Doctor Who Series 4 Episode 11: Turn Left

Dan Owen reviews
Cover
Series 4 Episode 11: “Turn left”Broadcast on BBC1, Saturday June 21st, 2008 As premiered on
danowen.blogspot.com
CoverSeries 4 Boxset:
Series 4 Part 1:
Series 3 Boxset:

    Director:

      Graeme Harper

Screenplay:

    Russell T. Davies

Cast:

    The Doctor: David Tennant
    Donna Noble: Catherine Tate
    Rose Tyler: Billie Piper
    Gramps: Bernard Cribbins
    Sylvia Noble: Jacqueline King
    Fortune Teller: Chipo Chung
    Rocco Colasanto: Joseph Long
    Captain Magambo: Noma Dumzwemi


CoverSynopsis: While visiting an alien planet, a beetle-like insect attaches itself to Donna’sback and alters history, throwing her into an alternative existence where she never met The Doctor…

Russell T. Davies writes himself a big love letter with “Turn Left”, crammingit with winks, nods and some sideways looks at the integral episodes that haveinformed Doctor Who these past few years.

We begin on the alien planet of Shan Shen (an intergalactic Chinatown, basedon the décor), where The Doctor (David Tennant) has fun bartering withlocal stallholders and Donna (Catherine Tate) is persuaded to visit aFortune Teller (Chipo Chung – who also played Chantho in last year’s Utopia).The Fortune Teller’s true intentions are revealed when a giant beetle-likeinsect attaches itself to Donna’s back and somehow manipulates her history –making Donna turn right at a road junction (and consequently secure a £20,000dream job) instead of left…

This simple decision alters established history, butterfly effect-style,meaning Donna never meets The Doctor during “The Runaway Bride”. ConsequentlyDavies’ script spends most of its runtime illustrating how unbelievablydisastrous the loss of a Doctor/Donna team-up would be for mankind.

Now inan alternate universe of her own forgotten making, The Doctor is killed underthe Thames while fighting the Queen of Racnoss in “The Runaway Bride”, MarthaJones is asphyxiated when her hospital is transported to the moon (“Smith AndJones”), and the Titanic crashes into Buckingham Palace, destroying London ina mushroom cloud (“Voyage Of The Damned”). This bizarre catastrophe forces theUK into a not-very-plausible post-apocalypse – where southern English refugeescohabit with ethnic people up north, before the government solves the crisisby transporting all “foreigners” to labour/concentration camps.


CoverDonna wanders through this horrific parallel existence with numb, tearfulconfusion – perturbed by mysterious appearances of a blonde woman shortlyafter each disaster – a girl recognisable to audiences as Rose Tyler (Billie Piper).It seems Rose has inexplicably found a way back to our universe (after theevents of “Doomsday”) and apparently has a plan to correct Donna’s timelineand save the world – using The Doctor’s unused, dying TARDIS…

“Turn Left” is actually very enjoyable, despite being incredibly dour anddepressing for a good half-hour in the middle. RTD clearly enjoys looking at pastevents from a different vantage point (a trick he employed, briefly, in “Love &Monsters”) — but while it’s generally fun and amusing, it’s a bit excessivehere.

Americans wiped out by the chubby Adipose from “Partners In Crime”, the planet’sATMOS-powered cars smoking out the population (see: “The Sontaran Strategem”),there’s barely a moment that isn’t referencing past new Who and its spin-offs(Torchwood’s Jack, Gwen and Ianto are mentioned, while Sarah-Jane Smith and herkiddie gang bite the dust according to a news report.)

Away from the onanism of RTD’s script, the basic idea behind Donna’s situationeventually gets on-track and builds to a fairly exciting climax (via a makeshift time-machine,courtesy of UNIT) and a last-minute sting of recognition from The Doctor whena “two word” message from Rose is delivered – in an agreeable, spine-tinglingecho of season 1’s big revelation.

However, the underlying mechanics of “TurnLeft” turn to mush under scrutiny, the return of Rose wasn’t explained (shejust appears from an off-camera blue flash), and it made no sense that Rosewould even know what’s going on with Donna – let alone how to put thingsright! Well, unless the next two episodes add some vital information we’remissing here.


CoverSo, suspension of disbelief is required and nitpickers will have a field daywith the all flaws in its logic. But, even so, “Turn Left” is punchy andentertaining on a basic level and Catherine Tate shoulders this Doctor-liteepisode incredibly well. Indeed, Tate’s well-judged reactions to this “what if?”scenario are good compensation for the storytelling deficiencies, and she overshadowsthe much-trumpeted return of Billie Piper – who gives a comparatively two-dimensionaland bland performance.

In her first scene finds Piper even has problems decidingon the right accent! Piper herself admitted finding it hard to remember how toplay Rose, and her inability to get back in the saddle is apparent. I just hopeshe pulls herself together for the last two episodes.

Overall, there’s a lot of stuff I had issues with, but “Turn Left” certainly hada sense of pace and built to a decent, effective conclusion. Rose’s bigreturn was underwhelming, but I liked the idea of an invisible parasite thatcan change its host’s personal history, some of the call-backs to old episodesearned a good reaction, and there was plenty of juicy foreshadowing (not leastfor Donna’s strange relevance in The Doctor’s life). However, like “Utopia” lastyear, this is really just a stretch and flex before the two-part finale nextweek.

A finale that throws everything and the kitchen sink into events, judging fromthe trailer…

Join in the discussion about this episode atDan’s Media Digest


OVERALL
Review copyright © Dan Owen, 2008.E-mail Dan Owen

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Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.
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