And now, Scary-Crayon reviews... "Doctor Who" Series 4, Episode 11: "Turn Left" by: Wes (the review, not the episode!)

Three weeks from today, on July 18th (apparently "Doctor Who" isn't airing on July 4th, which I guess makes sense because the holiday marks our declaration of independence from the British!), the SciFi Channel will air the eleventh episode of "Doctor Who" Series 4 for viewers in the United States. If you're among those viewers and don't want your experience affected by spoilers, stop reading now and come back once you've seen the episode. The rest of you, insofar as you care to read about why I was not at all enamored with Russell T. Davies's "Turn Left", should feel free to proceed to the next paragraph.

Rose Tyler returns in "Turn Left"!i can has blood?

Before we delve into the criticisms, however, I will start off by admitting that -- as soon as I finished watching the episode -- I didn't despise it quite so strongly. It did have some great acting and some emotional scenes. It was great to see Billie Piper back as Rose Tyler, even if the character wasn't nearly as much fun as she used to be. But this is one of those episodes that completely falls apart when one begins to analyze the story and even becomes sort of hateful when other details are taken into account. For example, as far as the greater story arc goes -- and this is admittedly a difficulty with almost all "alternate timeline" stories -- it was largely pointless. The timestream got corrected in the end, so all of the horrible events that took place in the alternate future of "Turn Left" never happened. Still, I agree that "what if" premises can be cool in their exploration of counterfactual outcomes. Marvel Comics dealt with questions of this nature in multiple series, all of which provided engaging answers to questions like "What if Professor X had become the Juggernaut?" and "What if Wolverine was lord of the vampires?" And of course we've all pondered questions like that, whether they pertain to media that we enjoy, historical developments, or even our own personal lives.

Participating in these thought experiments may not actually change the past or make a significant difference in the grander scheme -- just as they usually fail to alter the focal timelines of fictional universes in significant ways -- but they can make for fun and entertaining diversions... or at least they can when there's creativity involved. Suppose that, for example, yesterday you went for a bike ride in the neighborhood, stumbled upon a yard sale, purchased an unassuming scroll that turned out to be a treasure map, were coerced into service by a gang of otherwise rather friendly pirates, sailed to an island two hours off the nearest coast, discovered the dank cave that supposedly held the treasure to be guarded by a superintelligent pink elephant warrior, and spent the evening listening to his thrilling stories of cerebral combat in long-forgotten wars in the fifteenth dimension while he served you the frothiest and best-tasting ale you'd ever experienced -- only to learn that the ale was the treasure, and not because of any monetary value it had, but rather because it could only be enjoyed in the context of a much greater treasure: friendship. Awwww.

Now suppose that, after returning home, you decided to ask, "What if I had never gone on that bike ride?" Well, you probably wouldn't have had that fantastic adventure with the pirates and the pink elephant warrior, but hopefully your thought experiment -- at least insofar as you wanted it to be interesting -- would consist of you doing more than sitting at home and being miserable while you watched reports about pirates and pink elephants on the news. When "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" featured an episode that depicted what might have happened if Buffy had never moved to Sunnydale, it didn't adhere rigidly to specific events from previous episodes. Yes, evil nasties basically took over, but there were things like Xander and Willow being badass and irresistibly cool vampires, a terrified Angel being kept in chains and tortured by the sultry and sadistic vampire Willow, the Master opening an industrial factory that drained the blood of humans via assembly line and put it on tap, and other cool and intriguing (and sexy!) developments to distinguish it from the present timeline.

Titanic will killTorchwood would have sucked without Tosh anyway.

"Turn Left," on the other hand, took the lesser, unimaginative approach: since the Doctor died in his encounter with the Racnoss (and, for no other apparent reason except to serve the purposes of the story, was unable to regenerate), every alien threat he'd since thwarted would have succeeded in wreaking havoc on Earth and killing off the heroes of the established continuity. It ticked them off in order. Because the Doctor perished before the events of "Smith and Jones", almost everyone in the hospital died, including Sarah Jane, her underaged friends, and Martha Jones. Because the Doctor wasn't on board the Titanic in "Voyage of the Damned", the interstellar cruise ship crashed into Earth and killed everyone in London. Because the Doctor was resting in peace during "Partners in Crime", a boatload of people was transformed into ridiculous CGI fat creatures (though this time the event took place in America). And while the Sontaran invasion of Earth depicted in "The Sontaran Stratagem" and "The Poison Sky" was prevented in the Doctor's absence, it resulted in the loss of the remaining members of the Torchwood team. If the Doctor dies, epic tragedy follows and lots and lots of people get killed. But did we really need an entire episode to tell us that?

Now, I will say that if Davies's intention here was to revisit several of the past two series' major present-day Earth events -- but with a twist so that it seemed less like a boring recap episode -- this was a rather clever way of doing it... even though it introduces quite a few plot holes. Since Sarah Jane and her underaged friends weren't at the hospital the first time, there's no reason that they should have been there in this future (it's not as if the Doctor told her to stay away during the initial crisis). It also kind of belittles Sarah Jane's abilities -- she totally would have been able to save the day (even clad in the not-so-fashionable outfits of yesteryear) -- not to mention those of Martha, Torchwood, UNIT, and every other group that routinely defeats the alien threat of the week because the Doctor isn't on present-day Earth 24/7. Moreover, there were at least three instances following "The Runaway Bride" in which the Doctor traveled back in time to face alien scourges on Earth.

We should all be Pyroviles now.Or maybe we should be human Daleks!

