Brief spoilers for the latest episode of "Doctor Who" coming up just as soon as I buy a raffle ticket...
Damn. Looks like Russell T. Davies is trying to make sure that his final season on the show doesn't get upstaged by the annual Steven Moffat script(s).
Davies follows the taut, Serling-esque "Midnight" with its exact opposite in the equally brilliant "Turn Left." Where "Midnight" was a claustrophobic, low-budget story with an implied theme about why The Doctor needs a companion (were Donna with him on that train to explain The Doctor's eccentricities to the terrified passengers, things would have gone very differently), "Turn Left" is an epic about just how badly the human race in general and Donna in particular need The Doctor.
What-If? stories where the world goes to hell because of a hero's absence are a superhero/sci-fi staple, but "Turn Left" felt fresh and moving because of the very human face it put on this alternate timeline. Working almost entirely without David Tennant (this year, Davies chose to do separate Doctor-light and companion-light episodes as opposed to one without either in it very much), Catherine Tate more than carries the load on her own as Donna has to suffer through a world that's broken for reasons she can't understand. She's particularly good in the "Children of Men" portion of the episode, once the Titanic destroys most of southern England and things really turn bad for the Noble family and for Great Britain.
(It was a clever touch, though, for the ruination of Britain to have a silver lining during the Sontaran invasion. Also, what happened with the Adipose fat cells, sans Doctor, would seem to put the lie to my theory that nothing bad would have happened if The Doctor and Donna hadn't disrupted the plan.)
Because Davies has built such a memorable and elaborate world over the past four seasons, he was able to easily conjure up a nightmare version of seasons three and four where the same menaces came and the likes of Martha, Sarah Jane and Gwen Cooper died to prevent (some of) them. And because one of the hallmarks of the Davies-era "Doctor Who" is the writers' ability to conjure great sympathy for doomed characters in only a few minutes of screen time, the moment where Donna says goodbye to her falsely-chipper Italian neighbor earned whatever tears it may have generated.
I did find the ending a bit of a cheat, in that Donna seems to be right about the old timeline reasserting itself and bringing her back to life. But Rose (who fit right in again, rather than evoking Billie Piper's new job) seems to know quite a lot about various versions of our timeline, so I fear there may be more bad things to come for my favorite companion of the modern series.
As always, usual warning applies: we are respecting the American schedule and will not discuss anything having to do with the season's final two episodes until after they air here. Any comments with spoilers about those episodes will be deleted by me.
What did everybody else think?