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Turn right and never meet that man! Turn right, and change the world!—Fortune Teller
The Stars Are Going Out. Oh my God, the stars are going out.—Wilfred Mott
The Doctor and Donna drop by the Chinese-inspired planet Shan Shen, a long way from Earth. The Doctor does some shopping while Donna lets herself be talked into a free fortune-telling session. But the fortune-teller is interested in Donna's past, not her future... specifically, she wants to know how Donna came to meet the Doctor. Something creepy and crawly moves towards Donna and latches onto her back.
Remember "The Runaway Bride", when we first met Donna? She was marrying a guy she'd met at work. Flashback to Donna's first day at H.C. Clements. Her mum comes along, and harangues Donna about interviewing for a different job, a better job, with some guy she knows. All Donna has to do is turn right at a certain intersection, and she'll never have started at H.C. Clements, never met Lance, never been sucked aboard a TARDIS in flight, never -- and this is the crucial bit -- told the Doctor to stop when he was murdering a Racnoss nest. So, the Doctor drowned in the Thames and died that Christmas Eve, and Donna didn't much care, because she never knew who he was. To Donna, the only thing out of place seems to be the fascination her friends have with something on her back that they glimpse, and the young blonde woman who's suddenly turned up looking very distressed.
But Earth, as it turned out, would end up caring very much. When Royal Hope Hospital was transported to the moon, the Plasmavore was stopped, but the hospital was trapped on the Moon until it was too late. All but one person in the hospital died -- including medical student Martha Jones -- and the Earth escaped destruction only because one Sarah Jane Smith, at the hospital with Luke, Maria, and Clyde, was able to deactivate the Death Ray before dying.
Without the Doctor around to stop it, the starship Titanic crashed into London the following Christmas, destroying the entire city with its nuclear engine. Donna and her family are OK, because they left London for Christmas on the advice of a mysterious blonde woman.
Mysterious blonde woman -- dimension-hopping Rose Tyler -- keeps popping up in Donna's life as it continues to suck. Aid promised from the United States to the victims of the nuking of London is cancelled after the Adipose kill millions of them. The Sontaran stratagem very nearly succeeds, as well; it is stopped only by the Torchwood Three team, at the cost of their lives and leaving Jack stranded on the Sontaran homeworld.
And Donna and her family are forcibly moved to Leeds, while the minorities are shipped off to "labor camps". One night, when Donna notices that The Stars Are Going Out, she finally decides to follow the mysterious blonde woman.
The woman, remaining nameless, explains who the Doctor was and that he was never to die. She takes Donna to a UNIT operations base where they have hooked up the Doctor's TARDIS to their equipment which includes a circle of mirrors. The blonde woman and UNIT use the equipment to show Donna the presence of a large beetle riding her back, though they can't remove it. Instead she tells Donna that they are going to correct the timeline, but it requires sending Donna herself back to fix it. After realizing this might wipe her from existence, Donna agrees to do so, and is told to stop herself from turning right on that fateful day.
The time jump leaves her half a mile away with only a few minutes to get to the intersection, an impossibility to fix. Without any other options, Donna throws herself in front of an oncoming vehicle, fatally wounding her, but creating a traffic jam that her earlier, impatient self is unwilling to wait for, and makes the left turn. As the alternate Donna dies, the blonde woman appears again to her, and tells her a two word message to give to the Doctor before she blacks out...
Donna wakes up in the fortune teller's room, the Time Beetle having fallen off her back dead. The fortune teller scurries away as the Doctor arrives. Donna explains what she saw, and the Doctor explains that the Time Beetle is part of the Trickster's Brigade. Donna wasn't picked for any special reason: stealing timelines is just what the Trickster's Brigade does, and it usually has no effect. Donna just happened to be a bit more involved in time-shattering events than the usual victim. The Doctor causally comments on Donna's bad luck to involve herself in parallel worlds all the time, when Donna suddenly recalls the blonde woman. The Doctor, instantly alert, asks Donna for more information, and Donna recites her last words:
The Doctor races outside to find every banner and sign, even the TARDIS doors, now reading "BAD WOLF". Racing inside and closely followed by Donna, the Cloister Bell has started tolling, the end of the universe soon imminent.