So by the logic of this episode, Pyroviles should have taken over the planet in 79 AD, as the Doctor wouldn't have been around to stop them in "The Fires of Pompeii". If not that, then Carrionites should have eliminated humanity in 1599 in keeping with the events of that awful Harry Potter commercial The Shakespeare Code". And failing that, the Cult of Skaro should have turned everyone into pig slaves and/or human Daleks in 1930 per "Daleks in Manhattan" and "Evolution of the Daleks". Not to mention the presumption that, with time travel and the intent to alter timelines worked into the mix, Rose could've taken any number of measures to prevent the Doctor from dying or coerce Donna to turn left. For example, since she was able to appear in that year herself -- recall that she approaches the dying future Donna and whispers two words into her ear -- she might simply have donned a hard hat and placed a "road closed" sign in the street or something.

Then there was the overemphasis on Donna Noble's importance -- which, for me, gave the episode the unpalatable flavor of Mary Sue fiction. At one point, Rose tells Donna that she's "the most important woman in the whole of creation." Just about every companion has saved the Doctor's life at one point or another, so wouldn't that make them just as important? (And note to Davies: unless the main character of the work in question is Jessie Christ -- or the line is delivered with extreme sarcasm -- "You're the most important woman in the whole of creation!" should never be part of any script. Seriously.) Then there was the part in which the stereotypical evil Chinese fortune teller cowered before Donna and blathered about how "strong" she was -- presumably because she was able to sacrifice herself in the parallel universe and thereby free herself from the clutches of the ridiculous beetle backpack. But sacrificing oneself is arguably par for the course as far as fictional characters go (particularly in "Doctor Who"), and most don't have to see most of the people they know killed, their housemates packed off to refugee camps, and the stars themselves blinking out to be moved to action. Besides, if she were that strong, she wouldn't have been tempted by a stupid free fortune-telling session when she clearly wasn't interested in the reading.


And then we come to the Doctor's comments at the end of the episode. First, he remarks that having parallel worlds created around her seems to be happening to Donna lately, citing the events of "Silence in the Library" and "Forest of the Dead" as an example. Wrong. In that two-part serial, Donna was uploaded into a virtual world as code, which has absolutely nothing to do with parallel worlds. The virtual world wasn't even created around her -- it already existed and she was uploaded into it. The Doctor then goes on to say that their association is remarkable because -- in all the universe -- he met her for a second time. "It's like something's binding us together," he says. Fine, except for the fact the Doctor has met loads of characters more than once, including himself! He's met pretty much all of the companions in the new series twice, not to mention the Brigadier in at least five separate incarnations and his two encounters with Sarah Jane following her initial departure in the classic series. He's met many of the baddies two or more times -- the Master, Davros, the Rani, that one Slitheen. Heck, he even met Commander Lytton twice -- in "Resurrection of the Daleks" and again in "Attack of the Cybermen". Was the universe binding them together as well?

There are other problems with "Turn Left" that aren't tied to the story or dialogue -- things like the grossly stereotypical nature of the Chinatown planet and the evil fortune teller. Watching the attendant "Doctor Who Confidential" episode made this even worse, since it revealed not only how much work went into creating that scene, but also that, in real life, the actress (Chipo Chung) actually speaks with an English-sounding accent. "Yeah, we know you don't really sound like that, but we're going to need you to speak in broken English with a phony Chinese accent. Kiddies love stereotypes, you know!" I mean, really -- if 900-plus-year-old Time Lords can speak with British accents, I don't see why alien Chinese people can't in the future. The lame beetle prop hanging off of Donna for much of the episode was also distracting -- and, like the Chinatown scene, seemed that much worse when the confidential episode revealed how much work went into creating that rubbish thing. Not to mention that the idea of an insect hanging off of someone's back was totally stolen from "Planet of the Spiders". It didn't even have a unique modus operandi: consider that the weeping angels of "Blink" also fed on the energy of lost potentialities, though those creatures transported people back in time to do it.

(I still think that this is a problematic idea despite the surpassing excellence of "Blink" -- note that while both transporting someone back in time and changing the future prevent them from taking paths that they might otherwise have pursued, they also result in the creation of *new* paths and experiences for the individuals in question. So if all these creatures require for sustenance is for possible outcomes to not obtain, they should theoretically be perpetually glutted and always feeding. Right now they should be feasting on the energy that would have resulted had I not corrected that typo and left the previous sentence to end with "feedomg"!)

badwolfbadwolfbadwolfbadwolfIt wasn't clever back then, either.

And the reemergence of the "bad wolf" thing? Stupid. For those who need a refresher, the words "bad wolf" appeared in most of the Series 1 episodes and were ultimately revealed in "The Parting of the Ways" to be a trail of breadcrumbs to lead the Doctor, Rose, and the TARDIS to that point in space and time. Except that's stupid, since time in "Doctor Who" is non-linear and an individual traveling through it wouldn't have to make certain specific stops along the way in order to reach said point. And there wasn't any explicit and relevant reason for them to need to stop at those points in a particular order before ultimately showing up to face the Daleks -- it's not as if there were a Dragon Ball at each location that would enable them to arrive at the designated point with seven in tow and thereby wipe out the Daleks with... a single wish.

So why did that lame plot point from Series 1 make a comeback? Here's how you can tell that this is a Davies episode: it's here because he says so! It's his idea, and he's convinced that it's magnificent fucking brilliant, so he'll shoehorn it into a story anyplace he likes. Heck, in the confidential episode, he was going on about how "bad wolf" is an integral part of who Rose is as a character. No, it's not. When I think of Rose, I don't think of "bad wolf" -- unless that thought is accompanied by a shudder. I think of horsey teeth and Union Jacks and parallel universes and tiny K-9 figures with pull-back-and-go action and Pete and Jackie and poor Mickey getting cockblocked by the Doctor at every turn. And now, thanks to Russell T. Davies's most recent display of bad science fiction writing, I think of the travesty that was "Turn Left." And I shudder. Again.

-- Wes --
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