many opportunities to showcase her acting skills, and she shone not just with her comedic bits, but with the emotional moments as well.
Tennant and Tate also had wonderful chemistry off screen, and this can be seen in “Doctor Who Confidential”, in the behind the scenes stuff in the DVD bonus features with “David Tennant’s Video Diaries”, and in the interviews that they gave both while they were the leads of the show, and even afterwards.
At the end of the day, Donna Noble will always remain as one of my favorite “Doctor Who” companions. She was pure empathy, someone who could call out the Doctor on his faults, understood him, and was wonderfully brilliant, even though she didn’t know how brilliant she was at times. This, combined with her story arc, characterization, and Tate’s wonderful performance during a Series which I consider to be one of the strongest in the reboot, are all reasons why I consider her to be one my favorite companions.
Now, you know the drill. Spoilers will abound as we delve more into Donna Noble, and Tate’s performance during Series 4.
When we first met Donna, she was brash, loud, and annoying, which put many people off at first. However, if you look at it from her perspective, during the events of “The Runaway Bride”, wouldn’t you also be annoyed if you were suddenly whisked away during your wedding day and then get chased by alien robots at the same time? However, Donna’s character mellowed down a little bit during the course of the Christmas Special, and you could see how much fun the Doctor was having with her when they were investigating what is the basement of H.C. Clements.
My heart, however, went for her during the third act of that special, when her fiance, who was really conspiring with the Empress of the Racnoss (Sarah Parish), gave her a harsh reality check, and called her out on how superficial she was. From there, I started liking Donna, especially as she was the only one who could stop the Doctor from going overboard at the end. However, I do understand why she turned down the Doctor’s invitation at the end of all of this. I think that she needed a little bit of a breather first, and she also did just witness the Doctor at a very low point.
So, when she finally comes aboard the TARDIS, apart from the fact that them meeting again was also thanks to the manipulation of Dalek Caan, she is more than ready, because she now knows that she does want to travel with the Doctor, mostly to escape what she thinks is a mundane life on Earth.
And Donna shone brightly during her travels with him. The Doctor knew that Donna was brilliant from the get go, and it shows right from their first few adventures together.
She empathized with the plight of the Ood and called out the Doctor’s hypocrisy; she became his conscience and his voice of reason when things became dire, and when he was a little bit emotional; she noticed little details which allowed her to call out the truth behind situations way before the Doctor reached the same conclusions; and knew what she wanted to get out of the adventures they had together. So, if she was enjoying a particular part of a space station and didn’t want to go to another part of the station with the Doctor, she always made sure her opinion was known, and she held her ground firmly against him. She also was one of the few people who could really one up him and tease him, and these came so easily to them because they were really just the best friends.
Aside from this, the fact that she had more experiences in the world, and emotionally, as compared to Martha and Rose, allowed her to be this way and allowed her to emotionally connect with the Doctor as well.
So, from being the superficial Donna who just cared about weddings and dream houses, she became a wonderful and brilliant time traveler who could hold her ground against the Doctor and any enemies they came across during their travels. She became more self-confident as well, even though she herself didn’t recognize or realize it. Her travels with the Doctor allowed her to stop continuously “shouting at the world”, as nobody was listening to her at all. This was something that the meta-crisis Doctor and her grandfather pointed out as well during the series.
And this, all of her character growth during the series, is exactly what makes her fate so tragic.
From the very beginning, Dalek Caan, after leaving Manhattan in “Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks”, and after seeing how horrible the Daleks are after looking into the Time Vortex himself, began manipulating events in order to exact revenge on the Dalek race. And this plan involved Donna and the Doctor, whose fate at the end of the series was being spelled out for us from the very beginning of the series.
There were all these coincidences popping up involving Donna and her family members; and then there was all those little hints of the eventual coming of the Doctor Donna. There was the warning in Pompeii that Donna had something on her back; the Ood talking about the Doctor Donna; the Time Beetle creating a whole universe centered around her, Donna defeating the Time Beetle (with some help from Rose) with her own sheer will, causing the fortune teller to be scared of her; then there was that whole bit in the Shadow Proclamation with one of them telling her that she was something new, and saying that she was “sorry for the loss that was about to come”. The Doctor Donna, the result of a two way meta crisis, which caused Ten’s aborted regeneration to split into two (the meta crisis Doctor and the Doctor Donna), had been coming all this time. And it is also a testament to Donna that among all of his companions, Donna was able to hold a Time Lord mind and actually be totally in control of it for quite a while.
