Thursday, August 07, 2008

4:11 "Turn Left"

The dreadful Torchwood keeps telling us that the 21st Century is when everything changes. But the dreadful Torchwood makes it quite clear that, in fact, nothing changes. Ever. The earth gets invaded by cybermen, demons manifest in the center of Cardiff, and the average citizen just sits in the bar saying "Don't be silly, there's no such thing as aliens look you rugger boyo blonwyn isn't it?" Torchwood even have a magic plot device in the form of a drug called "Ret Con" (ho ho) which ensures that nothing changes. The main character is so immortal that even if you drop a thermonuclear plot device on his head, he'll still bounce back for the next episode. Totally unchanged.

The nice thing about "Turn Left" is that everything really does change. It's a quite convincing snapshot of what it would actually be like to live on an Earth which was invaded by aliens ever other Saturday. It's an everyday story of folk whose world has become a permanent warzone. I'd like to see the series take this direction in non-parallel earth stories. I'd like Donna's mum and Donna's Grandpa to be living in a world that had been scarily changed by all the alien stuff. If there is ever an "adult" version of Doctor Who, I'd like it to take this approach: a darkish, humans' eye view of last weeks rip-roaring space yarn.

It's all bollocks, but that hardly matters. If the Doctor died in "Runaway Bride" then he never went to depression-era New York, and if he never went to depression-era New York, he never defeated the Daleks; and if he never defeated the Daleks, Caan never went back in time; and if Caan never went back in time, Davros was never rescued and there was never a second Dalek empire. Ergo: no, the stars aren't going out.

And I don't think that, even if Buckingham Palace had been struck by a full size replica of the Titanic, England would have relapsed to the 1950s quite so quickly. I mean, why is the office clerk rubber stamping papers rather than using one of those newfangled laptop thingys? And isn't it cute that the refugee is the sort of fellow whose a-mother is a-lika the spaghetti, and not, say, a Pole? Most seriously, the Damn Fine Climax (where every piece of text the Doctor can see changes to "Bad Wolf") which had me punching the air and going "Whoo!" turns out to have nothing whatsoever to do with this story or next story or any other story or anything else. It's one more example of R.T.D thinking up a scene and dropping it in whether it belong there or not.

Not knowing, at this point, that parts 12 and 13 are going to be the most gratuitously pointless guest star fest ever exhibited on a public stage, it was terrific fun and actually quite moving to hear, second hand and in passing, that Sarah Jane and Martha and Torchwood had given their lives to save the earth. And the angsty stuff, like Donna's Mum looking at the mushroom cloud and realising that everyone she knows is dead, is nicely done. And Catherine Tate continues to be not nearly as shit as we'd expected. Seeing her development from incredibly annoying Donna to not quite so annoying Donna telescoped down to a single episode was really quite impressive.

Every TV show falls back on some version of It's a Wonderful Life sooner or later. Dallas did it. Holby City did it, for goodness sake. And usually, they did it for some reason. In Star Trek , Captain Picard has always been very ashamed of a reckless decision he made as a young man: but he discovers that if he could go back and correct that mistake, he'd prevent himself from becoming a famous starship captain. In Red Dwarf we're led to believe that Rimmer is a loser because he was kicked out school when he was a kid; but the twist is that it was actually the heroic, alternate-world Rimmer who was expelled: our Rimmer had the good fortune, but still became a failure. Lois and Clerk combined with It's a Wonderful Life with Groundhog Day so we can watch the World WIthout A Superman becomign mroe and more depressing. In Star Trek the point is that we should accept who we are, the bad along with the good. In Red Dwarf the point is that we make our own choices and shouldn't blame out shortcomings on others. In Lois and Clerk the point is to tell a cute little seasonal parable about Hope. In Doctor Who the point, I'll get back to you.

But no, really. Nice story.

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Bristol SF Group said...

