By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues
Once again we stroll through the history of Doctor Who and look at some of the characters who helped create one of the most popular characters on TV.
Donna’s mother, like every other character in the new era of Doctor Who, went through her own mini-arc and changed through her experiences with the Time Lord.
Played by Jacqueline King, we first met her in the Runaway Bride at Donna’s wedding. When the bride disappeared in front of their eyes, they went ahead and had the reception anyway. This is the first indication that all is not good between mother and aughter.
Donna’s relationship with her mother was always tempestuous to say the least. Their problem wasn’t that they didn’t love each other; they just didn’t know how to communicate. Sylvia wanted the best for her daughter; she just didn’t know how to tell her. Her put downs of her daughter serve only to incense Donna and she found refuge in her gramps, Wilf, played by Bernard Cribbins (above) who put his daughter in place on more than one occasion.
Sylvia disliked the Doctor at first meeting, blaming him for ruining her daughter’s big day, unaware her future son-in-law had just tried to feed her only child to a giant spider in order to release its offspring from the depths of the planet. All Sylvia wanted for her daughter was to settle down, have a family and be happy and, with the passing of Donna’s dad, she felt her job had just been made even harder.
So when she met the Doctor again in the Sontaran Stratagem, she didn’t want Donna going off with him, little realizing her adventures were in time and space and the Doctor was an alien. This small detail Donna and Wilf decided to keep from her as she would have freaked out but there was no denying anything when the Earth was stolen and invaded by the Daleks. Wilf revealed everything and he and Sylvia took to the streets to fight the Daleks, finding instead Rose Tyler who had come for them. Sylvia realized just how important the Doctor and his life was to Donna but she would tragically be unable to tell her daughter when the Doctor was forced to wipe Donna’s mind of her life in the Tardis. Bringing her home, he told them of the wonderful deeds Donna had accomplished and how she had been instrumental in defeating Davros and the Daleks and returning Earth to its original position in space. She bites when the Doctor tells her that for one moment Donna was the most important woman in the universe that “She still is, she’s my daughter”. The Doctor hits back by telling her she should tell Donna that once in a while. She knows he’s right.
In our final meeting with her she chases the Doctor away in case seeing him triggers Donna’s memories to return and kill her outright. But it is the Doctor she cries out to when Gallifrey appears in the sky, threatening to throw Earth out of orbit and in a beautiful moment when the Doctor returns Wilf home, she smiles at him. No words, no gestures, just a simple smile that speaks volumes even if it scares the Doctor.
In the end, Sylvia gets her wish and sees her daughter married and happy and knows that the Doctor was the best thing that ever happened to her. Indeed, it is fitting that both she and Wilf meet the Doctor together as he gives the wedding gift of a lottery ticket bought with a pound borrowed from her husband Geoff in the past. It is this pound that the Doctor buys the winning lottery ticket with. Donna will nver know her father set her up for life. The Doctor is dying at this point and ironically Sylvia knows she has been wrong all along.
And it is very human and real that there is no apologetic speech or hugging, just a simple exchange of expressions that cements her new found respect for the Doctor.