Aired 21 June 2008
Nearing the end of its fourth incredibly successful series, the modern series of Doctor Who brazenly celebrates itself with ‘Turn Left,’ essentially Doctor Who meets A Wonderful Life and telling the tale of the world had Donna not been there to stop and save the Doctor in her debut tale ‘The Runaway Bride.’
With the Doctor dead, killed too quickly to regenerate, Donna takes the lead in this story and provides an entry point for the viewing audience to experience the strange and alien events witnessed over the past two years from a completely normal family. Of course, without her travels with the Doctor to temper her, the Donna on display is much more in line with the brasher and more self-centred version from her debut; it thus makes perfect sense that, upon seeing the Titanic crash into Buckingham Palace and flood a good portion of the country with radiation, her biggest gut reaction would be to her inability to move to Leeds rather than to the loss of life and ramifications involved.
As the events continue to unfold, there is a recurring background story of the world at large trying to carry on normally, and yet ‘Turn Left’ still manages to somehow tell an effective near-apocalypse story through the eyes of one family as Donna, her mother, and Wilf, move into a safe home full of families. Even if the symbolism is a bit overt, it’s undeniable that the non-British family sharing Donna’s home being taken away to labour camps is hauntingly effective. Of course, Wilf is old enough to remember the last time the term labour camps was used and is none too pleased with the situation even if it does end up benefitting his family. No excuses and no explanations are given to anyone, and Donna’s mother realizes that, refugees, they really are nobody.
Part of what makes ‘Turn Left’ so successful is how it twists the events of several Doctor Who episodes. Thus, while the Adipose seemed completely harmless and the Sontarans more comically inept, both prove extremely dangerous without the Doctor there to save the day. Likewise, even with the televised damage that the Titanic replica did, people still find it hard to believe, a testament to how bizarre but overwhelmingly dangerous the universe in Doctor Who is. Most of the footage used is recycled with only a few new images cleverly inserted, but they all fulfill their goal admirably. And seeing the world collapse through the eyes of Donna Noble is incredibly poignant as there are no official discussions or statistics to show any bigger scale.
The continuity references don’t simply apply to the events of the episodes themselves, though. The cast of Torchwood and of The Sarah Jane Adventures both get distinct callouts but, understandably, the most important is the physical return of Billie Piper as Rose in grand fashion after a brief cameo in ‘Partners in Crime’ and several fleeting images throughout this run of episodes. Rose, of course, was the perfect complement for the Ninth Doctor and really helped to keep the first two series of the programme grounded in modern reality. Her character may have become a bit too audacious and entitled when alongside the Tenth Doctor, but she was still an integral part of the revival’s early success and was given a remarkably emotional and fitting ending, much more developed than most companions’ farewells. As such, even though Rose defending the Earth and crossing timelines in ‘Turn Left’ is a great sight to see and a logical journey for the character to go down after her time with the Doctor, it does diminish the impact of the finality of that farewell just a bit.
However, if there’s one overall point to take home from ‘Turn Left’- and it almost seems superfluous and unnecessary to say- it’s just how incredibly important the Doctor and his companion are. Whereas the entire revival, and especially the last two series- have shown that the Doctor is a very flawed and contradictory man at heart, ‘Turn Left’ solely focuses on the good that he does and that he is a hero despite those flaws. At the same time, it vindicates the need for the companion in the Doctor’s life to act as a moral compass at times and to keep him from taking a step too far.
The beetle that feeds off of the energy when Donna decides to turn right instead of left is a very physical and practical effect that some will undoubtedly call cheesy, but it serves its purpose well and passively becomes one of the most powerful beings that the Doctor has yet encountered. With Bad Wolf making a staggering reappearance at the end of the episode, the scene is set for the two-part finale to the fourth series. Getting to that cliffhanger, though, is am immensely enjoyable story that continues the run of successful Davies-penned adventures started in ‘Midnight.’