...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Day 2729: DOCTOR WHO: Turn Left


This week's photo has been ERASED from the timeline!

Here's Daddy's review…

Looked at objectively, a copy of Donna is created out of thin air, runs half a mile and then kills herself. Where did that Donna come from? If "our" Donna turns left then none of the things that lead to the other Donna being created happen. But if Donna turns right… then it leads to the creation of a Donna who kills herself to make sure that Donna turns left. So the "turn right" time line is ultimately self-negating. So where does the "other" Donna come from?

Yes, having last week done an exercise in "Stephen Moffat terror", this week, Russell tries his hand at "Stephen Moffat timey-wimey". (I hate that expression, but we're stuck with it now.)

In fairness, of course, it's not inevitably self-negating; it takes the intervention of Rose from outside of the continuum, acting as an ur-Doctor, to set things straight. And the creation of the alternative universe itself appears to be what allows Rose to return from her parallel universe.

(Where a parallel universe is one that occurs naturally and by some fluke resembles ours in all but some usually plot-significant detail. If you believe in the "Many Worlds" solution to Quantum Mechanics, then there is a parallel universe for every quantum event in space-time. Though, as I'm always saying, that is really dull for drama. Plus the universe is so much weirder if you believe in superposition instead.

An alternative universe is one created from our own by a time traveller going back and altering a decision at a branch point. If you imagine that time is like a river, then going back and changing something is like dropping a stone into the flood. Most times, the river just washes on past. But sometimes, sometimes you might just hit exactly the right spot to divert the flow into another path. It's the "Back to the Future" version of time travel, and usually it "overwrites" the original version of history (though often with some dramatic licence to allow memories and dreams of the "real" reality to bleed through – think also of Star Trek's "Yesterday's Enterprise").)

The other paradoxical aspect of the story was why do only some of the Doctor's adventures – typically the ones set in the "present (one year ahead) day" – get cancelled out?

I think most people have correctly worked out that without the Doctor, the Master would never have returned, leaving poor old Professor Yana to potter away his life at the end of the Universe probably never getting the footprint impeller working and so never populating Utopia with Toclafane. And pointedly there are no "orders from Mr Saxon" when the webstar is shot down; nor does Morgenstern claim "Mr Saxon was right!"

Similarly, the Family of Blood would never have come to Earth if they hadn't been hunting the Time Lord, so the events of "Human Nature" would not have happened; and it's difficult to judge what level of threat the Vespiform in the 1920s would have been, but probably not global.

Nevertheless it has to be said, there are three definite occasions when the world would have been ended in the relative past without the tenth Doctor's presence: the Carrionites in the Globe Theatre, the Daleks in Manhattan, and the Pyrovilians in Pompeii.

You could have got away with it – if there were room in an already packed script – with Rose making a remark about Shakespeare, Donna replying "Who?" and Rose saying "He wrote Hamlet, and Macbeth and the Tempest… or he would have done if he hadn't died in 1599 banishing the Carrionites."

It would have allowed a little hand-waving to cover the other two: the way that history papers over the cracks but that it costs the lives of people who are important, just as it costs the present day Sarah Jane and Torchwood.

People – well Russell Davies mainly – have heaped praise on Catherine Tate for her acting throughout this episode. But for me the standout performance was actually Jacqueline King as Donna's mum, Sylvia. It's easy to see how alike Donna and Sylvia are, but how Sylvia descends into hopelessness and despair. The last time we see her in the alternate Earth, a long long scene with her in full focus and Donna indistinct in the corridor behind, we see her completely lost. And that makes her reply to Donna's question: "you've always been disappointed in me, haven't you?" so cruel but so so devastating. Without even caring, she just says "yes".

This is the "Midnight" view of humans written across the face of the Earth but expressed in just one word from a broken woman. Humans can be cruel and cowardly. The Time Beetle is just a parasite; we are the monsters here.

Yes, of course Catherine Tate is marvellous. And so is Bernard Cribbins, jollying everyone along and yet with probably the second most crushing remark of the episode, "It's happening again". And, incidentally, so is Chippo Chung – no longer dressed as a big beetle, merely working for one this year – strikingly good as the malevolent fortune teller. Really though, after Pompeii you'd have thought Donna would have learned to stay clear.

Like "Love and Monsters" this skates close to "so it's come to this… a Doctor Who clips show" until you realise that the clips are mingled with new angles on the old events. So we see the Racnoss webstar float over the London suburbs before its fateful approach to Regent Street; Donna's world begins to fall to bits in the thunder of Hope Hospital being taken by the Judoon; we see the (surprisingly minimal in a global scale, if devastating to Britain) outcome of the Titanic crash; we see or at least hear of the outcome of the Adipose plan, sixty million dead on full conversion. For the "cheap" episode, it managed to look incredibly epic.

Okay, the "time beetle" itself was a disappointment, and not just because it looked like a big plastic beetle.

I admit I was rather hoping that it would turn out to be a Metebelis Spider. And there's an extent to which I say, if you're going to do something that might as well be a Metebelis Spider, why not go the whole hog and do it. We know that they are capable of manipulating time though "Eastern" mysticism rather than Time Lord (i.e. "Western") technology. We also know that they prey on the fears and flaws in the human psyche: Donna's railing against an uncaring world and repeated "I'm nothing; I'm not important" being as much a key to the Buddhist influence as Lupton's arrogance and lust for power. And a Buddhist theme would have also nodded briefly to "Kinda", referenced in the "evil" being revealed by a circle of mirrors.

