Unpeople Undoing Unthings Untogether (Turn Left)
|What do you mean they cast the guy who mistook me for|
a masseuse and wouldn’t go home? I’d have come back to the
series if they’d told me.
It’s June 21st, 2008. Mint Royale are “Singin’ in the Rain” at number one, with Gabriella Cilmi, domestic abuser Chris Brown, and a will.i.am/Cheryl Cole duet also charting. In news, same sex marriage starts in California, while the UK ratifies the Treaty of Lisbon. And AIG ousts its CEO due to losses suffered in the subprime mortgage crisis, which is probably reasonable given that three months later the company went spectacularly bankrupt.
Given that context, Turn Left marks one of those uncanny moments where Doctor Who gets ahead of cultural trends. It’s also a funny little thing. In some ways it marks the point where the “Doctor Lite” episode becomes obsolete, as it finally plays out the most obvious Doctor Lite concept imaginable – what if the Doctor never existed. Or, in this case, what if he died two seasons ago. What results is one of the most bizarre mishmashes of concepts in the entire Davies era, or, in many ways, of any era.
There’s a fair case that it was not Davies’s best ever idea to decide that in the absence of the Doctor the UK would descend into fascism complete with labor camps for unwanted foreigners. The It Happened Here vibe of this is certainly interesting in its own right, and Davies will of course revisit all of these ideas with considerable aplomb in 2009, but there’s something off about it here. It’s not that a nuclear explosion eradicating London wouldn’t plausibly lead to exactly the sort of scenario we see here. Rather, it’s… well… Donna.
Because the real point of Turn Left – the dramatic arc that actually drives it – is Donna becoming a hero from a different direction than the one she actually took. Which means that Catherine Tate is back to playing a Catherine Tate Show character for most of the story. But there’s a subtle twist to her performance – one that Tate herself is more than equipped to handle. In The Runaway Bride Donna is a comedy character who, by the end of the story, becomes a reasonably well-realized character, albeit ultimately still a one-off. But here she’s Donna Noble, who has been the primary companion and co-lead in nine of the last ten episodes. Yes, she’s regressed to a pre-Doctor state, but that characterization can’t be undone by fiat. At this point, looking at her, we still see Donna Noble, not Catherine Tate.
This leads to a certain degree of perversity, particularly in the labor camps scene, as Donna chases after the truck demanding to know where it’s going when it’s perfectly clear to everybody else what’s going on. There’s a joke here that’s suddenly turned nasty; Donna Noble, who missed all the alien attacks prior to The Runaway Bride, now misses the establishment of concentration camps in Britain because she’s so comically thick. There’s a horrifying wrongness here, with the tropes of comedy being used to add a second layer of awful dissonance to the site of fascism taking hold in Britain. Does it work? Well… that’s a trickier question. This is the most treacherous highwire act Davies ever attempts in terms of hitting disturbing instead of bathetic. Fascism in Britain is a well-worn trope. Catherine Tate playing a ludicrously oblivious character responding to the creep of fascism in Britain is, on the other hand, one of the single weirdest genre collisions ever attempted.
But it’s also the entire point of the episode. The whole thing is concerned with making the “joke” of Donna something altogether more disturbing. In many ways the most shocking scene isn’t the concentration camps (although Bernard Cribbins acts the living hell out of that scene) but the scene where Sylvia, haggard and without makeup (which is, of course, one of the most impressive makeup jobs the series has ever done) tells Donna that she’s been a disappointment. Because it breaks all of the rules of Donna as a character. All of the reasons Donna is a disappointment to Sylvia are, in the end, legacies of her origin as a comedic character. To actually take all of those traits and turn them against her is cruel. It’s fighting dirty.
And it’s fighting dirty in a way that’s uniquely Doctor Who, inasmuch as it is about genre collisions. Turn Left takes a comedic character who is sympathetically thick and puts her in a situation where everybody is going to take her deadly seriously. Including, crucially, the plot itself. It’s a very brave, weird way to do it, keeping Donna’s narrative role intact but regressing the character to her comedic roots. All, of course, without ever letting her become funny as such – Donna doesn’t get any comedy scenes as such. Instead she acts like a Catherine Tate character who has been put into a very bleak drama about social collapse.
Which, for the second time, is a case of the series being just a little prescient. Turn Left gets added currency for coming right as the Great Recession settled in. It’s pure coincidence, as when Davies tries to hit the same themes eighteen months later and after it’s actually blossomed in the culture he flounders, but in this case it’s a perfectly timed piece, coming right before the prospect that society is going to broadly collapse becomes an idea in the cultural foreground. And while in many ways Davies’s second attempt at these themes in Children of Earth (also written before the financial crisis proper) is the more thorough treatment, the decision to mash this up with Catherine Tate is bold, striking, and works more often than not.
Indeed, the whole episode works along this sort of logic. Equally shocking, if not moreso within the logic of Doctor Who, is the casual killing of Sarah Jane Smith, Luke, Clyde, and Maria. And not just killing, but killing in a particularly awful way, namely oxygen starvation on the moon. It’s a strong contender for the single nastiest moment on Doctor Who, and very probably the closest to crossing the line into seriously upsetting children that the new series has ever taken. Even with the clear understanding that this is an alternate universe and that the natural order will inevitably be restored at the end of the episode, the fact that Doctor Who enters, even temporarily, a realm where the kids show characters can be massacred, even offscreen, is properly disturbing.
