New Series Episode 55:
Turn Left


On the planet Shan Shen, Donna meets a mysterious fortune teller. The woman persuades Donna to reveal the events which culminated in her original meeting with the Doctor -- and then Donna's world suddenly changes, as those very events are undone. Now Donna Noble lives in a world without the Doctor: a world in which London is destroyed by the spaceship Titanic, America is devastated by the Adipose, and the entire planet is nearly annihilated by the Sontarans. Only an enigmatic blonde traveller from a parallel universe can help Donna restore the original course of history, and prepare her to face the oncoming darkness.


The story that would become Turn Left was conceived on February 26th, 2007, when Doctor Who executive producer Russell T Davies was travelling to London by train. It was already planned that the show's 2008 season would include one story shining the spotlight squarely on the Doctor but barely featuring his companion, and a second story which would reverse these roles. This would enable the two episodes to be made alongside one another, a practise which had become traditional on Doctor Who in recent years, and which had previously been solved through the inclusion of an adventure which relied heavily on a supporting character.

Davies was searching for a reason why the Doctor would not appear in the companion-centric episode, and hit upon the notion of a narrative set in an alternative timeline in which the Doctor has been killed because of a seemingly incidental change to his companion's personal history. Davies' inspiration was the 1998 Gwyneth Paltrow film Sliding Doors, which simultaneously explores the consequences of whether or not a woman is able to catch a train.

Russell T Davies was inspired by the 1998 Gwyneth Paltrow film Sliding Doors

At this stage, Davies intended that the Doctor would be accompanied throughout the 2008 season by a new character called Penny. In her debut adventure, Penny and her mother would be travelling to visit Penny's grandfather when that area of London becomes trapped under a giant dome of alien origin. To tie in with his ideas for the Doctor-lite episode, Davies now decided that an early scene would see Penny faced with the innocuous choice of turning left or right on her way across London. She turns left -- which results in her being trapped under the dome, meeting the Doctor, and ultimately saving his life. But in Turn Left, an alien creature would alter history so that Penny turns right instead -- meaning that she winds up on the outside of the dome, and the Doctor perishes. Turn Left would then revisit the other modern-day stories of the 2008 season (allowing the episode to be something of a budget-saver), depicting a world increasingly devastated by the Doctor's absence.

In addition, Turn Left would be the first full episode to bring back the character of Rose Tyler, as played by Billie Piper. The Tenth Doctor's original companion, Rose had been written out of Doctor Who in 2006's Doomsday, trapped -- seemingly for all time -- in a parallel universe. But even back then, Piper and Davies had agreed that Rose should be brought back at some point in the future, and Davies had been careful to seed the 2007 season with occasional reminders of Rose's fate, to ensure that she would not be forgotten by viewers. Finally, it was agreed that Piper would return for the final three episodes of the 2008 run, which would be the last full season of Doctor Who to be overseen by Davies.

In mid-March, Davies' plans for Turn Left changed considerably when Catherine Tate agreed to rejoin Doctor Who as Donna Noble, the character she had played in the 2006 Christmas special The Runaway Bride. Although the fact that Donna was an established character suggested that the “turn left/right” moment could no longer appear in the season's first episode, Davies was enthusiastic because it meant that Turn Left could now explore Donna as she was at the start of The Runaway Bride: shallow, self-centred and ignorant. Over the coming months, Davies decided that the pivotal moment on which Turn Left would now hinge would be Donna's decision whether or not to travel to her interview with HC Clements -- the firm for which she's working in The Runaway Bride.

Russell T Davies considered having UNIT send “time commandos” to 1599 to stop the Carrionites

The replacement of Penny with Donna also meant that Davies could incorporate even more past stories into the revised chronology of Turn Left, since the Doctor would now die after flooding the lair of the Empress of the Racnoss in The Runaway Bride. Davies considered exploring how stories set in the past or on other planets would be affected -- such as having UNIT send “time commandos” to the year 1599 to foil the plot of the Carrionites, originally seen in 2007's The Shakespeare Code. Ultimately, however, he decided that this would cause an already very self-referential episode to become unnecessarily obsessed with minutiae, and Davies was very concerned about the ability of casual viewers to immerse themselves in the storyline.

In late October, Davies also dropped a subplot involving Donna getting married and having children. This was originally intended to add even more drama to Donna's decision to sacrifice herself and unravel the parallel timeline: not only would she be giving up her own life, but her offspring would be erased from history. However, Davies had now become aware that Steven Moffat had similar plans for Donna in Silence In The Library / Forest Of The Dead (which at this point was intended to immediately precede Turn Left) and Davies agreed that it was more pertinent to Moffat's tale than his own.

Davies completed his first draft of Turn Left on November 2nd. In addition to The Runaway Bride, the adventure revisited 2007's Smith And Jones (revealing that erstwhile companion Martha Jones, as well as Sarah Jane Smith, Maria Jackson, Luke Smith and Clyde Langer from spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures, have all perished at Royal Hope Hospital), the 2007 Christmas special Voyage Of The Damned (in which the spaceship Titanic now crashes into Buckingham Palace and explodes, decimating southern England), and 2008's Partners In Crime (explaining that the Adipose have now killed millions in the United States) and The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky (with Gwen Cooper and Ianto Jones from Torchwood forced to sacrifice their lives to stop the Sontarans, while their leader, Captain Jack Harkness, is captured and brought to Sontar).

