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Reality Bombshell: The DoctorDonna and Children of Time on the "Doctor Who" Season Finale

I'm getting all teary again just thinking about the season finale of Doctor Who ("Journey's End"), which saw the resolution to about four seasons' worth of storylines, the "death" of one of the Doctor's companions, a meta-crisis resulting in the creation of a "second" Doctor, six pilots in the TARDIS, and a slew of familiar faces (even Jackie Tyler!) turn up for the ultimate battle against the Daleks, with the fate of all creation at stake.

This could have felt rushed but fortunately both the BBC and US broadcaster Sci Fi opted to let the final chapter of Season Four of Doctor Who run its full length (here in the US with ad breaks, it filled out a 90-minute timeslot), as "Journey's End" dealt with some rather profound themes: the natures of sacrifice, vengeance, and friendship and the price one ultimately pays for victory.

It's also about the pragmatism of the human race, with Martha willing to destroy the Earth using the Osterhagen Key in order to prevent the wholesale slaughter of the humans and ease their "suffering," just as Sarah Jane, Jack Harkness, Jackie, and Mickey are willing to use Sarah Jane's warp star to destroy the Dalek Crucible. I did believe that Sarah Jane and the others were willing to detonate the star in order to save all of creation and foil Davros' plan... or at least use it as a gambit to try and get Davros to return the Earth and not use the reality bomb.

Make no mistake about it: the battle against the Daleks is won by the Doctor and his so-called Children of Time, but it is the very definition of phyrric victory. Yes, the Earth is saved (not to mention all of creation) and the twenty-seven planets returned to their rightful positions in space but it is the Doctor and his most faithful companion Donna who pay the ultimate price.

First, I want to say just how amazing Catherine Tate's performance was in this episode. She perfectly nailed the Doctor's cadence in her role as the DoctorDonna (following the meta-crisis in which she absorbed the Doctor's Time Lord essence and then created a human-Time Lord hybrid being), delivering a portrayal of Donna as confident, intelligent, and possessing a whimsical humor, all of which gleefully showcased Tate's talents as a mercurial sketch artist (if you've never seen her delightfully wicked sketch comedy series The Catherine Tate Show, you are missing out). But beyond that, she also delivered a performance that left me heartbroken, as she pleads with the Doctor not to send her back, not to take away everything--her experiences, memories, sense of self--that made her "special."

For Donna, her fate is truly worse than death. (And I do believe that Donna herself would have chosen death over the alternative.) The Doctor erases her memories of him, their time together, and the fact that she was the single most important woman in the universe and deposits her back with her family on Earth. For Donna, it's as though the past few months have never existed and she quickly reverts back to type: a chavvy, self-absorbed, and shallow temp from Chiswick.

When it was announced that Catherine Tate would be the Doctor's companion for Season Four, I was a little skeptical. After all, Donna had been highly abrasive during her turn during "The Runaway Bride," and I wasn't sure that I could stomach the sort of bickering that Donna and the Doctor experienced on a weekly basis. Tate and the series' writers proved me dead wrong; instead, Donna developed into a headstrong but thoughtful character who wasn't afraid to speak her mind but who truly came to life (and an awareness of others) vis-a-vis her travels with the Doctor. And I am not ashamed at all to say that Donna has possibly become my favorite companion on the series to date.

Donna's sacrifice (and the Doctor's sad sacrifice of her) lend her character an air of tragedy that I never thought possible. It has also increased the Doctor's suffering tenfold (the reveal that the TARDIS was meant to be piloted by six people was an illuminating one). He lost Rose when the dimensions closed upon themselves but was able to make up for this by giving her the human-Time Lord Doctor as a lover, a shade of himself that is angry and raw, embodying the vengeance he felt when he destroyed the Daleks for the first time (and then had to watch "himself" commit genocide all over again). Martha Jones left him at the end of Season Three, finding a place not in the stars but with UNIT and Torchwood, to a lesser extent. But poor Donna was lost to him in an entirely different way and the Doctor is forced to know that she is out there, on Earth, but is completely closed off to him, not aware of his existence or the time they shared together, wholly alien and foreign to him.

I found that to be so upsetting and disquieting... and yet such a good way to for the Doctor to start all over again, having drawn those closest to him back to him one last time. Seeing all of the series' previous characters--from Rose, Jackie, and Mickie, to Martha, Jack, Gwen (who, finally! is revealed to be a descendant or reincarnation of Season One's Gwyneth), and Ianto--come together in one glorious story was thrilling and gave the season ender the feeling of an epic battle of the gods.