All of this extends, of course, from the premise. And in many ways it stresses the unreality of Doctor Who; there’s really no point in the series’ history where it’s been as visibly far from being set in “our” world. The Davies era in general has always pushed at that limit, making aliens major news events that compounded each other, eliminating any sense of a “five minutes in the future” vibe or that this might just be our world with things we don’t notice going on. It’s not just the scale of the invasions and the repeated events like The Poison Sky or Doomsday that are outright impossible for the world not to notice, but the fact that we keep seeing news coverage of it, with Trinity Wells showing up every story to give a global perspective. Davies’s commitment to framing Doctor Who in the language of the TV around it, making it a seamless part of the BBC schedule ends up making the one era of Doctor Who that is unequivocally set in TV as opposed to in the world.
But here we get a story whose dramatic arc hinges on that. The only reason that the story can get away with suggesting that absent the Doctor Britain would suffer total social collapse is that the characters involved aren’t people, but television characters. Absent the Doctor to provide an ordering narrative principle, they’re unsuited to the world. The plucky journalist and her child friends investigating aliens stop being able to withstand the impossible and die horribly. Donna stops being able to function as a comedy character and just becomes tragic. The entire point is that once the Doctor goes away the rest of the world simply doesn’t work or make sense.
Except, of course, that Donna doesn’t quite become tragic. It’s averted, largely by the oft-teased return of Rose Tyler. There’s a somewhat dangerous game played with the return of Rose, in that two of her three episodes are spent actively deferring the big moment of her actual reunion with the Doctor. Instead she’s left with two episodes of being a mysterious outsider to the plot. Here, in the absence of the Doctor, she plays the detached supernatural mentor, showing up out of nowhere to give cryptic advice to Donna. It’s a strange role – Rose becomes the thin reed by which the world retains its connection to its organizing narrative principle.
But ultimately it’s necessary. To bring Rose back and allow her to straightforwardly reunite with the Doctor would disrupt the narrative too greatly. Rose has, by this point in the narrative, stopped being the ordinary shopgirl elevated to a better life and has instead become a mythic, totemic figure in Doctor Who. In this regard she’s become ensnared in the Problem of Susan – both of them have their actual humanity as characters overwritten by their mythic role in what Doctor Who is, such that they cease to function as people at all. (Ironically, of course, this is exactly what Jackie prophesied for Rose in Army of Ghosts, albeit on a shorter timeline: “in forty years time, fifty, there’ll be this woman, this strange woman, walking through the marketplace on some planet a billion miles from Earth. But she’s not Rose Tyler. Not anymore. She’s not even human.”) Part of this is Rose’s status as the companion the Doctor fell in love with, but it’s also simply that she’s Rose Tyler, original co-star of the series. Her appearance carries so much metafictional weight that it can’t simply be used to bring back an old companion. When the series is revived again in 2044 it won’t be Billie Piper they bring back for the new new series’s version of School Reunion, simply because to bring her back is too mythic.
Which is, ultimately, the weak link of Turn Left. All the oncoming fascism is just a sideshow in a story that’s really about building to that big and utterly gripping moment where all writing in the universe appears to have been turned to say “Bad Wolf” because… um… well… yeah, that’s never really picked up on. And yet it makes a sort of textual sense. Rose’s role in this story is essentially that of a divine figure – a very classically esoteric “woman as preserver of life” thing. It’s particularly fitting that the device she uses to send Donna back to fix the problem is a time machine made out of mirrors, a callback to the alchemical time machine of Evil of the Daleks. Rose, within the series’ iconography, becomes the preserver of its alchemy. It may hobble any hope the Bad Wolf concept had of making sci-fi technobabble sense, but it makes a perfect thematic sense – what she does in this story is absolutely an extension of her stint as time goddess in The Parting of the Ways, much more than it is an extension of her role as a nineteen-year-old shopgirl. And, of course, the presence of mirrors symbolically summons the same enemies as they heralded last time.
But Rose’s status as a goddess cannot help but cause problems for Donna. It’s not just that she gets the single worst alternate universe ending possible (or, really, character ending possible), death by world-saving suicide. I mean, that’s awful (although what is it with Rose and comforting people who have just been hit by cars), but the real problem comes a few scenes earlier, as she declares that she’s ready to do what’s necessary to restore the proper timeline. Because the stars are going out. Which, fine, it’s a great image, but wait a moment. It’s not the concentration camps that disturb Donna so much that she’ll sacrifice her life to stop it, it’s the stars going out? This is our Donna? Neighbor dragged off to death in a labor camp, well, keep calm and carry on, but when there’s a sci-fi plot like “the stars are going out” it’s time to go get involved?
It’s a shocking misstep from Davies, and one that extends almost entirely from the weird presence of Rose. With Rose deforming the narrative, the story has to go out on the mythic register, despite the fact that all of its interesting ideas come from working on the human level. And Donna, whose entire point is her existence on the human level and her ability to puncture the mythic, is caught in the middle. A story that is meant to spotlight her ends up doing nothing of the sort, and is instead a dress rehearsal for Children of Earth bolted on to an extended trailer for The Stolen Earth, with Donna caught awkwardly in the middle. Still, The Stolen Earth looks excellent.
