It’s a clip show! Sort of. Okay, not really.
“Turn Left” takes the well-worn idea of an alternate timeline created by a time traveller changing the past and does something quite interesting with it. The story follows Donna as she visits a fortune-teller in on an alien planet, and has her history altered by what appears to be a large beetle sitting on her back. It reminds me of the spiders from “Planet of the Spiders”, and that’s probably intentional on the part of the production team. Yeah, it’s weird, even for Doctor Who.
The result is that Donna is convinced to take a right turn on the way to a job interview instead of the left turn she took to get the job where she ultimately met the Doctor. As a result, just about every episode from “The Runaway Bride” onwards has a different, more tragic result. The Doctor is killed early on, and everything goes downhill from there. Martha dies because the events surrounding the abduction of the hospital she was training in are different. Sarah Jane Smith is killed. The Titanic crashes into London and explodes, irradiating Southern England. The Adipose kill 60 million Americans. The Sontarans are defeated, but at the cost of the lives of the Torchwood team. It’s a bleak scenario, and it all results from Donna not saving the Doctor’s life by urging him to leave the underground in “The Runaway Bride” before the water could crush him to death.
The episode turns on the the idea that one seemingly insignificant choice can have a huge impact. We’ve seen this in time travel stories before, but it is admittedly quite interesting to watch a version of seasons 3 and 4 in which events play out without the Doctor around to influence them.
Of course the big red reset button must be pressed before the episode ends, and so the question becomes, how? How will Donna figure out the truth and restore history to its rightful flow of events? The answer is, oddly enough, Rose Tyler. Rose has managed to cross the barrier between parallel dimensions and returned to our Earth, armed with all sorts of foreknowledge about what’s to come. Which is just fine, as long as they explain it at some point. Rose is a sort of substitute Doctor, appearing to warn and direct Donna, and to get history back on track. It’s good to see her again of course, and thankfully she doesn’t overshadow Donna, who I’ve really come to like as a traveling companion. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when she meets the Doctor next episode, as I assume she will.
Rose is able to not only convince Donna of the truth, but to show her the beetle on her back, which any number of characters throughout the episode have caught out of the corner of their eye and commented on. With the help of UNIT and the TARDIS, Donna is sent back to prevent herself from turning right and thus stopping the alternate timeline from coming into being, which she accomplishes by an act of self-sacrifice. Of course, this sets up the usual paradox of logic. Lets say that the original timeline where Donna met the Doctor was timeline A. The new, far worse timeline was timeline B. If the Donna from timeline B sacrificed her life to prevent timeline B from occuring, that would mean that she never came into existence, correct? So how could she exist in the first place? But she must exist to prevent her existence.
Yeah. It’s nonsense. Just think about it a bit.
Of course for the ending the drama is really turned up with the return of… Bad Wolf. Yes, the plot device from season one is back, with no explanation as to how the words appear everywhere in the bazaar that the Doctor and Donna are visiting. One presumes that Rose sent them, but since she’s normal and not possessed by the time vortex at the moment, I don’t see how she could have. With two episodes to go, hopefully this will be addressed.
Overall, this is the Doctor Who version of the old “What If…” Marvel comics, where we see an alternate take on established events and it’s very bad. “Turn Left” is interesting and it’s dramatically satisfying, but the ending is a paradox that defies logic. Still, it’s an episode that’s worth your time.