Thursday, June 26, 2008

Doctor Who - Turn Left

In my musings on the previous episode, Midnight, I said: 'Doctor Who, to its credit, has never gone down the route of doing the "flashback episode" with the bulk of the content being scenes from earlier shows.' Now I swear that I had no idea what the content of Turn Left was when I wrote that, and yet with this episode we have now had the closest to a flashback episode yet.

What I am impressed with most, is that aside from a couple of short clips (mainly from The Runaway Bride as far as I could spot) there was very little reused footage, and so much of the apparent material from the earlier episodes was new, or was so well integrated into the narrative that it was hard to tell that it was reused in the first place.

But never the less, Turn Left is a flashback episode, going back over Donna's life and showing what it might have been like if she never met the Doctor, all revolving around a pivotal decision for her to turn left to a job with H C Clements rather than turning right for a job with Jival Chowdry.

The initial set-up is interesting but perhaps flawed. Visiting an alien market, Donna is tempted into a fortune teller's booth while the Doctor is distracted. The Teller - who seemed to have the same annoying voice as Chantho, the character played by the same actress from Utopia ... I kept expecting her to add 'Chan' to the start and 'tho' to the end of her sentences again! Which is odd as the actress' natural voice sounds nothing like that - seems to have an unreasonable desire to change Donna's history and so while she gets Donna to pin down the point of decision, so a thing approaches Donna from behind and attaches itself to her back. I wasn't sure if they were targetting Donna, or if the fact it was Donna was accidental?

Donna is then thrown back to that point of her decision, and she turns right. Thus never getting caught up in the schemes of the Racnoss, and never meeting the Doctor. Because of this, the Doctor dies when the river Thames floods the Racnoss' lair, and so there is no Doctor in the world to help prevent the subsequent invasions and cataclysms.

So we step through the various outcomes: the Doctor dies battling the Racnoss; when the Royal Hope hospital is taken to the moon by the Judoon, only Morganstern survives. Martha, Sarah Jane Smith, Luke, Maria and Clyde (from the Sarah Jane Adventures show) all die (I'm not quite sure why Sarah and the others were even there though).

By this point I was just getting annoyed. Annoyed by Catherine Tate's lack of any descernable acting talent as she ranged from shouty to teary with not very much in between. Annoyed by the incidental music which punched bars from character's 'themes' every time they were mentioned. And annoyed that this was all a bit silly.

At each juncture Donna bumps into a mysterious blonde woman who we know to be Rose. Unfortunately she looks nothing like the Rose we knew, apparently having had some sort of strange hairstyle foisted on her as well as comprehensive dental work which made it impossible for her to talk without lisping or being able to actually open her mouth when speaking. All very strange indeed.

Rose tells Donna to take a holiday next Christmas ... she obviously knows something is going to happen. And it does - a replica of the Titanic crashes on Buckingham Palace and a nuclear explosion wipes out southern England. So everyone is evacuated to the north of England, but help from America does not materialise as they have been devastated by everyone dying when their fat metamorphoses into Adipose, and then the Atmos systems in the cars activate, killing everyone in Europe ... and in the resolution to this, Gwen and Ianto from Torchwood die, and Jack Harkness is transported to the Sontaran homeworld! This episode is a veritable bloodbath!

The best performances by far come from Bernard Cribbins as Wilf (who I have praised in the past) and Joseph Long as Rocco Calasanto. These actors show everyone else how to do it, and their scenes are fun and poignant and carry weight as a result. Unfortunately just about in every scene of importance, Tate is awful.

Eventually, Donna sees the stars going out while watching them with Wilf, an event that the blonde girl predicted, and so Donna finally goes with Rose as she is apparently the last hope for mankind.

They end up at some warehouse place where the TARDIS is under investigation. Donna sees the thing on her back and it's a rubbish-looking giant stag beetle. This was something of a crushing disappointment, and my admiration for Graeme Harper grew as I realised that he had successfully masked what the creature looked like until that point. In the Confidential documentary, FX guru Neill Gorton explained that it really was meant to look like a giant insect as that was what the script said. Personally I would have made it look a bit alien, but then what do I know.

So Donna agrees to go back in time to get her other self to turn left and not right, ensuring that she meets the Doctor and reality is set back on track again. But then Rose says she's never used the time travel device before ... but how was she moving about through time then? Really didn't understand that aspect.

But Donna ends up too far from herself in the car, and realises that she has to die to save the worlds and so throws herself under a truck, causing a traffic jam, and making Donna in the car turn in the correct direction. Before she dies on the road though, Rose gives Donna two words to say to the Doctor. What again? We had the Face of Boe with his mystery message ... River Song with her mystery words ... and now Rose. What is this all coming down to, some massive game of Chinese Whispers!

