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October 13, 2015

Doctor Who: Turn Left

by Brad Trechak, posted Jul 18th 2008 10:00PM
Doctor Who(S04E11) With this episode, Donna has become my favorite Doctor Who companion of all time. Yes, better than Sarah Jane. Yes, better than Rose (who finally reappears as a person and not in a cameo or on a video screen). I love her quick temper yet human personality (it's reminiscent of Rose's mother from the first two seasons), which makes sense since this episode is about the Doctor's adventures from the human perspective.

The Doctor and Donna land on a planetary Chinatown. While the Doctor negotiates with salespeople, Donna is invited to get her fortune read for free. While in the fortune-teller's hut, the woman distracts Donna as a beetle-like creature climbs on her back. By whatever power the beetle has, Donna's personal history is changed so that she turns left instead of right on a critical moment in her life. In this alternate history, she never takes the job at H.C. Clements and never meets the Doctor.

It's amazing that such a good episode can be created that is mostly Doctor-less. It does kind of balance out last week's Donna-less episode (both were filmed at the same time), However, in retrospect, some of the best Doctor Who episodes of the new series didn't include the main character very much. Most notably the episode "Blink".

By having Donna not meet the Doctor in the new timeline, the slaughter begins. This is virtually guaranteed in any alternate history. Why aren't any alternate histories happy? For that matter, why couldn't the Doctor regenerate when he was killed fighting the Racnoss Queen in the alternate history? Did he decide to commit suicide out of loneliness (he wouldn't have had a companion at the time). I would have liked it if Sarah Jane had shown up in the original "Smith and Jones" episode to better explain her death in it. It does make more sense that the Torchwood team gets involved (and subsequently killed and/or kidnapped) during the Sontaran invasion when the Doctor isn't around. The second-stringers are called up to bat.

This is the first time the series so blatantly acknowledges its own spin-offs (okay, Torchwood was already acknowledged but you didn't really hear about the team's missions). It's a Russell T. Davies creation love-fest. The beetle creature that created the alternate timeline is even part of "The Trickster's Brigade", the Trickster being a character that has appeared in The Sarah Jane Adventures.

It is a frightening moment when London is destroyed by the falling Titanic replica, sending Great Britain into economic chaos. I liked how Davies' and company acknowledges mankind's tendency to cannibalize itself in hard times when the Italian family that the Nobles are staying with are sent to a work camp.

The United States is rendered helpless due to a chunk of the population turning into the fat creatures of "Partners In Crime". Given the obesity epidemic within that country, you'd think the Adipose would have gone there first. As a bit of foreshadowing, Donna's grandfather sees in his telescope that all the stars are going out in the sky. The disappearing bees are also mentioned again.

As mentioned, Billie Piper returns reprising her role of Rose Tyler. She is searching the parallel worlds for the Doctor because a great darkness is coming. She seems to have regained her first-season look and has some sort of issue with her teeth (they seemed to stick out a little more, like she just had dental work). In this episode, she acts a lot like the Doctor and has seems to take on his role. It is kind of strange that she's back, given that the parallel world she went to was cut off, but that's acknowledged in the episode and will hopefully be explained more in the future. I like how they revisit the Bad Wolf motif from the first season.

As its core, this episode is an analysis of Donna. Her lack of self-esteem is analyzed ("I'm just a temp" she says) and her reasons for wanting a more adventurous life with the Doctor. Also acknowledged is the similarity between this episodes' alternate universe theme with the recent one in "Forest of the Dead". Davies seems to be setting up Donna to play a major role in the Doctor's life. I wonder what that role is?

Parallel world/alternate history stories are always fun. As with last week's episode, the writing of this episode worked more with Russell T. Davies' strengths, which are more about people and emotion and less about the science-fiction aspect of the show. This season has had some really good episodes and this one has become one of my favorites.

Which part of this episode did you find the most depressing?
The death of Martha Jones and Sarah Jane Smith62 (20.8%)
The death of the Torchwood team34 (11.4%)
The death of the Doctor111 (37.2%)
The destruction of London91 (30.5%)

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Does anyone know what exactly was up with Rose's teeth? Have they always been like that and hidden somehow? My wife and I actually thought at first it wasn't really Rose, but some sort of clone or something, they looked so different.

July 21 2008 at 12:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

looking back, this is the best episode of series 4. and I absolutely 100% agree with the header - Donna is the best companion of them all.

July 19 2008 at 9:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"For that matter, why couldn't the Doctor regenerate when he was killed fighting the Racnoss Queen in the alternate history?"

I always thought The Doctor regenerated when he knew death was imminent. The UNIT soldier surmised that The Doctor was probably killed too quickly to start the regeneration process.

July 19 2008 at 4:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"By whatever power the beetle has, Donna's personal history is changed so that she turns left instead of right on a critical moment in her life."

I am pretty sure that the beetle made Donna turn right. In the end Donna needs to "Turn Left" in order for the original timeline to be restored.

July 19 2008 at 12:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Rose will always be my favorite companion of the modern Doctor Who series, but Donna is a very, very close second. They are just two totally different characters with one thing in common: their love for the doctor.

I thought this was a standout episode. It was so Doctor Who. The emotions worked. The science fiction worked. The drama worked. It was just great. It's rare when the companions take center stage in Doctor Who and I really didn't miss the Doctor. I'm really looking forward to the season finale that begins next week. It looks like we'll not only have Captain Jack but also all the modern companions helping the Doctor save the universe. Should be fun.

July 19 2008 at 11:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mj green

I watched it on You Tube, and saw all the missing bits. This steams me. So many stupid commercials! Do we really need to see the SAME commercials over and over? On the other hand, Mr. Davies is without a doubt, the best writer, ever. His stories are fantastic. I'm sorry, but I do like his work better than Mr. M. This episode had me so very sad. Listening to the reporter talk about Sarah Jane, and you had to listen to find out Luke and the others were killed, too. AGGGH. Ok, didn't really happen, but still. A clue to what Donna is can be found in the episode with the Ood. Best Season. Ever.

July 19 2008 at 10:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I could care less about the Torchwood team, except Captain Jack.
It's a bummer that Sarah Jane had to go to the hospital and fight the plasmavore, since the Doctor was dead... leading to Martha dying.
Why does bad sh- happen in Doctor Who if the Doctor died, while everything seemed hunky dory in that episode of Sarah Jane when she died? Curse you Gareth Roberts!

July 19 2008 at 7:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The Italian family were sent to a concentration/extermination camp, not actually a 'work camp' (Donna questions what work they're going to do, exactly, and Wilf and the Italian father go quiet and don't answer her). Bernard Cribbins' performance in that scene was amazing.

July 19 2008 at 6:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I really liked these final episodes, but Billie Piper's teeth were REALLY distracting & I dunno why the producers didn't do something about it.

July 19 2008 at 4:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It's ridiculous how the shows are cut, I've seen both versions and there's enough witty/important exchanges cut to make an impact on the episodes. Until networks stop dicking around with their shows I'll remain heartily in support of torrents for TV.
The finale is ace by the way, altho knowing Sci-Fi it will probably be cut just before the Doctor regenerates into Charlie Sheen (joke!)

July 19 2008 at 2:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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