After the abysmal horror films that just happened to be the Doctor Who episodes “Midnight” and “42” it is time for me to review something which truly captures RTD’s skills as a writer, an episode that you’ll find in my top 11 greatest Doctor Who episodes list (which is coming soon by the way). This episode puts the ‘system’ in ‘systematic scariness’. So hold on to your reproductive organs ladies and gentlemen, because Donna failed to “Turn Left”.
A World without the Doctor
After the awesome Library two-parter, we’ve got “Midnight” and it sucked hard. So my expectations were on the floor and I was expecting nothing more that “Boom Town” quality of writing for this episode. I honestly couldn’t believe just how masterful this episode turned out to be, it’s like the last episode was written by bizarro-RTD. So the main story is that Donna has been tricked by a fortune teller into revealing a pivotal moment in her timeline when she was faced with a choice which in turn leads her to eventually meeting the Doctor. As she focuses on that particular moment, a time beetle climbs on her back and alters Donna’s choice creating a world in which the Doctor died during the events of “The Runaway Bride”. So we’re barely past the 5 minute mark and this episode is already chilling, so at this point it’s so far, so good. We soon see that without the Doctor, Sarah-Jane’s gang and Martha Jones died during the events of “Smith and Jones”, there was no one to stop the Titanic from crashing in London, 60 million Americans die when the Adipose show up, Torchwood 3 sacrificed themselves preventing the Sontaran invasion from “The Sontaran Stratagem”/”The Poison Sky” and the stars are going out. So without the Doctor, crises that he would’ve stopped happened and it basically crippled the Earth. All this time Donna continues to receive visits by Rose (who we last saw being trapped in a parallel world and yet somehow managed to come back by the events in “Partners in Crime” creating one of the biggest WTF moments in the revived series). She explains about the Doctor and how he could have saved everyone if he were still alive. Eventually Donna is brought to a UNIT base (after seeing the worst case scenario of the following story) by Rose and is told that her timeline has been altered and that the only way they can fix it which she does and the Doctor discovers that the end of the universe is coming.
There aren’t many peripheral characters in this episode (4 to be precise) and only 2 are worth talking about:
- Donna’s granddad, Wilfred Mott
- And that Italian guy with the nuclear family named Rocco
Wilfred is basically a hybrid of the senior citizen and alien conspiracy theorist stereotypes but he has evolved as a character throughout the series. Here his only purpose is to provide us with the revelation that the universe is about to come to an end.
Rocco on the other hand is not a plot required character as much as a comic relief/drama bringing character. Sometimes this character comes off as annoying and if you don’t like him then don’t worry he ends up in a concentration camp (I’m NOT joking about this).
What this episode does right
It has a thrilling atmosphere, enormous completely harvested potential, it shows us a fitting description of what would have been if the Doctor decided to take a holiday, and several moments scared the hell out of me. The acting is solid for the most part, the lighting is supreme, the gloomy atmosphere really shows and it’s near perfect but not without flaws.
What the episode doesn’t do right
As I said the acting is solid for the most part but when someone goes over the top with the acting, he/she really goes over the top I mean Donna is shouting like hell this episode and while it is meant to reflect how the changes in her throughout the series never happened it still gets tiring after a while. That plus an oddly placed comedic moment every now and then really drags the story and experience down.
There are several continuity issues raised by the alteration of the timeline like: what happened to the events of “The Shakespeare Code”, the Manhattan two-parter, “The Fires of Pompeii”, and “The Unicorn and the Wasp”. We know that the events of “Human Nature”/”the Family of Blood” couldn’t have happened as without the Doctor there wouldn’t be a need for the Family of Blood to come to Earth. We know that the Series 3 finale couldn’t have happened as the Master is probably still stuck in the end of the universe. However the pseudo-historical episodes of series 3 and 4 should’ve happened anyway and Earth’s history should have been radically altered as a result. But then again we don’t know exactly how much time there was between the events of “Doomsday” and “The Runaway Bride” in this timeline so the Doctor might have fixed them off-screen. However this theory is unlikely as the Doctor was still suicidal which in turn caused him to drown, so not too big of a time gap.
Two words: HOLY S**T!!! This is quite possibly one of the greatest cliffhangers in the show’s history. So Donna corrects the timeline, the Doctor examines the time bug, Donna tells the Doctor that Rose told her to tell him the words ‘Bad Wolf’, we see that every written text on the planet (including on the TARDIS) has changed to ‘Bad Wolf’, the duo return to the TARDIS to see it all red and the cloister bell being sounded as the Doctor says “It’s the end of the universe”. The episode’s ending is one of the greatest endings ever and it really got me pumped to see what the next episode’s gonna be.
The villain was scary, the setting and the premise were effective, the performances were all over the place but solid for the most part, there were several moments where I was genuinely scared, and the dramatic moments were perfect. Overall the episode is near-perfect as all RTD scripts should have been. Final score: 9/10.