Turn Left

Region 1
box set

Region 2
box set
Region 2
3-episode volume
(Doctor Who Story No. 202, starring Catherine Tate as Donna Noble)
  • written by Russell T. Davies
  • directed by Graeme Harper
  • produced by Susie Liggat
  • music by Murray Gold
  • 1 episode @ 49 minutes
Story: What if Donna had never taken the job that led her to first meet the Doctor two years ago? A mysterious fortune-teller on an alien planet seems to have made that idea real, unraveling Donna's life, and much more. How does the Earth cope with the last two years of alien invasions now that the Doctor is dead? How and why is a mysterious woman popping through time and parallel dimensions to offer Donna riddles? And what do people keep thinking they see crawling on Donna's back?

DVD Extras (box sets only) include:

  • Audio commentary by actors Catherine Tate (Donna Noble), Bernard Cribbins (Wilfred Mott), and Jacqueline King (Sylvia Noble).
  • Doctor Who Confidential featurette: Here Come the Girls! (7 min.) with Tate, David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose),
    writer Russell T. Davies, director Graeme Harper, and producer Susie Liggat.
  • Deleted Scene (1 min.) - introduced by Davies
  • Trailers & Promos

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

Well, here we go with another double-banked, Doctor-less episode that dredges up the past and relives many elements of the show that were best forgotten. Not a great draw. But it also manages to tackle one of my favourite sci-fi subjects, and do it remarkable justice, as well as rope in a lot of good and memorable elements. And the whole thing is well done, and quite unique for this show. All in all, "Turn Left" gets a caveated thumbs up from me.

As with the previous episode, the opening shot is a bit of a jaw-dropper for all the same reasons. Three alien planet settings in a row? What did we do to receive such good fortune from our alien-planet-stingy producers? This is good. But then, you have to wonder how much of a stretch this is from writer Russell T. Davies. The culture on display is not all that extra-terrestrial, is it? What's important is that the TARDIS has once more done its duty to broaden our travelers' horizons by taking them somewhere in the galaxy, and from there, our adventure is spawned. It's good.

And though the TARDIS once more doesn't get to demonstrate all its staple properties, it does get enough other good stuff to do in this one to make up for it. As with the previous story, I think the TARDIS is presented just the way it should be here, but that again makes it all the more important to show the staple properties in "Silence in the Library", "The Doctor's Daughter", "The Unicorn and the Wasp", "Planet of the Ood".... and most of David Tennant's era in fact. The motion has been seconded.

As Doctor-less episodes go, and there are many such half-hours in the 1960's to compare to, "Turn Left" is exceptional. Donna fully comes to the fore as the main character. She wastes no time running around looking for the Doctor, hoping he'll solve all the problems of the day, and not surprising since she can't even remember who he is. She tackles all her own troubles in her own boisterous way, and has no trouble rightfully claiming the final heroic, climactic act of the story in the Doctor's absence. In that respect, "Turn Left" is as good as last year's Doctor-less double-banked story "Blink" (story no. 190), but where "Blink" felt like it came out of an anthology series, "Turn Left" is definitely a Doctor Who because it is centered around other major characters of the series like the current companion, her recurring mother and grandfather, and of course returning guest Rose Tyler. In essence, the successful rotation of main character status seen in ensemble shows like "Star Trek - The Next Generation" has been emulated here to great effect. We even get an unexpected returning face within UNIT for the first time since the show rebooted in 2005, as actor Clive Standen who played Private Harris in "The Sontaran Stratagem" (story no. 197) gets a retroactive cameo reporting the altered events of "The Runaway Bride" (story no. 182). All this allows "Turn Left" to top "Blink" as the best Doctor-less story in the show's 30 seasons so far. Good job indeed.

The biggest caveat I have with this tale is in Davies' pseudo-fan-boy indulgence in reliving snippets of all his previous overly-domesticated Earthly Doctor Who adventures (some of which were best forgotten), while managing to at least mention every other major character from this series and its new spin-offs, although this does get less objectionable on repeat viewing when it can no longer come up as a "surprise". The re-run element I least looked forward to was the return of Rose, although at least she settles into a successful hero/mentor pairing with Donna, and both Catherine Tate and Billie Piper put a lot into their performances and work really well off of each other.

Rose's motivation is a real enigma in this tale as well. I'll have to save most of this discussion and its entailing "spoilers" for the in-depth analysis version of this review. Suffice it to say, I think Mentor Rose doesn't make as much sense as Davies would like to have us think.

Unlike the mostly forgettable caveats, the good points of this story pile on and continue to have good effect on repeat viewing. Bernard Cribbins is always a highlight each time he appears in a story, and he is at his absolute Season 30 best in this tale, particularly when he gets a fun Italian buddy to bounce off of in addition to Donna and her Mum. Excellent.

Murray Gold aptly named the track "Turn Left" on his CD, which contains the quietly menacing music and reverse echoed Doctor's [Dark Past] Theme that fills the bulk of the story and works extremely well to create a very haunting atmosphere for the adventure. Quite a number of other memorable pieces both new and old are heard closer to the end at appropriate moments, including a hauntingly familiar unreleased piece I remember most from "The Impossible Planet" (story no. 178). Good stuff.

Graeme Harper does his usual excellent work directing this tale, seamlessly integrating footage from previous adventures into this new one, while successfully balancing this story's deeply emotional moments with the mystery and tension of its plot. Nice.

Music by Murray Gold
"Turn Left", "A Dazzling End", "Midnight",
"Life Among the Distant Stars", and
"The Rueful Fate of Donna Noble"
are available on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who:
Original Music from "Series 4" (2008)

More info & buying options

"All the Strange, Strange Creatures"
is available on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who:
Original Music from "Series 3" (2007)

More info & buying options

Changing History?

It's interesting how vague this tale is on what is actually happening. Some would say that history is changing.... while those more sophisticated will probably be more in agreement with the Doctor's line from "Doomsday": "Every single decision we make creates a parallel existence, a different dimension...." which is of course nicely augmented by Rose's necessarily extra-dimensional appearance. Excellent. While historical differences on the scale presented here might be as rare as the Doctor describes, I'm not prepared to buy that smaller changes create anything less than another complete parallel universe.

While there is enough to satisfy me in taking this adventure the way I want to, the case for my way is not at all clear. There is much room here for the audience to interpret the temporal/choice mechanics in this one in a dozen different ways.

And while I won't give away what happens at the end, I will say that I think Catherine Tate gives one of her best performances in the climactic moments of this story, even reminding me of the great Patrick Stewart in one of my favourite Star Trek - The Next Generation episodes. Awesome!

Ultimately, despite its caveats, Russell T. Davies has crafted a fascinating multi-layered gem here, and "Turn Left" has definitely become one of the best stories of the season. And it does very expertly prime the audience for the grand finale coming up next.....

This story has become available on DVD.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:

DVD NTSC Region 1
14-episode boxed set
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
14-episode boxed set
for the U.K.
DVD PAL Region 2
3-episode volume
U.K. format only

Note: The full season sets contain commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and other extras. The smaller volumes only feature the plain episodes.

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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "The Stolen Earth"

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