Portrayed by: Catherine Tate
Doctor(s): Tenth Doctor
Tenure: 11 stories (14 episodes), first “The Runaway Bride” (Dec, 2006) and then from “Partners in Crime” (April, 2008) to “The Stolen Earth”/“Journey’s End” (July, 2008)
Background: While working as a temp at a large security firm in London, Donna meets a coworker to whom she eventually becomes engaged. On her wedding day, as she’s walking down the aisle, she starts glowing, screams, and is teleported into the TARDIS, where she meets the Doctor. She discovers her fiancé had been poisoning her coffee as part of a nefarious scheme and, after saving the day with the Doctor, turns down his offer to travel with him, being too afraid of what that life means. Soon, though, she regrets her decision and refocuses her life on finding the Doctor and getting a second chance, hunting out alien plots and schemes, which is what she’s doing when she comes across the Doctor a second time, foils the Adipose with him, invites herself aboard the TARDIS, and heads out to the stars.
Family/Friends: Donna has a grandfather, Tenth Doctor ally Wilfred Mott, with whom she is incredibly close as well as a rather disapproving mother and a father we only briefly meet in her first story. Between her first appearance and her start as the Doctor’s Companion, her father passes away, causing her mother to become a harsher, more bitter woman. Donna also has a circle of friends, but they’re rather superficial, as she is before opening her eyes and mind to the Doctor’s world.
Personality: When Donna begins her time with the Doctor, she seems rather pushy and domineering. By the end of her series though, we see that this bluster comes from a place of self-doubt and insecurity- despite her many accomplishments traveling with the Doctor, she has incredibly low self-esteem and doesn’t believe the universe will, or perhaps even should, listen to a thing she says. Donna’s view of herself is skewed, to say the least; the Doctor can see that she is creative, intelligent, and outspoken, particularly in defense of the overlooked or mistreated. She’s bold, brave, has zero patience for lies or deception, and has an incredibly big and open heart. She’s funny, she’s quick, and she demands respect for herself and her friends, of whom she is fiercely protective. Thanks to the careful structuring of this arc, Donna is one of the most emotionally developed Companions in the series’ entire run.
Special Skills: Typing, collating, general temp skills (which come in handy more frequently than one might guess). Donna also has a knack for intuiting connections and noticing details others overlook
Best Story: “Turn Left” is a Donna-centered story that imagines a world where she never met the Doctor and therefor never saved him from himself in “The Runaway Bride”, leading to his death. This is a powerfully emotional showcase for Donna and a perfect demonstration of why the Doctor needs Companions and, more specifically, why this Doctor needs this Companion.
Worst Story: Though Donna’s pretty good in it in a reduced role, “The Doctor’s Daughter” is a wasted opportunity. There’s a nice central premise, but it completely botches Martha’s brief return to the TARDIS, making her feel like an afterthought, and falls into rather predictable plot rhythms by the end.
Highlights of tenure: Miming with the Doctor in “Partners in Crime” and “The Unicorn and the Wasp”, hearing the Ood song in “Planet of the Ood”, being okay at the end of “Forest of the Dead”, pretty much all of “Turn Left”, and her giddy highs and heart-breaking lows in “Journey’s End”
Lowlights of tenure: For some, Donna’s abrasive personality is a bit hard to take. Her character is far less developed in “The Runaway Bride” than later on and, much like Tegan, her desire to avoid the Doctor and leave the TARDIS can be off-putting.
The Doctor: “I don’t need anybody.”
Donna: “Yes you do. Because I think sometimes you need somebody to stop you.” “The Runaway Bride”
– [re: the Doctor] “He saves worlds, rescues civilizations, defeats terrible creatures and runs a lot. Seriously, there’s an outrageous amount of running involved.” “The Doctor’s Daughter”
– “So, this isn’t the real me… This isn’t my real body… But I’ve been dieting!” “Forest of the Dead”
– “I can’t go back. Don’t make me go back. Doctor… Please. Please don’t make me go back.” “Journey’s End”
Other notes: Donna’s fate is arguably one of the most tragic in all of Doctor Who. While she’s not the only Companion to have her memory erased (the Time Lords similarly wiped the Doctor from Jamie and Zoe’s minds), in the previous examples, while the Companions had close relationships with the Doctor and loved their time on the TARDIS, they hadn’t grown and developed the way Donna did. Thanks to her time with the Doctor, Donna went from a pop culture obsessed, rather self-centered and simple woman to a righteous avenger for the downtrodden of the universe. Essentially, the character audiences watched for eleven stories died when the Doctor wiped her memory of all of her experiences with him, returning her to the unhappy, insecure woman she was when she was first introduced.