December 16, 2013 @ 12:42 am
All the writing seems to say BAD WOLF because the TARDIS is panicking and using its translation facility to warn them and us that Rose is returning.
I wonder what Sexy makes of Rose, the woman who ripped her apart with heavy machinery and nearly killed her Time Lord.
December 16, 2013 @ 1:24 am
Speaking as an Englishman, the idea that we would descend into fascism isn't that far from the truth. The UK is never really more than a heartbeat from fascism, much as the US may like to see us as either panty-waisted liberals, or mother country of the Free. George Orwell understood this perfectly, and Nineteen Eighty Four is a perfect extrapolation of Britain in 1948.
We would ghetto-ise and imprison our immigrants (we did it in the 1940s), and we will demonise our minorities, as we did with the Blacks during the 60s, the Irish during the 70s, the Argentinians during the 80s, and we are starting to do with the Muslims and the Eastern Europeans nowadays.
Phil's correct that this plays like a dry run for "Children of Earth", but it has even more resonance with "Miracle Day", and shows that Davies does understand Britain and the British people here. He knows that although individuals are capable of the most heroic and selfless acts, the human race as a whole is capable of the most despicable.
December 16, 2013 @ 1:45 am
There are some beautiful touches in this episode. Rocco's relentless cheerfulness in the face of privation seems irritating when we meet him for the first time, but then full of pathos when he and his family are taken away. Donna tries (and fails) to get a job with the army, despite having seen what they are becoming, because what else can she do?
(There are some minor production missteps. The time beetle model is a disappointment when revealed. It could have been much nastier, or at least shot to be more menacing. And there's a too obvious case of shooting summer-for-winter when they are watching the mushroom cloud on Christmas day, and all the trees have leaves.)
Davies' use of world-impacting more-or-less contemporary events, without much resort to the reset button, was a major innovation for the program, and one that's been pretty much abandoned by Moffat. The only story in series 5–7 with a contemporary setting but no form of plausible deniability or reset button is The Power of Three. I suspect that this is a consequence of caring about continuity. Davies clearly cares about drama and spectacle much more than he cares about continuity, and so he's happy to just keep throwing in new stuff, taking it for granted that the audience is sophisticated enough to understand that Doctor Who isn't a documentary, and so it doesn't matter that London keeps getting invaded by aliens in the most public of ways, but nothing really seems to change as a consequence. Whereas Moffat seems to worry at some level that there might be someone who is confused by this, hence the multiple reset buttons. (I'm with Davies here—if you're a sophisticated enough viewer to follow the "explanation", say, that the giant cyberman from 1851 was erased by the cracks in time and that's why no-one seems to remember it, then surely you were sophisticated enough not to need it in the first place?)
December 16, 2013 @ 1:50 am
I was hoping that this would be one of the experimental posts, with Phil writing about the series that might have happened with Penny instead of Donna (or the world where Who was cancelled after The Runaway Bride).
I don't think Donna's ignorance of what's really happening in the labour camps scene is meant to imply she's thick, though – the way I see it, the country's in a complete mess, no one really knows who the Government is anymore and there's likely little or no functioning national media after London's been destroyed. I think the implication is that she's too busy trying to stay alive to notice everything that's going on, rather than old-Donna's ignorance of everything around her.
December 16, 2013 @ 1:55 am
I have to agree. I've only lived in London a year, but it's difficult not to detect a barely-hidden desire for fascism coming from a lot of people here, you can even hear it on the news and on opinion programs like Free Speech, with ultra-conservative anti-immigration views being presented as part of the colourful cultural make up of the UK. It's a disturbing trend that has taken over my homeland of Australia as well. Similarly, albeit indirectly, it reminds me of Orwell, via Bowie's Big Brother; a sense that people want a strong, morally culpable fascist leader to negate their responsibility in doing horrible, racist, xenophobic things.
December 16, 2013 @ 1:55 am
I'm surprised you had nothing to say about the sinophobic Evil Planet China.
December 16, 2013 @ 1:59 am
Sean, this is so clearly the answer that I can't believe it never occurred to me. Thank you!
December 16, 2013 @ 1:59 am
This is our Donna? Neighbor dragged off to death in a labor camp, well, keep calm and carry on, but when there’s a sci-fi plot like “the stars are going out” it’s time to go get involved?
I'm not convinced, but this could surely be read as affirming Donna's faith in humanity. She's sure these problems can be fixed from within, that the human race can't go on acting like this, that a human solution is preferable to a science fiction one. It's only when the stars go out, that she sees the scale of what's wrong with the universe, that a science fiction solution is necessary- until then it wasn't a science fiction problem.
Again, I'm not entirely convinced, this theory doesn't really seem to be supported by the episode, but I'm enough of a Davies and Donna fanboy that I'm determined to make this work.
December 16, 2013 @ 2:01 am
Regarding Rose's mythic status preventing her from ever being "random previous companion", I think it's significent that when Moffatt brought Billie Piper back, he decided to come up with a way of having her play the powerful, mysterious Bad Wolf without being Rose Tyler.
