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I think I've figured out why I have such a big problem with what happens to Donna Noble: it's because of Dawn Summers.

I love Dawn. (This should be fairly obvious by now.) She's fun, snarky, intelligent, resourceful, compassionate, and occasionally a brat.

But the thing which makes me love her, no matter what, is the fact that she found out she wasn't real - and then decided she was anyway.

Dawn knows her memories didn't happen. She knows her life is a lie. But she puts that aside and decides to be a real person.

And every day, every time she thinks back to another thing that happened in her childhood, she will once again be hit by the fact that it didn't happen at all. And it will always hurt her.

That's why I wrote Up Late - because it's not just "my life didn't happen"; it's "me teasing Buffy didn't happen", and "my first day of school didn't happen", and "that time when I had a horrible cold and spent the day watching cartoons didn't happen", and on and on...

Every one of those memories is precious to her, because every one of them helps make her who she is. And Dawn decides that she is the person her memories made her; even if they never did.

A few weeks ago, on Whedonesque, I saw someone say that Dawn "isn't a real person, she's just a thing". And I had to shut down my computer and back away, because I got RAGEY BEYOND ALL REASON.

Dawn has always had to fight for her identity, and get hurt over and over by people (her mother, her sister, her friends) telling her that no, she's not real. She doesn't exist.

And nothing makes me more angry than people denying her reality - because they are hurting her. (Even if she is a fictional character, dammit! *is stubborn*)

She is, in fact, a person composed entirely of memory. And I love her to bits.

So... Donna.

She has a whole massive portion of her memory erased by the Doctor.

This leaves us with two possibilities. Either:
- Donna as a person no longer exists (because her memories don't either)
- Donna being a person has nothing to do with what memories she has

The first way, the Doctor has just killed Donna (and erased her soul - see: far too much meta on Fred Burkle and Illyria).

The second way, he's just said Dawn Summers isn't really real.

*fumes for a while*

*realises I still haven't finished this post*

*fumes some more anyway*

If you take away part of Donna's memories, you are taking away part of what makes her her - the part of identity that Dawn has fought for every day since she found out she needed to. You are saying that memories do not make Donna a person; so memories don't make anyone the person they are; so memories can't make Dawn who she is...

It squicks me. Horribly.

(Interestingly, I don't have the same problem with Connor - largely because of what happens when he gets all his memories back, and then decides which set of memories define him, which I see as very Dawnish. Or with Dollhouse - because Caroline without her memories isn't Caroline: she's Echo, who is someone else entirely.)

Questions? Comments?

This entry was originally posted at Feel free to comment there using OpenID. (comment count unavailable comments so far)

Date: 2010-09-23 03:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

If I believed in soul mates, I would think this post was mine.

You know I fangirl Dawn Summers forever, and this post is the very best verbalization of why. DAWN SUMMERS FTW ALWAYS.

A few weeks ago, on Whedonesque, I saw someone say that Dawn "isn't a real person, she's just a thing". And I had to shut down my computer and back away, because I got RAGEY BEYOND ALL REASON.


I completely agree with you about Donna. I don't think I'll ever forgive Ten for what he did. She begged him not to. I view this as violation of the worst kind--he might as well have killed her. In a way, he absolutely did. I get so worked up about it; it's horrific. I...just...can't even talk about it.

A lot of my feelings on this are tangled up in my experience watching my grandmother struggle with Alzheimer's and my attempts to figure out if she can possibly still be her if she remembers nothing and her personality has completely changed if she isn't, who is she? It's scary as hell. But that's another post for another day.

Anyways, I fangirl this post like mad.

Date: 2010-09-23 07:09 am (UTC)

Date: 2010-09-23 03:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
A few weeks ago, on Whedonesque, I saw someone say that Dawn "isn't a real person, she's just a thing". And I had to shut down my computer and back away, because I got RAGEY BEYOND ALL REASON.

I saw that too and... GRRR.

This is interesting. Though I'm not sure I still don't see it as a problem for Connor. Hmm...

Date: 2010-09-23 03:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm divided.

Ultimately, I think the Doctor made Donna somewhat less of a person (or a somewhat different person), but it's not like he took everything.

