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

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have
already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide version instead.

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 so much alien as just Chinese. I'll bet the unmentioned name for the planet is as unimaginative as "New China". If we're lucky, it'll get a real name and a pan-galactic culture, while this small sample on screen is simply a close-up of the local Chinese sector. All the more reason to wonder though, why Donna feels like she has to explain Earth to the Chinese fortune teller. You'd think it would be obvious to her.

Of course, most of this adventure looks like it takes place in recent/present-day England. Or does it? Perhaps it all takes place inside Donna's head, while she sits on an alien planet. The viewer can decide. 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, an alternate past is spawned that logically takes us back to England. It's good.

And though the TARDIS once more doesn't get to demonstrate materialization, it does get enough good stuff to do in this one to make up for it, including a better intro to the interior/exterior relationship than what either "Voyage of the Damned" (story no. 193) or "Partners in Crime" (story no. 194) achieved. The interior/exterior relationship has been demonstrated fairly well all season though, so it's not a great coup. But this story even gives us a rare sounding of the cloister bell, unchanged since its debut in "Logopolis" (story no. 116). Sweet. 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 proper materializations 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. Davies does go off the fan-boy deep-end giving Rose a line to tell Donna that she's "the most important woman in creation", so unreal that it's not surprisingly a low-point in Piper's performance. I'll bet Davies will say that about any current companion any time he needs to raise the stakes for the story and/or season at hand. It was bad enough with Bad Wolf already. Applying superlatives to people is almost always a bad idea.

Rose's motivation is a real enigma in this tale as well. Her first appearance might only be a crossing from one parallel universe to another, but there must be time travel involved in her other appearances, since she seems to have an uncanny knack for knowing what's happening miles away as it's happening, not to mention how everything should turn out in the end. And if she can travel with that much scope, sending both Donna and herself six months prior to "The Runaway Bride", you have to wonder why she wouldn't send herself back into the events of "Doomsday" (story no. 181) and reunite herself with her heartthrob, and fix the world by not letting him die herself. Is she over him? The next story suggests not really. Or is she unwilling to possibly die herself in order to reunite a parallel version of herself with the Doctor? If she knows as much that Donna is essentially going to die because she landed too far away to reach herself in time, why doesn't Rose get UNIT to alter her landing co-ordinates? 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.

The scenes with Donna and Wilfred at the telescope have me raising my eyebrow though.... This looks like exactly the same junkyard we saw them in during "Partners in Crime" (story no. 194), when that bit was supposed to be in London and this bit is supposed to be in Leeds. I guess it finally shows how much good stuff Harper contributed to the season opener.

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, then more or less going back again. 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, and echoed by the Doctor's own interpretation after the fact. Excellent. While historical differences on that scale might be as rare as he describes, I'm not prepared to buy that smaller changes create anything less than another complete parallel universe.

Donna however does get sucked into the wrong idea, believing that this entire parallel history will wink out of existence. I just love the expression on Billie Piper's face in response as Donna babbles this, full of "Oh, you sad thing, you are so wrong!" Sorry, all alternate histories exist and continue to exist no matter what you choose. Donna's only real problem here is getting back to the universe she knows. Perhaps she's still in it, sitting in a fortune teller's booth on an alien planet, and merely needs to wake up, and perhaps the real key to Rose's motivations is that she's just a figment of Bad Wolf bleeding information into Donna's dream to help her out of it. 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 at the end of the Next Generation sixth-season episode "Tapestry". 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.....

International Titles:

Deutsch: "Reise rückwärts"

Magyar: "A másik út"

Français: "Le Choix de Donna"

Русский: "Поверни налево"

Italiano: "Gira a sinistra"

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.

Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

Contact page


Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "The Stolen Earth"

Home Page Site Map Star Trek Sliders Doctor Who David Tennant Era Episode Guide Catalogue