Donna is flung back to the Fortune Teller's tent, where the Teller makes a hasty exit as the Doctor arrives. The Doctor examines the beetle and proclaims it to be one of the Trickster's brigade ... the who? Oh, sorry, you had to have watched Sarah Jane Adventures for that one ... the Trickster being a creature which can change minor aspects of a timeline and feed off the temporal disruption caused. And then Donna remembers the words said to her by Rose. 'Bad Wolf'. Not again! Didn't we do all that three years ago?

But no, racing from the tent, the Doctor sees the words 'Bad Wolf' written everywhere. All over the banners, the posters, the flags in the market. Even the TARDIS has 'Bad Wolf' in place of the words above and on the door. Inside the ship, the cloister bell is solemnly ringing. It's the end of the universe!

Well. That was certainly an exciting ending, I'll give it that. And the reappearance of the Doctor was a breath of fresh air after all the Donna-centric soap opera that had gone before. For me, it just showed how powerful a presence David Tennant is that without him, the show flattened and floundered. But then the show isn't called Doctor Who for nothing you know.

The other problem with the episode of course, is that it postulates what would have happened if Donna had never met the Doctor. Well for a start the whole of human history would be different as Pompeii would not have been destroyed by Vesuvius erupting, and the Pyroviles would have taken over ... but I guess we have to gloss over that one. Never mind what havoc a vespiform would have wrought on middle England.

In summary, it's another of those episodes which falls between the cracks of brilliant and dire. On the one hand, as usual, it's superbly made and presents a grim view of an England from which the Doctor is absent (much like real life then). Slightly reminiscent of the apocalyptic drama series Threads in its approach perhaps, but throwing in characters of such characature that it's hard to really care for them. On the other hand, a little like Utopia last year, it's a story which goes nowhere. Setting things up for the following season finale and so it feels a little like it's treading water.

The main element of press interest is Billie Piper's Rose, returned somehow from the parallel universe in which she was irrevocably trapped, and for some reason traipsing around after Donna in another parallel universe that she has created for herself when she changed her timeline by turning the other direction in her car. Piper looked and acted uncomfortable in the part. As mentioned her speech was weird and strange, lispy and distorted, and although she does smug and in control very well (I liked the weary comments from the unlikely named Arisa Magambo that she always talks like that) it didn't come over as believable.

I guess we need to wait until next week to find out where this is all going. And as for next week ... well the trailer was a veritable who's who: Rose with a big gun, the Doctor, Donna, her mum, Wilf, Martha (again), Captain Jack (again), Gwen and Ianto off of Torchwood, Sarah Jane (again) and Luke off of Sarah Jane Adventures, Penelope Wilton (again), the Judoon (again), some woman with white hair, a red Dalek (again), and a massive Dalek battle fleet (again) ... sheesh! Wonder where the kitchen sink was?


Matthew said...

I almost completely disagree with your review on this one. I loved this episode, and thought Catherine Tate was very good in it. I do agree that Billie Piper looked a little uncomfortable in the role, but I thought she was pretty believable (and I don't think she was travelling through time, I saw it as her travelling between universes, or simply travelling around the same universe, and just popping back to see Donna during important events. The musics was occasionally annoying, but mostly I thought was pretty appropriate.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you David ... again. A felt this show was all foreplay and little or no consumation.

Basically, this was a filler episode; we actually learned nothing at all about the concluding episodes apart from The Darkness is taking stars from the sky.(I though they split up after their second album bombed.)

Roshe, sorry, Rose lisps away in her awful blue leather jacket. RTD ... sorry , Rose doesn't want to create a paradox by telling Donna too much much as she doesn't want to create a paradox. ( A paradox in a Who-less universe, which is itself a paradox, in which Rose plans to create a paradox to get rid of the paradox & therefore bring the Doctor back. My, that is cogent piece of reasoning!)

The script was hammier than a spanish cookbook and even featured a "hilarious" stereotypical gregarious Italian immigrant. While CT's acting was erratic it was prompted, I feel, by script problems. Donna has a rollercoaster ride of emotions & ,I felt, struggled to keep pace with the script.

I felt this was largely a well-directed pile of tosh but the bug is a prop: pure and simple. Lifeless, cheap & tacky.

Poor fare even for a dissapointing 4th series. Let us hope it improves in the concluding two parter but the omens are bad. The trailers have a hint of my homemade soup: too many ingredients drowning out each other's flavour.

(RTD puts down Rassilon's hilarious novelty slippers .... do that again and you'll end up on the naughty step.)