Also, I think a person is made of both their memories and other intangibles (designation: soul), which I will presume that the monks also gave to Dawn when they gave her the rest of the human package.

I'm also squicked and disappointed by the things that happened to Donna, and I think the Doctor made her somewhat less than whole, but I do think that she was left with more Donna than not-Donna, if that makes any sense.

Although, as [ profile] penny_lane_42 points out above, she asked him not to. But does that mean he should have allowed her to die? It's an ethical conundrum that is more tangled than I'd care to sort out. And, again, he left her with as much of herself as he could.

I think it was a tragedy, but I don't fault the character of the Doctor for how he handled the situation. (I do blame the writers for creating the situation in the first place.)

It was the ending bit of your post that made me particularly contrary. Echo is the purest form of Caroline. The whole premise of Echo's existence is that you can't wipe away a person's soul. Echo was always there, but as a doll she was unaffected by Caroline's particular memories. Neither Echo nor Caroline is properly whole unless they're together. Once again, my stance as that people are (at least) two parts: one part memories, one part soul.

Dawn does not lack either thing, so she's totally real.

Connor is another story. The only redeeming value in what was done to him was that he was later given a choice. If it hadn't been for that, I'd be even more pissed about him than Donna. And I'm still pissed that Angel violated the memories of people he calls friends. What was the harm in letting them remember the same as him?

For the record (and just because I don't see it often enough), I love both Connor and Dawn.

"I just have all this involuntary empathy for Dawn, 'cause she's, ya know, a big spaz."

Date: 2010-09-23 03:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You make excellent points about Dawn. She certainly deals with the Mommy Dearest of all existential crises each and every day.


Date: 2010-09-23 05:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It's a funny thing... I went from hating Dawn (probably because I was close to her age when the show was on and I saw too many of my own bratty-ways in her) to loving her. She and Oz are generally the characters I crave focusing on in my own fanfiction.

She also is like a shiny beacon for one of my all time favorite science fiction movies: Dark City. Have a quote!

Dr. Schreber: Will a man, given the history of a killer, continue in that vein? Or are we, in fact, more than the sum of our memories?

Date: 2010-09-23 08:17 am (UTC)
elisi: (Donna by omphalos)
From: [personal profile] elisi
First of all, the best post ever about Donna & memories is this one by [ profile] selenak: Donna and Agatha: Spot the Clues.

Secondly, I don't disagree with the Doctor's actions. Yes it's horrible, of course, but friends don't let friends burn to death. Also, it's a childrens' show - you can't have the companion commit suicide.

Of course it's all down to the writer, and having read The Writer's Tale I've seen RTD wrestle with precisely the problem we expected to be at the root of the whole thing: He needed to write Donna out of the show and she had no reason to leave.

As for Donna, and how real Dawn is in relation to her situation, then the Doctor says that 'the version of Donna [that travelled with him], is dead'. (See post that I linked to.) But she is still very much herself.

Actually, I don't think Donna is a good analogy for Dawn. A better - albeit more extreme - comparison would be Bracewell. And here we have a Dalek-created robot, with someone else's memories, and the Doctor with absolute conviction declares him to be human! As really real as can be.

Donna's situation is more like Team Angel's in S5 - their memories are *altered*. Wesley declares that none of them are themselves, and Illyria is puzzled. "Are these the memories you needed back? Does this now make you Wesley?" Wasn't he Wesley before?

Both 'verses play A LOT with memory and identity (Jack had two years of his life stolen. Does that mean that he's not himself?) and it's far too complex to tackle here. But Dawn and Donna are both perfectly real, of that I am certain!

Date: 2010-09-23 08:33 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Aaaw. :( How about this? We are shaped by memories but that doesn't mean we have to remember those memories for them to influence us. Like, unconcious things. For example, why else would adults go into the foetal position when we try to comfort ourselves when we don't remember the time in the womb? Or just because someone's forgotten about some childhood trauma involving, say, I don't know, jellyfish, doesn't mean that jellyfish won't still freak that person out when they're adults! Just because they don't remember them doesn't mean those memories aren't locked in there influencing us!

