Donna Noble is nowadays considered one of the best companions in Doctor Who‘s history, so it’s weird to think that Catherine Tate was never originally intended to be a series regular and started out as a guest on the sci-fi show for the 2006 Christmas special. In fact, it was only after Freema Agyeman left in 2007 that Tate was brought back opposite David Tennant for 2008’s fourth season and Whovian history was made.
It wasn’t initially a done deal that Tate would comeback full-time, however. On the latest installment of his podcast, Tennant revealed to Tate, his guest for the episode, that a new companion had been sketched out in case she turned the offer down. A different actress was even on back-up to play the placeholder character.
“You did this one episode and then you came back as a regular, which none of us were expecting [you] to say yes to,” said Tennant. “There was another actress lined up. I mean, she doesn’t know this. The thing was, ‘Julie Gardner, the executive producer, she’s going to have lunch with Cathy. She’s going to ask her if she’ll come back for a whole series. Obviously she won’t, so on Monday, we’re sending out the offer to play this character’. There was a character breakdown and everything. It was such a formality that they were going to.”
MORE FROM THE WEB
For more on this intriguing “what if?” scenario, former showrunner Russell T. Davies discussed it his book The Writer’s Tale. In it, Davies reveals this stand-in companion was a journalist named Penny Carter and mentions that he had an actress in mind for the character. Clearly, if Tate had not taken up the offer to become a regular, that era of Doctor Who could have been very different. For one, we don’t think season 4 would be as beloved as it was without Tennant and Tate’s amazing chemistry.
Thankfully, Tate did accept and still looks back on her time with the show fondly. She even recently said that she’d love to return as Donna opposite Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor. Speaking of which, Doctor Who season 12 is expected to air in early 2020. As always, watch this space for more.