(Disclaimer #1: Hooray–David Tennant is still with us! I’m willing to forgive a lot of the hot mess typical of a Russell T Davies finale–a Reality Bomb? Really?–just because of that. “Spanner! Shhhh!” Yay!)
(Note #2: Remember “Doomsday”? Remember how crushing it was when Rose was ripped from our universe and the Doctor’s side? What a great end for a great character. Good thing they never ruined that by bringing her back and selling her out in an icky story that makes neither logical nor emotional sense. In other words, that Bad Wolf Bay II garbage? NEVER HAPPENED. Seriously, talk Susannah into discussing her very interesting take on it. Because as far as I’m concerned, that NEVER HAPPENED.)
Oh, Donna. That soaring music playing when the TARDIS is towing the Earth home? That’s the song the Ood sing at the end of “Planet of the Ood.” The song we hear when they gather in a circle and sing a song of liberation and elation at having each other again? That’s the same song we hear as the Doctor’s constructed family gathers in a circle in the TARDIS, laughing in liberation and elation at having each other again. And it’s the same song the Ood sing when they promise that their children and their children’s children will always celebrate the DoctorDonna. What? I’m not crying; there’s just a lot of smoke in the air from wildfires here. And if you think there’s a lot of smoke in the air now, see how much smoke gets in your eyes if you try watching “Planet of the Ood” again after watching DoctorDonna’s journey end.
Here’s hoping Donna‘s journey is just beginning–that her mother’s changed perspective, for example, will put Donna on the road to the awesomeness that was always in her. The question of whether the Doctor had the right to do what he did, to remove all of the adventure and growth Donna held so dear to save her life against her will, is a fun one to chew on during the (nigh interminable) wait for the upcoming specials. I’m not sure what I think–fundamentally, Donna should have the right to make the decision about her own life and her own death, about who she is in the end. The idea of having those choices taken away is paralyzing. Is Donna’s devastating post-memory wipe dismissiveness punishment enough for stealing that choice?
At the same time, losing DoctorDonna is almost unbearable, and I’m not sure I could take watching Donna die instead. If I couldn’t stand it–if I started falling apart at “binary, binary, binary”–I’m not sure I can ask the Doctor to stand it. Given more time, could the Doctor have convinced Donna that living another day to have the one adventure he can never have was the right call? I don’t know if, after watching genocide anew and Sarah Jane running away to her new family and Jack bringing Martha and Mickey into the Torchwood fold, of all things (and after not leaving Rose in her alternate universe after not seeing her take about two seconds to leap into the arms of a fascimile, because that NEVER HAPPENED), the Doctor could take one more loss of that magnitude.
And the magnitude of the losses the Doctor is forced to choose between is enormous. In saving Donna’s life, he loses not only the friend who was willing to explore both the universe and the whole of him, including his alienness. He loses one more tiny thread to home. Davros’s taunt that the Doctor turns everyone around him into weapons must be echoing in his head as the Doctor chooses Donna’s fate, because in inadvertently turning her into the weapon that saves all of reality, he’s essentially killed her–and he’s killed her by making her like him. The Doctor had been willing to settle down with his Moriarty just to cling to the last trace of the Time Lords, but he has that twisted echo stolen from him. He saves Donna, however, by erasing the person who could think like him and beyond him–by erasing himself. In doing so, he loses Gallifrey all over again. And this time, as in the Time War, he has to choose to lose it.
So maybe Davros is partially right–the Doctor does run, never looking back, but it’s not out of shame. It’s because looking back is losing everthing over and over and over. Davies’ reign on Who has spun around two themes: Family and the Lonely God. That glorious scene with the Ood song and the TARDIS towing the Earth is the apotheosis of these, with the Doctor’s Children of Time surrounding him not as weapons but as family. But they all leave in the end, willingly or otherwise. The Doctor admits it himself–they’ve all got someone else. Davies has given them Luke and Francine and Tom (fine–and Jackie and Pete and baby Tony). But what Davies has also focused on is everything the Doctor has lost. The wonderful high of seeing the TARDIS finally flown the way it was always meant to be done exposes the tragic truth underneath: every time we see the Doctor running around the TARDIS console, pulling levers or thwacking knobs with a mallet, we’re seeing the loneliest person in the universe. We see someone who chose loneliness by running away from his home and then chose ultimate loneliness to save the universe by destroying that home. There are good things about that–he ran from Gallifrey for a reason–but the Doctor and his TARDIS can never fly the way they were meant to, because everything and everyone leaves in the end. The Doctor has a constructed family, but that last quiet shot of the whole season, of the regular-series Davies era, is of the Lonely God.
Because this season has been so much about the greatness–the nobleness–of Donna Noble, that last quiet shot shows us the Lonely God by mourning her loss. The last scene of the first New!Who season left us with the shock of a brand new Doctor. The second season surprised us with a rogue bride popping in (oh, Donna). The third season had the Titanic blasting through the TARDIS walls. The last scene of this season gives us a Doctor devastated for and because of Donna Noble. We’re with him on this one. The very silence, the lack of a bride or an ocean liner, underscores the size of this loss. So goodbye, Donna Noble, Super Temp. We’ll look up at the sky on your behalf.