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20 November 2009 @ 08:01 am
Doctor Who - Turn Left  
One day Donna Noble had a choice. She was driving to her new temporary job at HC Clements, and stopped briefly at a junction. If she turned left, she would go to HC Clements, if right, she would go to see someone about a more permanent job. She ultimately turned left and went to HC Clements. Her job would lead her to meet the Doctor that Christmas, as the Rachnos tried to take over the world.

Enter something nasty, something that made her turn right instead. Donna never met the Doctor, meaning that although he defeated the Rachnos, he drowned whilst doing so. An Earth without its Doctor – how bad could it be?

Pretty bloody bad.

Donna doesn’t even have any memories of the Doctor, which means that when a strange blonde woman keeps turning up she doesn’t know what to make of it. But we do; we follow Donna from the Rachnos invasion to the Sontaran attack, as Britain falls under martial law, ‘labour’ camps are set up (ahem) and millions continue to die. At last the blonde woman is able to convince Donna to help, because she knows what was supposed to happen. The Doctor was not supposed to die, and the only person who can help now is Donna…

Turn Left is this season’s Doctor-lite adventure, leaving us all alone with Donna Noble. Fortunately for everyone, the complete and utter misery pervading this adventure means that any attempt at comedy would fall flat, and so Catherine Tate doesn’t have many jokes. And I really do mean complete and utter misery; the only surprise is that the human race survives for so long.

This adventure is so loaded with continuity that you will only fully appreciate how ghastly all its implications are if you’ve been following the last two seasons, preferably three seasons, regularly. If you haven’t… well, don’t start watching here, that’s all I can say. For the rest of us fans, however, it’s fascinating to see what could have happened if the Doctor died. The adventure is such an unusual one that you can’t help but admire the concept. You also feel that Davies set himself a challenge here as well, just as he did for Midnight. With the Doctor gone, who would be left to help? How can past events be arranged to ensure that, for example, the Sontaran attack still fails?

The Rachnos attack isn’t too devastating for the planet because the Doctor stops it at the cost of his life. The next incident – the ‘theft’ of Royal Hope Hospital in Smith and Jones - is more disturbing. Martha Jones dies through oxygen starvation, and whilst that episode’s villain is defeated, saving the Earth from a massacre, Sarah Jane Smith dies in the attempt.

The Titanic from Voyage of the Damned crashes into Buckingham Palace, destroying London and irradiating southern England. Refugees are taken to the north, with several extended families having to share one house (Donna’s family have to sleep in the kitchen). Sixty million Americans die as Miss Foster from Partners in Crime converts them into baby Adipose, and whilst the Torchwood team stop the Sontaran attack, they die as well. Meanwhile, all foreigners in Britain are taken to, er, ‘labour’ camps. All this adds up to such a grim picture that Donna’s final action to correct the time line seems practically inevitable. As Rupert Giles would have said, whatever a universe with the Doctor is like, it has to be better than this.

Davies’s solution to his challenge isn’t totally successful. The Titanic crash should have wiped out all life on the planet – possibly Midshipman Frame was able to do something? – and Davies only concentrates on contemporary events. However, (for example), the Doctor’s death means that the Pyroviles back in The Fires of Pompeii would have wiped out all human life years ago. On the other hand, this is rather nitpicking. I’m content to admire the results this time around, as doing justice to all the plot’s implications would be tedious and not worth the effort. What we get from Davies is a real sucker punch, and one that I’m rather grateful for.

As the episode revolves around Donna we in her company for most of it. The combination of Tate/Davies/comedy does not work well, but the adventure is such a bleak one that comedy is at a minimum. Donna does bellow at times, but becomes increasingly subdued as her situation gets steadily worse. From the sheer of volume of tragedies that fall on top of her and everyone else, it’s difficult not to feel for her.

A major plot point of the adventure is that Rose Tyler returns. I can’t help thinking that Billie Piper seems a little ill for this adventure – she’s noticeably back to normal in the season’s finale – and it’s a bit distracting. On the other hand, it’s amusing to see her finally being ‘the mysterious character’ herself, as opposed to the all-knowing but silent Doctor.

The next adventure is the season finale, in which the Doctor fights the Daleks and wins, and Russell T Davies fights the audience and fails.