- America Saves the Day: Subverted. They were going to send aid money to help Britain, but the Adipose disaster was relocated in America and ended up killing 60 million Americans, so they went on to solve their own problems.
- And Starring: Billie Piper makes it into the opening credits like this.
- Anyone Can Die: Taken to ridiculous levels in the alternate dimension. An entire hospital killed with only one survivor, the entirety of London killed when the Titanic crashes and 60 million Americans killed and converted to Adipose.
- Arc Words: The arc words from series 1, Bad Wolf, appears on every sign. Also the bees disappearing. We find out what exactly is the "something on [Donna's] back".
- Best of All Possible Worlds: The alternate universe in this episode is very much a worse place.
- Blue Box: The TARDIS.
- Borrowed Catchphrase: Rose borrows the Doctor's, "I'm sorry... so sorry..."
- Britain Is Only London: Averted, as the latter sections of the story are said to take place in Leeds, in West Yorkshire Oop North.
- Butterfly of Doom: As the title indicates, all Donna does is turn right instead of left. This plunges the world into a dystopian hell.
- Continuity Nod: The Cloister Bell (the TARDIS' Oh Crap signal, first heard in "Logopolis") ringing at the end. The Trickster is a time-altering villain in The Sarah Jane Adventures, Metropolitan Magazine was indeed SJS's former employer in the classic period (as mentioned in her first story, "The Time Warrior")
- Also, revisiting the events of "The Runaway Bride", "Smith & Jones", "Voyage of the Damned", "Partners In Crime" and "The Sontaran Strategem"/"The Poison Sky". And references to Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.
- The bug on Donna's back is confirmed to be a nod to the spider on Sarah Jane's back from the classic series episode "Planet of the Spiders."
- Contrived Coincidence: The one in "Partners In Crime" was Lampshaded.
- Cosy Catastrophe: The middle part, at least - before the Emergency Government starts up a new Holocaust, and the stars start going out.
- Crapsack World: Without the Doctor there to do his thing, the world gets worse and worse.
- Although at least we avoided the Master's reign of terror (though that was cosmic-retconned away anyway) as without the Doctor's intervention he presumably died at the end of time.
- Deader Than Dead: The Doctor is apparently too dead to regenerate. Though we're pretty sure that drowning in the Thames can't bring a Time Lord back.
- Deconstruction: Rose basically stands in for the Doctor in this episode, including the dimensional comings and goings, name obfuscation, misplaced enthusiasm, Techno Babble, and hints of an Omniscient Morality License. Although in a Crapsack World like this, all these attributes mostly make her come off as an incredible asshole (not that this doesn't apply to the Doctor himself from time to time).
- Distant Reaction Shot: The Titanic crashes into London, resulting in an enormous mushroom cloud visible from Donna's holiday home.
- Everybody's Dead, Dave / Kill'Em All: Doctor, Martha, Sarah Jane, Maria, Clyde, Luke, Gwen, Ianto. With Donna and Rose the main characters of the episode and Jack immortal and Owen and Tosh already dead, that's every character that's ever had billing in all three series. Since this all gets reversed by the end of the episode, it's also an example of the Second Law of Metafictional Thermodynamics.
- Expospeak Gag: "Keep the jacket on at all times, it's insulation against temporal feedback. This will correspond to local time wherever you land. This...is to combat dehydration" (offers ordinary glass of water).
- For Want of a Nail: Donna turns right instead of left, and the whole world - probably the whole universe - changes.
- Fridge Brilliance: Wait, Pete's World is three years ahead of the Doctor's. The stars going out might not have been Davros after all...
- Gilligan Cut: Wilf says America is sending aid money, so everything will be fine soon. Cut to a news report saying that 60,000,000 Americans have been reverted to Adipose.
- Heroic Blue Screen of Death: Rose goes blank and silent when Donna says the Doctor has died, seemingly in denial that she has been dimension-hopping for so long only to find out that the Doctor has died.
Rose: I came so far...
