Thursday, 24 July 2014

Turn Left written by Russell T Davies and directed by Graeme Harper

This story in a nutshell: An alien force invades Donna’s past to kill the Doctor and destroy the future…

Delightful Donna: So Catherine Tate can’t act? Here’s her chance to prove that not only she can but given the right material she can shit all over every other companion that has come before her (and certainly since her). Donna and the Doctor have now got to the stage where they are having a blissful time together, in Russell T Davies terms that means they are about to be split apart in the most catastrophically dramatic way possible (twice over actually, both here and in Journey’s End). She doesn’t need to know if she will be happy in the future because she’s happy now. The relationship between Sylvia and Donna bubbles with resentment and disappointment, it's one of the great unsung relationships in Doctor Who because it contains so much that is just feels so real. She is trying to get Donna to work as a secretary and has no faith in her daughter to find a job that has a future (‘City execs don’t need temps except for practice’). In a moment of pure thoughtlessness, Donna has a bitchy  reaction to her redundancy and completely skips right over the fact that people have died (no wonder she missed the Cyberman invasion, etc). And yet somehow you still love her. Sylvia admits she has given up on Donna, what a devastating thing to hear from your mother. I love how she doesn’t just throw herself into Rose’s arms, she’s quietly very aggressive with her and can totally look after herself. Her mockery of northerners clearly comes from an angry place and too enduring too many episodes of Coronation Street and is very, very funny. Look at the scene where she walks away from her mother in that long black coat, she looks like a spectre of death. She genuinely thinks she is nothing important (I guess her mother has told her enough times for it to make an impact) and after Rose tries to convince her of the contrary Donna’s ‘just don’t…’ speaks volumes. Donna is all flame hair and fire! Bravely she agrees to see the creature that has been hiding on her back and Tate aces the fear and anger, giving a performance of intensity that we aren’t used to on Doctor Who. This is the episode where Donna proves she doesn’t need the Doctor to be exceptional, she can do it all on her own. A companion has never been treated to a vehicle of this kind to prove their mettle before and I am so happy it was Donna (and Tate) that was afforded that honour. Donna’s optimistic speech about putting time back on track twists into pure terror when she realises she is going to have to commit suicide, a transition that Tate makes effortlessly. Proving that she understands how important the Doctor is, Donna commits suicide to make the world a better place. Somehow that bleak ending manages to be staggeringly optimistic because Donna proves herself as the ultimate companion, laying down her life even when she is terrified to do so. What a character. The fortune teller backs away from her, telling her she is so strong and asking what will she be? This is powerful stuff.

Chavvy Chick: I know it’s a coarse observation to make...but what has happened to Rose’s teeth? It is very interesting that Rose is played as a supernatural portent of death for Donna. If she had to return to the show (and after her sensational departure I still wonder if it was necessary) this is an inventive way to pull it off. She has crossed many different realities as an anonymous benefactor. I have to say I really like this witty, clever and confident Rose, she reminds me of the rock chick from series one but one who can now step into the Doctor’s shoes very snugly and take over his role in the series. Perhaps the idea of her running an alternative universe Torchwood wasn't such a crazy idea given the evidence in this episode. Billie Piper isn't quite afforded the same opportunity as Tate in Turn Left but she still acquits herself well. They make a pretty formidable team.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We’re just no one Donna. We don’t exist.’
‘Oh my God. The stars are going out.’
‘You liar! You told me I was special!’ – I have never seen a line delivered with such venom!

