Friday, July 18, 2008

Doctor Who, "Turn Left": Ladies and gentlemen... the beetle!

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?

21 comments:

Jon Delfin said...

<<(this year, Davies chose to do separate Doctor-light and companion-light episodes as opposed to one without either in it very much)>>

Pooh. I wanted to point that out. Aren't you supposed to be overworked and exhausted?

Grunt said...

I need to watch it again. I'm fairly sure I missed things.

Anonymous said...

Yay, I get to point this out here. You know how the f/x for the beetle was kind of . . . um . . . less than sophisticated? Sort of rubbish?

Well, for that reason, DW fans have taken to calling it "Ringo". Geddit?

zumone said...

I watch this show with my 2, 5, and 8 year old daughters so I'm sure that skews my perspective. Anyway I thought it was a cool episode if not somewhat disjointed - which I guess you could argue was the point. The last "two words" spoken at the end definitely made up for any shortcomings and literally sent chills down my spine. The beetle reminded me of something from Cronenberg's "Naked Lunch". And the whole sub-dimension/parallel universe and its ending echoed the Father's Day episode, (not to mention "Donnie Darko" - time travel in that too, no?). All-in-all a good set-up for a finale.

J said...

Zuzu petals!

Worked for me as a nice little overview of the last couple years. One of Davies' strenghts has been tying everything together in a nice fanboy-friendly way. So, that.

Certainly wasn't the overextended nightmare ep I thought it would be from the coming attractions.

M.A.Peel said...

Dazzling, but I didn't think "It's Wonderful Turn" was a fresh as you did. That side of life-without-Donna was pretty formulaic. Rose looks so much more mature--she's crossed from teen looks to woman.

Beetle on back is creepiest monster yet. But I thought the "Donna doesn't know she's special" was a little overdone.

In terms of the promo for next week, it's also a bit of a question of how many times the earth can be on the brink of total destruction. It's a problem that Buffy and Angel ultimately had to joke about; "are you talking about the most recent apocalypse or the one before?"

jim treacher said...

I liked this, although when it comes to Donna, they've got Kyle Rayner Syndrome. "We've replaced a popular character and we're taking heat for it, so we'll make the new character the most important person in the universe. Take that, fans!"

The Italian flatmate was wonderful. I started off hating him and then realized that if I was ever in a situation like that, a person like that would be a godsend.

pgillan said...

...when it comes to Donna, they've got Kyle Rayner Syndrome.

Not to turn this into a Green Lantern discussion, but- what? They must have done something after I stopped reading, because I don't remember him being all that important.

Also, another line from Buffy: "I suddenly find myself needing to know the plural of apocalypse."

jim treacher said...

Here ya go. Before that, Grant Morrison's Justice League stories were always dropping hints about Rayner having some great destiny. It was like, "Right, we know we're supposed to care. We just don't."

Anyway. Donna's not that bad.

Anthony Foglia said...

[T]he likes of Martha, Sarah Jane and Gwen Cooper died to prevent (some of) them.

Gwen Cooper? Not in the Sci-Fi version. Unless I missed it, but I had the episode's Wikipedia page up while it was on and was expecting to see the "Torchwood" reference. I assumed they were cut for ads.

Toby said...

Okay, as for my geek moment with this week's episode:

the actress playing the fortune teller was Chantho, the Professor's insectoid assistant, in the episode "Utopia".

Nicole said...

The Torchwood gang, specifically Gwen and Iantho ,were noted as having died in their attempt to destroy the Sonatran ship.

I was impressed with this episode, especially with Catherine Tate because if she hadn't done it before, she certainly dispelled any doubts about her ability to do drama. Having to sacrifice yourself to change the world is definitely Doctor-like (although when he did it or tried to in the Sonatran episodes, he never actually had to go through it.)

And I didn't find the end a cheat, because although Donna lives, it's not the same Donna who had to sacrifice herself. That Donna doesn't exist anymore. Also, the Bad Wolf all over the place at the end just kinda freaked me out.

Billie Piper's accent did seem a bit off though and sometimes I couldn't understand her, which was not a problem when she was a regular companion.

OleNelson said...

Ack. This is bothering me. The maid who spoke some other language and noticed the beetle on Donna's back when they first fled for Christmas. Is that just an actress I recognize? Or is that a character somehow from the show's mythology?

Nicole said...

Lorraine Velez is a twin sister to the actress who plays the police lieutenant on Dexter (Lauren Velez). I noticed the familiarity too, and learned this connection from one of the blogs when the episode first aired.

Dark Tyler said...

Eh. Pretty standard what-if episode. I get the hype behind 'Midnight' even though I didn't love it, but 'Turn Left'? What's the big fuss all about? What if the Doctor wasn't there, broken future, every single thing we ever knew in the show dies, character goes back in time (to complicate the mythology even more :P), fixes all. Been there, seen that.

Jose C said...

I also detected a nice bit of fanboy slapdown at the start, where Donna was putting Rose off with the bit about blondes turning a guys eye.....

And the end of the earth has been a staple from Who from the start, so why quibble about it now? It's a cliche.

Anonymous said...

Scifi cut a lot of the scene where the Italian family they were sharing the home with had to leave. I loved Bernard Crimmins in that scene when they salute each other\\

really? said...

Is the above true? I didn't realize that scifi version differed from BBC versions. Certainly felt like something was missing there.

Anonymous said...

"The Torchwood gang, specifically Gwen and Iantho ,were noted as having died in their attempt to destroy the Sonatran ship."
Isn't it Sontaran? I mean, it'd be nice if the ship had some connection to, say, Frank Sinatra, but...

amasea said...

Yeah, I've heard that too, that the SciFi versions are cut rather more than the original BBC versions, presumably to make more room for advertising whatever bad movie of the week SciFi is showing next. I've taken to watching the episodes online rather than miss pieces.

amasea said...

Yeah, I've heard that too, that SciFi cuts bits of the episode as originally broadcast on BBC. Presumably so they'll have more room to advertise whatever horrible movie of the week they're showing next.
I've taken to watching the episodes online rather than subject myself to such butchery.