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6 ‘Doctor Who’ Episodes to Watch to Celebrate the Return of Donna and the Tenth Doctor

"Tardis, Time Lord, yeah." "Donna, human, no!"

The Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble standing in front of the Tardis on Doctor Who.

Between the announcement of showrunner Russell T Davies’ return and the long-awaited reveal that Sex Education star Ncuti Gatwa is set to play the 14th Doctor, it’s an exciting time to be a Doctor Who fan—but last week, the long-running sci-fi series made even more headlines with the shocking announcement that David Tennant and Catherine Tate will return as the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble (and not just for more audio dramas).

The announcement comes as a part of a number of other casting announcements regarding the hotly anticipated 60th anniversary of the series (which is rumored to be a multi-doctor story, at least partially directed by Rachel Talalay). In addition to the confirmation of Heartstopper’s Yasmin Finney as a character named ‘Rose,’ the Doctor Who social media accounts revealed that Tennant and Tate—who were last seen on Who together all the way back in 2010—would be returning to delight fans as the dynamic do once again. 

It’ll be some time before the 60th anniversary special (or, perhaps, specials?) will make their way to our TV screens, so to tide you over until then, we’ve rounded up a list of six key episodes of Doctor Who that feature the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble for fans to check out (or rewatch) before the 60th.

2006 Christmas special: “The Runaway Bride”

The Doctor and Donna in the TARDIS in The Runaway Bride.

What list of Donna Noble episodes would be complete without her Doctor Who debut, “The Runaway Bride”? Directed by Euros Lyn and released on Christmas Day of 2006, “The Runaway Bride” features a heartbroken 10th Doctor, fresh off of Rose’s tragic departure and struggling to make sense of the sudden, unexplained appearance of a bride-to-be in his TARDIS. The mysterious apparating bride is, of course, Donna herself—having been inadvertently transported to the TARDIS—and the two quickly strike up an unorthodox friendship as they race to defeat the spider-like Racnoss Queen and get Donna back to the altar in time for her wedding.

“The Runaway Bride” is notable because it features Donna as a one-off companion à la Kylie Minogue in “Voyage of the Damned,” and not a fully fledged companion. However, Tate’s performance was so funny—and her chemistry with Tennant so palpable—that she later went on to become an iconic companion in her own right. Whether you’re meeting Donna for the first time or just giving yourself a refresher before she returns for the 60th, “The Runaway Bride” is a funny and festive way to start a DoctorDonna marathon.

Season 4, episode 01: “Partners in Crime”

Donna looking excited in a round window in Doctor Who.

Flashing forward more than a full season later, and the second entry in our list is the season four opener “Partners in Crime”, which reintroduced audiences to Donna—who, at that point, had been gone from the show for more than a year, with the role of companion having been filled by Freema Ageyman’s Martha Jones. The episode sees Donna and the Doctor unknowingly investigating the same shady marketing company that claims to have a miraculous weight loss pill, only to accidentally reunite once again when the company turns out to be turning humans into tiny, sentient beings made of pure fat.

The episode certainly boasts one of Doctor Who’s more bizarre villains of the week, but it’s also one of the most well-paced episodes in NuWho history, with a clever dual setup that allows both the Doctor and Donna to function well on their own before coming together and immediately rekindling the friendship that made them such an infectious duo to begin with. Between the high-flying stunt work, the iconic window reunion scene, or the plentiful Donna one-liners (“I’m waving at fat!”), “Partners in Crime” has all the hallmarks of a classic Donna episode.

Season 4, episode 02: “The Fires of Pompeii”

The 10th Doctor and Donna in Pompeii in Doctor Who.

It may seem like a no-brainer that the episodes so far are all Donna’s appearances in chronological order, but hear us out: though it may be early in season 4, and certainly less high-stakes than the star-studded back half of the season, “Fires of Pompeii” is a key episode in Who history, and home to some of the most important character moments for Donna herself. The episode follows the Doctor as he takes Donna on her first proper time-traveling adventure—to Pompeii, on volcano day—only to clash with her over whether or no they should stand by and allow the doomed Romans to be killed in the impending eruption.

