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18 March 2015 @ 09:30 pm
NuWho Rewatch: Turn Left  
Another pessimistic view of human nature follows hot on the last.

I wonder if it was deliberate to have two such downbeat tales before the big finale. This lacks the punch of Midnight and seems, in a way, less bleak even though it is operating on a far larger scale. I suspect there are several reasons. There is the "sliding doors" premise and the appearance of Rose, both of which serve as distractions from the grimness of the tale and certainly serve as distractions from the extent to which humans are creating the misery depicted. There is also the fact that the ugliness here is institutionalised, and we are used to seeing institutionalised oppression in Doctor Who in a way we are not used to seeing it on the individual level such as was shown in Midnight. Lastly, Midnight essentially ends in failure where, although Donna dies, Turn Left ends in a success.

It's a still a bleak story and reminds me a little of some of the John Wyndam and John Christopher books I read when younger - particularly The Kraken Wakes from the former and The Death of Grass from the latter, in which society quietly buckles and falls apart under some external pressure.

It's a good story by its own lights, but it is hard to ignore the fact that the premise is a well-known trope, and the signifiers used for a dystopian future - internment camps, cramped living conditions, refugees, people wearing brown - are also all pretty standard. Its the sort of thing that can seem fresh and exciting the first time you come across it and to be fair it nearly always serves as a decent vehicle for a show to do something a bit different and interesting. However its difficult to feel Davies is actually doing anything particularly interesting with the premise. He hasn't got the space to do any serious world-building and so is relying on emotive images and the audience's imaginations to fill in the gaps. The world without the Doctor is pretty grim, but that isn't much of a surprise given the programme is called Doctor Who. It's interesting to contrast with Buffy, the Vampire Slayer's "what if Buffy never went to Sunnydale" episode which doesn't attempt to replay the previous seasons' key moments but plunges the viewer immediately into the current dystopia and tells its story there. In some ways Turn Left's ability to actually tell a story in the time available is hampered by the re-run of the Earth-bound stories of seasons 3 and 4.

I also found Rose hard to get a grip on. I think Billie Piper has said she found reviving the character for this episode difficult and I think her unease shows, but I think part of the problem is the script which gives us a grim, semi-omniscient, part of the establishment Rose which is a long, long way from the Rose that we knew in seasons 1 and 2.

This has ended up a fairly negative review which isn't really justified because I like this story. It's even a bit of a relief after Midnight! It's just that taking a step away from it, it feels like it is simply doing the obvious things and is too constrained either by its length, or maybe the replay format, to really tell its own story.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/148714.html.
a_cubeda_cubed on March 19th, 2015 12:12 pm (UTC)
On the "two downers in succession" I suspect the reason for this is just that these were developed and filmed in parallel (one no-Doctor, one non-companion story - it's how they freed up resources for the Christmas specials that year, as opposed to the "Love and Monsters" and "Blink" episodes, which were Doctor and companion-light episodes developed and filmed in parallel to the usual run). I suspect the writers of each thought of companion-less Doctor and Doctor-less companion as horrible situations for their lead and wrote accordingly.
louisedennislouisedennis on March 20th, 2015 12:50 pm (UTC)
I think the "two downers in succession" is actually an artefact of how late Davies was with the script for this. According to Wikipedia the Moffat two-parter was originally intended for the 9th and 10th episodes in the season which would, presumably, have placed Midnight and Turn Left either side of it in the running order. In fact there seems to have been quite a bit of juggling with the running order this season, I believe The Unicorn and the Wasp was filmed first.
Greg McElhattongregmce on March 20th, 2015 01:01 pm (UTC)
"I suspect the writers of each thought of companion-less Doctor and Doctor-less companion as horrible situations for their lead and wrote accordingly."

It's worth noting that both were written by the same person, the then-showrunner Russell T. Davies.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on March 21st, 2015 04:35 pm (UTC)
And I'm fairly sure he once said there couldn't be anything better than travelling with the Doctor...
dm12 on March 20th, 2015 12:00 pm (UTC)
The shame of it is that the Doctor and Donna looked so happy at the beginning; they were having such a great time just shopping and being in each other's company...

I was a bit ambivalent about Rose in this as well, she was a far cry from what she was, seemed almost evil. The way they tore that poor TARDIS apart, too... she's sentient, and it just looked like she was suffering, especially with the loss of her pilot. Though I suppose, if he died, she did, too, as she was psychically linked to him, and maybe it was just the mechanics left. Still, I was horrified to see that.

What bothered me the most, though, was the fact that she sent Donna too far away to get there in time without killing herself, yet as Donna lay on the ground dying, Rose just popped right up to where she was. So it wasn't a matter of aim, it seemed deliberate. Then, when she appeared, there were no apologies, no sympathy... just a terse "Tell him Two words... Bad Wolf." Rose had definitely changed, and not for the good.

The Doctor didn't really seem that happy at the prospect of Rose returning, either. He hesitated too long when Donna asked him, "Isn't that good?" Not really... it meant she did what she wasn't supposed to, she was crumbling the walls between universes, and for what? To get back to the Doctor (who had moved on). Doing that caused all kinds of chaos, that's why when Donna asked what "Bad Wolf" meant, the Doctor said "Trouble." I wouldn't call that success... although "real" Donna survived and the time line was restored, the results of what happened there were to be devastating for the universe, and for the Doctor and Donna in particular.

Edited at 2015-03-20 12:06 pm (UTC)
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on March 20th, 2015 12:56 pm (UTC)
The Doctor's reaction to the return of Rose is definitely a bit "at arm's length" in both this and Journey's End. I think it was all part of Davies' difficulty reconciling Rose's obvious desire to return with the fact that Billie Piper wasn't going to. At the end of the day you have to interpret that scene on the beach, at least in part, as the Doctor wanting to get rid of Rose (as much as he wants to get rid of Blue Suit Doctor).

I hadn't spotted that Rose managed to arrive in the right place even though Donna didn't. I'd just assumed the device wasn't accurate enough.