Did we like it?
In the womb of a pregnant Great White shark, the unborn foetuses cannibalise one another in a desperate scrap for maternal sustenance, the narrative elements of Turn Left packed into a meagre 50 minute pouch engaged in a similar duel with clarity, logic and episodic flow among the first elements to be devoured. Thankfully, the dominance of alluring enigmatic dialogue and fine and economic characterisation were enough to make this an engaging, if not wholly fulfilling, chapter.
What was good about it?
• Catherine Tate delivered yet another brilliant performance as Donna. Here, she reverted back to her Runaway Bride persona of “shouting at the world” in futility. And it was the return of this bolshy, unpleasant yet utterly impotent Donna that was in stark contrast to the development we’ve seen over the past 10 episodes.
• Yes, there were times when we suspected that Russell T Davies was showing off his alchemic characterisation, metamorphosing Donna into a fully rounded companion, perhaps with even more depth than both Martha and Rose, but occasionally he would elicit glimpses of Donna’s growing compassion and selflessness in this parallel world to show that the Doctor merely drew out her best points rather than fundamentally changing her as a person.
• This was best seen when Donna realised that Rocco and the other refugee occupants she shared a house with were being ferried off to labour camps in the new Britain that had evolved from the irradiated wasteland it had become without the Doctor there to save the day.
• Bernard Cribbins as Wilf was magnificent, perhaps his most affecting performance so far, especially in the scene when he saluted the departing Rocco. We suppose there’s no chance of him becoming the Doctor’s next companion?
• The skilful way in which Rocco, who resembled a benevolent Pop from The League of Gentlemen, and his clan were introduced. Donna’s fury at their non-stop singing was quelled by Wilf’s collusion, and they all ended up caterwauling Bohemian Rhapsody not performed with such comic ineptness since Father Noel Furlong led a sing-a-long in the Scary Caves.
• Billie Piper’s confident return as Rose Tyler. The way in which she flickered in and out of Donna’s alternative life, and her refusal to reveal her name actually made her resemble the Doctor. She did seem to mumble rather too much, but this just made her return more unsettling.
• The innocent manner in which Donna imparted what Rose had told her. Her ignorance of the importance of the message and the Doctor’s growing horror was the perfect introduction to the finale.
What was bad about it?
• The scene when Donna and Wilf were gazing wondrously up at the stars, and then they started to disappear from the night sky was dramatic. However, as starlight takes thousands of years to reach the Earth, they were looking at events that happened thousands of years before. This has already been addressed with the planet of the Pyroviles, but the fact that stars were winking out of existence at the same moment from Earth’s point of view of time and space didn’t make sense.
• It might make sense next week, but we’d be surprised if there was too much exposition amid all the carnage caused by yet another Dalek invasion of Earth. We wonder if on Skaro there’s an equivalent legend to Robert the Bruce and how he was inspired by the spider that kept trying and trying again to build its web, and that this is what steels Dalek resolve for yet another doomed attempt to colonise the Earth.
• The mystery of what was on Donna’s back, which has been rumbling on since episode two, was finally revealed. It was a beetle that looked so plasticy it seemed more like a homage to Planet of the Spiders than any effort to create a realistic giant insect.
• It was also a tool of someone called The Trickster, who was apparently a foe in the Sarah Jane Adventures, which meant there was no satisfaction in learning who was responsible for it. And the idea of the beetle feeding off time was a little too similar to the diet of the Weeping Angels from Blink.
• The weird paradoxes caused by this episode. If Donna wasn’t kidnapped in time by the Trickster, or whatever, then would Rose have been able to warn the Doctor about the impending collapse of the multi-verse, leaving the Doctor to continue his galactic impression of Alan Whicker he’s been perfecting for the past four episodes? If, so, was the beetle in fact a force for good rather than evil?
• And, assuming Doctor Who is basing its principles of parallel universes on a single decision branching out into a whole new universe, then wouldn’t there also be a universe where Donna declined the offer to have her fortune told, and therefore not disrupt the Earth’s timeline caused by the Doctor’s death in the Racnoss adventure? Or, as we’ve mentioned above, was the intervention of the fortune teller actually the pivotal moment in alerting the Doctor to the nefarious deeds of Davros and his new Daleks?
• For the specials next year, is it possible that the really big, widescreen stories occur somewhere else other than 21st century Earth? This is the third year in a row and the whole point of Doctor Who is that adventures can take place anywhere, anytime.