Turn Left

* It’s hard to reconcile my residual dislike of Donna with the acknowledgement of her importance to The Doctor. My first reaction to the idea that he’d be dead without her is to scoff, but when I think back to The Runaway Bride, I have to concede that her function in that episode, when she was intended to be a one-off, is to snap the Doctor out of his post-Rose funk. It makes the question of whether it’s Donna that’s important, or if it’s just the Time Beetle, an interesting one, as you could interpret her original appearance as a case of being in the right place at the right time.

* In an episode all about the consequences of Donna never meeting The Doctor, one of the worst side-effects is her reverting to her pre-Series 4 personality for half an episode. And in an episode that revisits the recent past, it’s amusing that Donna’s beetle backpack evokes memories of Sarah Jane’s spider backpack. There’s also the return of Chantho, this time as a psychotic fortune teller, and the circle of mirrors being kinda like Kinda.

* I do like a big continuity-based romp, and it was easier to do back when there were only four series’ worth of things to remember. It’s always worth reiterating just how many times, and in how many ways, The Doctor has saved everyone’s arse. This episode tells us that also saves the lives of his former companions just by being around – he shows up to deal with the really dangerous stuff, so that they don’t have to put themselves at risk. Without him, they have to deputise, and they really don’t last very long.

* The depiction of a post-apocalyptic dystopia is stunning, adding an extra layer to prevent the episode from being just a continuity-based filler. Rather than just leaving it at bad things happening to characters that we know, it was great that they took the time to explore what happens in the aftermath of these disasters. It was grim stuff – people had to move to Leeds. It’s kind of how I picture the real UK will be after Brexit and five more years of Tories, and that was before they started rounding up immigrants. That was the darkest and most affecting part of the show, and it was neat how they didn’t need to explicitly state what happened at the labour camps, but you totally got it. Cribbins was amazing – his reaction should be shown to far right groups, as a warning of where their nonsense leads. Do you really want to make Cribbins cry? Do you?

* Lovely to see Rose, but why can’t she talk properly? She seems so different after just two years away, and it’s a bit sad – I can’t tell whether she’s supposed to have changed and developed off-screen since we saw her last, or whether it’s Billie not quite remembering how to play her. Rose has existed as an unattainable ideal for the last couple of series, so it’s hard to live up to the legend on her first reappearance. I tell you what though, that Bad Wolf stuff at the end was amazing – it was on the Pull To Open sign and everything!

RATING: 8

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Smith and Jones

* This is an era that I have very strong memories of watching first time round, which is why I refuse to believe that it was just shy of ten years ago. It was a turbulent but very happy time in my life; I was preparing to leave uni, I’d just come out of a long term relationship, and I’d just started a new one that’s still going today. Much of my spare time was being spent at the flat of my friends who were flat-hunting when we watched Doomsday together. They celebrated the new series with a party, in which all the men wore what they’d wear if they were The Doctor, and all the women wore what they’d wear if they were companions. If we held that party today, I’d like to think we’d all be Doctors.

But anyway, this episode always brings back memories of that first communal viewing, right from the very start. I remember someone commenting on what they described as a “not cold opening”, following which we collectively coined the immortal term “warm opening” to describe any episode that doesn’t have a pre-titles. Similarly, I can’t see the Doctor’s demonstration of his time-travelling capabilities without hearing the heartfelt plea from a drunken Yorkshireman of “don’t cross your own timeline, you cunt”.

* Of course, the last episode to have a warm opening was Rose, and the parallels are brazenly apparent. We start small and humdrum, see the companion going about her everyday life, going to work, having something catastrophic happen to her work, and end up running hand-in-hand with The Doctor. It’s the revival’s first deliberately-designed jumping on point, and if the formula ain’t broke…

* I’m not as keen on the family this time round. Individually, they’re all perfectly fine, with the possible exception of the dad and his girlfriend, Stock Outdated Female Stereotype #4. But together, it’s just a big cacophonous mess, and not something I’d ever be interested in seeing more of. In retrospect, they were never used in the same way as Jackie and Mickey, and so there was no need to paint them with anything other than a broad stroke. The problem is that when the episode matches the beats of Rose so precisely, you start to compare the families directly against each other, and that’s not a fair fight.

* Anne Reid! dinnerladies alumni are always welcome in Doctor Who, and in fact in anything I ever watch. She was part of a duel threat with the Judoon, who I really quite like. They’re baddies in this story, but really they’re morally neutral – they’re just diligently carrying out their task, and other than their Vogon-esque devotion to bureaucracy and overzealous use of capital punishment, they don’t do any harm. There’s nothing wrong with those things in their culture, so they probably think of themselves as the goodies.

* Why does everyone start running away when they realise they’re on The Moon? Where are they planning on going? All they’re doing is using up more precious oxygen than is strictly necessary, the pricks.

* Martha is genetically engineered to be the perfect companion from the off. It’s like they’re working through a checklist of attributes to demonstrate: asking pertinent questions, risking her life in order to help out, being open-minded to alien involvement, appreciating the beauty of the universe, taking it all in her stride, trusting The Doctor a little too easily… she does all this within minutes of the hospital moving. Normally, it takes a few adventures for a companion to cover all these moments, and I quite like the change of pace. It feels like the show is acknowledging that the audience has just been on this long journey with Rose, and so by skipping ahead to the finished product, Martha feels like less of an imitation.

* While they’re at it, they also take the opportunity to get a little bit meta, by having Martha question things that fans would take for granted. She points out how daft The Doctor’s name is, and how pompous “Time Lord” sounds, and the theme culminates with all the “bigger on the inside” gags. It’s a sign of the production’s growing confidence – three years in, it’s no longer a fledgling new project, it’s an established part of the TV furniture once more.

* Fave lines that I’d previously forgotten: “Where’s he from, the planet Zovirax?” and “Since when did you watch the news? You can’t handle Quizmania.” Both of which are firmly rooted in 2007, but sod it, they’re both excellent references.

* Downsides? I could have done without The Doctor doing a little jig to rid himself of the radiation via his shoe. It could have worked if it had have been a little more deadpan, but Tennant is often in the habit of gilding the lily. Also, as was the case in New Earth, the kiss felt gratuitous and gimmicky. It worked when Rose and Eccleston kissed because it was the culmination of their relationship, but if you do it within the first half hour of them meeting each other, where do you go from there?

* Something which I don’t recall bothering me at the time, but which did tonight, was the fact that The Doctor is killed, the Judoon pronounce him dead… but then he’s not dead any more. In retrospect, this kind of business is a trend which started around this time. Telling the audience one thing and then telling them that the exact opposite is true basically amounts to a broken promise. It gets harder to become immersed if you start to not trust what you’re seeing, and therefore the overall stakes are lowered.

* Right at the end there, did The Doctor say “welcome aboard, Miss Jones” in a Rigsby-from-Rising Damp voice? If so, I heartily approve.

RATING: 9