“Well isn’t that Wizard!” The Many faces of Donna Noble
Guest contributor Connor Johnston pays tribute to the talented Catherine Tate on her day of birth.
To think that it’s been just under 8 years since the much loved Donna Noble graced our screens for the first time in the final scenes of Series 2’s “Doomsday” is enough to make anyone of us feel old! One person who isn’t letting the years show is the ever stunning and talented Catherine Tate: the wonderful woman that brought such a beautiful character into our lives and affections, and who celebrates her 46th birthday today.
It’s a testament to Ms. Tate that even after so much time having elapsed since she put her mark on the Whoniverse and with only 16 televised episodes to her name, that she continues to be held in the highest regard and prove to be so popular among fans today. In honour of Catherine’s birthday I’ve chosen to pay tribute and commend her exceptional talent by pick out just a few of the many many different layers of depth that Catherine brought to the role of Donna Noble. So Spacemen! Let’s Begin!
The Best Mate
“The Runaway Bride and Partners in Crime”
“You just want to Mate?!”
When Donna Noble began travelling on the TARDIS full time in Series 4 she came after two companions that both had a substantial love interest in the Doctor as part of their main plots. Wanting to offer a clear differentiation between Rose, Martha and Donna the decision was made that Donna and Ten’s relationship would be a very different one to any relationship that Ten had had with any other of his companions – they were going to be best mates. From the first episode of Series 4, “Partners in Crime” it was clear that the connection Donna and the Doctor had was instant. They fit together like puzzle pieces; travelling the universe and defeating bad guys together as a team, always moving forward and “Onwards” to new horizons hand in hand. As a best friend Donna thought it almost her duty to look out for the Doctor, striving not only to protect him from monsters and enemies but also from on more than one occasion, himself. Their relationship was perfect: supportive, equal and with both parties having such a deep respect and admiration for one another that the duo just worked. In turn this lead to a series that is renowned for working brilliantly with the fan base, and a TARDIS team that will go down in Who history as one for the greatest of all time.
The Compassionate Companion – “Fires of Pompeii -- Planet of the Ood”
“You’ve got to go back! Doctor, I’m telling you, take this thing back! It’s not fair. Just save someone! Please!”
When Catherine was announced as the new main companion for Series 4 at the time, most of us anticipated that she was going to be a very outspoken companion and with Catherine’s comedic background it was obvious that she would bring an entertaining aspect to the show. What no one was expecting was how emotionally invested and how compassionate the character of Donna would be and how exceptional Catherine would be in showing Donna’s emotional battles. The truly admirable compassionate and caring nature of Donna was capture perfectly in the second and third episodes of Season Four: “Fires of Pompeii” and “Planet of the Ood”.
In the volcanic venture Donna is faced with internal conflict knowing that all of the people that she saw in the streets of Pompeii would be dead in a matter of days. Donna reacted as ever any of us would, immediately setting out to rescue as many innocent lives as possible. However as the gravity and reality of the situation dawned on her, she began to understand how very little she could do to make a difference to the fate of this people. What is undoubtedly one of the highlights of not only Donna’s time on the show but also Catherine’s acting ability is the climaxing scenes of “Fires” where Donna makes the heart wrenching plea for the Doctor to just save somebody. It’s so realistic and so heartbreaking and showcases yet another of Catherine’s talents sensationally. In Planet of the Ood we get yet another reminder of how passionate Donna can be for the rights of others: Standing up to the head of the corporation and being so affected by way the Ood were treated.
The Brave Warrior – “The Sontaran Stratagem/ the Poison Sky”
“Back of the neck.”
Franklin P. Jones once said “Bravery is being the only one who knows you’re afraid”. Throughout Donna’s time aboard the TARDIS she was constantly being exposed to wonders beyond belief, but also found herself put in a lot of horrific and dangerous experiences. One of the scariest positions Donna found herself in was in the Series 4 Sontaran two-parter “The Sontaran Stratagem” and “The Poison Sky”. Stuck on board a kidnapped TARDIS (and not for the last time “Quelle dommage, Davros”) Donna is faced with a gut-wrenching choice of having to put herself in incredible danger, walking into a space ship full of armed war-thirsty Sontarans and reopen the teleport link to help save the choking population below. Tate’s acting in this scene is so realistic – portraying Donna’s fear so realistically with the line “He’s going to kill me” sending shivers down my spine every rewatch. Even though she is scared out of her wits we watched this sensational temp from Chiswick summon up the courage of a full grown mountain lion and bravely continues through the battle field and eventually completing her mission as the brave, determined fighter she is.
The Hilarious Entertainer – “The Unicorn and the Wasp”
“Shake, milk shake, milk? Milk? No, not milk? Hm, shake shake shake… Cocktail shaker! What do you want, a Harvey Wallbanger”
It’s no secret that Catherine Tate is the Queen of Comedy, and there were countless moments throughout her Doctor Who run that she excelled in making us as an audience laugh ’till we fell on the floor in hysterics. But what has to be her comedic standout as Donna is “The Unicorn and the Wasp”. It’s clear that during this episode Catherine Tate has tremendous fun flexing her capabilities in her natural element with several hilarious moments possibly making it the funniest Doctor Who episode to date! What is even more hilarious than the killer one liners Donna has (and that unforgettable charade scene) throughout the murder mystery is how entreating Donna finds the whole adventure; whether it be investigating an empty room, looking for something salty or watching on with popcorn as the murderer’s deception is unravelled – every movement and every piece of dialogue is delivered with such pizazz by Tate that it is a joy to watch.
The Most Important Woman in all of Creation – “Series 4”
“I just want you to know there are worlds out there, safe in the sky because of her. That there are people living in the light, and singing songs of Donna Noble, a thousand million light years away. They will never forget her, while she can never remember.”
At the end of the day this article could go on forever: The Intelligent Adversary, The Sassy Temp, and The Long Suffering Lover -- the list could go on and on! And it is all thanks to the amount of time and effort Catherine invested in the character of Donna that had her character develop across the board throughout her relatively short time with the Doctor and should be the companion that all future Doctor Who stars look to and admire at the variety and many faces she brings to the role. Donna was a hero; a saviour of worlds and races, a compassionate caring person, a brave warrior, a hilarious entertainer, the Doctor’s best mate and truly the most important woman in all of creation. The fact that Donna never believed in herself but eventually grew and gained a confidence in herself with the Doctor is what makes her ultimate fate so much more tragic. Donna forgot her time with the Doctor but also forgot her belief in herself, and the companion we’d all fallen head over heels for; who entertained, inspired and delighted we had been stolen away for good.
And so it’s on that cheery note that I once again applaud and wish a Happy Birthday to the extremely talented Catherine Tate and thank her for the sensational gift to the Whoniverse in the form of The Funny, the Compassionate and The Brave Donna Noble. As an extra special birthday treat we’ve attached the BBC special: “Donna’s Life in 90 Seconds” below for your entertainment purposes.
Many happy returns, Catherine!