THIS EPISODE TAKES
WAR" AND PRIOR TO
THE TV EPISODE "THE
RUSSELL T. DAVIES
'THE COMPLETE FOURTH
SERIES' HMV EXCLUSIVE
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As Donna's world
collapses, she finds
help from a STRANGE
can Donna and Rose
stop the approaching
21ST JUNE 2008
(50-MINUTE EPISODE, PART 1 OF 3)
“Turn right and never meet that man. Turn right and change the world.”
Russell T Davies’ third script of the season is not only the pick of the bunch, but one of my favourite episodes of the revived series to date. It’s a breathtaking piece of drama on so many different levels; not only written sublimely, but performed and directed with the same aplomb. And this was supposed to be the ‘cheap episode’…
As well as being a stupendous vehicle for Donna and Rose, Turn Left is more successful than any other Doctor Who story that I can think of in terms of how it illustrates the sheer importance of the Doctor – no small feat considering that he is featured in this episode for about ninety seconds in all. When the sinister fortune-teller and her time beetle conspire to change Donna’s past, altering history so that she never met the Doctor in The Runaway Bride, the Doctor is killed. With no Donna to rein him in, the Doctor saved the world but in doing so got himself killed; perhaps even let himself be killed. All because Donna wasn’t there to stop him going too far.
“We found a body, sir. He just didn’t make it out in time. The Doctor is dead.
Must have happened too fast for him to regenerate.”
From that point onwards it takes a mere few months for human civilization to come toppling down. Through Donna’s eyes we witness the two thousand people in London’s Royal Hope Hospital perish because the Doctor wasn’t there to save them. Sarah Jane may have been there on the Moon to save the world in the Doctor’s stead, but in doing so she got herself and her young companions killed. Even Martha didn’t make it out alive, sacrificing herself to save her colleague Morgenstern’s life. Incidentally, I love the dark humour in Davies’ script here. In one line, we hear that Martha Jones is dead, and then the next line is: “at least you got a hole punch”. Inspired.
And then the following Christmas, the spaceship Titanic ploughs into Buckingham Palace, destroying the whole of London in a massive nuclear explosion. Why? Because the Doctor wasn’t there to stop it.
“That’s everyone. Every single person we know. The whole city. London’s gone.”
The image of the mushroom cloud rising over the viaduct is an incredibly potent shot from director Graeme Harper. The sheer scale of what has happened is beyond belief; within a single year of the Doctor’s death, England’s capital city has been obliterated and the south of the country irradiated. France has closed its borders, and the Americans can’t render aid because sixty million of them were dissolved into fat thanks to the Adipose (see what I mean - that wry humour rearing its head again even in the darkest of moments!)
“Don’t get all lippy with me Vera Duckworth! Pop your clogs on and go and feed the whippets!”
But Davies doesn’t stop there. As unsettling as London’s annihilation is, some of Turn Left’s most disquieting scenes are those showing the Noble family struggling to survive in what has rapidly become a twisted, pseudo post-apocalyptic world. Forced to live in a commune with soldiers policing the streets outside, it seems that things couldn’t get any worse for Donna and her family. But then Britain takes a swing to the right and the Nobles’ Italian co-tenant’s, the affable Colasanto family, are shipped off to a labour camp.
Bernard Cribbins gives his most inspiring performance to date here as Donna’s grandfather, Wilfred Mott. In an episode dominated by two celebrated and exceptional actresses, the old hand very nearly steals the show with his impassioned performance.
“Labour camps! That’s what they called them last time. It’s happening again!”
And after the labour camps comes ATMOS. With every other companion or spin-off hero dead, it falls to Torchwood to save the world, which they do, but at great cost. Gwen and Ianto are both killed on board the Sontaran ship, and Captain Jack ends up marooned on Sontar. And so when the stars begin to go out, and the human race is forced to face the ultimate nihilistic nightmare, there really is no-one left to save them.
And this is happens within the space of about eighteen months. Eighteen months without
the Doctor, and the human race is well on its way to oblivion.
However, whatever profound points it may make about the significance of the Doctor, Turn Left is the companions’ chronicle. At heart Davies’ script is about two strong women whose lives have been – or at least should have been – touched by the Doctor and on whom the fate of the entire multiverse now depends.
The return of Rose Tyler was one of those things that was always going to be on the cards, no matter how vehemently the production team denied it. I’m pleased though that rather than try to hush up the character’s return, the production team instead chose to celebrate it. From Partners in Crime onwards the prospect of Rose’s return has run like throughout the whole season just as the phrases “Bad Wolf”, “Torchwood”, and “Saxon” have done in previous years. Nevertheless, even though I knew full well that she was going to be in this episode,
it was still somewhat startling to see Billie Piper come racing onto the screen. Rose - the same… only different somehow.