But once again, the Doctor finds himself alone and it's only a matter of time before he finds another Companion to keep him company in the TARDIS. Here's to hoping that whoever it is ends up being as memorable, gripping, and hysterical as Catherine Tate's Donna Noble. For a woman who thought she was a nobody, she ended up being very special indeed and I'll miss her presence on Doctor Who more than I ever thought possible.

Doctor Who returns to the small screen in the UK at Christmas time, though I imagine we'll have to wait quite a while to catch it here in the US. But, in the meantime, if you'd like to take a look at a sneak peek at the Doctor Who Christmas Special, featuring the return of the Cybermen, click here.

Comments

Unknown said…
Thanks for a thoughtful review. In an amazing episode, the best part for me was seeing everybody together piloting the TARDIS. I too came to love Donna a great deal, and thought this was a great wrap-up of the dangling threads RTD had put out there.

I'd personally like to see Jenny return as a companion. Or something like the classic series did, and have 2+ companions for an extended time.
Jace Lacob said…
Hmmm. Rather than see Jenny return (though she's bound to at some point in the future), I still would love to see him travel around with Sally Sparrow. Any other takers?
Anonymous said…
One of my favorite scenes in the episode was when David Tennant starts to mimic Donna's voice patterns.
Personally, I'd rather see Sally Sparrow or Martha Jones as the companion than silly Jenny.
Dan said…
Jenny's apparently going to return in one of next year's non-Xmas specials.
Susania said…
I take comfort in the fact that, like a soap opera, on Doctor Who no-one is ever "completely" dead! I think we'll get to see Donna again. She was a refreshing anodyne to the romantic longings of Rose and Martha.
Incredible episode. I loved Catherine Tate and David Tennant's takes on each other's characters. Fantastic performances!

I was also worried about Catherine Tate being on the show but not only has she proven herself to be an excellent actress but she is now my favorite companion to date. I don't know how they'll top DoctorDonna!
Anonymous said…
I, too, was worried about Donna's personality when I heard she was returning. I still had doubts during the first few eps. But, I came around and I'm so glad. I wouldn't have had half the heartbreak I did during that finale. Sometimes that's a good thing!

"Brilliant" hardly has the meaning it used to, but it's the only word I can think of. It was bloody brilliant. All of it: writing, acting, direction... brilliant.

I was watching something light and fluffy afterward, set in the 50s that had a subplot of astronomy. I thought it would help me recover, but every time they talked about what was "out there," I would think, "The Doctor is out there and he's saving our lives over and over and he's forced to pay the highest price! and we just take him for granted! and..." I'd start crying all over again.

Re: his next companion? I'd like us to pick him up in the future, when he meets his wife. His chemistry with Alex Kingston was fantastic. I would like to see him X # of years after all of this happened, rather than immediately after.

Thank you, Jace, for your wonderful coverage of Doctor Who and Torchwood. Here's hoping we in the US actually get to see both shows next year, though I'm not counting on it.
Unknown said…
Ooh, seeing Sally Sparrow again would be lovely as well.

I like the idea of him X years ahead, as well. We need more doctors who have canonically been around over 10 years. There aren't many!
Kevin Sole said…
I can't wait till this is released on DVD in Canada. I _could_ *cough* download the episodes in the meantime (rest assured, I couldn't live without owning it anyways), but I have too much to watch in the meantime to be bothered.

But what I don't ... get. Is there going to be a Season 5? If so, is .. it like Torchwood, where it's only returning for like, 5 episodes? *cry*
William said…
I thought the whole "most loyal companion" thing made it even worse. Donna was the only companion who didn't have something in her life that would eventually pull her away form the doctor. The doctor's inability/unwillingness to pursue a romantic relationship with Rose would have caused her to eventually leave, Martha had her family, Jack had Torchwood and Sarah Jane had Luke. Donna wasn't going to grow frustrated from unrequited love, she had no children, no career, didn't have a good relationship with her mother and her grandfather loved the fact that she was traveling with the doctor. I wish the Doctor would have made more of a point that the person Donna was when she was with with him had always been there underneath the surface, and that if her mother would encourage her more she could bring that personality to the surface again.
Anonymous said…
I cried my heart out at the very end, when Donna's grandfather was talking to the Doctor, telling him how he will always think of him and Donna whenever the stars come out.

brilliant writing and an amazing performance from Catherine Tate. Who knew she could deliver such an heartbreaking performance in the final epsisode??

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