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June 22, 2008

Future Perfect

Left1 Before the episode aired, I’d already decided upon what I thought was the perfect structure for this review.  I was going to write about my second day of university, evening actually.  There was a party in the student hall (which was co-incidentally located in Leeds) and I’d spent most of the night talking to these four French girls because having been at an all boys school for the previous seven years, having not had much contact with girls and deselecting languages from the agenda before my GCSEs, I didn’t see the point in using my time that evening to chat to the English men who all seemed to have packed together at the other end of the common room getting drunk.

I would have described how at the end of the night I, the gentleman I am, walked all of the girls home across campus, and when I reached the final room, the final girl, Katerina invited me in.  I would have cutely revealed that since I’d spent seven years at an all boys school hadn’t had much contact with girls and deselected languages from the agenda before my GCSEs, that I’d meekly told her that it wasn’t the kind of thing we did in our country (which in hindsight also sounds like I’d dropped through a time warp from the end of the 19th century) and that it wouldn’t be right.

On this basis of this I was going to attempt to write the review as though I had actually gone into that room, done all of the things exactly one week later my imagination thought might have happened when I realised what I’d done.  As if going into that now mysterious room might have been the start of a romance which would have opened my eyes in more ways than one, turned me into the cosmopolitan man about town, hung around with a completely different crowd at university and wouldn’t have inextricably returned to Doctor Who in the late nineties meaning I’d be writing reviews for this blog.  It would have been a comment on the whole ‘Left Turn’ aspect of the episode, the Sliding Doors/It’s A Wonderful Life/Buffy: The Vampire Slayer’s The Wish/The Family Man/Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Yesterday’s Enterprise’ facets of Russell T Davies’s script.

Then I watched …

Doctor Who: Turn Left

… or more specifically the climax, and my brain exploded.

Oh yes, as soon as Donna said those two magic words, I began shouting, ‘Aaaah! Aaaah! Aaaaah!  Bad Wolf!  Bad Wolf!’  You know that video of those two girls on the couch during the reappearance of the Master last year that turned up on You Tube?  That was me.  I shouted so hard, I actually began to get chest pains, and believe that if I hadn’t calmed down in time for the trailer, through which I mostly just tittered, there might have been a puddle of something which rhymes with squee on the floor.  I don’t remember being this excited during the old series when I was a child.  Not even when Tom turned to Peter or it was revealed that Bertie Bassett was a wrongen after all.

In other words, don’t expect anything much from me on the subject of this episode, no great insights or moments of inspiration.  The critical parts of my opinion organ are currently splattered all over the cushions and beginning to smell.  At this point if I was asked to review the new Coldplay album, I’d probably give it five stars, write ‘well cool’ underneath and eat another chocolate chip cookie.  Excitement makes me want to snack it seems.  I’m listening to a Pussycat Dolls cd as I write, for goodness sake.  This episode might have been rubbish for all I know, but those final few moments, the signs of Bad Wolf everywhere, the Doctor realising the monumental task ahead, the fact that we haven’t yet seen everything from the mid-season trailer, the …

I’m agreeing with the Dolls that I wished my girlfriend was hot like them

Well, you’re here, I’m here, and I’m agreeing with the Dolls that I wished my girlfriend was hot like them.  Or Katerina.  On the face of it, Left Turn seemed like it was going to be a fairly standard lope through the tropes of the aforementioned narratives, Rose fulfilling the role of Clarence the angel guiding Donna through all of the changes which occurred because she decided to turn right.  There was certainly an element of that, especially as our old friend explained to our new one how important she was to the universe, and Donna making much the same sacrifice as the Enterprise-C in giving herself up for the sake of the timeline.