And it isn’t just that Piper looks considerably over-dressed after Secret Diary of a Call Girl. The character’s absence has afford-ed her with a certain reverence; a reverence that Davies really
plays upon in his script. Rose has become almost Time Lord-like
in her demeanour; she’s still clearly the Rose that we all knew and
loved, but her confidence and her knowledge really set her apart
from those around her. Rose talks like the Doctor now, whether
she is spouting technobabble are spewing tenth Doctor catch-
phrases like “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry”, which she uses most notably
just before telling Donna of her imminent death. Rose even has
her own distinct silhouette; in every scene that we have seen her
in since Partners in Crime, she has worn the same outfit.
“The whole world is stinking! How could anything be worse than this?”
Most notably though, Rose appears
to have a unique ability. She can
stride between parallel words as
easily as the Doctor can travel
across time and space. She can
see everything that was, is, and
ever could be. And what must not.
Just like the Doctor, Rose knows what must be done. She knows that if anyone can save the multiverse from the darkness, it is him, and as such it falls to her to fix whatever damage the time beetle has done.
Now although Rose was always going to grab the headlines (and the Radio Times cover!) with her return, there can be no doubt that it is Catherine Tate who carries this episode from its first scene to its last. Earthbound and destitute, Donna faces more adversity in this reality than she ever would have done travelling with the Doctor. She loses her father and then her job and then her home… and then some woman from another universe drops in and tells her that she’s the most important woman in the whole of creation. And all the while she carries the weight of an evil creature on her back. If nothing else, it’s a beautiful metaphor.
“Daughter of London, there is something on your back!”
It’s little surprise that even someone as tenacious as Donna almost breaks under such great pressure - the key word here being almost. Donna doesn’t break. Even when she is stood in the circle of mirrors and the terrible certainty of her inevitable death dawns on her, she does not waver. She allows herself to be thrown back in time so that she can stop her younger self turning right. And she does it the only way that she can: by throwing herself under a passing lorry, causing a traffic jam which prompts her other self to turn the other way, thus never bec-oming her, allowing the redundant Donna to quietly fade into oblivion with two words ringing in her ears…
The culmination of the episode is absolutely overwhelming. Somehow Donna retains her alternate self’s memories as if they were some sort of dream, including the two words that ‘the mysterious blonde’ whispered in her ear on her deathbed: Bad Wolf.
Murray Gold’s awe-inspiring score kicks in – the fantastic “YANA” piece used frequently last year (one of the very best pieces of incidental music ever composed for the series, I reckon) – and Harper shoots the B A D W O L F lettering in the same way that he did Y A N A in the corresponding episode last year. But this year it is not just the whole world that’s in peril; it’s not even the universe - it’s the whole damned multiverse! And there was me, expecting Turn Left to be about escaping from a maze…
“You are so strong. What are you? What will you be?”
And so as you may have gathered my now, I think that Turn Left is an absolute triumph. The performances of Catherine Tate, Billie Piper, Bernard Cribbins and even Jacqueline King are absolutely off the page and, dare I say it, Davies’ script is even more remarkable.
“And thus each person who is died and buried in one of the countless
cemeteries all over the world is responsible, in theory, for birthing equally
countless parallel realities, all due to them going left rather than right...”
- Gary Russell, Spiral Scratch
When you break it down, it’s so, so simple. Every day we all make innumerable decisions. Do we turn left or right? Take this job, or that job? And to think that one humdrum decision that Donna made could have such a devastating impact on the fate of creation… Talk about thought-provoking. And then on top of all this to have the stunning image of Donna with the Trickster’s time beetle on her back – an image that cannot do anything but evoke emotive memories of Jon Pertwee’s final story as the Doctor, Planet of Spiders – is the icing on the proverbial cake.
Now generally speaking, I don’t comment on the ‘NEXT TIME’ trailers in my reviews, instead reserving judgement until I’ve actually seen the episode in question. However, here I strongly feel that I’ll explode unless I wax lyrical about this one.
The Stolen Earth looks like it is going to be the biggest and the best Doctor Who episode
in the world ever! If they were ever going to make a proper Doctor Who feature film, then I’d expect the teaser trailer for that to look something like this. I mean… wow!
We have the Torchwood team (or at least what is left of it, post-Exit Wounds), Sarah Jane Smith and her son, Martha Jones and UNIT, Harriet Jones; even the chuffing Judoon! Add to that scenes of Dalek saucers razing London, a red Dalek that looks like it’s been torn out of either a 1960s Peter Cushing movie or a John Peel paperback, not to mention the twisted laugh of a certain megalomaniac… If there were such a thing as cryostasis I’d put myself in
it for the week. That’s how preposterously excited I am!
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
When is now? This episode confirms that “present” events depicted in the new series between The Runaway Bride and The Poison Sky occur in the order of transmission. No further clues as to dating are offered.
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