The producers probably couldn’t have done anything more recklessly audacious than to follow up the dark, depressing Midnight with the possibly even grimmer Turn Left. This is surely one of the darkest televised stories Doctor Who has ever produced, a bleak “what if?” following the trail of events that would ensue if the Doctor had never met and been saved by Donna Noble at Christmas in 2006. And a world without the Doctor is truly terrifying. So many of the catastrophes the Doctor averted were allowed to occur, as were all the deaths the Doctor would have prevented, and the death toll is enormous. Particularly grievous was the crashing of the Titanic into Buckingham Palace on Christmas Day 2007, making all of south England uninhabitable and turning the country into a giant refugee camp. The social and economic strife that ensues stokes the flames of extremism and ushers in fascist rule over the green and pleasant lands of England, the country that in living memory fought to deliver Europe’s salvation from the Hitlerite scourge. The scene where the Colasanto family are being carted off to a concentration camp was spine-chilling in its bleak, emotive power, surely one of the most confronting things Doctor Who has ever shown. It’s even more depressingly shocking when one realises that this is only one planet that the Doctor’s absence has so profoundly affected; think of the rest of the universe—indeed, if Rose is to be believed, all universes. All this from one fatal, seemingly unremarkable decision by Donna to turn right. It could have been overblown and unconvincing, but it was all so believable, and chillingly so.
This story was also about Donna. We were brought back to Donna, the uncultured, uncouth temp from Chiswick, and followed her transformation as her world was swept from under her feet and her life thrown into turmoil. Her mother descended into depression and defeatism. Her grandfather fell back on his wartime spirit. Donna got angry at the world but summoned up something profound inside her, a will and a strength to keep going and beat away the bad, bleak world around her. This was particularly brought home to me in that intimate little scene in the Nobles’ billet house where Donna was trying to assure her mother, albeit vainly, that she would find a job and get them out of their sad situation. Personal crisis on this scale brought out the extraordinary person in Donna that she truly was, mirroring, in a rather more unhappy way, Donna’s personal development throughout Series 4 into the very thoroughly changed person from who she was in The Runaway Bride, even in Partners in Crime. Ultimately Donna had got to the point where she had resolved herself to sacrificing her own life for all of Creation, to leaving this world to restore the world that had never been but should have been. In doing so she showed herself to be the remarkable, amazing person Rose insisted she was, almost certainly more than Rose thought, even more than the Doctor thought I’d daresay. Catherine Tate’s acting throughout this episode was simply astounding. Tate hasn’t really been given scripts this series that have allowed her to show off her acting talents, but in Turn Left she delivered an emotive, intense, heartwarming and heartbreaking performance.
Rose was a bit… odd… in this episode. Don’t get me wrong, it was fantastic to see Rose again, but she was written very strangely. Rose, of course has developed, too, since we first met her, and doubtless she’s changed even more during her time in her parallel universe, but she was strangely… alien in this episode. She was something of an enigma, flitting in and out of Donna’s life and talking in cryptic riddles like a Christmas ghost. Even when Donna finally agrees to accompany Rose and Rose can speak more openly, she seems distinctly alien, ostensibly enjoying watching Donna traumatised and close to breaking point first over seeing the creature on her back and then over having to accept what she’s expected to do, Rose even deliberately provoking Donna at one point. Rose is unsettlingly callous in the face of Donna’s stress and angst while Donna needs someone to soothe her and give her support. This is very unlike the Rose I know. Maybe I’m missing something, but I was a bit unnerved. If I didn’t know better I’d think Rose didn’t particularly care about Donna, she was just using her to fix the universe and get to the Doctor…
Nevertheless, that cliffhanger was electrifying. This episode in general was outstanding. The only other criticism I’d make would be that it was a bit oddly structured. It didn’t flow as naturally and effectively as it should have, which made following the story just slightly disconcerting. In any case, in general it was an exceptional story.