Now, because Donna is only human, she began to burn up because a human mind cannot retain a Time Lord’s brain. So, the Tenth Doctor was faced once again with a difficult choice- let the Doctor Donna stay, but Donna ends up dying; or erase all her memories of their time together so that that part of her brain remains dormant, so that she gets to live, but he loses a best friend. Donna, on her part, would rather die than go back, but the Doctor makes that choice for her, and wipes her memories so that she can live. Sure, she ends up meeting the right guy, and I think that the lottery ticket the Tenth Doctor gave her during “The End of Time” allowed theme to be comfortable, financially speaking, but all that character progress she had got erased, and she also will never quite live up to the full potential that she could have been because of what happened. And of course, she can never remember, because if she does, she’ll die. So, when it comes to character exits, Donna’s, I think, was the most tragic one.
This exit, and her tragic fate, was not only foreshadowed by that woman in the Shadow Proclamation, about the “loss that was about to come”, but was also foretold by Dalek Caan. Donna was the “most faithful companion” whose death was foretold, as losing all of her memories and all of that character progress, is a sort of “death” as well.
Donna’s finest moments in the series, and some of Tate’s best acting came out in “Fires of Pompeii”, “Planet of the Ood”, “Silence in the Library/The Forest of the Dead”, and of course, in “Turn Left”, and in “The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End”. Each of these episodes allowed Tate to have Donna in emotional situations, and what she did in “Turn Left”, especially during that part where she realizes that she will have to die, and there’s fear in her eyes but determination when she goes back in time; and her very last scene as the Doctor Donna, pleading to the Doctor not to erase her memory, are definitely moments in which Tate really shone. For comedic moments, my favorite parts were mostly in “Partners in Crime”, with their silent conversation when they saw each other again at Adipose Industries; and when they were both getting confused about the term “mate” before the Doctor agreed to let Donna come with him.
However, for her character, Donna’s finest moments was when she became the Doctor Donna, incapacitated the Daleks, helped save the universe, and for that one glorious moment, in “The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End”, and also, when she sacrificed herself in “Turn Left”.
However, what is interesting as well is the fact that Donna, even without doing any of that, was the most “important woman in all of creation” because if she weren’t around to stop the Doctor from going overboard during the events in “The Runaway Bride”, as seen in “Turn Left”, then the Doctor would have died, causing the world to be a much bleaker place, and would also result in a lot more deaths, which included the deaths of Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), Luke Smith (Tommy Knight), Clyde Langer (Daniel Anthony), Maria Jackson, Martha Jones, the entire Torchwood team, and many more.
Just like with Rose and Martha, I made a specific playlist for Donna as well, based on Murray Gold’s soundtrack for the show. For this playlist, as I did with the other playlists, I ordered them in such a way as to tell the story or narrative of each one.
You can find my playlist for Donna Noble here: https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/12142470663/playlist/4jlHJ5CmeZjlOj3NQMI26t
I love how Gold manages to capture a character’s essence in the themes he creates for them. “Donna’s Theme”, “The Runaway Bride” and “A Noble Girl About Town” are lively, cheeky, adventurous, and sassy, which basically say loads about the character as a whole. “The Rueful Fate of Donna Noble” is a track full of sadness and regret, which highlight her tragic fate, and the emotional weight it had for the Doctor.
“Life Among the Distant Stars” is a hopeful yet regretful track, showing how much Donna regretted not jumping at the chance to travel with the Doctor; “Corridors and Fire Escape” highlights more of the adventurous times they had together; while “After the Chase” is more relaxed and introspective, for those moments in which they don’t necessarily come out as the victors. “Songs of Captivity and Freedom” not only remind us about the Ood, but highlight Donna’s amazing amount of empathy.
“Turn Left” is a haunting track, which is definitely apt, due to the fact that the world became a bleaker place without the Doctor. “A Dazzling End” was used at the end of “Turn Left”, and it highlights all the build up of what Donna was about to do at the end of this episode- she sacrificed herself so that the world would return to normal. This was the first time, before she became the Doctor Donna, she would become the most “important woman in all of creation”.
I followed this up with the fast paced “Hanging on the Tablaphone”, signifying the birth of the meta-crisis Doctor and the Doctor Donna, as well as everything she did as the Doctor Donna. This is then followed by “The Song of Freedom”, which is a celebration of everything that all of them were able to accomplish together, and is just a moment of pure joy and bliss, before tragedy strikes, and is highlighted in “The Rueful Fate of Donna Noble”.
And so, finally, we have come to the last major companion in the Davies era, and during the Tenth Doctor’s tenure, who, also, happens to be one of my favorite companions in “Doctor Who” and in Nu Who- Donna Noble, The Most Important Woman in All of Creation.
What did you think of Donna Noble and Catherine Tate’s performance? If you were to have Donna meet and team up with any Doctor aside from Ten, and other companions aside from Martha Jones, Rose Tyler, Mickey Smith and Captain Jack Harkness, who would you pair or team her up with, and what do you think the dynamic would be? Let me know in the comments below, and remember to be civil and respectful to everyone!