Maybe I'm reading too much between the lines, but I don't understand why Donna ends so badly at the end of her season.

I'm asking about the out-of-universe reasons.

That is, having your character meet a horrible fate seems to me like a punishment either for something the actor has done, or for a character that the audience really hated… I'd definitely rule out the latter, and couldn't find anything about the former (especially since, I've read, she does come back once, and she wouldn't do that if the production was angry at her for some reason).

So, am I reading too much in it, and it was just supposed to be a "standard companion ending", or maybe was it not intended to be perceived as so harsh by the authors, or what?

i.e., it's just me, and usually people don't consider "having your memories wiped" to be a terrible fate?

  • 4
    given that she lived through it, she came out better than a lot of others :)
    – KutuluMike
    Jun 17, 2015 at 17:27
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    @alexwlchan - My assumption was that the crew didn't get on well with her. Later in the series she barely appears in some episodes, then promptly gets written out.
    – Valorum
    Jun 17, 2015 at 17:36
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    @Richard she has an entire episode devoted to her right near the end (turn left). That seasons "doctor lite"
    – user46509
    Jun 17, 2015 at 17:52
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    "definately rule out the latter" speak for yourself ;)
    – Mac Cooper
    Jun 17, 2015 at 21:09
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    @Lohoris: “Maybe I'm reading too much between the lines”. Don’t worry. That’s kind of our thing here. Jun 18, 2015 at 12:58

2 Answers 2


TL;DR : Out-of-universe, there are no indications that the character's fate was "punishment" or any kind of negative reflection on the character and/or actress.

By all accounts, Catherine Tate was well-received both on-screen and behind it. She apparently got along famously with David Tennant and even helped shape the character of Donna Noble.

It Wasn't Personal, Just a Good Story

That being said, it's entirely possible that the story arc which saw her

having her memory wiped

was more centered around the character of The Doctor than it was Donna. After all, The Doctor was no stranger to saying farewell to his companions - he does it quite often, in fact. In this particular case, however, he found himself

forced to choose between letting a companion die and wiping away what made them unique.

This is obviously a horrible choice for anyone to have to make, but it does fit within the overall darker theme of Tennant's portrayal, in which The Doctor often has to make difficult moral and/or ethical choices - often where he weighs the fate of an individual against the greater good. And the very fact that Donna was liked - both by the fans AND by The Doctor - made the event that much more tragic and memorable.

It Ends As It Began

In fact, from a story-telling perspective, Donna's fate is a nice mirror to her first adventure as The Doctor's companion. Right after Donna agreed to join The Doctor, they found themselves

in Pompeii on the eve of the Mt. Vesuvius eruption.

In one of the first indications that Donna wasn't like other companions, she fought The Doctor regarding his choices. She stood her ground and demanded that he show compassion rather than allow someone to die. Ironically, it was this exact choice again that resulted in Donna's fate.

  • Since the Doctor was forced to cost her heavily, by eliminating her memory, and perhaps the growth she had gained during her time with him, it's worth noting that he DOES salve his conscious by making her life easier in another way. Although I'm not aware of a canon confirmation that it was a winner, a Lottery ticket (on a 'triple rollover' no less) given by a Time Traveler is PROBABLY at least a bit of a winner. Not a trade she would have chosen, perhaps, but a consolation prize, anyway.
    – K-H-W
    Jun 17, 2015 at 21:31

I think a major factor is that it's hard to exit companions, especially if they don't want to leave. In New Who, at any rate; by contrast, in Classic Who, the Doctor is much more capricious, but time and tastes have moved on and I think the showrunners believe (and rightly) that the Doctor just dumping a companion would not be taken well by the audience, for whom, after all, the companion is a sort of stand-in.

In the case of Martha, she willingly leaves, and it's believable that she would, partly because her relationship with the Doctor has run its course (they've been separated for a year, she realizes her feelings are unrequited), and because she and her family have been through a series of incredibly traumatizing events. She wants to be there for them. The audience understands.

Rose, through mischance, winds up trapped in an alternate universe. It's not the Doctor's fault.

So when it came to Donna, it was tricky to write her out -- unlike Martha, she had no interest in leaving. So they gave her a more Rose-like exit, in that it becomes impossible for her to continue travelling with him. But aside from killing her (which would have precluded ever having her in the show again and probably seemed unnecessarily harsh to the writers in the RTD era) there wasn't a lot they could do without having the Doctor just leave her, or a verbatim reprise of Rose's story. So they took her memories instead.

I agree it's sad, and I think it was meant to invoke a sense of pathos rather than the anger it did -- for a very brief moment, this deeply insecure woman is the most important woman in creation and knows it. I think the writers underestimated how angry that would would make some audience members feel on Donna's behalf.

If you're asking why write Donna out at all, it was simply part of wrapping up RTD's run, tidying away all the story threads before handing over to a new showrunner. Could they have done it differently? Yes. But they were in a tricky position.

  • 1
    "which would have precluded ever having her in the show again" In a series like Doctor Who I'm not sure that's necessarily a strict guarantee.
    – JAB
    Jun 23, 2017 at 23:48

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