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June 26, 2008

Right Said Threads

Doctor Who: Turn Left

Left1_2I don't want to piss on anyone's chips, but Turn Left just didn't do it for me. I'd love to give it a big hug, I really would, but there's something relentlessly mechanistic and soulless about this episode that makes it difficult for me to like, let alone love. And while the acting is undeniably impressive (Tate is fantastic, yada, yada, yada), the direction is solid and the premise is morbidly fascinating, I just can't get worked up by endless scenes of people not really dying.

Yes folks, Turn Left is 45 long and dreary minutes of people dying - but only temporarily. And this week it isn't just one of our heroes gently nibbling on the bullet, only to recover just in time for the credits to roll, oh no!: everyone pops their clogs this time! It's one big exercise in faux death and destruction because, as everyone knows by now, there's nothing better than a nice fake death to give those tear ducts a good old work out, safe in the knowledge that everything will be alright in the end. Ahhhhh. So, the Doctor is dead. Martha is dead. Team Torchwood are all dead, except for Jack who still gets to transform into an giant omnisexual head in a jar. Sarah Jane Smith, Luke, Maria and Clyde are all dead too, which is no mean feat when you consider that they haven't even met each other yet. Even the bloody Queen is dead! Will someone please pass the f**king tissues!

All of this is due to a frankly preposterous twist of fate that feels as if it's been designed solely to silence Catherine Tate's detractors, even though she managed to shut most of us up weeks ago. I get it: Donna Noble is a mighty fine companion - one of the very best - but turning her into the most important sentient being in the whole history of creation? Methinks Russell protests too much...

Will someone please pass the f**king tissues!

Left2 First of all, we have to accept that the Doctor is killed by a fit of pique, which is a bit much in my book. We also have to swallow the notion that only the right kind of gobby redhead yelling "Stop!" at precisely the right moment will save him with from his own self-absorption. The temp who took Donna's place must have been bloody useless! She was probably cheering the Doctor on as he committed genocide and suicide at the very same time; a quick cutaway of Patsy Palmer in a bridal gown yelling "Kill 'em, Doc!" would have been great but, alas, it wasn't meant to be. Not in this universe anyway.

All of this results in the death of, well, just Her Majesty the Queen! Because, as we all know, only the Queen and Bernard Cribbens were in London on the day the Titanic slammed into Buckingham Palace, and even he gets away this time! Phew. OK, so the radiation poisoning must have played havoc with house prices and America did get its arse kicked by the Adipose (oh, the humanity!) but you have to look on the bright side: at least Japan hasn't been roasted alive this time.

Having said that, I did enjoy the darker aspects of this episode. Donna's mum being revealed as the spiteful cow I always suspected her to be was a nice touch, while the country's inexorable slide into a fascist dictatorship (probably because the cabinet had been infiltrated by giant rock monsters, giant scorpions, giant wasps, a head in a tank and, er, witches) was sporadically effective, especially considering the timeslot. When the magnificent Bernard Cribbens sees history repeating itself I could imagine parents up and down the country having to explain to their children what concentration camps were; actually, forget the kids - Donna was too thick to realise what was going on as well. "Where are you going?" she cries, as if she's the last person on earth to figure it out. The greatest companion ever, eh? Hmmmm.

But It takes a brave man to mix Threads with lite-entertainment and, sadly, Russell is that man. On the one hand you have a family show bravely hinting at what the systematic breakdown of society might actually look like (but without all that raping, looting and people being sick on themselves) but it doesn't take too long before events are thrown into sharp relief with cheap jokes ("go feed whippets") and comedy stereotypes.  For one horrible moment I actually thought that Steve Pemberton was back and the Nobles were moving in with Pops from The League of Gentlemen. "Come in! Take-a da seat on these-a boxes of-a Maverick bars!"

However, I have to admit that there are some interesting distractions. The fact that UNIT somehow managed to cannibalise the TARDIS into a rudimentary Heath Robinsonesque time machine was a very cool idea (if a little bit sad) but the briefing given to Donna was completely ludicrous. Doesn't UNIT have anything about the Blinovitch Limitation Effect in its files? Didn't anyone consider that Donna's initial plan to have an argument with herself in the street would probably result in a temporal catastrophe that would put this alternative f**k-up in the shade. Amateurs! And what is it with Rose's habit of forcing people to jump in front of oncoming traffic to save the time lines? It's fast becoming a habit.

Doesn't UNIT have anything about the Blinovitch Limitation Effect in its files?

Left3 Sadly, Billie's return to the series, after months of teasing foreplay, failed to give me the fangasm I'd been craving. I'd been waiting for her to show up for such a long time that by the time he finally jogged into view it didn't feel all that special any more. I've seen Sontarans get better reveals in the 1980s, and even when Rose does arrive she's so obviously wrong that most of my family thought she was an impostor sent to trap Donna, and who can blame them? What the hell was going on with her jaw? It's an utterly bizarre and perplexing performance from Piper that demands at least twelve volumes of fan-fic to explain. Maybe Pete's World is infested by really bad dentists? Who knows?

The climax to the whole shebang just made me laugh.  Forget the beetle, I'm talking about the return of Bad Wolf. Will Russell attempt to explain it to us one more time? Will it makes sense to anyone other than him this time? Sure, it feels kinda exciting but can anyone really explain it? And if Rose really wants to warn the Doctor that she's back then why aren't the two words spoken to Donna, "Rose Tyler"? What is this, an episode of 3-2-1?

So, there you have it. Another death, another spare. How many more times can they pull this stunt?

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