In addition to featuring Peter Capaldi in his first Doctor Who appearance before becoming the Doctor himself, “The Fires of Pompeii” is notable because it features one of the early and key clashes between the Doctor and Donna: a demonstration of his cold, detached attitude towards meddling with history that’s especially shocking to a new time traveler like Donna. The scene of Donna begging the Doctor to just save a single life is as iconic as it is heartbreaking, and lays the early groundwork of how traveling with Donna helps make the Doctor a better man.

Season 4, episode 10: “Midnight”

The Doctor looking into a possessed passenger's face in a ship on Doctor Who.

If you’ve seen “Midnight,” we can already hear what you’re screaming at your screen: “Midnight? Donna’s barely in that episode!” and we hear you—this season four bottle episode is about the most Donna-lite that season four episodes get. The infamous episode sees Donna sunbathing on a random planet while the Doctor is stuck on a transport vessel with a handful of other travelers, being attacked by a terrifying unseen enemy that is able to paralyze him and take control of his body.

It’s certainly one of Doctor Who’s darkest, most frightening episodes—a testament to the strength of the writing and acting, especially considering the creature itself is never shown onscreen. However, despite the fact that Donna is in so little of the episode, her brief scenes before and after the Doctor’s harrowing ordeal are sweet, quiet moments that speak to the strength of her bond with the Doctor, and offer a rare glimpse of a companion comforting and taking care of the Doctor, and not the other way around. “Midnight” is one of the few times we see the Tenth Doctor truly vulnerable, and Donna’s strength and unflinching protectiveness over him makes even her shortest scenes memorable.

Season 4, episode 11: “Turn Left” 

Donna looking at a monster on her back in Doctor Who.

“Turn Left” sits squarely near the end of Donna’s tenure, and it’s not exactly full of fun, classic Doctor Who hijinks—instead it functions as the culmination of Donna’s tenure and setup towards a multi-series crossover. But despite the episode’s grandiose scale (it’s the first of a three-parter, ending with “Journey’s End”), it’s also one of the most Donna-centric of season four. “Turn Left” follows Donna as she struggles to navigate a disorienting reality, which has brought on a collapsing universe.

Where “Midnight” was a Donna-lite episode, “Turn Left” is a Doctor-lite episode, giving Donna the chance to not only interact with Rose Tyler, but to once and for all establish her status as a key narrative and emotional character, giving both audiences and herself a glimpse of what life would’ve been like for her had she never met the Doctor—and vice versa. “Turn Left” establishes the idea of Donna Noble as the “most important woman in the universe,” and though it may be dark (and just the first of three episodes), it’s also one of the most interesting, complex episodes for Donna as a character.

Season 4, episode 13: “Journey’s End,” and two-part special “The End of Time”

Donna looking sad in Doctor Who.

Rounding out our list are the last two episodes of season four, both of which feature Donna—though one much more significantly than the other. “Journey’s End” is the conclusion of the three-parter, an epic cross-generational finale that features Torchwood, Sarah Jane Adventures, and Doctor Who characters, in addition to the tenth Doctor clone created with the help of Donna’s DNA.

However, as fun as seeing glimpses of a Doctor with Donna’s personality is, “Journey’s End,” as the conclusion to series four, also features the tragic revelation that in order to save Donna’s life, the Doctor needs to remove all memories of her adventures with him. Though plenty of companions have met sad endings, watching Donna beg the Doctor not to take her memories is heartbreaking. Even worse, though, is her brief appearances in “The End of Time,” in which she has utterly no idea who the Doctor is. 
Though it’s painful to watch, fans anticipating Donna and the Doctor’s return would do well to brush up on “End of Time” in particular, as a reminder of where Doctor Who, as a series, left Donna. With all of her memories of the Doctor seemingly removed, how she’ll be able to return to adventure with the Doctor once again for the 60th is anyone’s guess—but all we know is that we’re counting down the days until the dynamic duo is back on our screens.

(featured image: The BBC)

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Lauren Coates (she/her)is a freelance film/tv critic and entertainment journalist, who has been working in digital media since 2019. In addition to her writing at The Mary Sue, her other bylines include Nerdist, Paste, The A.V. Club, and The Playlist. In addition to all things sci-fi and horror, she has particular interest in queer and female-led stories. When she's not writing, she's exploring Chicago, binge-watching Star Trek, or planning her next trip to the Disney parks. You can follow her on twitter @laurenjanecoa.