So... right... it's been almost 24 hours since I heard The Big News and now I think it's time to stop being silly. I will admit that my initial reaction was one of panic, horror, disgust - all that stuff. Even to the point where I immediately signed the silly petition that everyone was griping about. But when I started to think about what initiated this reaction inside my tiny little brain, my stance shifted a bit.
When Doomsday finished last summer with that Tate-teaser for The Runaway Bride, I was similarly knocked for six. Over the last few years, Catherine Tate has been known almost exclusively for her sketch show - which I, like many others, loathe - so seeing her in the TARDIS was like seeing Andy from Little fecking Britain, roll Lou in his wheelchair into the console room. Bad news. Especially considering how generally poor the Second Season and its climax had been. There didn't seem to be much hope.
6-odd months later, I was sadly proven correct. The Runaway Bride, while better than the lowest points of Season Two, was pretty awful. However, that was not necessarily because of Catherine Tate. The character of Donna was generally insufferable, loud and irritating. But then so was John Simm over the last few weeks and we know he's a good actor, yes?
This past season of Doctor Who has really made me a fan again. I loved the majority of it, and it proved to me that New Who can be excellent when it wants to be. Even episodes written by RTD have had me bouncing along on the edge of my seat! So now, after the only truly disappointing episodes this year (SoD & LofTL) why did I find my hope driven out of me so quickly by a simple casting announcement?
I blame three things, all of which can be rationalised and made inconsequential:
1) I hate The Catherine Tate Show.
2) I didn't like the arrogance and poor form Tate showed at the BAFTA ceremony when she didn't win Best Comedy (or whatever it was).
3) I didn't like The Runaway Bride.
And here is the rationalisation:
1) As shown in The Runaway Bride, Donna Noble (annoying as she was) was quite distant from Tate's own sketch characters. She does have range.
2) I can easily seperate an actor's personal life from the character they're playing. Not a problem really.
3) As bad as I thought TRB was, the Third Season showed huge improvement and I'm confident they can keep it up.
The thing is, Tate has done other things aside from her own show. I really liked her in Big Train, and as an actress she can really turn it on (or rather, turn it down a bit) when she wants/needs to. Although I didn't really like 'Starter For Ten', I thought she was good in it. The other thing that's really turned me around on the subject is the idea of bringing Donna back long-term, away from the sitcom-rollercoaster of a Christmas Special. I think much of my irritation in The Runaway Bride was due to the terrible plot, script and atmosphere. I think her character could have a lot of potential in the more stable setting of a regular season. She will hopefully be less of a caricature and end up as the most 'real' companion we've seen so far - a bit older, more world weary and less prone to puppy-love than Rose or Martha.
Most of all, I've become quite interested in seeing how writers aside from RTD will handle Donna, or how the character will have to change to fit into darker, more serious episodes. The relationship between Doctor, Donna and Martha when she returns could also prove very entertaining.
In the end, I'm still disappointed about all this. Not so much because it IS Catherine Tate any more, but rather because of what the new companion WON'T be. I would have liked perhaps a male companion... or maybe someone Scottish? Welsh? Irish? It is getting a bit tedious have mouthy female Londoners in the TARDIS. It doesn't seem right to me. I'm growing more and more uncomfortable with how London-centric the programme is getting.
My conclusion after much thought: wait and see.
Although most of us will initially see this as a mistake, there's always a chance that it could be very good.
Doctor Who is a better programme now than it was a year ago, so perhaps we should allow that Donna will be a more likeable character a year later too? I don't dislike Tate, I disliked Donna, but I'm willing to give her a second chance and start rooting for Catherine between now and April 2008.
If, however, it turns out the way so many are expecting? Well then... I think this time next year may have to see RTD hand over the reins to someone else.