November 26th marked Billie Piper's return to Doctor Who after 20 months

Turn Left was scheduled to be made on its own as the seventh recording block of the 2008 season. Because it was a double-banked production -- made alongside the Doctor-centric Midnight, which formed part of Block Six -- it was decided that Susie Liggat would once again act as producer in place of Phil Collinson, who would instead be credited as an executive producer. Appointed to direct Turn Left was Graeme Harper, who had recently completed work on Block Two (Planet Of The Ood and The Unicorn And The Wasp).

Filming for Turn Left began on November 22nd, starting with the news anchors at BBC Broadcasting House in Cardiff. Cast and crew remained in Cardiff on the 26th, when scenes in Jival Chowdry's business and at the housing office were recorded at Bay Chambers. The same day, the sequence with UNIT taking away the Doctor's body was captured on Hamadryad Road. This marked Billie Piper's return to the Doctor Who set after an absence of twenty months, since completing The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit. In the interim, a ninety-minute special entitled Rose Tyler: Earth Defence (chronicling Rose's adventures with the parallel-universe Torchwood Institute) had been commissioned, but ultimately cancelled at Davies' behest. He had come to believe that it was superfluous, and would spoil Rose's departure in Doomsday by allowing the viewers to follow her adventures while the Doctor could not. Meanwhile, the BBC also chose the 26th to officially confirm that Piper would be coming back to Doctor Who for three episodes.

November 27th began at Clearwater Parade, which was the terminus of Donna's time-jump. Filming then shifted to Nant Fawr Road, for the material outside Donna's home. On the 28th, Court Road was the site of the fateful intersection at the heart of the story, while the Lady Mary Allotments in Roath Park were the venue for Wilf's stargazing in Leeds. The next day, Donna sacrificing herself was taped at St Isan Road, while Franklen Road was the site of Rose's warning to Donna to leave London for Christmas. November 30th then took the production back into the studio at Upper Boat, for scenes in both the TARDIS and the fortune teller's parlor. The Time Beetle, which debuted on this day, had been intentionally designed to recall the giant spider which affixed itself to Sarah Jane Smith's back in 1974's Planet Of The Spiders.

The Time Beetle was designed to recall the giant spider in 1974's Planet Of The Spiders

The first day of December marked David Tennant's only full day of recording for Turn Left, first on a car park near the Cardiff Royal Infirmary (where the Shan Shen marketplace had been erected) and then at Upper Boat for more sequences in the fortune teller's lair. Also captured on this day was the news item regarding Royal Hope Hospital (also the Cardiff Royal Infirmary), which saw Ben Righton reprise his role as Oliver Morgenstern from Smith And Jones. On December 3rd, the Egerton Grey Country House in Porthkerry was the Nobles' Christmas getaway, while footage on the coach was captured at Port Road in Rhoose. The Nobles' lodgings in Leeds were actually a house on Machen Street in Penarth. Filming there took place on the 4th, while exterior scenes were completed on Machen Street and Rudry Street the next day.

Recording on December 6th began at the Conway in Pontcanna, which was the bar at which Donna and her friends celebrated Christmas. That evening, Donna's conversation with Rose on the bench was supposed to be performed at Thompson Park in Pontcanna. However, Catherine Tate had come down with the flu, and so it was decided that the material should instead be shifted to Sophia Gardens, which the production unit was using as its base. Finally, principal photography concluded with two days -- December 7th and 8th -- at Panteg Steelworks in Pontypool, for the sequences in the UNIT warehouse. A number of insert shots were also completed on the latter day.

The BBC agreed that Turn Left should be allotted an expanded 50-minute timeslot

Into 2008, a small amount of work was still left to be done on Turn Left. Executive producer Julie Gardner had decided that more glimpses of the phrase “Bad Wolf” appearing on Shan Shen -- including on the TARDIS itself -- were needed, and so these were captured on January 18th at Sophia Gardens. Additional inserts in the TARDIS, the fortune teller's abode, and the Shan Shen marketplace were recorded at Upper Boat on the 24th. Jason Mohamed remounted some of his material at BBC Broadcasting House in Cardiff on January 31st, and finally the concluding TARDIS scene was filmed at Upper Boat on March 20th.

During postproduction on Turn Left, it became clear that the scale of the season's final three episodes was such that Doctor Who's regular forty-five minute timeslot would be insufficient. The BBC agreed to allot fifty minutes to Turn Left instead, allowing Harper to complete his episode without having to leave large chunks of Davies' story on the cutting room floor. Amidst a blaze of publicity for Rose's return, Turn Left was transmitted on June 21st. Attracting the same 8.1 million viewers as Midnight had garnered the week before, Turn Left actually placed one spot higher in the Top Ten, entering the chart in fourth position. In all of Doctor Who's long history, only Voyage Of The Damned had done better, with its second-place showing the Christmas before. But Doctor Who's momentum was still gathering...

