Favourite Feminist Moments in Doctor Who - #6 Donna Noble: SUPER TEMP!
We live in a society which places a lot of value on skills and traits which are traditionally associated with men and masculinity. Assertiveness, competitiveness, independence, physical strength. For a women to be valued she must exhibit these traits. We see countless examples this hyper-masculinisation in the media, Buffy Summers and Kara “Starbuck” Thrace come to mind as women who exist within traditionally male archetypes. These women are deemed strong because they excel in traditionally masculine fields.
We see this attitude prevailing in the real world, also. Whilst scientific pioneers, doctors, and leaders in business are held in the highest esteem, the importance of parents, nurses, teachers is overlooked. Similarly those traits and skills traditionally associated with femininity, compassion, communication, and non-violent conflict resolution, are still largely unvalued.
In the episode The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, Martha recruits The Doctor and Donna to help UNIT investigate ATMOS, a system which neutralises a vehicles carbon emissions. The Doctor and Martha focus on the physical system, trying to find something alien in the technology, and get absolutely no where. As Donna says herself “all your Storm Troopers and your sonics - rubbish!”.
Donna is the one who makes the first, real breakthrough by using the skills and knowledge she gained doing secretarial work, a vocation traditionally reserved for women. She notices that none of the employees working on the ATMOS system have taken any time off.
Sick days. There aren’t any. Hundreds of people working here and no ones sick. Not one hangover, man flu, sneaky little shopping trip. Nothing. Not ever. They don’t get ill.
This isn’t the only time Donna employs these skills to solve problems and make key discoveries. In the next episode, The Doctor’s Daughter, Donna uses her knowledge of cataloging systems to deduce that the war between the hath and humans had only begun a week prior to the groups arrival on the planet.(x) This discovery was key to understanding what the source (supposedly a weapon which would end the war) was and to bringing peace to the two species.
Even when she has become The DoctorDonna these skills still prove to be valuable.(x) To defeat the Daleks and send all the planets and moons home, in Journey’s End, Donna’s speedy typing comes in handy, helping her and the two Doctor’s to get the job done quicker and leaving just one planet which needs to be physically moved through space back to it’s original position.
I’m not claiming that Donna Noble: Super Temp is the harbinger of a new age in the depiction of women in the mainstream media, where skills traditionally associated with femininity are now held in high esteem, equal to that which we would commonly associate with masculinity. Further, the fact that for Donna’s worth to be truly recognized she has to share The Doctor’s intellect is somewhat counter intuitive to my point. That being said, it is still refreshing to see Donna’s secretarial and administrative skills occasionally taking precedent over The Doctor’s scientific brilliance.