Why I Love Donna Noble
Mark McCullough on Catherine Tate’s companion.
When first introduced to Donna Noble in The Runaway Bride, I was far from enamoured by the character. In fact I found her rather one-dimensional and would go as far to say grating at times. Therefore it was with nervous anticipation that sat down to watch her return, and dreaded that I wasn’t going to like a companion for the first time ever. By the end of her first episode back though, I knew that I had been wrong. And in hindsight with Donna currently sitting atop my favourite companions list, I can safely say I’ve never been as wrong before when it comes to Doctor Who.
“But that’s what you do! You’re the Doctor; you save people!” – Donna Noble (The Fires of Pompeii)
To analyse what made Donna so special I have decided to analyse some of the episodes of Series Four and why they worked so well in respect to Donna. First off, Partners in Crime which is an episode almost entirely about Donna, and more so than what would initially meet the eye. The Donna Noble we are introduced to here is strong, feisty, determined and will stop at nothing to try to find the Doctor again. This really gets the audience behind her from early on in her tenure and is aided by the several close encounters they have before their paths finally cross again. In a way, the Adipose mirror the character of Donna in that they have a pleasant appearance, but when you look beyond that you see the depth of what they really are. In Donna’s case, we can see right from her first episode that she hides a lack of self-belief under her sassy and outgoing persona.
This is why I feel it was fundamental to Donna’s success to have the next two episode be emotionally heavy. She wanted to be part of the Doctor’s world, but now she sees it at its absolute worst when the Doctor is unable to save Pompeii, or when she sees the Ood subjected to slavery. This allows Donna to show a range of emotions and morality to flesh out the character and prove to the audience that she has what it takes to be a companion. Interestingly she is also given a reaction to events that was relatively new for revived Doctor Who, she found things tough and actually wanted to go home. Granted that desire was wrapped in typical Donna Noble sass, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was there, and in retrospect is probably one of the most ‘real’ reactions to the Doctor’s universe.
“So why don’t you know me? Where am I in the future?” – Donna Noble (Silence in the Library)
The middle section of the series doesn’t do an awful lot more for Donna’s character other than to build upon the foundations which have already been established. In The Doctor’s Daughter and The Unicorn and the Wasp, Donna brings something to the episode in each case. In the former it is her intellect and experience to work out the dating system and the true nature of the war. Whilst the latter shows her to be a trusting and empathetic responder to a situation in which suspicion is rife. Upon arriving at the Library, Donna’s character is focused on less to accommodate the introduction of River Song. That said the two share one of the most poignant scenes for Donna’s arc. It’s very subtle, but Catherine Tate’s body language in reaction to River’s conversation about knowing the Doctor, but not Donna complements the characters lack of self-belief perfectly.
The midway point of the Library story proves to be a turning point in Donna’s story. It is here we see the first of two worlds built around her. Looking at it along with Turn Left, we can appreciate the foreshadowing of Donna living a life without the Doctor and no knowledge that she ever knew any other life. “Donna Noble has left the Library, Donna Noble has been saved” is a very apt line because when she did return she was changed for the better. What the two parallel worlds show us is that she can live a happy life, and that she doesn’t need the Doctor to help sort out her problems. It is this knowledge that makes her tragedy at the end of the series all the more bittersweet. Like the Doctor, we are sad to have lost her, but deep down we know she’s going to be ok, we’ve seen her doing ok.
“Where’s that woman? The nice woman. Is she there?” – Evangelista (Silence in the Library)
A lot of the depth to Donna’s character comes through her interaction with others, she is very driven by her family and tries her upmost to impress her mother and grandfather. Her good nature spreads beyond this as emphasised by her reactions to Pompeii and the Ood, her interactions with Agatha Christie, how she treated Miss Evangelista and finally in Turn Left when she stuck up for people even when her whole world had been destroyed. Donna Noble cares for others and that is something that sets her apart. If there’s one person she doesn’t care about as much as she should though, it is herself.
I love the character of Sylvia Noble, but I don’t like her as a person. It is almost a certainty that Sylvia’s treatment of Donna, coupled with Donna’s desire to impress, is the root of her self-doubt. How can you be good enough for anyone if you’re not good enough for your own mother? I think it’s wrong to call Donna’s self-doubt an arc, because that implies a progression or a journey. A more apt descriptor would be a constant, because it is there from when we meet her until she becomes part of the Metacrisis. Likewise the character traits are there from the start too, the Metacrisis doesn’t change her at all, it just increases her knowledge to that of a Time Lord which in itself is enough to make her realise her own worth. When we leave her she is the exact same women as we met, just with a completely different outlook. In that respect it is one of Davies finest storytelling feat with one of his greatest ever characters.
“Any degree of success or achievement for me is only ever a relief. My version of getting carried away is: ‘Mmm, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.” – Catherine Tate
I haven’t really addressed the title of the article yet. Why I love Donna Noble is a question I could spend days answering. All I’ll say here is that the self-doubt and social anxiety aspect of Donna’s character is something I can heavily relate to. For me Donna Noble is more than just a companion, she is an example, a role model and an inspiration. My favourite companion is also the one who I can relate to the most, something in itself which is a key aspect of the companion role. Enormous credit has to be given to Catherine Tate for how she brought the character to life and made Donna’s turmoil seem so real. I really can’t thank her enough.