December 16, 2013 @ 2:57 am
At this point, I genuinely believe a majority of Republicans would prefer a fascist dictatorship to a Democratic president.
October 4, 2018 @ 11:43 pm
You were correct. Alas.
President grabs women by the (cough cough) ? So what ?
His Supreme Court nominee may have raped a woman? Meh…
He took money and assistance from Putin ? Part of the democratic ( small d) process
December 16, 2013 @ 3:03 am
Planet China didn't seem very evil. It just had that one evil fortune teller (played by an actress who was born in Zimbabwe).
December 16, 2013 @ 3:04 am
And I a so, so glad he did.
December 16, 2013 @ 3:18 am
"I was hoping that this would be one of the experimental posts, with Phil writing about the series that might have happened with Penny instead of Donna (or the world where Who was cancelled after The Runaway Bride)."
That would've been interesting!
December 16, 2013 @ 3:20 am
I wonder if you'll be digging into the idea of the reality bomb/stars going out, or whether it'll be background context. Because, ultimately, this is fantasy and doesn't make a jot of sense. It always bothered me: so in Rose's world, 3 years ahead, stars are going out… implies the reality bomb has gone off. But then surely the whole idea is the reality bomb wipes out every timeline, every universe, every reality, unable to be stopped. Yet it clearly is stopped by the Doctor later. Uh?
December 16, 2013 @ 3:28 am
I thought it was ugly and disappointing. Ugly because Doctor Who keeps drawing on sinophobic stereotypes when it should know better. Disappointing since so very few actors with east Asian backgrounds have had decent parts in new Who. There was Naoko Mori, of course, but who else? (In this 2008 interview Mori compared the casting situation in the US vs the UK: "In the United States it's normal to see Asian and Hispanic actors. I've been very fortunate to play parts that are not written specifically for Asians. In the UK there is a bit of an island mentality; we don't have a lot of black people or yellow people and other races (on the television).")
December 16, 2013 @ 4:42 am
That's exactly what I thought as well. It's of a piece with the TARDIS' oddly elliptical, symbolic, and mostly unhelpful warning signals which go back to "Edge of Destruction"
Wait, is the possessive TARDIS' or TARDIS's?
December 16, 2013 @ 4:50 am
I honestly really loved this episode. I thought it was a brave high-wire act that never should have worked and mostly did, and it was amazing to see RTD tackle the idea of what might happen if all these crazy, high-concept sci-fi conceits were not simply averted or hand-waved away, but actually fulfilled their premises. And it's pretty effin' grim. Even the Adipose kill millions, and those comedy Judoon murder our Sarah Jane and her gang. And yet somehow the most devastating thing is that close-up of Sylvia, devoid of affect, telling Donna she's a failure. No wonder she's willing to kill herself in order to escape back to the safety of Doctor Who! A taste of a quasi real-world context where there's no magical mad man with a box to save us all is just too awful to contemplate – thus explicating RTD's theory on why we need stories and religion and songs to keep us from looking too hard into the darkness. I know some people who count this episode as the biggest waste for 45 minutes RTD ever perpetrated, but personally I feel it's one of his finest moments.
December 16, 2013 @ 4:53 am
Looked like a sinophillic planet to me – colorful and crowded and full of life, where Donna and the Doctor seemed to be having a whale of a time. I mean, why shouldn't a colony planet founded by Chinese astronauts end up like a futuristic Shanghai? This is a fictional universe that includes Starship UK and things like that.
December 16, 2013 @ 5:05 am
Yea I'm with you on thinking that Donna's not being think when she doesn't reailze that people are being shipped off to camps – in fact I think it's telling that the people who do realize it are all older (her mother, Bernard "Greatest Living Human" Cribbins), positing it more as ignorance than stupidity. And also, I would agree, that there's just so much going on it possibly doesn't even occur to her what might be under her nose, which is going back to the "evil flourishes when men of good conscience do nothing" approach that many believe is how fascism would assert itself in the UK.
December 16, 2013 @ 5:07 am
TARDIS's. The only time the additional 's' isn't adding is when it's a plural noun ending in 's' — like, the Doctors' plan was teach the sonic screwdriver how to do wood.
December 16, 2013 @ 5:13 am
He also foreshadowed the stars going out in The Library — not only does the Library exert constant influence on the current run, it helped shape the Series Four finale.
December 16, 2013 @ 5:14 am
Interesting that it's the Pompeii set, redressed.
December 16, 2013 @ 5:43 am
That would be a fair comment if the episode had included a cross-section of characters from the society. But all we got in Turn Left were extras, one greengrocer, and one stereotypical evil fortune teller. Stereotypes are a quick way of sketching setting and character, so they must be tempting when an episode has only a minute or so to establish a scene. But it is nicer when the temptation is avoided. (Compare the similar market scene in Fires of Pompeii where at least the greengrocer gets a joke.)
December 16, 2013 @ 6:03 am
Of I love me all those mirrors, but the alchemy of the Daleks isn't the only thing invoked by that particular circle. It's also reminiscent of the alchemy of Kinda, where a circle of mirrors is used to drive out the Mara and send it back to the dark places.
