Donna Noble and Our Irreplaceable Roles in the Universe

"Donna and the Doctor" | Art by LicieOIC. Used with permission.
If there’s any Doctor Who companion who’s not shy about reminding humans and aliens alike of her value, it’s Donna Noble. Even in front of the renowned Shadow Proclamation, she states, “I’m a human being. Maybe not the stuff of legend, but every bit as important as Time Lords, thank you.”

The paradox of her saying that is, in spite of all her bold statements and sass, Donna doesn’t actually believe her own words. She repeatedly mentions that she’s only “a temp from Chiswick,” as if this is the sum total of her identity. It isn’t until the Season Four finale, “Journey’s End,” that the Doctor realizes how much Donna undervalues herself. The half-human, half-Time Lord version of the Doctor studies Donna in sudden understanding and says, “All that attitude, all that lip, ’cause all this time, you think you’re not worth it… Shouting at the world ’cause no one’s listening.”

Like many people, Donna’s life hasn’t gone the way she hoped. She works as a temp instead of having a steady job. She lives with her mother. She discovers that the man who claimed to love her is only using her. Is it any wonder that she feels lost and unimportant?

Whether we shout at the world like Donna or stay silent and hope we’re noticed, we all want our lives to matter.

Donna’s deepest fear is that, if she doesn’t speak up, she’ll be ignored entirely. By making people acknowledge her, Donna hopes that they’ll believe she’s important and then, maybe, she can believe it too. She’s spent so much time thinking her life is insignificant that she completely misses how valuable she is. Thankfully, the Doctor doesn’t.

During her travels with the Doctor, Donna frequently proves to be the deciding factor in the Doctor’s success. She not only saves the Doctor’s life, but provides the key to stopping the Adipose, infiltrates a Sontaran spaceship, helps end a deadly fight between humans and Hath on a far-off planet, and more. Ironically, she also advocates for the value of individual lives. The Doctor often gets so caught up in rescuing an entire civilization that he forgets the group is composed of individuals. In “The Fires of Pompeii,” the Doctor has to cause Mount Vesuvius’s eruption, sacrificing Pompeii to save all of humanity. Donna begs him to rescue just one family from the doomed city. Her pleas help him recover his compassion, reminding him to treat people as humans instead of numbers. In turn, the Doctor reflects this reminder back on Donna and shows her that she is valuable too.

Donna’s importance is highlighted in the episode “Turn Left,” where she is tricked into enacting a parallel reality in which she never meets the Doctor. Because Donna isn’t there to save the Doctor, he dies during his encounter with the Racnoss. And because the Doctor dies, all of the alien calamities that threaten Earth afterward—the crashing Titanic-replica spaceship, the Adipose, and the Sontarans—are not stopped. The world is thrown into chaos, despair, and cruelty as people fight to survive. Not meeting the Doctor doesn’t just have repercussions for Donna and the Doctor; it hurts the entire world. After Donna returns to the correct timeline, she realizes just how much impact she has on the world. Throughout her travels with the Doctor, she transforms from a self-absorbed and shallow person into a woman who cares passionately about the lives around her.

Whether we shout at the world like Donna or stay silent and hope we’re noticed, we all want our lives to matter. Most of us don’t get the chance to enact an alternate timeline and see how the world would be different without us. However, we can always take a good, hard look at our lives and ask ourselves who we have impacted each day, week, month, or year. Who have we gone out of our way to love, to remind that they have value? If the answer is “no one,” then we have the opportunity to change our focus and behaviour, much like Donna does.

I’m important for a reason beyond my talents and actions.

Insecurity is one of my biggest struggles, even though I grew up in a loving and supportive home. I sometimes doubt myself and wonder if I’m likable. I get caught up in going through the motions of life, and I wonder if anything I’m doing really matters. I’ve learned to be intentional about treasuring the smiles from strangers and kind words from friends when they appreciate me. Those moments remind me that I am making a difference, even if it’s small.

However, I also need to be confident of my value even when other people don’t remind me of it. I’m important for a reason beyond my talents and actions, the same reason that Donna boldly declares to the Shadow Proclamation: “I’m a human being.” There’s never been one of me before, and there never will be again. I hold a unique, timey-wimey place in history. I believe I was created in the image of a God who loves me, and the value He’s given me makes me something truly special. If He calls me irreplaceable, why should I think of myself as anything less?

At the end of Season Four, the Doctor calls Donna “the most important woman in the whole wide universe.” But I disagree with his statement that this was only for “one shining moment.” Donna was just as important when she worked a quiet job as a temp, because she was always Donna, and just being herself is enough to make her irreplaceable. She reminds me that we are all significant, that we all have an irreplaceable role in the universe, even when we feel like no one is listening.

Caitlin Eha

Caitlin Eha

Staff Writer at Area of Effect magazine
A published writer and aspiring novelist, Caitlin can usually be found with her head in the clouds and her heart in a faraway land. When she isn’t devouring a new favourite book or feverishly writing one of her own, she enjoys archery, cosplaying, jewelry making, and time with her Lord.
Caitlin Eha