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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “Turn Left”

(tons of spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode! and no comments from party poopers — this is a love fest only / previous: Episode 10: “Midnight”)

This is Back to the Future II meets Twelve Monkeys. It’s among the most innovative use of the SF concepts of time travel and parallel universes I’ve ever seen. It’s so damn good I almost forget, every time I watch it, that David Tennant is hardly in it at all.
And Catherine Tate. Wow. Awesome awesome performance from her. It’s like one of the characters from her sketch comedy show — which are always terribly funny and terribly accurate, if exaggerated and satirized, images of modern womanhood — suddenly made real. Donna Noble without the Doctor is tragic because we know what she can be, what she’s capable of when only someone believes in her, when she isn’t crushed into self-doubt and self-loathing by a world that doesn’t tend to recognize women’s actual accomplishments, however small they are, and doesn’t tend to encourage women to be more ambitious than the smallest kind of ambition they can muster.

I mean, look: Donna’s mother is a nightmare. It’s easy to imagine that she’s been disappointed in her life, and so this is why she takes it out on her daughter, but still: ugh. Is that really a reason to demolish your daughter like you may have been demolished? Maybe Donna’s ambitions really were so small as hoping to marry the kind of man who would work at a posh company in the City (that’s the London equivalent of Wall Street, for the non-Anglophiles)… and her mother must stomp out even that? (“City executives don’t need temps, except for practice.” That is downright cruel.) Is Donna’s mother so bitter that she doesn’t even wish for her daughter to be that kind of traditional, marrying a man for his money? (It’s interesting that Donna’s mother is so perfect a depiction of downtrodden womanhood that I can’t even remember if we’ve ever heard her name.) It’s still heartbreaking to see Donna’s mother sink even further into despair… even if, at what appears to be her worst moment, all she can do is rag on Donna some more. (“I’ve given up on you,” and, later, all she can say is “Yeah” when Donna says, “I suppose I’ve always been a disappointment.” Jesus.)

“Turn Left” might be one of the most sneakily feminist bits of pop culture ever. Not just because the world goes to hell if Donna — just a temp, just a “mere” woman — is removed from events… although, wow, it’s not just that the world needs the Doctor but that the world needs a Doctor who needs Donna. It’s that we see, through this alternate world in which Donna never meets the Doctor, that, really, all it takes is a little encouragement and a little enthusiasm for what a woman can do that makes her blossom. Remove that from Donna’s life, and she’s insecure and uncertain and miserable and never discovers what she can be.

That’s disguised, of course, as this: Remove the Doctor from events — especially recent events, when, as Wilf notes, there’s a lot more aliens about — and what happens? Not the end of the world, but maybe something worse. It’s very fan-fictionish to be looking at the events of a television show from a new angle — that’s what fan fiction does — to become a different kind of observer of them. Here’s Donna, not getting married on the Christmas Eve of the Christmas Star, and so, without her to make him leave, to save his life, everything cascades into awfulness. Not everything changes… The Royal Hope Hospital still gets snatched by the Judoon, but now Martha Jones dies, and so does Sarah Jane Smith (and even all the kids who hang around with her, and again, it’s like: Jesus). The starship Titanic still comes screaming through Earth’s atmosphere on a collision course with the planet… and without the Doctor to stop it:


It just keeps getting more and more horrific. The collapsing global economy (which isn’t helped by the Adipose, unopposed by the Doctor, targeting America instead of the ruined U.K.). The “labor camps” (oh, the look on Wilf’s face as he knows where their Italian neighbors are going). The remants of Torchwood sacrificing themselves to save Earth from the Sontarans. We need the Doctor… but the Doctor needs us, too. He can’t do it without us.

Random thoughts on “Turn Left”:

• Cut from the Sci Fi Channel edit of this episode is this marvelous little moment from the opening scene, in the alien marketplace:

The Doctor tells Donna she’s gonna love whatever it is that they’re drinking, and she does. And then also cut from just moments later, while the fortune teller is trying to entice Donna into her shop, is this exchange:

“Don’t you want to know if you’re going to be happy?” –the fortune teller
“I’m happy right now.” –Donna

That is not something we usually hear people say on Doctor Who, but hey, if I were wandering in a marketplace on an alien planet with the Doctor, just, you know, shopping for something to cook for dinner on the TARDIS, I’d be happy too.

• Is there anything sadder than this:

Well, maybe the Doctor’s dead body on a stretcher. But the dead TARDIS is a close second.

• Creepiness! “The stars are going out” is good for that, but “There’s something on your back” is up there with “Are you my mummy?” for sheer unexpectedness. Who would have thought something so seemingly mundane could be so damn unnerving?

• It cannot be a coincidence that the time-changer insect thingie plus the fortune teller happen to hone in on Donna. This doesn’t really spoil anything for the two upcoming episodes, but we never find out who the fortune teller is (except the same actress who played Chan-Tho in “Utopia”) or if she was working for someone, or what. And we don’t learn anything more about “the Trickster’s Brigade,” which the Doctor says the insect thingie is one of.