The Good Stuff: How much do I want to visit that exotic marketplace? Every time I visit Chinatown in London it reminds of the back alley planet from Turn Left, all lanterns, eateries and delicious foreign smells assaulting you. The chilling pre-credits sequence involves the notion that somebody can invade your memories and manipulate them to change the future. The Trickster was the finest SJA villain because of this stunning modus operandi that opened up so many storytelling possibilities and it is great to see that spilling over into Doctor Who. Like Love & Monsters Davies plays about with his own continuity but he uses it like a scalpel here, cutting and slicing at the very fabric of the series. Graeme Harper’s recount of the Webstar attack on London cuts out the hysterical music and makes its advance over London silent and consequently a million times scarier. The Doctor’s body on the stretcher with the sonic screwdriver slipping from his dead fingers is a terrifying image, and yet one of many in this episode. The events of Smith & Jones play out but this time Martha, Sarah, Luke, Clyde and Maria all die on the moon. Given Elizabeth Sladen's death these scenes have an extra layer of poignancy to them. Isn't it wonderful how all of the fluffy, much moaned about Russell T. Davies threats to the Earth that bring the planet to its knees? Utilising the Voyage of the Damned threat of the Titanic almost crashing into the planet but this time actually showing the devastating consequences adds another element of danger to the former story every time I watch it. The delayed impact felt by Donna’s family and the mushroom cloud hanging over the city is a devastating moment. London destroyed and everybody you know dead, that is almost impossible to come to terms with. At this point I realised this had to be undone at some point and feared the worst kind of reset button (ala Last of the Time Lords) but Davies has something much more personal in mind. Suddenly we are in darker territory, refugees being piled into tiny houses, no employment, concentration camps and armed soldiers on the streets. How can you not love Wilf? He refuses to take off his daft antlers at the super posh hotel, ‘God bless America!’, enjoying a sing song with his fellow house mates and his beautiful tears which leave you with no illusion to the horrors he has witnessed in his life. ‘Every day I think of someone else. All dead’ – I really like how Davies doesn’t ever shy away from the psychological consequences of losing everybody you love. Of course the Adipose hit America the worst – that is a rare (priceless) gag in an otherwise black episode. Donna’s ‘Where are you going?’ as she chases after the army van and the following scene where Sylvia stares at the audience blank faced, the only thing she can bring herself to part her lips for is to insult her daughter are two of the bleakest moments you will see in Doctor Who. Illusions to slave camps and depression and hopelessness brought to life so vividly by Jacqueline King - the Doctor hasn't been anywhere near as brave as this since because it is so emotionally real, Just when you think it cannot get any more apocalyptic the stars start going out. The visual of the dying, musty TARDIS is unforgettable. The ship aches for the loss of the Doctor, in throes of depression herself. S much so it resists the attempts of Rose and UNIT to coax her back into life. The episode never stops surprising - Donna landing half a mile away from her destination is both hilarious and edge of the seat exciting. Who saw that devastating conclusion coming when they walked into this episode? Donna proves herself as the selfless person that she really is and kills herself to save the Doctor. To follow that up with such a breathtaking cliffhanger which heralds Rose's return to our universe and suggests that the drama in this episode is only the beginning was a bold move. Nobody can build up to a finale like Davies and here he provides his most appetite whetting example of gearing the audience up for what is to come whilst still telling a brilliant story. Turn Left is a 45 minute long prelude to the finale, showing you the result of what will happen (the stars going out) if Davros (as yet undisclosed) manages to prime his reality bomb.

The Shallow Bit: Donna is beautiful throughout, outside and in. The moment Donna realises it is a time machine Rose breaks into a smile that makes you realise this is out Rose all along.

Result: Turn Left is bold, brilliant and shits on continuity with real verve. Because of its lasting emotional impact on me, the stunning production values, the bleak, uncompromising tone and adult content it manages to achieve the knocks Blink from the top spot of my favourite Doctor-lite episode. Season four had been performing extremely well up until The Unicorn and the Wasp but the run of episodes from The Silence in the Library to The Stolen Earth are exemplary one of the greatest runs of knock outs in the shows history. Given the Doctor's absence this should be the weakest of the bunch but it is actually my favourite and the two individuals responsible, Russell T. Davies and Catherine Tate, should be extremely proud of what they achieved here. Tate has always been excellent but here she is a revelation, silencing all of her critics with a performance that has down in Doctor Who history. Russell T, Davies has written an impeccable script and it is dramatically realised by Graeme Harper giving us a deliciously dark waltz through the last four years of alien invasions and showing us the consequence of them without the Doctor's interference. Jacqueline King and Bernard Cribbins provide the best support that Tate could ask for, propping up the episode with some weighty talent whilst still giving her the limelight. The world without the Doctor is a scary place and the episode never shies away from how much we are in his debt. But the human race is a formidable force too and Donna proves once and for all what an incredible person she is; suffering terrible indignities, watching her world collapse and then willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to put things right. I couldn't love her character more than I do in Turn Left. Series four raced towards its conclusion with six incredible episodes in a row and Turn Left rises ever so slightly above the quality and drama of its neighbours and has a vivid, stark and emotional identity all of its own: 10/10


Michael said...

"given the right material she can shit all over every other companion that has come before her (and certainly since her)."
Oh Joe, you bitch! Can't resist a dig at Amy Pond can we?

Excellent review of an excellent episode though.... Donna is my favourite companion too and I would have loved to see her have more than one series.

Joe Ford said...

I'll never miss a chance to poke fun at Amy ;-)

Thank you for your kind words, nice to know there are kindred spirits reading the blog :-)

David Pirtle said...

The two problems I have with this episode are that it strains credulity to think the Doctor would literally have just stood there and drowned if Donna weren't with him in The Runaway Bride, and that Rose's going on about Donna dying are both reminiscent of and no more believable than her going on about her own death during the voice-overs in her last proper story. So I guess I don't think it's as perfect as you do, but it's a great, bleak what-if story, sort of an "It's a Wonderful Life" from a second perspective. And yes, it should quell any doubts about Tate's acting abilities. She's amazing in this.