Super Temp. A Character Analysis of Donna Noble.
(Trigger Warning, very brief mention of rape)
Let’s talk about Donna Noble for a while.
When we first meet Donna, she comes off as a shallow, rude, self-absorbed person. It’s her wedding day, the Doctor accidentally abducts her, and she’s not having it. She’s rude, angry, and she will not accept any of the Doctor’s “I’m so awesome” bullshit.
In other words, she’s exactly what he needs.
At the point Donna shows up, the Doctor has just lost Rose, and is looking for a reason to keep going. He needs something to show up in his life and distract him from the pain of losing yet another person he’s cared deeply for, before he breaks down and loses it. Donna is a distraction.
So, originally, she’s a tool, but all of the Companions are at one point or another. The Doctor has lost it and doesn’t know when to stop. Companions in Doctor Who regularly act as the Doctor’s moral compass when his baggage becomes too big for him to step back and deal. We know from Turn Left that if Donna hadn’t been there right then, the Doctor would have died. Donna is temp. She’s never around for long, so when they part ways at the end of the episode, we assume that’s the last we’re going to see of her.
Then she comes back, a season later, at the start of Series 4. Meeting the Doctor has kick-started something in her, and now she wants to know more about what’s out there in the universe. She decides to sign on for the long haul, and stick with the Doctor as long as he’ll have her.
But the problem is, Donna is a temp. Once you’ve completed the season, and you watch it again, the foreshadowing is huge. It’s stated nearly every episode. Donna is a temp. She’s a temporary employee. A temporary fill-in. She’s going to be the Doctor’s companion, best friend and conscience, since Rose and Martha are gone, and Amy hasn’t shown up yet. She’s a temp.
But that doesn’t mean she’s not important.
Donna Noble is the Everywoman.
She’s not thin. This is important. In Doctor Who almost every female companion has been thin, but Donna is curvy. She’s also significantly older than the rest of the nu!Who female companions. Rose was 19, Martha was fresh out of med school, so somewhere in her early-to-mid twenties. Amy was 7, 19, and 21 when the Doctor came for her. Catherine Tate was about 40 when she played Donna in series 4. Not some fresh out of school young girl striking out on her first adventures. A middle aged, plus-sized (I think. I’m not sure. They keep changing what qualifies as plus-sized in standard women’s fashions), office worker. She is the Everywoman.
Still, she’s brash, loud, opinionated and domineering. We learn throughout the process of the series four that her self-esteem really isn’t that good all the time. Yes, she’s good at what she does, but she’s “just a temp.” She constantly undervalues her own skills.
And yet, her “boring office” skills save the day more than once. She figures out that the factory workers are clones because she thinks to check the personnel files, she figures out the numbers in the tunnels on Jenny’s planet because it makes her think about the Dewey Decimel System, and her typing speed helps out at the end of the world.
Donna’s compassion and humanity are very important. She convinces the Doctor to save the family from Pompeii, she cares about the Ood, she convinces the Doctor to pay more attention to Jenny.
I’ve heard several people say that they don’t like Donna because she’s “rude to the Doctor.” But think about their relationship. The Doctor refers to her as his best friend, and I believe it’s the first time the Doctor has ever used that phrase. Think about your relationship with your best friend. What is a best friend for but to pop your head with a pin when it gets too inflated, and to ground you when you’re losing grip on reality? Donna serves that purpose. But it’s not just that Donna is the Doctor’s best friend, he’s hers too.
One of my favorite things about Donna is that she’s not romantically interested in the Doctor. She doesn’t find him attractive, and she wants nothing more from him than friendship. She is the first female companion in Nu!Who to not be romantically interested in the Doctor at any point. Rose, Martha, and Jackie all made advances of some sort toward the Doctor. Even several of the one-off characters like Lynda and Astrid (and Jack or course, but I was specifically mentioning female characters) showed interest. But not Donna. Still, even though she’s not romantically interested in the Doctor, she’s not shown as sexless or “too old” either. She’s still attracted to other men, just not the Doctor.
Donna evolves throughout series 4. Yes, she’s still brash, outspoken and opinionated, but she starts to feel more confident in herself. She becomes more brave and daring. Her metamorphosis becomes complete with the human-timelord metacrisis that gives her all the knowledge of the Doctor. She becomes something more than human, more than she was. Half Time Lord, half human.
It can’t last, her human body and mind can’t handle the Galifreyan mind, and she begins to burn out. And then we have what I personally feel is the cruelest, most painful and horrifying farewell any Character on Doctor Who has ever had. Because Donna doesn’t die. She doesn’t evolve, grow, change, finish the cycle and die a changed woman.
No, all her growth is stripped away from her, against her will.
That scene is the hardest scene for me to watch in all the Doctor Who I’ve ever watched. Because she keeps saying, “No.” ”No, I want to stay.” No. She doesn’t want this. She won’t permit this. She does not consent. Still, the Doctor feels he knows what’s best for her, so he slips inside her and takes things away from her—and if that whole scene isn’t a metaphor for rape then I don’t know what is. What the Doctor does to her is one of the cruelest things I’ve ever seen him do, disguised as an act of compassion because it’s “for her own good.” It’s “to save her.” The fact that she didn’t want it means little next to the fact that the Doctor wanted to save her, even though she had already made her own choice, to spend the rest of her life with him. But he took her choice away. He stripped away all the changes she made in herself, took away her self-confidence and her agency.
After that episode, Donna only appears in one more story arc—End of Time parts 1 and 2. She’s changed, and her grandfather tells the Doctor that she was better before. The Doctor doesn’t want to hear it. Little glimpses of the old Donna still bleed through from time to time, though, which gives a Donna-fan a tiny bit of hope.
Donna Noble was badass, fierce, brave, loyal and awesome. She saved the whole universe, and there are people out there singing songs about her.
She might have been a temp, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t super.
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