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June 28, 2008

Good Wolf, Bad Wolf

Bad_2 Doctor Who: Turn Left

Did you catch the trailer for next week's episode? Boy howdy, it was a long one, clocking in at nearly fifty minutes.

Because seriously, that's all this was. A big, honking, beautifully acted, poignant, moving trailer for the two-part finale that we'll be getting. And that list of glowing compliments doesn't let this episode off the hook for being what it is: A gigantic trailer. I mean, it's true that Utopia had it's trailer-ish elements as well, but this is something else. That episode was at least built upon its own original story, while this train wreck of an episode just lazily feeds off of the plot points of the past two years while blatantly (and openly) recycling material from earlier this series.

And Billie, you wait your turn. I'll get to you later.

There were things I liked about this episode, and I shall list them now. The biggest thing is Catherine Tate, and in the spirit of this episode I shall express my opinions about her performances by copying and pasting sentences from reviews I've already posted. "But dammit, Tate, what’s wrong with you? Can’t you throw me a bone once in a while? Give me something to complain about? Why can’t you be anything less than lovely?" "Even most former TateHaters have to admit that Donna's return benefits both her character and the show." "Donna, meanwhile, has my unambiguous approval as I mentioned earlier." "It turns out I like Donna better! If you'd told me I'd feel that way a couple of months ago (hell, a couple of weeks ago), I'd have had a difficult time believing it." "I continued to appreciate Donna's presence to the point that it's getting tiresome to write about it. She's excellent! I can't complain about anything."

See? I can reuse my material too! Now where's my OBE?

To say that this is Tate's best performance is no small compliment, I think. But credit is also due to Bernard Cribbins and Jacquline King as Donna's family. The former had me at hello, and the latter has finally won me over.

And that's about it.

I don't quite buy Rose's current characterization as the cool, calm Harbinger of Crisis on Infinite Whoniverses. Yeah, I went there.

You know, it's funny. Just a couple weeks ago I was talking to someone and I mentioned something to the effect of, "one of the very few things that would permanently end my Doctor Who fandom is if Billie Piper were to be cast as the Doctor." And, sadly, the day has come when that statement has been put to the test. Because that's exactly what has happened in this episode: Billie Piper has almost literally become the Doctor. She talks like him. She plays his name game. She bosses UNIT around. She travels in time and finds a companion. And she acts generally nothing like Rose Tyler. Anything likable about Rose (or, for that matter, anything unlikable about Rose) has been stripped away with this ridiculously neutered performance Billie Piper gives. I mentioned to a friend that I thought this was by far the worst performance Piper has ever given in Doctor Who, which he countered by bringing up the Deus-Ex-Rose-Tyler ending of The Parting of the Ways three years ago. Yeah, okay. That was probably Piper's worst moment, but looking at her performance in the episode as a whole, some of her better moments were present as well. I'm referring to the scenes during which she despairs of ever seeing the Doctor again, after he has sent her home. BIllie Piper was at the top of her game in that episode and thinking about it just makes me even more displeased with her performance here. I don't quite buy Rose's current characterization as the cool, calm Harbinger of Crisis on Infinite Whoniverses. Yeah, I went there.

And don't even get me started on all the flipping name-dropping. It's been done to death in the spin-offs with oblique (or occasionally direct) references to the Doctor himself. But when they do the reverse here it just seems cheap, like Russell is trying to draw momentum from outside sources to propel the episode when it would make more sense just to concentrate on the story of the episode. Oh wait, what story? I feel dirty comparing this episode to Midnight, but the mentions of spin-off characters gets exactly the same complaint as my complaint about the Rose cameo last week: it's meant to be tantalizing but it's just distracting. Couldn't we have left that all for the trailer, where it's meant to belong? Oh, wait, I forgot: This whole episode is nothing more than a flipping trailer, combined with a lame rehash of the story of Doctor Who for the last two seasons. Except for the most important part, ie, the return of the Master (yes, yes, I know, it makes sense).


At this point in the review writing, I had some friends over and re-watched the episode and entirely changed my mind about it. I flipping love this episode! Shit! What am I going to do with the nearly-complete review that I've already written?

And I'm not even interested in discussing the beetle aside from working in a reference to Donna eventually casting it of as though it were Pete Best. 

My points still stand with regard to Billie Piper's performance and the need to name-drop for the sake of giving the series some forward momentum (obviously intended to psych the viewer for the guest roles next week). And I'm not even interested in discussing the beetle aside from working in a reference to Donna casting it of as though it were Pete Best. But what I said was wrong for a few reasons.

First of all, how ridiculous was I to brush off Tate's performance as I did? I didn't even really say anything meaningful about what must be the best performance by a companion since the revival of the series. Hell, maybe the best ever. Donna is my favorite companion out of the ones who will be appearing over the next two weeks (yes, that includes Sarah Jane, who is probably number two). The fact that she is leaving the program at the end of this series makes me somewhat glad that the program is taking a year off because I admit I'm afraid it will be a poorer show without her. She significantly raised the bar for the show and this was the top of her game. The only pity is that Donna will not carry with her the experiences she had in the parallel universe. Unlike Martha's experiences in the negated timeline and Donna's married life on the Library's computer, or even John Smith's romance with Matron Redfern, all of which are remembered as actual experiences, this serves no such purpose. No character has been developed in any meaningful way, not even Donna, who barely remembers it all.

Donnaground Which is why, I suppose, this felt so empty to me at first: It was all a dream and we were aware of this from the beginning. This episode served two functions: it built the Rose hype to its climax and it delivered some exposition about the final two-parter. Neither of which were really necessary, which makes me wonder whether this episode was written simply to give Catherine Tate something to do while David Tennant was busy filming Midnight. I'm not going to talk about whether Rose's new characterization works or whether her return is worthwhile at all; that's something I'm going to save for my review of the finale, because only then will I be able to form an opinion that's any better than the knee-jerk one expressed above.

Damn. And for once I thought I was going to get to write a negative review.

So ultimately, none of that other stuff matters at all because this episode is driven entirely by the engine that is Donna Noble: the raw emotional power of Tate's performance, the character's unique role in the story of the relationship between the Doctor and Rose, The best performance by her family to date, and it must be said that she is helped by some challenging and entertaining material by Davies in his best script since last week. Seriously, though, now that I've given this episode a bit more of a chance, I do have to admit that, in its own, weird way, it serves as a fitting "companion" to last week's episode. The relationship between the Doctor and his companion has never been examined quite this closely. Midnight was not just a companionless story, but rather a story about companionlessness, and what it means to the Doctor without a companion. Turn Left, then, is the opposite: a story about what a companion is without the Doctor. And then, of course, there's the two-part finale, which features a small army of companions.

Damn. And for once I thought I was going to get to write a negative review. But there's hope yet! And if the next two are good, I might end up having to wait for Torchwood.


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