It's also notable that the monster is in the form of a Beetle. The beetle was an important symbol in Egyptian mythology, representing rebirth and regeneration, a natural shorthand for the apparent rebirth of the sun every day. In their hieroglyphics, the beetle glyph was attached to words oriented around the concept of being — existence, becoming, change, happening, form or shape, and time. But this one is conflated with another Doctor Who monster — the Spiders of Metebelis 3, who latch onto your back, invisibly, Crowleyian monsters of Western esoterica.
And then there's how all the symbolism in Turn Left reflects LOST. In this particular story, Rose tells Donna she's going to travel in time, but here it's conflated with death; in LOST, death releases the consciousness to travel in time. Of course there's all the mirrors, but there's also a convergence of Water and Light, presaging Jack's final encounter at the heart of the Island, the water standing for Faith (as well as being another kind of reflective surface) and the light representing divinity. Of course, the alternate reality of Turn Left is a "bad twin" or "mirror twin" of the past few seasons of Doctor Who (it's a left/right dichotomy that brings it about) and this too presages the twist of LOST's final season.
So, Donna's trip becomes yet another way of expressing the way to divinity — her self sacrifice stands for the loss of ego, and the admonishment not to change anything in one's past (turning right instead of left essentially made Donna the cause of all her suffering) and to accept the choices one has made signals the way towards spiritual enlightenment.
Because this is mythology, I think it behooves us to interpret Donna's mother as standing for Donna's underlying psychology, as well as more literally being the likely source it. Of course the moment that Donna changes occurs with her mother; Donna's character arc is all about overcoming that persistent source of doubt and self-hatred; giving into that voice leads to that voice completely renouncing her.
Which makes it very interesting to see how Sylvia acts towards Donna at the end of the finale. The relationship has changed, and Donna's confidence is now real, not a facade. Her memories will be lost (heh, memory again) but her development is retained, and indeed the adventures she had with Doctor still reside deep in her subconscious — which where all mythology lodges itself.
December 16, 2013 @ 6:21 am
Seeing_I, I agree entirely. I admired the cleverness of Midnight but couldn't engage with it; whereas, while I knew intellectually that Turn Left was just as much artifice, it still got to me. Particularly that scene with Sylvia.
Philip's right that the way they handled the stars going out was a misstep; and yes, Gareth, the beetle looked rubbish (didn't notice the trees). But these weren't enough to damage it for me. Just wonderful.
Stuart Ian Burns
December 16, 2013 @ 6:57 am
"It’s not the concentration camps that disturb Donna so much that she’ll sacrifice her life to stop it, it’s the stars going out?"
I stumbled on this on first viewing on the many, many subsequent viewings because along with Blink this is one of nuWho's greatest achievements, I realised that if you watch the writing of that scene when Donna finally decides to go and see Rose — and notice it's her choice and Rose essentially waits for her to make that choice — and the performances, there's an element of acceptance from Donna that she's now willing to embrace the mythology and embrace the fact that whatever's happening on Earth is minor in the grand scheme of things and that whatever will happen, including her suicide, isn't just about saving the human race who are just doing what they always do, or the planet Earth, but the universe. Which is a whole different order of things.
December 16, 2013 @ 8:04 am
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December 16, 2013 @ 8:07 am
you saved me from having to write this all out. This was my take on it as well. there is a moment that i believe that we all reach when the horrible things become too much and we move from the micro, the problems that we're having, to the macro, to seeing just how big the disaster is becoming. And at that moment, we gain some new insight. Its takes donna beyond just the horror of her everyday life (which is pretty frikkin' bad by that point) and moves us to, "OK, what do i need to do"?
December 16, 2013 @ 8:18 am
Turn Left is,frankly, the level of dystopian that I one day expected the series to come up to, but to edge away from, which is why i believe that htey went away from the scary beetle on Donna's back. Like the more realistic spiders from the Pertwee's last episode, it was a level that they just didn't want to go to. Easier to back off from the implications of fascist Britian and not have Donna ridden by a horrible, gut wrenching bug. Save the gut wrenching for the rest of the country.
Donna Noble becomes the perfect cahracter for the dystopian future however, since she's the companion that wouldn't try to change the world for the better. We know that Sarah Jane smith would, but Donna (the opposite of) Noble wouldn't, as she's patently oblivious to much of what goes on outside of her personal failures. We can't stomach the idea of SJS not trying to do the right thing, but when Donna doesn't, we become the surrogate mother to her, reaching a point in the episode where WE'RE as disappointed in her for doing nothing, and practically begging her to become more than she is. Accept the Noble hero role, for all of us. Rose finally did, becoming more than the shop girl, SJS did, becoming more than the journalist. Rose is there to point out Donna's failure to become more once she entered the orbit of the Doctor Who show. the mirrors are not just a nice call back to the alchemy of Troughton's Daleks, but to holding Donna's face up to herself. See yourself for who you are; know theyself.
Had Hinchcliffe had the time, this is what he would have put together for Tom Baker to show SJS in Pyramids of Mars. Once all life could be destroyed, it comes to great men and women to make any sacrifice necessary to do soemthing, anything.