Unlike those stories though, this wasn’t a learning experience, a repulsive human being (George Bailey and Captain Garrett excepted) gaining insight into what their life could be like so as to make them enjoy what they have and make them a better person.  Which isn’t to say that Russell wasn’t averse to utilising the kind of orientalism you’d often find in a high concept Eighties fantasy film like Gremlins or Big to bring about the terrible tremors in the timeline (perfectly evoked by Chipo Chung’s exotic turn).  About the only thing which didn’t work in the episode was the giant obviously plastic beetle that might as well have been bought in a Museum gift shop, but even that was saved from total deplorability by the Doctor’s invoking of the Trickster from The Sarah Jane Adventures as an explanation, giving the prop a weight it hadn’t shown in any of its previous scenes.

About the only thing which didn’t work in the episode was the giant obviously plastic beetle that might as well have been bought in a Museum gift shop

Such tales are never about the methodology and entirely about outcome, and the entertainment was in seeing the effects the major events of the past couple of series would have had on the population of the world had our hero not been abroad.  This was intricate and mostly very well thought out, particularly in the non-appearance of the Master who it’s finally acknowledged would still be chan stuck as poor old Professor Yana tho had it not been for the Doctor’s appearance in the far future.  For every potential plot hole an explanation was forthcoming – not enough time to regenerate, not enough cars in the country with ATMOS fitted, indestructible Jack transporting to the Sontaran homeworld. 

About the only hiccup I could find was that Sarah-Jane and friends, according to Invasion of the Bane, don’t unite until early 2009 which makes their death in the hospital premature and we didn’t find out how the adventures set in the past would have turned out without the Doctor’s presence.  Why also no mention of celestial bodies threatening to smack into the Earth every couple of weeks or the kidnapping of children.  Such things can be blamed on this being a corrupted timeline or as the Doctor says, time has a habit of sorting itself out around these kinds of paradoxes (something he managed to explain without using either the words ‘timey’ or ‘whimey’ or ‘web of’). 

no mention of celestial bodies threatening to smack into the Earth every couple of weeks or the kidnapping of children

Other than that it was almost as though Russell T Davies had a copy of Ahistory next to his keyboard as he typed, reminding him that Sarah once wrote for the Metropolitan and the alternative world that Rose became trapped in was a couple of years ahead and so should the barriers fall down she’d have an insight into the outcome of events.  The return of such figures as Morganstern for a couple of lines filled in the kind of gaps which often occur in episodes like this when actors aren’t available.  It’s not unlike a US show produced by John Wells – in e.r., incidental hospital workers established as working in County General  during earlier seasons would reappear later in much the same positions (often even though their career had taken off in the meantime). 

If there are multiple dimensions though, and the Tyler girl can skip between them, are the rest all without the Doctor?  Shouldn’t there be one teeming with timelords even, after a more positive outcome for the time war?  One in which the Eighth Doctor’s still trying to regain his memory after his latest bump on the head?  According to the boards, Russell and Paul recently had lunch, and we all know what that means.  Much discussion of the wig. 

even Montoban had to see the Space Seed again

Wouldn’t one of those do if she was desperate?  Well, no, because Rose is loyal to her Doctor.  Billie Piper might be embarrassed at having had to watch a couple of episodes to remind herself of how to approach the role (even Montoban had to see the Space Seed again) but I think that once the hair and make-up returned everything else fell into place.  The character’s older now certainly, and far more technologically and scientifically minded and developed a certain Torchwoody bite but she’s still much the same girl who lost the lottery money in the basement of Henricks.

Even if as almost everyone I’ve seen online suggests her accent has changed and she’s had some dental work, Piper demonstrated the strength that has developed within Rose through independence and has self-consciously appropriated some of the mannerisms of her old friend, her experiences in the intervening years playfully hinted at, the muted television special suddenly looking like a genuine loss to the franchise.  Perhaps now that he’s got a moment to himself, Russell will turn it into a novel.  For my money, it’s a more successful recall than Martha who has actually seemed to regress into being a more typical companion in the intervening time.

it doesn't strike me that Billie even wants to go back even for a short time

In other words, when I commented previously:  "I can't even believe I'm giving this house room, but even narratively speaking it's a joke and would annoy me even more than Catherine Tate's appearance is bugging other people. It cheapens the close of Doomsday for a start, plus it doesn't strike me that Billie even wants to go back even for a short time. It'd be like Sarah Jane Smith turning up for Tom's regeneration in Logopolis. Yes, I know they asked Liz but she didn't want to do it and I suspect Piper would be anti too even to commemorate David's 'era'. Once again, balderdash and piffle."  I was wrong, the minxes and it somehow didn't manage to overshadow the current incumbent or lessen the impact of the end of season two.