Is there an alternate universe in which Andrew Rilstone hasn't started swearing quite as much recently? 'Bollocks' indeed.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

The point is the same point as "Midnight," and as the next two episodes, and as, I strongly believe, just about every episode in Russell T. Davies's tenure as show-runner. The point is that the Doctor makes people more Doctor-ish, so that even in his absence they step up to do what he would have done, and sometimes go on to spread his influence further as Rose does with Donna.

If I have a problem with the next two episodes, it's that they don't do much more with this theme, which anyway has been done to death. That, and the complete absence of any point to Rose's presence except for the you-know-what at the end.

NickPheas said...

I know that this is the geek AH fan speaking, but this was probably my favourite episode of a series that overall left me pleasantly surprised. Catherine Tate shines here, I'd come in fully prepared to hate her, but damint, she was good.

Did you ever read the novel 'Who Killed Kennedy', a similar piece of clever clever fanwank, but like this, splendidly done.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Avalon Hill? Arctic Hedgehog? Atomic Hippo? Attilla the Hun? Aztec Hiccup? American High-Jump.

Phil Masters said...

Alternate History.

Gavin Burrows said...

...the point, I'll get back to you.

The point is Donna can’t turn right.

It’s easy to get the two transposed in your mind and think this episode followed her turning left. But its named after the direction she finally takes, the same one she took at the very beginning. Right is the direction her mother wants her to take, the route she’s supposed to take, but its in her to do the opposite.

It’s hardly the most contentious thing ever said that Doctor Who involves a whole lot of wish fulfilment, and that mostly comes through the companions – the ones who get to step aboard the Tardis. One day you’re a temp from Chiswick, the next you’re jetting about the universe. This story tells us we shouldn’t hang about waiting for the Doctor to turn up, we can forge our own destiny. It also has to be seen in the context of the next storyline about Donna, which is very much about the downside of wish fulfilment. This is about the downside of not following your dream. With absolutely no power at all, you still end up lumbered with the great responsibility.

Her having to run half a mile is thereby a bit of a masterstroke. We’re used to shooting off round the universe. Suddenly everything hinges on a not-all-that-fit woman running a relatively short distance. It’s so mundane we can relate.

There’s also a secondary theme of teamwork. Donna’s always insisting she doesn’t need anyone, that she can be defiantly independent. She doesn’t want to listen to Rose. By corollary, everyone else (starting with the Doctor) takes on an alien menace alone and dies.

Of course in actuality it’s about as fuzzy as Silence in the Library. We’re told here that she’s “special”, there’s something innate in her which even she doesn’t expect. As it turns out her big contribution comes from sheer accident, the equivalent of a radioactive spider bite. But, as you say, that hardly matters.

why is the office clerk rubber stamping papers rather than using one of those newfangled laptop thingys?

So Grandad can say his line, “that’s what they called them last time.”

f the Doctor died in "Runaway Bride" then he never went to depression-era New York, and if he never went to depression-era New York, he never defeated the Daleks; and if he never defeated the Daleks, Caan never went back in time; and if Caan never went back in time, Davros was never rescued and there was never a second Dalek empire. Ergo: no, the stars aren't going out.

On that subject, The Doctor Who Wiki has this to say:

It can be suggested that seeing as how the Trickster's Brigade is involved, the Trickster itself simply took care of the Cult of Skaro, while allowing directly or indirectly Dalek Cann to escape, thereby setting up Davros's return. Another theory is that, as the Doctor suggested, the universe itself simply compensated for the Cult of Skaro, again allowing Cann to time shift directly to the Last Great Time War. If this theory is correct, than it can be contributed to the situations involving the Carrionites and the Pyrovilles. in short nobody has any idea.

After everyone picked up on the problematic nature of pointing out genre conventions then carrying on doing them, I’m surprised no-one has commented her on how reliant this episode was on past continuity. New Who has usually made a point of giving itself a continuity while remaining jump-on-able. I’m not sure what a casual viewer would have made of Turn Left as a first episode. If they were able to pick up the plot, they certainly wouldn’t have got the emotional nuances.

But I liked this episode a lot, and that line of thinking would strike it out at the very root. So I’m not sure I want to say that...