There is a relentlessness to Turn Left that is hard to watch, but is necessary, perhaps cautionary. Davies is holding a mirror not just up to Donna, but to his adudience, and they shouldn't like what they see. After all, its being paid for by their license money.
December 16, 2013 @ 8:26 am
"Neighbor dragged off to death in a labor camp, well, keep calm and carry on, but when there’s a sci-fi plot like “the stars are going out” it’s time to go get involved?"
Hardly a mistep – as horrible as labour camps are they literally aren't the end of the universe. And Donna isn't being thick she is being oblivious and that is the point of the creeping fascism – the obliviousness of the middle-classes to the evil of such things [e.g. Australia's treatment of asylum seekers who arrive by boat]. If only bad people ever went along with such things they wouldn't happen.
December 16, 2013 @ 8:29 am
I didn't notice the trees, but the fact that the blast wave from the explosion seems to arrive at the Noble's hotel only about a second after the impact was always a bit jarring.
December 16, 2013 @ 8:32 am
Yes. Donna sans the Doctor is a good person with narrow horizons – so she seems to be only shallow and self centered. Her view of the world is constrained. With the Doctor she retains her capacity to see the immediate and personal (a family in Pompeii, Miss Evangelista) but as part of a bigger picture.
In turn left she becomes big-picture Donna also when the horrors become too much and via the mentoring of Rose.
December 16, 2013 @ 9:08 am
Thanks Jane. And, oh yeah, does that mean that going forward, the sonic will work on wood?
December 16, 2013 @ 9:14 am
Could this be a case where RTD trusts the audience to be smart enough to get that one evil fortuneteller stereotype does not an evil Chinee planet make?
December 16, 2013 @ 9:23 am
The sonic will work on that particular wood door in the Tower of London.
December 16, 2013 @ 9:41 am
Hmmm, I'm totally with Moffat on this one. I find the Doctor way more interesting when he operates on the fringes of our world than when he becomes a central figure with sort of celebrity status. That changes him from being a character (which is interesting) to an icon (which is boring). I mean, I'm also pretty against reading the Doctor as a hero. It limits him, hobbles the agency of the other characters, and leads to damsels in distress, messianic hyperbole, and not having to come up with an ending more clever than "everything is fine because magic". I watched with glee in early season 5 as Moffat went around ripping all of the stupid pages out of RTD's playbook. (God, that mecha-cyberman. Kill it with fire and wipe everyone's memories so that we may never speak of it again.)
Also, the more lasting impact that the events of episodes of Doctor Who have on the world in which those episodes take place, the more that world diverges from ours which lessens its ability to function on that material social progress level.
December 16, 2013 @ 10:22 am
The question that continues to nag me about Turn Left is – where is it supposed to be taking place? If it is a parallel time-line like the Lumick Cybus Industries Earth that Rose lives on with her parents (and later handy Doctor) then I believe it was established that these parallels have no parallel Doctor in them. I suppose they might have a Gallifrey but let's leave that for a moment. If that is the case then who exactly is the Doctor that is killed by the Racnoss in this reality? I think what I'm asking is – is the Doctor unique in the multiverse or are there parallel Time Lords and Doctors in each alternate universe and/or time-line? Could we then have a story where the Doctor meets an alternate version of himself from a parallel time-line? I'd be intrigued to hear any thoughts on this.
December 16, 2013 @ 10:54 am
Time can be rewritten?
December 16, 2013 @ 11:09 am
Really euryale000? You don't like "everything is fine because magic" and you seem to be saying you prefer Moffat to Davies? I get what you are saying about iconic and mythic vs character driven, but that issue has never bothered me too much. Tom Baker was MY Doctor as a child though, so that probably goes some way toward explaining that.
Personally, I think this episode is wonderful, like seeing_I and elvwood.
December 16, 2013 @ 11:11 am
Hmmm… I suppose so but if you can just have your death rewritten why do the Time Lords bother with regeneration? I think RTD was clever enough to not show the dead Doctor in Turn Left to be Tennant. We only see his hand fall from under the sheet on the gurney and drop the sonic. This could easily be an alternate Doctor. The alternative is that there is only one Gallifrey and one set of Time Lords who preside over the entire multiverse. Actually this . must be the case otherwise why all the fuss about destroying Gallifrey when there,are an infinite number of potential time-lines where Gallifrey survived. I prefer this explanation to an infinite number of parallel Doctors. Unless that's how Moffat's going to wriggle out of the thirteen incarnations conundrum.
December 16, 2013 @ 11:12 am
I agree with all of this, except that I can't see why it makes it not a misstep? The emotion in this story comes from the human scale, and bringing in the cosmic at the last minute kind of derails that. Not fatally in my opinion, but it does. And showing that Donna is on the level of "no worse than anybody else" when dealing with that human scale is pretty cutting.
December 16, 2013 @ 11:35 am
No. Because RTD has never trusted his audience, and also because he has professed his unapologetic love for "The Talons of Weng-Chiang". That alone should explain everything.
December 16, 2013 @ 11:36 am
Yes… methinks Russell The Davies did not think that one out. Quel dommage.
