Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I Take It Back! (or: Donna Noble, Please Forgive Me)

Hi, I'm Sue.  I started watching Doctor Who less than 6 months ago, and I already own a sonic screwdriver and dark red Chucks, and I am an Anomaly.

Back in February, we released an Anomaly Supplemental that was simply an unedited chat that Kasey, Sarah, and I had about Doctor Who, while I was still watching it, and, well, I made an uninformed statement about Donna Noble.  My exact words were: "I think she would have been a terrible companion" (you can hear it for yourself at 32:35).  Yeah, I know.  I knew before we even released the show, but decided to leave it in, because that was my impression at the time.  A week or so after that podcast was released, my brother called and said that he was listening in the car on his way to work and had to pull over because he was laughing so hard.  Thanks, Joe.

In my defense, the conversation was recorded on January 20 and, according to my GetGlue check-ins, I was at the end of Series 3 (I have since caught up on the adventures of the Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Doctors).  That means that my only experience with Donna had been the 2006 Christmas Special "The Runaway Bride."  In that episode, I found Donna to be an unfortunate stereotype - she was a bit air-headed, lacking professional ambition and undervaluing herself ("I'm only a temp"), desperate to marry, needy, brassy, and annoying.  When she turned down the Doctor's offer to join him on the TARDIS, I was relieved more than anything else.  But looking back on that now, it was the first hint of Donna's perceptive nature - neither she nor the Doctor were ready yet.  The Doctor needed some time to deal with Rose's loss and Donna needed to figure out who she really was.

I like to believe that Donna's encounter with the Doctor had changed her, opening her eyes and her mind to new possibilities, and giving her a desire to grow.  So, when she does join the Doctor a year later (from her perspective, anyway), she's become a very difference person.  And she's very different from the Doctor's previous companions, as well.  Before I even realized what was happening, Donna became my companion.

Rose was 19 and working in a department store when she joined the Doctor (s1e3 "The Unquiet Dead").  Martha was 23-year-old medical student (Wikipedia, citing Doctor Who Magazine).   Donna's age is never stated explicitly, but Catherine Tate was born in 1968, making her 40 years old when her series aired in 2008 (Billie Piper was 23 when she joined the cast, Freema Agyeman was 28).  Donna's older and has more life experience - she's held (or, perhaps, not held) numerous jobs, almost been married, etc - and that has made her a more independent person, despite how she acted in "The Runaway Bride."

I also want point out that Donna is not rail-thin, like Rose and Martha (and Amy), but she's still stylish and confident. Too often, any woman who is not shaped like a runway model is relegated to stereotypical supporting roles, like the spunky best friend who can't get a date, and not given the opportunity at a leading role (at least on American TV).  It's refreshing to see a mature woman of real proportions in a leading role of a dramatic and incredibly popular series.

Furthermore, Donna is not in love with the Doctor.  Let's face it, the Rose/Ten pairing was intense.  I'm not about to lie and say I wasn't heartbroken at the end of "Doomsday" - 'cause I was - but I didn't want to see "companion" become synonymous with "girlfriend".  And then there was Martha, who had a severe case of puppy love, but the Doctor was uninterested, and her pining grew tiresome, even for him.  He and Donna both made it clear from the start that they were "just mates" and just like that, all of the romantic issues were gone and we could get back to the story - they become more like siblings than lovers.

Finally, and perhaps most notably, Donna does not hold her tongue.  The Doctor's companions often take on the role of his conscience, and Donna more than any other.  She challenges him, questions him, makes him question himself and his motivations, and argues with him.  She's quick-witted, sarcastic, and funny - and smarter than she gives herself credit for.  She doesn't just defer to him - at moments where any other companion would have backed down or shut up, Donna holds firm and pushes back.  Just like he changed her, Donna changes the Doctor.

Personally, I find the end of Donna's story line to be more heart-wrenching than Rose's.  She's still there, on Earth, in the same reality, but she can never know about her time with the Doctor.  If she ever remembers, she'll die.  And after all they've been through together, after how much they've both grown, the Doctor has to move on, and Donna goes back to a mundane, normal life, even though  the audience and everyone around her knows that she can be so much more.

Now, I find Donna inspiring.  She's got confidence and snark, compassion and intuition.  She grows so much during her story arc.  It may sound cheesy, but her character serves as a reminder that we all have so much more courage, ability, and creativity inside of us than we even realize.

Staff Writer for Anomaly
Co-Host of Anomaly Supplemental


Life of a Dog Lover said...

Fantastic summation on Donna & her time in the Tardis. She's certainly "my" compantion as well for all the reasons you give.

Meds said...
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Meds said...

I totally agree with you here Sue. Though my opinion a few years ago was different. I hated The Runaway Bride, I disliked the character, I didnt like the writing and I didnt like Tate as a actress but I was blinded by Tates previous comedy tv shows.
Last week i stumbled across The Runaway Bride by accident and I sat down and watched it. I actually really enjoyed it, then i wastched a few episodes of her series and my views totally changed from my initial opinion. I love the fact she is a older companion, a proper woman if you like and as you say has no fixation on the Doctor.
The announcement today of the new companion has filled me with a little sadness. I had hope for a male companion and if not, a companion of similar age to Donna, a older woman with a older view of the world. Alas no, the BBC have opted for a stereotypical young, model style actress. Such a shame.

Xtina said...

Thank you for this! Your thoughts echo my thoughts. In fact, me and my boyfriend have had this very conversation. While we love all the companions for different reasons I think Donna is my favorite. Donna's story by far is the most heart breaking. No matter how many times I watch her final episodes as the companion I still get choked up. But, she truly is the Doctor's moral compass and she comes to him at a time when he really, really needs a voice of reason and not an admirer. I haven't listened to that particular podcast yet, but I think Donna would find it in her heart to forgive you.