• When Donna asks Rose, “Were you and him…?” meaning you-know-what, Rose says nothing. I wonder why…

• Rose looks older, doesn’t she? I don’t mean that she’s aged — it’s that she’s wiser.

(next: Episode 12: “The Stolen Earth”)

MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
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  • Christy

    Cuts like that are why I don’t watch Doctor Who on Sci-Fi. At least not without seeing the original BBC version first. Those little moments they get rid of for time are what turn the show from merely good to fantastic.

    I do love your Doctor Who reviews. You often notice and love the same things I do.

  • And we don’t learn anything more about “the Trickster’s Brigade,” which the Doctor says the insect thingie is one of.

    The Tricker himself appears in 2 previously aired episodes of “The Sarah Jane Adventures”: “Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?” (a two-parter)

    They’re definitely worth the time to watch. So is the whole season, for that matter.

  • Aderack

    To build on that, that SJA story actually leads kind of directly into “Turn Left”.

    It also goes a way to clear up UNIT dating, for what that’s worth.

  • Ryan H

    I wonder if it is possible to make a career out of appearing in the third last episode of Doctor Who every season? In Britain it probably is.

  • Paul Hayes

    “When Donna asks Rose, “Were you and him…?” meaning you-know-what, Rose says nothing. I wonder why…”

    ‘cos Rose is a bunny-boiling fantasist?


  • Psinorhc

    What really gave me a bit of the old chill up the spine was that message Donna brought back for the Doctor.

    That, followed by The Doctor’s reaction and then the next episode preview (UK version) had me squirming in suspense much more than the end of “The Stolen Earth” did.

  • Sarah

    See, when rose said something about the stars going out in this episode, I immediately flashed back to river song’s narration at the end of forest of the dead, when she says something like “everyone dies and the doctor knows it, but I think all the stars would go out if he ever accepted it.” I thought the finale would be the doctor finally getting disgusted and giving up on humanity (exacerbated by the horrible, normal people in midnight) and not being around for some kind of apocalypse ebcause he didn’t care anymore. But then I have a fevered imagination.

  • There’s an interview with Davies on the Bafta website in which he says he’s like to turn the concentration camp scene into an entire drama one day.


  • Barb Gorczyca

    I was going to watch it on Sci-Fi but as soon as I saw they made their first cut within the first what 30 seconds of the show, I flipped to something else. It always seems like with the cuts, the show becomes more rushed and loses something to it (with series 4 especially, the episode length has varied on average between 44 and 50 minutes). I really wish this was in HD because then (possibly), it could have aired on HDnet uncut (like Torchwood did recently).

    Regarding Turn Left, it only shows how important the Doctor is but also how his companions give him the added nudge to do the right thing towards others (such as in Fires of Pompeii). It also shows how well both Donna and the Doctor complimented each – bringing out the best in each other – especially with Donna.

  • MaryAnn

    ‘cos Rose is a bunny-boiling fantasist?


  • Karen

    I forget…when the Season DVD comes out, do they show the cutup version, or the UK version?

  • MaryAnn

    The Region 1 DVDs are unedited, same as they saw on British TV and get on Region 2 DVD.

  • Eva

    “(It’s interesting that Donna’s mother is so perfect a depiction of downtrodden womanhood that I can’t even remember if we’ve ever heard her name.)”

    I believe her name is Sylvia, and that it was mentioned at least the one time, during the Partners in Crime episode, near the end when Donna is telling the blond woman who turns out to be Rose about the location of the car keys in the bin.

  • Debbie

    I also got a chill up my spine when Donna said “Bad wolf”! As for reminders of movies, I was thinking it was more like “It’s a Wonderful Life”, as we saw what the world would be like without the Doctor.

  • melinda

    “Rose looks older, doesn’t she? I don’t mean that she’s aged — it’s that she’s wiser.”

    i thought she looked positively gaunt! get that girl a cheeseburger!

    they also didn’t put much make-up on her – she looked very washed-out. her lips were pale – and usually they put a brighter color on her, more blush – she went from “healthy” looking to weary. Though don’t spoil me – got 2 more episodes to go – so it probably ties in with her char…

  • MaryAnn

    Gaunt *can* make someone look older. Maybe that’s it…

  • Kate

    I’m loving reading your reviews BTW.

    I think the most perfect characterisation of Donna’s Mum is that she is eventually silenced but the trauma of it all – she has no voice. The fact that she doesn’t even have the will left to snipe said something so powerful.

    I thought it was heart-wrenching the dying Tardis. That was the saddest bit of all for me.

  • Brenda

    One thing that didn’t make sense to me was, if Donna never met The Doctor shouldn’t the earth have been taken over by the Pyroviles years ago, since they were not there to stop them?

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