(Plus there's a whole Lawrence Miles-baiting bonus of "Interference" killing off the third Doctor pre- "Planet of the Spiders" and thus effectively changing time to spare them; having a Spider "interfering" in time to change the Doctor's history would have been deliciously ironic. Mind you, Alex wonders if, with the alternative universes and reverse-engineered time machine, "Turn Left" doesn't have Simon "author of the Time Travellers" Guerrier's head spinning this week!)

The Doctor's throwaway line about it being "one of the Trickster's brigade" would have been no more confusing or continuity-bound if he's said instead: "I've met them before".

Is it part one of three? Last year's "Utopia" definitely was, and we have the "To be Continued…" before the end titles and the "Next Time…" teaser after the end titles to prove it. Despite the director viewing this in the same vein, "Turn Left" didn't do that, even though it feels much more like a great big warm-up act, a forty-nine minute teaser all on its own showing us Rose and a devastated Earth and killing Donna. (They really can't kill her in the finale after that… can they?) And the stupendous reveal of all the "Bad Wolfs", every flag and banner and poster and the TARDIS itself all covered in Rose's trans-temporal calling card, as the pounding "Dance of the Macra" music kicks in could not be a better way to get you ready for next week's epic.

And forty-three years ago a special agent delivered a warning in episode-without-the-Doctor "Mission To the Unknown" to warm us up for the oncoming Dalekatastrophe! says Alex.

But for all that, it was definitely a separate story in its own right. "Utopia" is all of one part with "The Sound of Drums" and "Last of the Time Lords"; "Turn Left" is much more a story of Donna and one single choice.

Anyway, the answer to "where did the other Donna come from" is probably she was created from energy drawn from the Time Beetle itself. Which is probably what killed it.

"Next time…" Where are the bees going? Where are the planets going? What does it have to do with the Rift in the Medusa Cascade? And will Donna have to make a noble sacrifice, or is there more to her than we have ever suspected? Nobel? Lord? Should she be steering clear of fob-watches? It's the season finale, part one, and the return of the Daleks. Lots of Daleks. And a big Red Dalek. And if you don't know that Davros is in it by now then welcome to the planet. "The Stolen Earth"

Sad news, I am afraid. I am very sorry to hear that one of my Daddies’ dear friends, Mr Ian McKay, has passed away. Always one for a jolly greeting in the queue for signings at the Tenth Planet shop – which itself has just closed like some terrible OMEN – Mr Ian was too young and too young at heart to go yet, for all that he sported what in Doctor Who circles can only be called a shock of prematurely white hair. He is survived by his partner Sandra and his son Peter, who has inherited his love of the Doctor. Fluffy hugs to them both.


Onlinefocus Team said...

Fob watch... what a great thought.

Geoffrey Thomas said...

I find the compromises on the laws of physics in the Doctor who series and any science ficrion program a bit too much of a compromise on the laws of physics to justify time travel.

Why do we have to compromise the laws of physics to justify it?

I've created a blog spot called the
Dedicated to the adventures of four people visiting parallel worlds called the Sliders

It’s interesting to note the portal to these worlds’ was created by a antigravity experiment. I’ve been investigating for a while how Quinn Mallory’s antigravity machine manages to create the holly grail of cosmology a singularity (or a stable wormhole) in his basement

I’m currently investigating the effect of Einstein’s theory of relativity if we accelerate from zero to 160Km (100 miles) in one second flat and the effect of clock arms as we speed up and slow down in time.

It’s interesting how the hour and minute hands appear to be frozen in time at any given moment compared the hand counting the seconds.

Mathematicians will agree if we speed up 60 times faster than our normal environment time observing the second hand of a wall clock will come to a stop equalling we’d normally observe the minute hand moving round the clock face.

This has far reaching implications to the hour hand and observing the whole 24 hour stretched 60 times longer respectively let a lone all the days, weeks, month’s, year’s centuries and untold millennia pilling up.

Contact me at

Nick Campbell said...

A lot of excited but bemused discussion after this episode aired - we had a friend visiting who really loves the series, so Jon was forced to watch. It feels as if the more Doctor Who stories explore wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff, the more a specific structure is established for the series' concept of time, the vortex etc., where beforehand we had Blinovitch, "But... *I'm* from 1980!", "So free will is not an illusion after all..." and not much more.

The Time Beetle seems to be a bit similar to the Stone Angels, in that it feeds off the energy released when you don't do things that you *would* do. But this implies some authoritative version of your future actions. I think the Beetle dies here because it's bitten off more than it can chew - but there's also lots of talk about how Donna creates a world around her, and Rose - dragged through by what, or whom - also has big ideas about destiny. It does make me wonder about the 'children of time', but I'll withhold my speculation, as the actress said to the Bishop.

I think the main difference between this and Utopia as first-parters is that one ends in a 'How will they get out of that!' while with this, you wonder - WHAT can they do, with so little to go on? But both of them do what first-parters used to do, which is create a funny atmosphere and raise lots of questions without answering any of them, which is generally hard to do in these modern two-parters.

End of ramble. Beginning of excitement.