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‘Doctor Who’ Theory: The Fate of Donna Noble

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The Doctor Who 60th-anniversary specials are imminent, and as the hype builds, so does uncertainty about the beloved Donna Noble. Last year, Catherine Tate was confirmed to return for this trilogy of special episodes, set to air sometime in November 2023. Although many fans are excited to see a longtime favorite companion back on screen, there is some confusion as to the nature of her return.

In fact, on a recent @bbcdoctorwho Instagram post, Russell T. Davies, the writer of the upcoming episodes, commented that Donna had “terrible things” in store for her. This vague and concerning comment has a lot of fans buzzing, anxious that Donna Noble may not get a happy ending.

But what exactly are these “terrible things” the fan-favorite companion may experience in these upcoming adventures? Here are a few theories as to what may happen.

Recap: Donna Noble’s Journey

Donna’s sendoff from Doctor Who was one of the most heartbreaking companion departures the show has produced to date. After absorbing some of the Doctor’s regeneration energy during 2008’s “Journey’s End”, she experienced a biological meta-crisis, gaining much of the Doctor’s intellect and memories in the process.

However, the strain of having a Time Lord’s mind in a human body was too much for Donna to handle, and the Doctor had to erase all of Donna’s memories of traveling in the TARDIS so that she could survive.

Donna Noble Journey's End Doctor Who
Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) from Journey’s End. Doctor Who (BBC).

Donna returned home to live with her family and went back to a semi-normal life. When we last saw her in 2010’s “The End of Time: Part 2”, she was getting married to her husband, Shaun Temple. The Doctor purchased her a winning lottery ticket as a wedding gift, which he indirectly gave to her through her mother Sylvia. Not a bad way to end up!

However, The Doctor made one thing explicitly clear about Donna’s fate: if she ever remembers the Doctor, her mind will burn and she will die. Even if she so much as sees him.

So how will she be returning to the TARDIS for the 60th? And what exactly are these “terrible things” she has in store for her?

Theory: The “terrible things” are related to Neil Patrick Harris’ character

In the trailer for the specials, the Fourteenth Doctor says “If destiny exists, it is heading for Donna Noble.” This seems to imply that Donna will not only be centrally featured in the episodes, but she’ll play a key role in the plot as well.

One possibility is that Neil Patrick Harris’ as-of-yet unnamed character, the Wrarth Warriors, and Beep the Meep, have all come to Earth in pursuit of Donna. Perhaps they learned about her meta-crisis, and are coming after her in pursuit of some kind of unique genetic properties? Or perhaps they are hoping to harness some of the regeneration energy that still resides in her body?

NPH- Time Lord Doctor Who
Neil Patrick Harris. Doctor Who (BBC).

Whatever the case, there’s no doubt that these villains will stop at nothing to get what they want from Donna. In the trailer, it appears that Donna’s neighborhood and family, including her daughter Rose, may come under threat from these alien invaders.

Perhaps her family and her ordinary life being threatened are what RTD was referring to.

Theory: Donna Noble will regenerate into the Fifteenth Doctor

One of the more bizarre, yet strangely plausible theories, comes from the Twitter user @DimensionsInJen: 

This would be an absolutely mind-boggling plot twist. And, bizarre as it sounds, it might actually work. Although Doctors are always a bit shaken-up post-regeneration, it would make the Fifteenth Doctor’s “Could someone tell me what the hell is going on here?” from the trailer make even more sense. It would also set Who up for some really interesting future stories.

Plus, it kind of makes sense in the context of RTD’s ominous comment. Sure, regenerating into The Doctor sounds cool at first, but it would be at the cost of Donna’s very existence. She would lose her ordinary life on Earth, and most likely her family, in the process.

The end for Donna Noble?

Although it would be devastating, there is the distinct possibility that the 60th may be Donna Noble’s last adventure in the TARDIS.

Many fans have speculated that RTD will give Donna some kind of plot armor or miracle cure that will solve the meta-crisis. Despite this, there’s always the possibility that RTD will pull the rug out from under us and Donna will really perish.

Some fans have worried that Donna returning and remembering the Doctor would cheapen the emotional blow at the end of “Journey’s End”. Part of the reason that that episode was so impactful was because of the assurance that Donna could never remember who she was or how much she’d grown from traveling with the Doctor.

14th Doctor- Doctor Who
David Tennant as the 14th Doctor. Doctor Who (BBC/Disney).

Although it would be heartbreaking, Donna may really die at the end of the 60th Anniversary trilogy. This would pack an emotional punch viewers would probably never forget.

RTD is no stranger to writing tragic endings, such as stranding Rose Tyler in a parallel universe. Although that did get remedied, it wouldn’t be too far out of left field for him to write something so devastating. 

However, given just how dark this would be, especially for a family show, this ending seems a little less likely. It would likely upset many viewers too much, and turn them off the show, which isn’t really the point of the 60th Anniversary specials.

Theory: Donna will get her happy ending

There is of course the possibility that the “terrible things” Russell T. referred to occur in the middle of Donna’s new adventures, rather than the end. Or that he’s just messing with us.

Either way, many fans are hoping that Donna will get a happy ending, both being able to retain her memories of the Doctor and, you know, not die. Although I do agree that this might soften the impact of “Journey’s End” just a little, I think it would be possible to artfully and creatively write a solution to Donna’s predicament. Probably some Gallifreyan pseudo-science.

Whatever the case, fans are eagerly awaiting Donna Noble’s return, and will undoubtedly be thrilled to see her in the TARDIS once again.

The Doctor Who 60th Anniversary specials arrive this November. Are you excited to watch them? Let us know on Twitter or in The Cosmic Circus Discord. And if you haven’t already, check out our What To Expect from the 60th Anniversary Specials!

What to Expect: Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Specials

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Sam Pearce

My name is Sam and I recently graduated with two BA's in Journalism and Creative Writing from Western Washington University. More than anything, I love comics, novels, TV shows... just storytelling in general. Some of my favorites include Doctor Who, Star Wars, Godzilla, and all sorts of anime.

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