December 16, 2013 @ 11:54 am
It's no different than all the stars exploding at the end of 'The Pandorica Opens' Or the whole of that season, really. Or the heartbeat in that episode. Or Bad Wolf. Because it destroys time itself, effects can precede the cause.
December 16, 2013 @ 11:58 am
@jane: I have asked twelve grammar books and gotten thirteen answers on that point.
(No one actually seems to be entirely sure whether or not to drop the S when making a singular noun that ends in S possessive. And this being grammar, history is no help since people pretty much made up whatever they liked until the late Victorian era.)
December 16, 2013 @ 12:00 pm
It was clearly Tennant – we saw the suit. I think the episode makes it clear that everything happens the way we saw it up until "The Runaway Bride," but he drowns along with the Racnoss. Everything up till that point, including the fight with the Cybermen at Canary Wharf, still happened.
December 16, 2013 @ 12:07 pm
"Interesting that it's the Pompeii set, redressed."
You mean, they were filming this in Cinecittà, Rome?
December 16, 2013 @ 12:12 pm
Am I remembering it wrong, or did the Cybermen theme really play out when the Colasantos were being taken away?
And if it was indeed, then maybe "labor camp" is actually an euphemism.
December 16, 2013 @ 12:43 pm
The Doctor also says outright something like that the universe she was in was in was made by taking their universe and more-or-less ripping a chunk off around Donna and growing a new universe up around it.
December 16, 2013 @ 1:11 pm
It always seemed to me that Republicans believe having a Democratic president is equivalent to fascist dictatorship, and that they would accept all the horrifying security and surveillance actions of the government as coming from a righteous morally upstanding place if they were done under a Republican presidency.
December 16, 2013 @ 1:39 pm
this being grammar, history is no help since people pretty much made up whatever they liked until the late Victorian era
My workaround is to peek into the nearest alternative universe where historically there were rules, and to follow those. It works well except when the rules require flazzl'mokh'pauplutri'iia.
December 16, 2013 @ 1:41 pm
It always seemed to me that Republicans believe having a Democratic president is equivalent to fascist dictatorship
They're right, since the Democratic party has always stood for fascism. But of course the Republican party has always stood for fascism too.
December 16, 2013 @ 1:44 pm
Whereas Moffat seems to worry at some level that there might be someone who is confused by this, hence the multiple reset buttons
I don't think an aversion to inconsistency and incoherence in a narrative counts as "confusion" on the part of the audience.
December 16, 2013 @ 1:49 pm
In the United States it's normal to see Asian and Hispanic actors
Well, by comparison with the u.k., sure. But it's rare (albeit less rare than it used to be) for them to get starring roles.
December 16, 2013 @ 2:03 pm
the Spiders of Metebelis 3, who latch onto your back, invisibly, Crowleyian monsters of Western esoterica
Another comparison: the usually-invisble "keepers" that the Drakh attach to their human thralls in B5.
December 16, 2013 @ 3:05 pm
December 16, 2013 @ 3:09 pm
" jane: Interesting that it's the Pompeii set, redressed.
breyerii: You mean, they were filming this in Cinecittà, Rome? "
I believe jane's referring to the inside of the fortune teller's shop*, which was a redressing of the Pompeii family home if memory serves me right.
*Fortune tellery? What is the word for this?
December 16, 2013 @ 7:08 pm
I agree with everyone who said Donna wasn't being thick–she honestly didn't believe that was even an option, so it didn't cross her radar until the people were being driven off. I mean, if we think about the amount of government gobblygook that goes on every day without raising an eyebrow, it's rational that something could be shoved under the rug, especially if they're trying to
December 16, 2013 @ 7:11 pm
For me the plausibility isn't the issue – I mean, plausibility is a tough thing to read in a melodrama. To me the signifier is that Donna is shown to not understand what every other character in the scene does understand. That's the thing that communicates Donna as thick – that she's presented as behind all the other characters and the audience in realizing what's going on. In a show where knowledge is much more about understanding what kind of story you're in than about actual thought processes, that says a lot.
December 16, 2013 @ 9:34 pm
Well that is why it isn't a misstep. It is ordinary good people, like Donna (nice people, honest people) who go along with things that are just deeply wrong because of a failure in perspective. It takes a cosmic crisis to push Donna into a new view of the world – just as in the real timeline it took the Doctor, a lying boyfriend and an ancient evil spider monster to do so.
The story of fascism isn't people suddenly realizing that labour camps are fundamentally wrong or that the erosion of liberty is evil. It takes either a crisis or a long unraveling.
People ring fence the people they know as exceptions (the racist who is perfectly nice to their neighbor of another color because somehow they don't count, the homophobe who thinks all gays are evil except the ones they know).
I'll go back to the example I mentioned earlier – the mandatory detention of asylum seekers who arrive by boat to Australia. The lots of perfectly nice, even progressive Australians who go along with it as a policy.
Donna undergoes a transcendent crisis. She is transformed whilst still being the same person she was – and this happens because she perceives a new scale of events.
December 16, 2013 @ 9:38 pm
Well Wilf seems to be only making the connection there and then – and this is in the context of all the people in the scene already having gone through government mandated mass relocations.
