Played by Catherine Tate, Donna Noble is one of the most enduring Doctor Who companions of all time, and is about to make an explosive return for the 60th anniversary. Why is this character so beloved by fans?
There is never a dull moment when Donna Noble is around. Her ex-fiancé Lance once (rather unkindly) said that she was the kind of person who thought the height of excitement was a new flavour of Pringle.
The thing is, with Donna Noble, she is the kind of Doctor Who companion who could, genuinely, make the launch of a new crisp flavour a must-see event. Her energy, passion and enthusiasm bursts out of every sentence; indeed, one of her former housemates (who only existed in alternate timeline, because this is Doctor Who) once described her as “all flame-haired and fiery.” And in one of her first interactions with the Doctor, she threatened to “sue the living backside” off him, none-too-impressed with the TARDIS‘ dimensionally-transcendental capabilities.
Simply put, Donna Noble was a Doctor Who companion who knew how to take care of herself, and not in a one-dimensional ‘I’m-empowered-because-the-writers-have-written-me-like-this’ kind of way. She was always clear in what she wanted and very determined to get it. For instance, she didn’t threaten to sue the Doctor to prove that she was a kick-ass companion; she was meant to be getting married. She was in her wedding dress, and this strange man had kidnapped her and dropped her in the middle of London. She was ticked off, and determined to get to the church at all costs. She didn’t care if the TARDIS was bigger on the inside.
And even when her friendship with the Doctor deepened, she had no compunction with standing up to him. And her arguments with the Time Lord weren’t just quick snipes, introduced simply for dramatic effect or to spice things up in the console room. Donna Noble showed tremendous heart in her words and actions, driven by a fierce desire to get what she wanted and do the right thing.
Arguably, this was most clear in ‘The Fires of Pompeii,’ the second episode of Series Four. In the story, the Doctor saves the world from the deadly Pyrovile, but in doing so brings about the destruction of the famous Roman city. “History’s back in place and everyone dies,” he says, marching into the TARDIS without looking back.
But this isn’t good enough for Donna Noble. She storms after him, insisting that he can’t just leave everyone to die. She demands that he take the TARDIS back – not to save the whole town. Just someone.
And the Doctor relents. In ‘The Fires of Pompeii,’ Donna shows that she is capable of getting through to the Doctor and changing him – not because she can shout the loudest or outsmart him with some fast quip. She has conviction, and has no fear in expressing herself.
At the same time, Donna Noble was a tremendously funny character. Being able to make people laugh is always a plus, and Donna Noble had humour in spades. This is perhaps unsurprising, given that she was played by a professional comedian. And often, Donna’s comedic moments would come during moments of high jeopardy, such as in ‘Silence in the Library’ when she and the Doctor are fleeing from the carnivorous Vashta Nerada. The Doctor explains that he can’t use the sonic screwdriver to lock an ordinary door, and Donna exclaims, “Oh, what? It doesn’t do wood?!”
And then there is the famous scene in ‘Partners in Crime‘ when the Tenth Doctor and Donna’s reunion is played out in mime, with the two characters conversing silently through a pair of windows as the villainous Mrs Foster looks on. It’s difficult to do this scene justice in words alone, so if you’ve never seen ‘Partners in Crime,’ it’s worth taking a look. It’s a real testament to the skills of Catherine Tate and David Tennant, and of course the writer Russell T Davies.
Moreover, of all the Doctor Who companions, Donna Noble is the one who ended up being most like the eponymous Time Lord. Certainly, she was inspired by him; she undertook a lifestyle of travel and alien investigation after he left her in ‘The Runaway Bride,’ leading to their paths crossing once again in ‘Partners in Crime.’
But there were also the events of ‘The Stolen Earth’ and ‘Journey’s End.’ In the adventure, Donna Noble’s DNA mixes with the Doctor’s, and she effectively becomes half Doctor and half Donna, or the Doctor Donna if you will. This leads to a very entertaining scene where she goes into full Time Lord mode and defeats both the Daleks and Davros in one fell swoop, with Catherine Tate owning the scene with her finest David Tennant impression. Davros – not one to be easily amused – of course orders her immediate extermination.
And sadly, there was something prophetic about Davros’ words. Unbeknownst to him, Donna was already dying; she had absorbed a Time Lord’s consciousness, something which was impossible for a human mind to contain. And in the closing moments of ‘Journey’s End,’ Donna Noble’s brain is burning up, and her existence as the Doctor Donna is unsustainable. In order to save her life, the Doctor has to remove every trace of himself from her mind, including the memories of the time they spent together.
In short, this Series Four finale is one of the most heart-breaking episodes in Doctor Who history. And even though Donna Noble would return for the Tenth Doctor’s final adventure, she never remembered him or her time in the TARDIS. This lingering sadness (dour though it is) is perhaps one of the reasons why Donna Noble is so vividly remembered. Many a Doctor Who fan shed a tear as Donna Noble pleaded with the Doctor to preserve her memories, begging him not to send her back to her ordinary life.
And this is, essentially, where we left Donna Noble. She did eventually get married, though, and as a secret wedding present the Doctor gave her a lottery ticket. So, presumably, she is now a multi-millionaire and continuing to live her life in blissful ignorance of her TARDIS travels. It remains to be seen how she and the Doctor will come into contact once more, and how she will remember him without her brain burning up.
All will be revealed in the upcoming 60th anniversary specials which are due to air this autumn: ‘The Star Beast,’ ‘Wild Blue Yonder’ and ‘The Giggle.’
But over to you, reader. Why do you think Donna Noble is such a popular Doctor Who companion? And what is your favourite Donna Noble moment? Let me know in the comments below.