Why Donna From Doctor Who Looks So Familiar

"Doctor Who" has been the subject of particularly eager discussion lately, thanks to the hubbub surrounding its 60th anniversary. First broadcast in 1963, the BBC sci-fi show about the adventures of a runaway Time Lord has been able to uphold a plethora of idiosyncratic traditions over the course of its 39-season run. Many fans would argue that the most important tradition of all is the presence of the Doctor's companions — the supporting, mostly human and Earth-born characters who tag along with the Doctor on their journeys. And one of the most beloved companions was Donna Noble, played by British comedy veteran Catherine Tate.

Originally a guest character, Donna is introduced at the end of the Season 2 finale of the revival series, as a Londoner temp worker who, upon absorbing Huon particles, gets accidentally teleported into the Tenth Doctor's (David Tennant) TARDIS in the middle of her wedding. The season's attending Christmas special, "The Runaway Bride," tells the story of the Doctor returning Donna to her wedding reception and bonding with her; although Donna initially declines to become his new companion, the taste she gets of the far reaches of spacetime sparks something in her, and, on Season 4, she is reunited with the Doctor and finally joins him aboard the TARDIS. 

Tate's unique arsenal of comedic and dramatic skills made her a particularly memorable member of the show's gallery of supporting characters; here are a few of the roles where you may have seen her display those skills before.

Catherine Tate made her name with The Catherine Tate Show

Like many a fellow countryman, English actress and writer Catherine Tate got her showbiz start in the theater. After playing various stage roles throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, she found a second calling when, in 1996, she tried her hand at stand-up comedy. It didn't take long for Tate to segue from stand-up to sketch comedy, and, from there on out, she built herself up as one of the U.K.'s most prolific comedy performers and creators.

Her first TV break came as one of the writers and stars of the late-night Channel 4 sketch show "Barking" in 1998, which was followed by appearances on "Harry Hill," "TVGoHome," and "Big Train," among others. Then, in 2004, she parlayed all that experience into a sketch comedy series all her own: The aptly-titled "The Catherine Tate Show."

Featuring Tate as a wide array of eccentric figures, "The Catherine Tate Show" originally aired on BBC Two between 2004 and 2007 and became enormously popular, both in the U.K. and internationally, penetrating British pop culture to the point where a character's catchphrase was eventually named Word of the Year by the Oxford English Dictionary in 2006. In addition to catapulting Tate to stardom, the show also inspired the BBC One spin-off special series "Catherine Tate's Nan," centered on the character of foul-mouthed grandma Joanie "Nan" Taylor, which culminated in the theatrical film "The Nan Movie" in 2022.

She crossed over to the U.S. with her role on The Office

Between "The Catherine Tate Show" and "Doctor Who," by the time Catherine Tate boarded Season 7 of the American version of "The Office" as newcomer Nellie Bertram, she was already a marquee name in her native country. Given her formidable talent, it was really only a matter of time until she crossed over into mainstream visibility on the other side of the pond. Introduced as a friend of Jo Bennett (Kathy Bates) angling for Michael Scott's (Steve Carell) old Regional Manager position at the Scranton, Pennsylvania, branch of Dunder Mifflin, Eleanour Donna "Nellie" Bertram was originally intended as a potential full-time replacement for Michael following Carell's exit, but it wasn't until the second half of Season 8 that Tate was able to commit to the role as a series regular.

From there on out, Nellie remained part of the main ensemble of "The Office" until the end of the show's run — which, given the differences in season sizes between American and British TV, actually makes it the de-facto lengthiest screen role of Tate's career in terms of total episodes. A cunning, self-serving corporate climber initially hated by the entire Dunder Mifflin staff, Nellie fulfills a villain-like role throughout Season 8 but evolves into a more balanced character as she integrates more fully into the office — which isn't to say that she doesn't retain that magnetic Catherine Tate wackiness through and through, of course.

She appeared in Monte Carlo as Alicia Winthrop-Scott

Directed by Thomas Bezucha from a story by Kelly Bowe and a screenplay by Bezucha, April Blair and Maria Maggenti, the 2011 film "Monte Carlo" is an adaptation of the eponymous novel by Jules Bass. Although it didn't make a huge splash at the time, the film is, in retrospect, rather notable as one of the last major instances of the "girlfriends on an adventure" subgenre of escapist romantic comedy that went into decline along with the romcom genre at large during the streaming era. And, like most mainstream films in that niche, "Monte Carlo" boasts an all-star leading trio, consisting of Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester, and Katie Cassidy.

The film tells the story of Grace Bennett (Gomez), Meg Kelly (Meester), and Emma Perkins (Cassidy), three Texas friends who embark on a post-high school graduation trip to Paris, France, where they find themselves embroiled in international trouble when Grace takes the place of British heiress and celebrity Cordelia Winthrop-Scott, who is her exact doppelganger. Like many films of its ilk, "Monte Carlo" largely coasts on the sheer chemistry between the three leads, but it also features a top-form Catherine Tate in one of her most notable and visible film roles. Tate plays Alicia Winthrop-Scott, Cordelia's aunt, who picks up on the con but ultimately becomes implicated in it; in a harbinger of Selena Gomez's future critical success, the veteran comedian's scenes with her are among the most entertaining in the whole film.

She starred in the viral 2018 short film Leading Lady Parts

As a performer with a storied career in film, on TV, and on the stage, Catherine Tate has been able to play opposite many other great British actors. And that was especially true of her output in 2018, a year that saw Tate share the screen with Gemma Arterton, Emilia Clarke, Felicity Jones, Florence Pugh, Gemma Chan, Lena Headey, Wunmi Mosaku, and Tom Hiddleston — all of them in one go, and in just eight minutes, mind you.

We're referring, of course, to Tate's role in Jessica Swale's comedy short film "Leading Lady Parts," which originally premiered on BBC Four, and went viral after being posted to the official BBC channel on YouTube. Produced by co-star Arterton herself as an effort to take on issues raised by the Time's Up movement in a lighthearted yet incisive way, "Leading Lady Parts" has a simple premise. Several actresses audition for the "leading lady" role in a film project, and all of them get turned down by the casting panelists (played by Tate, Arterton, and Anthony Welsh) for a variety of sexist, patronizing, and eventually outright misogynistic and racist reasons. Tate, ever the fearless entertainer, leans into the opportunity to play a riotously cynical middle manager with her typical panache, striking the perfect balance between hilarious and horrifying in her delivery of lines like "It's not rocket science, darling, we're just asking you to be thin and curvy, sexy and innocent."