Doctor Who #803: Turn Left

"You're not going to make the world any better by shouting at it."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jun.21 2008.

IN THIS ONE... If Donna never met the Doctor, he'd be dead and the world would turn to crap.

REVIEW: I love a good What If story, and that's exactly what we get when a Kafkaesque creature jumps on Donna's back in Turn Left and forces her to change a seemingly innocuous, but crucial decision from her past. There's even an overt (and pleasant) link to the Trickster from the Sarah Jane Adventures who pulled a similar trick earlier that year. As with any story based on this premise, there are some fairly obvious plot holes because the story has neither the space nor the scope to deal with how erasing the Doctor's post-Runaway Bride adventures in Earth's past would have impacted the present (but these would have erased Donna herself, so obviously, the creature's powers bend history in a way that doesn't erase its host). And of course, there's the whole matter of Rose's deus ex machina abilities, jumping through time, knowing things she shouldn't about the proper timeline, etc. These aren't really explained. We dealt with the first objection in an earlier article, so see Second Opinions, and we'll deal with the second under Theories.

In any case, the flaws don't really impact one's viewing because the drama is so strong. You're not thinking about how far-fetched Rose's powers are because the focus is on the Noble family's personal hardships in a disintegrating Britain. In turn, we hear how Martha, Sarah Jane and the kids, and the Torchwood team are killed/lost trying to deal with emergencies originally solved by the Doctor. Names that don't mean anything to Donna, but to the viewer, they steadily increase this world's hopelessness. But despite these big happenings on television, crises unaverted or averted at great cost, it's the personal dimension that breaks my heart. Things like Italian immigrant Rocco trying to make the best out of a terrible situation, and keeping his spirits up even as Wilf tearfully salutes him, as his family is sent to a "labour camp". If this world had had more than three weeks to live, would we have seen the rise of a fascist Britain? But it's Sylvia, most of all, that moves me. Even before the troubles start, we're presented with a woman who only recently lost her husband and is trying to get through it. This is a period of Donna's life we weren't privy to before. Sylvia is happier around Christmas, but then London is destroyed and she seems the hardest hit, compiling a roll call of the dead and by the time Rocco is sent away, completely giving up. That huge, sad close-up of her, drained of all spirit, never fails to get me right in the ticker.

There's a reason I used the "shouting at it" quote up top, and that's because it's exactly Donna's plan to set the timeline aright. She's going to go back in time courtesy of Rose and UNIT's jerry-rigged time machine and shout at her past self until she turns left. Of course things aren't that easy, making the climax a nice mix of humor and tragedy, this ordinary woman who never had the chance to become anything special in the alternate timeline, sacrificing her life for a better world. Then we snap back to Shen Shen where it all began, just in time for one of the best cliffhangers the series has produced. First, the fortune teller freaks out, which is cool enough, but as soon as Donna tells the Doctor the two words Rose whispered in her ear, so does the TARDIS, translating everything in sight, even words on its own shell, into "BAD WOLF". Cue cloister bell, cliffhanger sting, and end credits.

THEORIES: Turn Left seems to confirm a lot of Theories expounded on this blog and elsewhere about the staying power of the Bad Wolf. Previously, I've said (taking my cue from the About Time book series) that when Rose became the Bad Wolf and could see and control all of time and space, she not only seeded its name as a message to herself, but also rippled into Rose's future. It could even be possible that the Bad Wolf created Pete's World (or at least, access to it) as a refuge for Rose, one with just the right combination of her family members alive and dead so she could reconstitute it perfectly. It could have manipulated the Doctor's regeneration to make him young and gorgeous, so her budding love for him would be less awkward. That may seem extreme, but the coincidences do pile up, and in Turn Left, the Bad Wolf is the only reasonable explanation for what Rose is able to do. I'll accept that her world's Torchwood has the tech necessary to monitor timelines and even allow her to cross over from a dimension that's meant to be closed off. But how exactly does she know everything she knows? Ok, let's say she's from the near future, when her world is threatened by Davros' reality bomb. Her Torchwood has the means to detect the bend created by complex space-time events, and in looking for the Doctor's, discover Donna's and the creature's. Manipulating their version of the rift, Alt-Torchwood sends Rose back (in Partners in Crime to start with, and other messages have been attempted all across time), but she just misses the Doctor. Another attempt might have brought her to the changed timeline where the Doctor is dead, so she sets out to fix the problem and does. Jumping across Donna's life can be explained that way, and Rose probably makes other jumps we don't know about, into the world's future to fix Donna's raffle or so she can learn about, say, Captain Jack's fate, but this is where it gets rather wonky. There are things she knows she can't really have found out. What the Doctor thinks of Donna, what really happened in The Runaway Bride originally, or that Donna will have to die. And why is she the only one sent out on these missions (if she is)? That's where the Bad Wolf comes in. It saw the whole of creation, then hid those memories from Rose, but perhaps it programmed access to some information when it would become relevant. And maybe it's the reason for Rose's ability to cross between dimensions, the rift opening just right just for her. As confirmation, the word Bad Wolf returns in force to warn the Doctor of the reality bomb crisis, which the Bad Wolf must have foreseen. If the entity knew enough to splatter itself all across Shen Shen, then it knew enough to give Rose all the tools, powers and knowledge to avert the Turn Left problem arising ON Shen Shen. And yes, that might mean Pete's World and Rose's exile there was necessary so she could have access to super-Torchwood's bag of tricks.

VERSIONS: The DVD includes an expanded scene between Donna and Wilf at the telescope, suggesting the latter may be facing an illness.

SECOND OPINIONS: My original review, What If the Doctor Never Met Donna Noble?, was written in the style of my What If? reviews, so comes off as more of a synopsis. I does include explanations as to why the Carrionites or Pyroviles aren't ruling over the Earth.

REWATCHABILITY: High - A fun puzzle episode surprises by being very moving as well.

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