Doctor Who Season Four Final

Posted Monday September 29, 2008 by John Gunders in |

There’s a lot of talk in the blogosphere about the Doctor Who season four final: Larvatus Prodeo, Hoyden About Town, and of course the live-blogging at Circulating Library.

It’s fair to say that this is NOT a spoiler free zone, just in case you haven’t seen it as yet (it aired last night in Australia).

A lot of the discussion has centred on the fate of Donna Noble, the Doctor’s most recent companion. Through a series of events too complicated to rehearse here, Donna receives the Doctor’s intelligence, education, and memory: a level of knowledge that a human brain cannot hold without destroying itself. Despite “doctor/donna” saving not only the universe, but the whole of reality (Russell T Davies thinks big), the Doctor has no option but to remove all of himself from Donna’s memory, including all memory of the events of season four.

Many commenters on the blogs have objected to this for a number of reasons, but largely in terms of the gender politics. Kim commenting at LP says:

Gender politics were awful. Donna can only “grow” by the deus ex machina of the doctor’s intervention, and when she overcomes her insecurities and approaches equality with him, he puts her back in her place (literally). Sucks.

Not sure that I agree, and I certainly don’t know the reason Catherine Tate was written out of the show (and there is an increasing tendency for single-season companions), but the thing I picked up on in Kim’s comment was the bit about the deus ex machina. Certainly, the doctor/donna thing was the apotheosis of Donna’s development over the season, but that wasn’t the main part of her transformation—simply being with the Doctor changed the loud, brash, but fundamentally insecure girl into—literally—the most important woman in the universe. Possibly another of the messianic themes in this new incarnation of the classic show.

Below, I’ve reproduced with permission a comment I posted on Circulating Library back in July when we saw the final for the first time. On second viewing, I haven’t changed my mind about this.

The thing that struck me most about the Donna thing was that while she really annoyed all of us in “The Runaway Bride,” as she developed as a character, we all grew to like her.

The character in “The Runaway Bride” was a self-obsessed, disinterested (“I was in Spain”), semi-educated shrew who—probably intentionally—set my teeth on edge. We can speculate whether it was viewer feedback, or deliberate character development, but the character in the fourth season was different: she deciphered the codes in “The Doctor’s Daughter”, she might have been “only a temp”, but she was good at what she did.

And the difference was the Doctor. Like every other companion, time spent with the Doctor developed the character, helped them realise their potential. Donna went from an insecure nobody, desperate to get a man, to the most important person in the universe, with assurance and real strength of character. And when the Doctor lobotomised her (and really, what choice did he have?) that is what she lost. The whiny chav on the phone at the end of the episode was the Donna from “The Runaway Bride”.

In “School Reunion” Sarah Jane said something to the effect that travelling with the doctor was dangerous, and heart-breaking, but completely worth it. Mde La Pompadour said that the Doctor was worth the monsters. And it is that privilege that Donna has lost. And that is what was tragic about the final.

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