With Donna Noble returning to the Whoniverse for the 60th anniversary, we look back at the best adventures of Chiswick’s most famous typist.
Donna Noble may have only been in one series of Doctor Who (and a couple of specials) but she has become one of the most fondly-remembered Doctor Who companions of all time. So it’s no surprise that she and David Tennant have been recruited to lead the show’s 60th anniversary celebrations in 2023, with the pair reuniting for a trio of specials in the autumn.
But if you’re unfamiliar with the exploits of the ‘Doctor Donna,’ you may be wondering which episodes to watch in the lead-up to her return. And so, in no particular order…
The Forest of the Dead
This is the second of a two part adventure from 2008, the first being ‘Silence in the Library’ where the Doctor and Donna Noble find themselves in a planet-sized book collection which has been invaded by carnivorous shadows known as the Vashta Nerada. These shadows literally devour flesh and, even more creepily, can cause dead bodies to walk, which is why the Library has a built-in safety system to ‘save’ anyone in a life-threatening situation.
And by ‘save’ we really do mean save. Donna Noble gets uploaded to the Library’s hard drive to protect her from the Vashta Nerada, although she doesn’t realise this at the time; she believes that she is back on Earth with two children and the perfect husband, until a number of strange events make her question the reality around her.
And as unnerving as this simulated universe is, there are some humorous moments; when Donna learns that her life is a lie, her greatest annoyance is the fact that she has been dieting!
In short, ‘The Forest of the Dead’ is a fascinating episode, and you cannot fail to shed a tear when you learn the fate of Donna’s digital husband…
The Runaway Bride
‘The Runaway Bride’ is the episode that started it all for Donna Noble. It’s Christmas 2006, and the temp from Chiswick has an unexpected collision course with the TARDIS – and worse, she’s about to get married. Before long, the Doctor and Donna find themselves being pursued by robot Santas, killer baubles and the fearsome Empress of the Racnoss, who has been living at the centre of the Earth for millions of years.
‘The Runaway Bride’ is notable for being the second Doctor Who Christmas special of all time (unless you count ‘The Feast of Steven‘) and is a hilarious, heart-breaking, action-packed intro for one of Doctor Who‘s most popular companions.
Partners in Crime
If you’re having a Donna Noble marathon, ‘Partners in Crime’ might be a good follow-up to ‘The Runaway Bride.’ It’s essentially a sequel; Donna Noble declined the Doctor’s offer to join him in the TARDIS at the end of the 2006 Christmas special, and she’s been regretting it ever since. Fortunately, her investigations into a bizarre weight-loss organisation known as Adipose Industries bring her into contact with the Doctor once more, and it’s every bit as fun and ridiculous as you can imagine.
On this occasion, Donna Noble comes up against the galaxy’s deadliest nanny and an army of bizarre fat blobs that are possibly the cutest and the creepiest monsters in Doctor Who history. But the episode is also notable for introducing Donna Noble’s grandfather Wilf played by Bernard Cribbins, who previously made a cameo in ‘Voyage of the Damned.’ He would become one of the series’ staples, and would go on to be a Doctor Who companion himself in the Tenth Doctor’s last episodes.
And as dramatic as ‘Partners in Crime’ is, it is perhaps one of Doctor Who‘s more comedic offerings. If you’re looking for a dose of light-hearted adventure, then this is a great place to start.
But prepare to drop your popcorn when another companion makes a surprise appearance…
Back in 2008, Doctor Who‘s filming schedule was such that it was required to give each of its regulars at least one episode off per season. So whilst Donna Noble was largely absent for the tenth episode ‘Midnight,’ the Tenth Doctor was missing for the majority the eleventh, ‘Turn Left.’
In fact, the Time Lord’s absence underpins the entire story. Donna Noble finds herself in an alternate reality where the Doctor is dead, and she is forced to watch the consequences play out. The result is a dystopian Britain whose capital has been wiped out by a nuclear explosion, and its citizens are sentenced to living in Leeds. Make no mistake – ‘Turn Left’ is perhaps one of the bleakest Doctor Who episodes of all time, but also one of the most exciting; it’s a testament to the strength of Donna Noble’s character that she is able to carry the whole adventure single-handedly, with a little help from the famous Rose Tyler.
‘Turn Left’ also provides a great opportunity for the writer Russell T Davies to expand on Donna’s relationship with her grandfather, and it lays the bedrock for what is to come at the very end of the Tenth Doctor’s era. This is as much a Noble family story as a Doctor Who story, and makes for compelling viewing.
What would a Time Lord version of Donna Noble be like? This question may not have been at the forefront of everyone’s mind in 2008, but the Series Four finale takes the idea and runs with it. In a bizarre twist of fate, Donna Noble’s DNA mixes with the Doctor’s. Essentially, she becomes half human and half Time Lord – a metacrisis. This has never happened in the history of the universe, and it cannot be sustained. Donna Noble is slowly dying.
And to make matters worse, the Daleks and Davros are also up to their usual tricks, but their sights are not set merely on the conquest of Earth, but on the destruction of the whole of reality. This is a head-scratcher even for the Doctor.
Notwithstanding the end of the universe, there are plenty of moments for the ‘Doctor Donna‘ to shine, and the moment when she goes into full Time Lord mode and sends the Daleks spinning in circles is a joy to behold. But there isn’t a dry eye in the house when the Doctor makes the ultimate sacrifice to save her life, erasing all knowledge of himself from Donna’s mind to keep it from burning.
Simply put, if Donna Noble ever remembers the Doctor or the TARDIS, her brain will burn and she will die. And this makes her return in the 60th anniversary all the more intriguing. How can she be reunited with the Doctor without experiencing the full effects of the metacrisis? Presumably, all will be revealed soon…
In the meantime, tell us: which are your favourite Donna Noble episodes? And how do you think the Doctor will circumvent the metacrisis? Let us know in the comments below.