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.
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