Turn Left


I don’t like parallel universes. Well, actually, I like the Donnie Darko kind of parallel universe which has to die so that ours might live. I don’t like perfectly legitimate masses of universes extending out in all directions from our reality — it tends to make the ‘normal’ universe seem dramatically more inconsequential.1 Doctor Who has been leaning predominantly towards the latter recently,2 so it’s nice to have one of the former. Today, a parallel world is created and wiped out by the same person; the destroyer of realities and useless temp, Donna Noble.

I remember she’s a temp, because she’s told me about a hundred billion times.

Anyhow, this week, she runs into possibly the most painfully over the top soothsayer you ever did meet, and gets herself into a pickle.3 What if she’d never met the Doctor? What if her not meeting him caused him to die? What kind of world would she be living in? What kind of person would she be? What kind of computer graphics from old episodes could we re-use?

I’ve seen it pointed out that while ‘Turn Left’ does reference a lot of previous episodes, it’s unfortunate in that most of them aren’t the good ones. My memories of ‘Voyage of the Damned’, ‘The Sontaran Stratagem’ and ‘Partners in Crime’ aren’t so rosy that seeing them from different angles does much for me.4 Luckily, while it does appear like Doctor Who‘s equivalent of a clip show, the story of an Earth without the Doctor is a nicely played one, for the most part.

I like the idea that the world minus Doctor gets worse in an ethical way as well as a ‘destroyed by monsters’ way. It’s perhaps the ultimate iteration of the idea that the Doctor’s ultimate strength is his influence on those around him.5 I like the character of Rocco Colasanto; initially seeming like a one-note character, and then being more moving in five seconds than anyone else in the show has managed all year. I like Billie Piper. I especially like Billie Piper when she’s Rose playing at being the Doctor and getting to do all the explaining. Of course, it seemed particularly nifty at the time — as if we were dovetailing into pieces of the final two parter, which would explain things like how Rose is travelling all over England instantly, and how she’s gotten back, and her relationship with UNIT, and what she knows about ‘the darkness’. In some alternate universe, I’m actually up to date and you’ve read my review of ‘Journey’s End’. You poor sods in this universe will just have to surmise that I was a shade disappointed when Rose completely failed to be any sort of protagonist at all after this episode.6

Overall though, this is Donna’s story, and Catherine Tate does a marvellous and moving job this week; words I really didn’t expect to be writing many moons ago. Not ten minutes after Rocco made me sad, Donna’s journey from doomed to hopeful to doomed again made a fair assault on the old tear glands. Of course, she does do a lot of obnoxious shouting as well, but it’s alternate universe obnoxious shouting, and it’s making a point, so you can almost look past it.

So — aside from a severe case of ‘Utopia Syndrome’, ‘Turn Left’ is different, interesting, and perfectly paced as the lead-up to the final two parter of the season. It gives Catherine Tate a chance to really shine, it gives Billie Piper a chance to play a confident, cool Rose, and it gives the audience another break from the usual formula.7

It does, however, have a ridiculously awful looking giant beetle in it.

  1. See Stargate’s Ripple Effect, if you dare.
  2. Regardless of how much sense it makes. There’s a few points regarding Rose’s universe that need to be made somewhere, but I’ll save them for ‘Journey’s End’, since I’ll most likely be generally unenthusiastic there anyway.
  3. Chipo Chung was seriously awful. Everyone in Confidential seemed to be really nice to her because she had to wear prosthetics last year as Chantho. But dear God in heaven: “What are you? What will you become?” Yikes.
  4. It’s certainly not as powerful as similar moments in Love & Monsters.
  5. Apparently, some English folks weren’t so keen on the idea that England becomes a fascist state so readily, but sadly I can’t find the link again.
  6. Luckily for me, we had a pretty cool cliffhanger around this time last year, which was then bizarrely squandered. I say lucky, because if not for that preparation, the idea that you could suddenly bring back the whole “Bad Wolf” thing after three years’ break and go completely and awesomely nuts with it without actually following up on it the next week would have been completely incomprehensible to me.
  7. It’s almost a shame that ‘Midnight’ and ‘Turn Left’ are scheduled next to each other — spreading them out amongst the more traditional stories might have made for a more balanced season.

One Response to “Turn Left”

  1. They just can’t seem to write a good end of season episode. The penultimate episode is usually good, and has loads of promise, only to be let down by the last one.