Donna cries again, and with good reason.  As her world falls apart, she has much the same realisation I had in the early noughties that I was trained for nothing and she noticed too that predictably at the first sign of trouble, Britain has become tough on immigration.  That Catherine Tate was brilliant goes without saying; throughout this series she’s been called upon to deal with potentially even more emotionally complex material than either of her predecessors and surely must have won over her doubters by now, even if this is the third week running that the ‘proper’ Donna, the one who’s travelling with the Doctor, has hardly got a look in. 

even if this is the third week running that the ‘proper’ Donna, the one who’s travelling with the Doctor, has hardly got a look in

But the secret weapons in this episode were the guest cast.  Bernard Cribbins and particularly Jacqueline King as Sylvia, who brought an extreme amount of darkness to what has up until now been something of a one-note character, a reminder of Donna when she was still The Runaway Bride.  That shot from the hallway of the house outwards focused just on her face was devastating, a single word demonstrating just how broken the human race had become.  If the lights can fall from her eyes? 

In the end, Turn Left was the darkest episode of Nu-Who that Russell has so far presented, joyously wrecking his cohesive universe and murdering much loved characters in both directions.  Even Donna’s sense of hope in committing suicide was misplaced as Rose hinted what we’d all suspected – that the character’s surname is likely to become a job description.  It seems too that some of the budget saved in setting episodes in country houses and spaceship cabins is being spent in these final three. 

the watch word during tone meeting was ‘mundane’

The hopelessness of the family’s nomadic existence would not have worked as well without so many scene changes, and director Graham Harper has that rare ability to eloquently direct action sequences and character moments with equal fluidity.  Perhaps rightly the watch word during tone meeting was ‘mundane’ as the plot played out across some ultra-realistic, not mention grotty settings.  The audio landscape of the episode recalled most of the major music of the past, with Rose’s theme writ large and intermingling with Donna’s and those some will still probably have a pop at Murray’s emotional crescendo, this is one of the few episodes in which his talents helped to bind the episode together.

On then to the climax and post-coitus trailer.  To install Bad Wolf again at this critical stage was orgasmic, Rose’s deployment of them at Donna’s ‘death’ recalling her appearance at the scene of her Dad’s sacrifice recalling Father’s Day (oddly enough, there was also once a magazine called Turn Left published by Cornell University).  At the dusk of the old age, Russell is clearly going to be referencing all of the hints and red herrings not only of this season but since Rose, loose end upon loose end tied together so that Steven can move forward with a largely clean slate (with only his own ideas left hanging).   

pshrr and nrrr

It turns out that every tabloid and internet rumour you read was probably true, even the ones were you thought pshrr and nrrr and ‘That’d never happen…’, playfully tossing out the rule book on making accessible entertainment, the closing couple of episodes should be of the kind written by fans for fans and repaying our loyalty for the past four years.  Even Harriet Jones is there, though who is that old woman standing between the Judoon?  Old Rose?  Old Donna?  Gelth?  Agatha Christie?  At this point, anything is possible. 

Though I still think Davros and the Daleks are a red herring in the style of the gamestation, the army of ghosts, and Mr Saxon (just look at the episode they’re appearing in) masking something even more terrible.  During Confidential, a clip from ‘Dalek’ of the Doctor describing the Last Great Time War was played out.  For once it sounded more like “the war to end all wars” and given the propensity of the series towards World War I motifs, will we be looking at Time War II next week? 

Look – I think my brain’s grown back.

Next Week:  The Dalek Invasion of Earth 2009, as directed by Robert Altman.

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