  • Outpost Gallifrey: New Doctor Who Series News Page, edited by Shaun Lyon.
  • Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition #20, 19th November 2008, “Episode 11: Turn Left” by Andrew Pixley, Panini Publishing Ltd.
  • Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale by Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook (2008), BBC Books, ISBN 978 1 846 07571 1.

Original Transmission
Date 21st June 2008
Time 6.38pm
Duration 49'24"
Viewers (more) 8.1m (4th)
· BBC1 8.1m
Appreciation 88%

The Doctor
David Tennant
Donna Noble
Catherine Tate
Rose Tyler
Billie Piper
Wilfred Mott
Bernard Cribbins
Sylvia Noble
Jacqueline King
Rocco Colasanto
Joseph Long
Capt Magambo
Noma Dumezweni
Fortune Teller
Chipo Chung
Mooky Kahari
Marcia Lecky
Veena Brady
Suzann McLean
Alice Coltrane
Natalie Walter
Man in Pub
Neil Clench
UNIT Soldier
Clive Standen
Jival Chowdry
Bhasker Patel
Female Reporter
Catherine York
Ben Righton
Spanish Maid
Loraine Velez
Studio News Reader
Jason Mohammad
Housing Office
Sanchia McCormack
Soldier #1
Lawrence Stevenson
Woman in Doorway
Terri-Ann Brumby
Trinity Wells
Lachele Carl
Soldier #2
Paul Richard Biggin

Written by
Russell T Davies
Directed by
Graeme Harper
Produced by
Susie Liggat

1st Assistant Director
Simon Morris
2nd Assistant Director
Guy de Glanville
3rd Assistant Director
Paul Bennett
Location Manager
Emma Woodcock
Production Co-ordinator
Jess van Niekerk
Production Runner
Siân Warrilow
Llinos Wyn Jones
Script Editor
Brian Minchin
Camera Operator
Roger Pearce
Focus Pullers
Jamie Southcott
Penny Shipton
Dave Holliday
Boom Operator
Kevin Staples
Stephen Slocombe
Best Boy
Chris Davies
Stunt Co-ordinator
Bill Davy
Chief Supervising Art Director
Stephen Nicholas
Art Dept Production Manager
Jonathan Allison
Supervising Art Director
Arwel Wyn Jones
Associate Designer
James North
Art Dept Co-ordinator
Amy Pope
Set Decorator
Keith Dunne
Props Buyer
Ben Morris
Graphic Artist
Christina Tom
Standby Art Director
Nick Murray
Design Assistant
Peter McKinstry
Standby Props
Matt North
Jackson Pope
Standby Carpenter
Paul Jones
Standby Painter
Julia Challis
Standby Rigger
John Cooling
Property Master
Adrian Anscombe
Forward Dresser
Stuart Mackay
Senior Props Maker
Penny Howarth
Props Maker
Nick Robatto
Construction Manager
Matthew Hywel-Davies
Scenic Artist
John Pinkerton
BBC Wales Graphics
Costume Supervisor
Charlotte Mitchell
Costume Assistants
Bobbie Peach
Sara Morgan
Make-up Supervisor
Olivia Jones
Make-Up Artist
Su Westwood
Casting Associate
Andy Brierley
VFX Editor
Ceres Doyle
Post Production Supervisors
Chris Blatchford
Samantha Hall
Post Prod Co-ordinator
Marie Brown
SFX Co-ordinator
Ben Ashmore
SFX Supervisor
Paul Kelly
Prosthetics Designer
Neill Gorton
Prosthetics Supervisor
Rob Mayor
Prosthetics Technicians
Charlie Bluett
Chris Clarke
On Line Editors
Matthew Clarke
Mark Bright
Mick Vincent
3D Artists
Nick Webber
Matt McKinney
David Knight
Mark Wallman
2D Artists
Greg Spencer
Murray Barber
Sara Bennett
Arianna Lago
Julie Nixon
Matte Painter
David Early
VFX Co-ordinators
Jenna Powell
Rebecca Johnson
Dubbing Mixer
Tim Ricketts
Supervising Sound Editor
Paul McFadden
Sound Editor
Doug Sinclair
Sound FX Editor
Paul Jefferies
Original Theme Music
Ron Grainer
Casting Director
Andy Pryor CDG
Production Executive
Julie Scott
Production Accountant
Oliver Ager
Sound Recordist
Ray Parker
Costume Designer
Ray Holman
Make-Up Designer
Emma Bailey
Murray Gold
Visual Effects
The Mill
Visual FX Producers
Will Cohen
Marie Jones
Visual FX Supervisor
Dave Houghton
Special Effects
Any Effects
Millennium FX
Will Oswald
Production Designer
Edward Thomas
Director of Photography
Rory Taylor
Production Manager
Tracie Simpson
Executive Producers
Phil Collinson
Russell T Davies
Julie Gardner

Updated 6th July 2014