How Catherine Tate's Donna Prepped Us For the 13th Doctor
One of the recurring themes that the modernization of Doctor Who has brought to viewers is how the attitude and lifestyle of the Doctor affects his companions. The Doctor is always someone to be looked up to and admired, but if viewers have learned anything it’s that it is best not to emulate him. Too many companions have learnt the hard way that being The Doctor is not all it is cracked up to be (*cue Clara’s theme and this writer’s endless tears).
Donna’s story is a particularly tragic example of the trope. This isn’t to say that Donna, or especially what is affectionately referred to as the DoctorDonna, was written to intentionally set up the idea of a female Doctor. In fact, despite the notion having been mentioned in the era of classic Who by the likes of Tom Baker and Waris Hussein, it can be assumed that the possibility of the Doctor being a woman was nothing more than a passing remark. That is until Neil Gaiman’s “The Doctor’s Wife” in which he included a bit of dialogue offhandedly mentioning that The Doctor’s old friend The Corsair had been a woman once or twice. It can be argued, though, that many of Donna’s actions were enough like The Doctor’s that we already got a taste of what a female Doctor could possibly be like...and we liked the flavor.
Here are a few traits that exemplify this idea:
The Brave Investigator: When The Doctor and Donna first meet up again after the events of “The Runaway Bride,” Donna has taken it upon herself to become an amateur investigator looking into the strange happenings in London. She does this partially in the hope that at some point she will run into The Doctor again to convince him to take her with him. But she also does it because of the adventure bug she caught for her first encounter with him. She had that taste for adventure and needed to satiate it, and that’s also undoubtedly one of the reasons The Doctor does what he does.
The One Who Makes the Difficult Choices: It wasn’t long in their travels before Donna was faced with the ultimate Time Lord dilemma while visiting Pompeii on Volcano Day. What do you do when you know that your actions are going to adversely affect people, but you also know that these things have to happen in order for history to move forward? I am of course referring to pulling the lever that caused Vesuvius to erupt. Standing beside The Doctor, knowing what had to be done and what it meant, Donna made the brave choice and pulled the lever with him. Would she have had the courage to do that before meeting The Doctor, or would somebody else have gotten “burned”?
The Compassionate One: At first Donna may not have come off as the most compassionate or caring person, but we also learned in Pompeii just how big her heart actually is when she convinced the Doctor to go back and save Caecilius and his family. It is that caring and that kindness that, in a way, directly resulted in the speech that the 12th Doctor gives to Missy and the Master during the events of “The Doctor Falls.” Coincidentally, it was also that moment that inspired the 12th Doctor’s face in order to remind him that he his the man that saves people. So I guess we can thank Donna for that too. Let’s just be glad that the 12th Doctor didn’t keep that Roman hairstyle. (Long live the poof!)
The Smartest Person in the Room: Okay, so this is a brief one and a bit different, but it really gives viewers the first glimpse at a female Doctor. It is the moment after the meta crisis when the DoctorDonna swoops in to save the day. Let’s forget for a moment the tragic outcome of this situation; what viewers were given was the delightful treat of Catherine Tate doing what was essentially a spot-on impression of David Tennant. In what was an all-too-brief part of the episode, Tate captured every ounce of David Tennant’s manic hipster genius as she ran around flipping switches, sending Daleks spinning and spouting technobabble explaining the whole situation at breakneck speed. It was a sight to behold. For those few minutes Donna was the Doctor and it was wonderful. This was for all intents and purposes The Doctor as a female and, as we might assume, nothing was substantially different. Except maybe the fact that Rose was forced to live in an alternate reality where the 10th Doctor talked like he was from Chiswick, but that’s beside the point.
So, viewers have already peered into the vortex and seen what a female Doctor could be. Now, if there were only a way to come to terms with the new Doctor being Northern.
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