I actually fell asleep the first time I watched Turn Left.
I even fell asleep the second time.
The reason for that was that I was on a course all that weekend to become a Body Pump Instructor, and that was tough work. When I got back to my aunt’s house where I was staying, I was too tired to watch even 5 minutes of it.
When I got home the next night, I tried again to watch it, and drifted in and out before finally getting to see the whole thing at the third attempt the next day.
And I thought to myself that maybe it was because of the tiredness factor, but I just didn’t get the hype. My brother had told me it was a superb episode – and this has been backed up by fandom ranking it at #12 in the DWM Mighty 200 poll – but I just couldn’t see it.
I watched it one more time between then and my review watch and I couldn’t see it either.
So what about this time? Did I see the brilliance in Turn Left that everyone else seems to see?
Doctor Who – Turn Left Review: What’s This One About?
It’s Sliding Doors, but this one involves Donna, a scary looking Rose, a woman who looked more normal as Chantho the Reptile and a world where the Doctor wasn’t there to save the day.
Thoughts – It’s A Nice Idea, But…
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I dislike Turn Left, but neither does it enthuse me.
The idea behind it – i.e. what would happen if Donna had never met the Doctor, and subsequently what would happen if the Doctor hadn’t been there to save the day in Smith & Jones, Voyage of the Damned, Partners in Crime and The Sontaran Stratagem – is interesting enough, but it’s limited and highly predictable.
So while I like that they’ve explored it, and it was interesting to see the after-effects of these potential invasion storylines, it just didn’t grab me.
Why would Sarah Jane have been at the hospital without the Doctor? Did he just tell her not to bother showing up that day because he had everything in hand?
The same applies to the Torchwood team stopping the Sontarans.
That part is just name dropping for the sake of setting up the next episode.
As a whole, this entire episode comes across as a bit gimmicky to me.
And worst of all is the Rose Tyler stuff.
Oh No, Gimmick Battle Royal Rose Is Back
First off, what the hell happened to Billie Piper?
She looks ill, but worst of all, she can barely speak. When she says “What are you doing for Christmas? Next Christmas? Any Plans” it comes out as…
“Woh are you doing fo Crishmath? Nex Chrishmath. Any Pwansh?”
I’ve just googled the theories on why she’s like this here and they range from her getting veneers in her teeth (even though they were big enough as it was) to cosmetic surgery to – laughably – forgetting how to speak as Rose.
Either way, it’s incredibly distracting. It’s honestly like she’s had some sort of facial paralysis and can’t open her mouth anymore. Like she’s recovering from a mild stroke.
There’s an episode of ALF that has the grandmother from The Goonies in it, and she looks and sounds awful (she died later that year). This is a bit like that, although thankfully Billie Piper appears to be in good health to this day.
But yeah…the term “In no condition to perform” comes to mind.
That’s not the bad thing about her here though; what’s bad about her is the writing of her character.
Rose is meant to just be an average girl from a council estate, but now Gimmick Battle Royal Rose is some sort of mystic wanderer who has the ability to travel in time as well as between realities, she understands the workings of the TARDIS and for unexplained reasons is in charge of UNIT.
I mean…come on, eh? That’s just poor writing.
But it’s also poor writing on a different level. We’re supposed to believe that they’ve never really tested the time machine before when they send Donna back, but it’s clear Gimmick Battle Royal Rose must have used it dozens of times.
And more than that, if Gimmick Battle Royal Rose can travel back to the point where Donna has been sent to, why didn’t she just create a diversion that would prevent her from turning right without the need for self sacrifice?
To me it just seems like little thought has gone into it and that we’re supposed to just accept all these giant leaps because it makes for a good story in principle.
The Good Parts
There are good parts to this though, and they are pretty much exclusively the human parts.
It’s watching the reactions of people to the disasters that happen.
The most interesting change is that of Donna’s mother Sylvia, who slides into a sort of depressed acceptance of events. She seems a defeated woman by the end of it. A solid performance.
But the best part of the whole episode for me is the scene where Rocco and his family are moved out to the work camps. Just that little glance between him and Wilf tells the story. Both men did a sterling job. But then Bernard Cribbins seems to be the King of Sad Acting.
- There have been tweaks to Donna’s character to take into account her never meeting the Doctor. This results in her being a bit more bolshy and perhaps less likeable. But I loved the line where she calls that woman “Vera Duckworth” and suggests she go and “feed whippet”. Class.
- Why would Gimmick Battle Royal Rose not offer any encouragement to Donna when she said “I get what you mean about me not dying”? I wouldn’t like her to be my motivational coach.
- The woman who plays the fortune teller has the widest nose bridge I’ve ever seen. She looked better with all her Chantho makeup on as I said above.
- Surely there weren’t that many casualties when the Titanic crashed into Buckingham Palace. After all, hadn’t everyone left the City as a precaution? RTD didn’t think that through, did he.
- This whole thing hinges on the Doctor being such an emotional fool that he killed himself in the Runaway Bride. I’m not really sure he would have, are you?
- The bit where Donna asks Gimmick Battle Royal Rose if she and the Doctor were an item, she looked back as if to say “Yes”. Surely the answer is an affirmative “No”?
- For some reason, I thought the “There’s something on your back” line was a continuing theme throughout Season 4, but it seems to only have been used in the Fires of Pompeii (which doesn’t actually make sense, thinking about it) and this. Odd.
- But at least they keep referencing the bees.
- That maid in the hotel was ludicrously over the top. Surely she’d have more on her mind witnessing a nuclear explosion than pointing at Donna aggressively?
- The end of this story puzzles me as well. How come by just saying Bad Wolf, the words spread across everything in that market place? Especially without the help of the Heart of the TARDIS.
- How come RTD thinks that if there wasn’t a Doctor Who, people in the naughties wouldn’t know what a police box was? That’s like me not knowing what a record player or a telegraph is. If we assume Donna is as old as Catherine Tate, why would she not know what a police box is, considering there were still hundreds of them on the streets into the 1970s?
- Compare this story to Midnight. Midnight is a simple but incredibly effective episode, and this is the opposite. It’s complicated and as a result ineffective. It’s night and day for me.
- DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #12
Doctor Who – Turn Left Review: Final Thoughts
I just don’t get the love.
It’s an interesting idea that’s overwhelmed with silly additions, nonsensical name dropping and a ridiculous change in the abilities and stature of Gimmick Battle Royal Rose.
So although there are elements of it I like – more particularly the human element – to me this is just too much of a reach to take seriously.
And it’s not even close to being Catherine Tate’s best performance. If anything, it’s one of her poorer ones.
Bernard Cribbins is good though.
But he always is, I suppose,
12th of All Time? Not a chance.