December 17, 2013 @ 12:16 am
"All the writing seems to say BAD WOLF because the TARDIS is panicking and using its translation facility to warn them and us that Rose is returning."
Yeah agreed Sean.
December 17, 2013 @ 12:30 am
Yes I agree – for me it never seemed that she was being portrayed as thick, or even a shallow version of a Catherine Tate Show character. To me she did in a lot ways feel like a pretty straight forward person – albeit with their vision skewed and blinkered by their need to survive on a very simple level. And I don't even mean surviving the disasters, but before all of that – she reminds me of some people I know (British – I live in Scotland) who drive themselves so hard that they pay little attention to the world around them. In quite a desperate way they put work at the foreground of their mind and seem to link their identity to it.
Donna herself says that she is no one, not important and just a temp from Chiswick. How can she have an effect? Well she can, and we all can, that's what the story says to me. Success can be great, work can be really fulfilling, but if we expend ourselves at the risk of ignoring the world around around us, of course we will feel like we are no one.There is a bigger narrative to who we are.
December 17, 2013 @ 12:33 am
I don't think that's untrue, but on the other hand I don't think an aversion to inconsistency has been especially compatible with being a fan of Doctor Who since at least 1964. As for incoherence…well, that's something largely, if not entirely, determined by the degree to which the audience is able to make sense of the narrative, and I think there's ample evidence that the vast majority of viewers considered it, if not 100% coherent at all times, close enough as to present few if any challenges to basic comprehension. As the sort of people who enjoy picking through the details and implications of every story, we tend to vastly overestimate the degree to which this sort of inconsistency presents any sort of problem for the actual comprehensiveness – or, more importantly, enjoyability – of the show.
December 17, 2013 @ 12:52 am
Additionally, the Spider, the Crowleyian monster as with insects within the culture of animal totems are seen as untrustworthy or in the main as Tricksters (obvious one, Anansi). The Trickster is often a magical figure, opposing their culture or story and upending conventions around them. Sometimes powerful, sometimes a fool, a joker and often a destroyer. Often though working for and supporting the journey towards some kind of healing, a renewed sense of 'realness' or authenticity – painful to experience though.
Thus the Time-Beetle comes direct from the 'Trickster's Brigade', an example of the narrative of another TV show, The Sarah Jane Adventures invading the Doctor/Donna narrative, which in turn is also bent by Rose/Bad Wolf AND another figure as we are about to see in the finale…
December 17, 2013 @ 10:36 am
People complain that RTD uses magic endings, but Moffat does a lot more "and then it worked because timey whimey" than RTD did.
And Moffat told 3 stories about the universe and time collapsing around a single point in the span of only 3 years, all as his season finales.
There's a lot more loosey-goosey magic resets in Moffat's era than RTD's, he just dresses 'em up different.
December 17, 2013 @ 1:41 pm
It may be just a personal reaction, but it feels to me that Moffat's better at setting things up so that it feels as though the story has all along been Quest for the Magic Reset Button. If you announce that there is a Magic Reset Button and the characters are setting out to find it that's a different matter from the characters stumbling across the magic reset button at the last minute.
The closest Davies finale to Moffat is Season Three. The Archangel network's been set up, it turns out that Martha has a plan but not the plan we thought, and so on. (And then we get glowing shiny Doctor, which throws away all the hard work.)
Also, the transition between Davies and Moffat is like that between Pertwee and Hinchcliffe. As Phil describes it in the book, Pertwee fights monsters in what passes for a realistic earthbound setting in this kind of genre (one can sum up the triumphs and problems with the Pertwee era by saying that the most realistic setting is the customs bureau in Carnival of Monsters); Baker fights monsters in the realm of ideas. Moffat's Doctor is closer to the Land of Fiction. Consider the difference between Tennant vs the Master and Smith vs the Dreamlord. So that remembering things back into existence feels more possible, because remembering an idea just is bringing it back into existence.
December 18, 2013 @ 3:07 am
Last of the Time Lords really is just a few minor changes away from being phenomenal. Structurally the whole three-parter is brilliant, paying off plot strands set in motion as early as The Christmas Invasion, but then it all sort of falls apart catastrophically. But script-wise, it's so nearly there – there's little more needed than a few lines altered here or there, replacing the CGI Dobby Doctor with something less silly, or at least more convincing-looking, and rework the sequence where Tennant is restored to make it less…well, less sh*t. That would be enough to make it one of my favourite Who stories ever.
December 18, 2013 @ 6:52 am
I remember that as well.
December 18, 2013 @ 8:08 am
That's more or less my take as well, and very nicely put. Fascism is horrible but humanity has seen it come and go, and rarely if ever has it been reversed by nothing more than a timely suicide.
December 24, 2013 @ 7:25 pm
One of the most astonishing moments of recent memory was reading about Glenn Beck comparing FDR and Henry Ford and claiming that FDR was the fascist instead of, you know, the guy who actually received an Iron Cross from Hitler.
December 24, 2013 @ 7:44 pm
There is also the fact that Wilf remembers the Nazis in a way that Donna does not. Just like in the Avengers when the only human willing to stand up against Loki was the old man who was obviously coded as a concentration camp survivor standing up against the Teutonic villain and is then saved by the guy wrapped up in the American flag.