Like Donna, even though her memory's been erased on the concious level, you notice how her family and The Doctor are careful not to remind her! If they were erased completely and are still not in there on some unconcious level, (and still influencing her decisions in small, unexplainable ways) there would be no danger of those memories coming back, and they wouldn't have to be so careful! Hey, they could just go up to her and say, "Hi, I'm the Doctor and you don't remember me but we had a whole lot of adventures together! You even accidentally had so much knowledge imprinted directly onto your brain that was so powerful that you almost died and we had to erase your memory! But don't worry, you've forgotten it and there's no danger in me talking to you about it because it's all completely erased and anyway, would you like to continue travelling through space and time with me since you were such a good friend the first time around?"

But no, he doesn't say that, because those memories are still in there someone with a danger of resurfacing if she is reminded of them.

How was that? Does that make you feel better?


Date: 2010-09-23 09:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I totally agree with you about Dawn, as you might have expected! I think, although I am not a big Dr Who watcher, that you are right in that taking away a chunk of her memory must, surely, have stopped Donna being herself.

I know you read Return of The Key where I had Buffy suggesting they could take away a chunk of Dawn's memories to help her recover from being snatched from her family - and no-one agreed with her....

Date: 2010-09-23 11:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

I haven't seen any of Donna on Who, apart from the Library eps which introduced River Song so kindly lent me by elisi , so I don't know anything of that situation. However my reaction to all the comments above can be understood in the fact that I have never forgiven Willow for what she did to Tara in S6 of BtVS, let alone to those she supposedly considered closer than family.

In fact she is the only character, with the possibele exception of the abusive boyfriend in Beauty and the Beast, to have actaully gotten away with an act of rape, multiple acts of rape in fact. The fact the writers did this is disturbing enough, but I've always been disturbed that fandom has never called her on it.

For the Doctor, of all beings to do this to ANYONE, is profoundly alarming, and makes me kinda glad that I wasn't watching.

We all depend on our memories to make us who we are; to take them away is an almost unforgivable crime in my view.

Still under Willow & Tara's spell,


Date: 2010-09-23 03:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
but I've always been disturbed that fandom has never called her on it.

Actually, [ profile] gabrielleabelle had some excellent polls and discussion on the W/T relationship in S6 a while back.

I dug up some links if you want.

This one where she directly asks if the mind wipe is rape. The comments are a good read if you've got the time.

And also this one where she asks if W/T was abusive in S6.

Date: 2010-09-23 03:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

that first poll was over a year before I joined lj, but I think I remember the second. I should have said 'generally', or 'very much' really, but I must admit that having known several female friends from my Trek con-going days, including one with learning difficulties who was almost too frightened to talk to me about it, have been through this to some degree, it is something which can sometimes get me not thinking of the straight.

Still under Willow & Tara's spell,

Date: 2010-09-23 04:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
What is a person beyond the sum of their memories? Cogito ero Sum.

Date: 2010-09-24 04:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I agree with me_llamo_nic. It's not an all-or-nothing situation. Yes, the Doctor did remove a vital part of who Donna was, and left her less than whole; but on the other hand, it was either that or let her entire self die. I'm not going to go into whether he had the right to do it, mainly because I'm not sure what the answer to that is. The Doctor is certainly not flawless, and he's done some horrible things. But the Doctor didn't just remove those memories — he also undid all the character development that went along with them, and returned Donna to her brash, rude self. She still had those memories, in fact — she simply had amnesia, which is why the Doctor insisted she must never be told what happened. This isn't the first time they've used this device to write out companions: in The War Games, the Time Lords wiped Jamie and Zoe's memories of their time with the Doctor before they executed him.

But I don't think there's much of a comparison to be made between Dawn and Donna. Dawn isn't composed of her memories. If she were, then I think I can see where whoever said she's "not a person" was coming from. I don't agree with them, but I don't agree with them precisely because Dawn's memories aren't what make her who she is. She's something else as well — call it her soul, her personality, her self, or just her mind — and that something else is the reason she is still a person.

If you're interested in this sort of thing, I recommend Derek Parfit's Reasons and Persons, specifically chapters 10-13. It's quite heavy reading but he goes into a lot of detail about personal identity, selfhood and survival.


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October 2010


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