Wednesday, July 09, 2008

somewhere a clock is ticking

this post concerns the doctor who season 4 finale, "journey's end." so tune out if you don't care and DON"T READ ON IF YOU DON'T WANT TO BE SPOILED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

so ... remember a couple of posts back when i begged them not to kill donna? i take it back. i wish they had. death would have been preferable to what russell t. davies did to her instead: wiping her mind of any memory of the doctor and the things they did together, and, worse, stealing away all the potential she had realized while traveling with him, returning her to her pre-"runaway bride" state. it's a horrible, horrible fate, bewildering and heartbreaking -- and it's hard to forgive RTD for doing it (and his own lamenting of this turn of events in the confidential episode doesn't make me feel at all sorry for him). i have a lot to say about this episode in general. but this post is all about donna.

the title of the episode refers to the end of donna's journey, and that journey starts to end when the TARDIS is sent to its death, donna trapped inside. in a spectacularly shocking scene, the time machine plummets into the dalek crucible's fiery core, its guts blowing up all around her and flames bursting from every corner. donna is totally in a panic, absolutely helpless yet still fighting to find a way to survive. and the doctor can only watch on the viewscreen as two of his most faithful friends fall endlessly away from him.

at this point i had to reflect that the daleks hate humanity, but of course they're part human. writer terry nation was inspired, when creating them, by the nazis ... so, wow -- daleks speaking german in this ep (and flying through the forest a la the chase scene on the moon of endor in return of the jedi)! anyway, more ironically, the drive to survive that creator davros distilled into the daleks is a big part of what makes a human human. donna -- all too human, all the time -- is no less determined to survive than any dalek, except that she is excruciatingly terrified as she struggles blindly in the disintegrating TARDIS. she gropes for the doctor's hand in a jar, and WHAM! salvation! (and naked doctor two ... w00t!)

"you're human," she observes. "that's DISGUSTING," he bleats. "oi, watch it, spaceboy!" "oi, watch it, earthgirl!" doctordonna, indeed. those comedy bits where he talks like her and she talks like him are droll, but the real power of this fluke union comes during the final confrontation with the daleks. crazy ol' dalek caan (who's been working for the other side all along -- ahaha!) tells doctor two that the daleks must be destroyed, as per his prophecy. and doctor two goes, YEAH! and he blows up every last dalek. b/c he's HUMAN, and -- just like donna said in "the unicorn and the wasp" when she drowned the flippin'-enormous wasp alien, he couldn't help it. besides, never mind doctor one's self-righteous indignation, killing daleks is ALWAYS the right thing to do!

right on, doc2. daleks must go. sorry, so sorry!!

anyway. i watched most of this ep a second time, but i had to stop in the middle of the part where donna noble has NOT been saved. she's got a time lord brain, and she KNOWS what's happening when her synapses start to fry. arguably, then, she also knows that she'll die if he doesn't intervene. she still begs the doctor not to wipe her mind.

and he does anyway. davros bleats on at one point about how the doctor turns his human friends into weapons and blah blah ... which is total bullshit anyway, and hardly the doctor's greatest fault. but what he does to donna -- refuses to let her choose her own path -- is so freakin' arrogant. and of course he does it to save himself the pain of knowing that he's responsible for yet another death. but i would rather have seen her collapse and die on the floor of the TARDIS than wake up in her own bed, forever diminished.

donna noble. the most important person in the universe, now back to being just a temp shouting at the world. she measures up easily to rose and martha as a companion. she's definitely not "just a temp." that's a ref to her character, of course, and how much donna underestimates herself. but i can't help also thinking how it applies to catherine tate, originally signed on for just the one christmas ep, proving herself not just a temp, either, but instead every inch up to the task of being a full-fledged companion. she matched tennant in emotional intensity and versatility, making donna so real and so damn fabulous.

donna noble. who saves the whole of space and time, and for her trouble is doomed to live as an ordinary human for the rest of her ordinary life. rose -- though it's arguably not a happy ending for her, exactly -- gets about as close to her heart's desire as she can get: a human doctor for her very own. donna gets her dull old life back and the threat of bursting into flames if she ever so much as hears about the doctor ever again. fuck that noise. yeah, sure, it's a lovely parallel that she's as heartbroken over knowing what she's going to lose as john smith was over losing his ordinary life to return to doctorhood. but i'm still pissed.

"she'll be back," said mimi -- who also predicted donna would turn out to be the rani, so ... i dunno. it's a stone-drag ending for donna. and if this has something to do with the show's oft-repeated message that ordinary life is wonderful, then why does the shadow-proclamation lady console donna on her "loss yet to come"? b/c clearly that's it: not just that donna loses the doctor, but that she loses the life she really loves, to be replaced by one she DREADS returning to.

and are we seriously supposed to be mollified by the whole entire-civilizations-sing-her-praises speech? c'mon, doctor! it ain't right!! i suspected that paradoxes would figure into the finale; i had no idea how horrible that would be. donna's path is a twisted loop. at the end, she is what she was in the beginning -- totally not even curious about the doctor, wrapped up in her own cellphone world. i suppose that, for the doctor, he loses her either way, so maybe to him it really IS better to save her life but kill the best part of her.

otoh, donna did get to be part time lord for a while, and that was cool. she certainly made the most of it. i just wish it could've been more of an of mice and men thing, where she just loses the higher time lord brain stuff but doesn't have to lose everything. (hmmm, wait. actually, DOES lenny die? can't remember.) what really stings about this development is that donna came so far and changed so much -- moving from that first encounter with the doctor, where she really wants nothing to do with him, to her last moments, where she knows everything that he knows and totally revels in it all.

before she got her human in his time lord and vice versa, donna was already totally transformed. and it's just unfair that she doesn't even get to keep what the doctor's companions usually gain: their time with him changes them forever, and informs their lives long after they part ways with him (uhm, except the ones who really do die, but that's a different story ...). i think that's what was so distressing; that, arguably more than anyone, donna needed what the doctor gave her. and he too ended up discovering that this woman he once thought useless had something really unique to give HIM. yeah, well. HE gets to keep that. but she is sent away with nothing.

anyway, in retrospect it seems clear that the doctor told river song about donna, which explains why she has such an "ohhhhh" reaction to meeting donna.

and it also explains why river song is so stunned and confused when donna is taken into the library computer -- b/c she knows the story of donna saving everything. (but not the library story, of course. he could never tell river that story.)

sooo ... i was right about, among other things -- like tennant not being replaced in this ep; the hand coming into play; two doctors meaning one for rose (shippers, start your engines!) and one for everyone else; and mickey and jackie saving sarah jane -- donna having something to do with the doctor and his apparent regeneration, and even that she'd absorb some of the energy. but i was groping about as blindly as donna in the plunging TARDIS, b/c i had no real clue how it would all play out.

sigh. goodbye, donna. she was the doctor's match in many ways. i couldn't help wondering what it would've been like if nine had met donna instead of rose when he did. ahaha!! all that's left now (for us, if not for donna) are memories. like when she and the doctor meet the gentle, clever ood race -- enslaved by humanity -- and how their plight shakes her to her core.

and how she ends up all alone in the TARDIS on the sontaran ship, terrified but talked into taking on the aliens by herself, with nothing but a mallet and the doctor's encouragement.

"back of the neck!" she brags after bringing down the sontaran. one of my favorite donna bits.

well, at least donna and catherine tate gave me many fine moments to savor when the DVD set comes out. i think this season was one of the strongest yet, and a lot of that is down to donna. i'm sure the who producers will pick another companion who'll be just as compelling in a different way as donna was in hers. but i am really going to miss her. merci, donna. au revoir.

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