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Monday, June 23, 2008

"Turn Left": Final stand-alone of Davies era among the best of new DOCTOR WHO

Russell T. Davies, if you're reading this, you have made me feel very sorry that I doubted you.

Yeah, there have been some low points during your reign as showrunner on Doctor Who (insert standard derogatory reference to "Love & Monsters" here). But you know what? If the two-part season finale that begins this coming Saturday is anything as good as "Turn Left" was this past weekend, then I will gladly declare that you learned from your mistakes and that you triumphed in every way so far as bringing Doctor Who back is concerned. This past season of Doctor Who might have been the best yet since the series's revival. And it looks to be going out with a bang...

"It's sort of complicated. I ended up in his spaceship on my wedding day."

"What if you turned right? What then?"

"There's something on your back!"

"We found a body, sir."

"I came so far."

"The Royal Air Force has declared an emergen..."

"Nobody lives in the bathroom."

"America is in crisis, with over sixty million reported dead."

"Why won't you tell me your name?"

"Something's coming, Donna. Something worse."

"'Labor camps'. That's what they called them last time."

"They're going out. Oh my God! Donna look! The stars are going out!"

"Nooooo way!"

"It's a time machine!"

"Tell him this. Two words."

"Turn Left", which Davies also wrote, is the last stand-alone story (more or less) of his tenure at the helm of the classic television series. Last week the Doctor went almost the entire episode without Donna, and now it's Donna's turn in the spotlight in this offbeat episode that also features, after a season of fleeting cameos, the full-blown return of Billie Piper as Rose Tyler.

While visiting a planet-wide Chinatown on a far-off world, a fortune teller offers to tell Donna's future. Donna takes her up, but instead of what is to come Donna is made to live out a different past: where instead of turning left at an intersection she chose to have a "safe" life by turning right toward a job that offered security. The most obvious result of this is that Donna never met the Doctor. Without her being there, the Doctor died during the events of "The Runaway Bride". And the result of that was that the world went straight to Hell.

If you've been faithfully watching Doctor Who since its 2005 return, there are rewards galore in "Turn Left": the Judoon's stealing the hospital, the space-borne Titanic, the Sontaran attack... all of these and more we get to see had the Doctor not been there to stop it all. This episode is very much Davies's love letter to his work over the past four years, and it succeeds admirably. My only complaint so far as that goes is that Davies jammed "Turn Left" with references to just about every other Doctor Who-related project he's worked on, including Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures and many viewers might be "lost in the fog" so far as those go. Indeed, I had to go to Wikipedia to find out what this "Trickster's brigade" thing was about.

Catherine Tate does a superb job of carrying the weight of this episode without David Tennant's presence. I've become quite a fan of Bernard Cribbins as Donna's grandfather Wilfred, and it's a delight to see him given so much screen time in "Turn Left".

And then there is Billie Piper's long-hyped return as Rose Tyler. It's not quite a letdown, but it's not what I was expecting either. Under any other circumstance hers might have been a "special guest star" appearance.

But with two words which come crashing down on the Doctor in the episode's final frantic scene (perhaps the best cliffhanger of any Doctor Who episode in recent memory) there is no doubt for anyone that Rose's appearance is no gimmick. That in fact her being here means that something very bad is on its way.

What? What could possibly have made Rose Tyler flee an entire universe to warn the Doctor about?

Here's the teaser that the BBC is now running...

"Turn Left" gets 4 Sonic Screwdrivers out of 5.

Next time: the greatest showdown in the history of Doctor Who begins, as just about every hero in the show's current stable gets thrown into battle against the return of Davros. "The Stolen Earth" transmits on BBC One in five days and across the Internets immediately afterward!