- Also how the Doctor died in the first place - after killing all the Racnoss and without Donna to snap him out of it, we infer that he basically stood still and let the water catch up to him.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Martha gave her oxygen tank to her coworker, Sarah Jane and co died stopping the malfunctioning MRI, Gwen and Ianto died exploding the Sontaran ship, and Donna jumped in front of a truck to cause a pileup so her past self will turn left and undo all the damage.
- It Got Worse: Everything that could Kick the Dog does in this episode.
- After Series 6, one could even infer something even worse than the stars going out is going to happen. With the Doctor prematurely dead, Amy and Rory never became companions, thus negating the eventual birth of River Song. With the Doctor already dead and River never existing the first place, his supposed "death" at Lake Silencio, never will occur, thus a fixed point in time becomes irrevocably altered, causing the destruction of time itself.
- Kick the Dog: Donna's mother calling her a disappointment.
- Late Arrival Spoiler: When the Sontarans attack, Rose negates the series 2 finale of Torchwood by only mentioning Ianto, Gwen and Jack.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: After the line about the stars going out, Donna looks straight at the camera and says, "I'm ready." Cut to Rose, right there.
- Make Wrong What Once Went Right
- Mind Screw: Once you get over the disaster and the sadness and the temporal weirdness and try to work out what the heck just happened, it becomes this to some degree.
- A Nazi by Any Other Name: The "England for the English" law, passed by the new emergency Government.
- Oh Crap: The Doctor from the second Donna mentions that Rose was blonde. Then it gets worse not once, but twice.
- The Cloister Bell rings. It only ever rings when something really bad is going to happen.
- Even before Donna goes back in time, the conversation with Rose where Donna realizes that dead is dead:
Rose: Good luck.
Donna: I'm ready.
Rose: One minute past ten.
Donna: 'Cause I understand now. You said I was gonna die, but... you mean this whole world. It's gonna blink out of existence. But that's not dying, 'cause a better world takes its place. The Doctor's World! And I'm still alive!
Rose doesn't answer.
Donna: That's right. Isn't it? I don't die, if I change things, I don't die, that's... that's right, isn't it?
Rose remains silent until...
Rose: I'm sorry.
- The look on Donna's face (and her immediate reaction) mirrors just about every fan watching the episode.
- Planet of Hats: Shan Shen is basically Friendly Local Chinatown.
- Prophecy Twist: Donna will die... well, she did. In a way.
- Although the next episode suggests that wasn't it, and Donna is still a bad insurance risk.
- Putting on the Reich: The British government seems to do this, if Wilfred's comments when the Roccos are taken away are to be believed:
Wilf: Labour camps. That's what they called them last time.
Donna: ...what d'you mean?
Wilf: It's happening again.
Donna: What is?
Cut to the perpetually optimistic Mr. Colasanto, also a World War II vet, who is hugging his wife and breaking down in tears as they are hauled away.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: The reason Donna doesn't have anything to make her cling to her life in this alternate universe is that Russell T. Davies gave up on his original idea of her having children during the middle of this havoc, since she already had a good marriage and children in Steven Moffat's episode, that would air two weeks earlier. Also, The Doctor hints that there's something strange about the multiple alternate universes popping up around her because Russell and Steven were both using the same idea. It was worked into the plot after they exchanged emails about the episodes.
- Reset Button
- Shout-Out: Possibly an unintentional one but the plot of the middle half of this episode, a series of disasters at home and abroad leading to Britain becoming a fascist police state led by a totalitarian government who are forcing minorities into death camps is remarkably similar to the backstory of V for Vendetta.
- Special Effects Failure: As good as the episode is overall, the Thing On Donna's Back is clearly plastic and has about as much movement as a wind-up toy. The shot where it falls off at the end makes this particularly obvious.
- Tear Jerker: When Mr. Rocco and Wilf salute each other before the Roccos are taken away, you will need some tissue handy.
- The Stars Are Going Out
- Stepford Smiler: Rocco as he is being sent off.
- Wham! Episode: Really puts into light how important The Doctor is.
- What If
- Wistful Amnesia: Kinda-sorta. When Donna denies knowing anything about the Doctor, she's visibly crying.
- Wonderful Life: And just to evoke this trope even more, the point of incident takes place before Christmas.
- You Look Familiar: The fortune teller is played by the same actress as Chantho, the friendly insect-person from "Utopia".