Director: Jamie Childs
Screenplay: Ed Hime
Starring: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Sharon D. Clarke, Ellie Wallwork, Kevin Eldon
Runtime: 49 Minutes
Series 11 - Episode 9
For all the adventure that the show promotes, Doctor Who has never been afraid of going into headier areas of the science-fiction genre, with ‘out there’ concepts usually explored is smaller scale stories, or thrown into the side-lines that border around larger ones. Bringing into the equation more direct themes such as death, inner demons, the existential nature of humanity and one person’s relation to the entirety of the cosmos.
But then, there’s an episode like It Takes You Away. Which starts promisingly, mostly carries through on its themes and character work aplomb, but in the mix loses itself to this current series’ most forgettable, nonsensical and half-formed plot so far.
Again, it begins strongly. Opening in present-day Norway and a mysterious cabin in an isolated woodland, it’s only inhabitant a frightened blind girl called Hanne (Ellie Wallwork) who fears the creatures trying to invade her home and an absent father who may or may not be coming back. It all conjures up an immediately compelling mystery, with Jamie Childs’ direction channelling all the Nordic Noir atmosphere he can into the chilly landscape and strangely angular architecture of the dark and ageing cabin.
But then, with the introduction of the mirror universe, it all starts to go a little wonky. Finding themselves in the Antizone, a buffer-space between universes to prevent catastrophic damage, the sequences in this location (though appealingly designed) serves little to no function beyond padding out the plot, with a nonsense logic involving an inconsequential alien guide (Kevin Eldon) and flesh-eating giant moths that feels a step too far even for this show and episode in particular.
Once we get through to the other side, the weightier work reveals itself as the parallel dimension – explained in a thudding piece of exposition from The Doctor as a sentient entity known as the Solitract – offers characters such as Hanne’s father Erik (Christian Rubeck) his dead wife alive and well as a means of luring people in and sustaining itself.
Enter Sharon D Clarke in her return as Grace O'Brien, or is it? But the point isn’t how or why she’s there to begin with so much as it is Graham’s emotional struggle to come to terms with her suddenly returning to him, apparently the same as she ever was.
This is a strong beat for the episode to hit, but unfortunately, by the time the episode has reached this moment, it’s time to start wrapping up having wasted time in the Antizone. It’s almost as if writer Ed Hime had an idea of how to begin and end the conflict, but nothing for the in-between spaces. So, the whole thing ends in a begrudgingly dragged out manner as characters come to their senses, truths are spilt regarding the Solitract’s intentions, and The Doctor talks about eternity with a talking frog before tearfully departing back to reality.
It’s all as strange as it sounds, but not in an entirely satisfying way. Reaching for the kind of odd surrealism that David Lynch, for example, might have knocked out in his sleep but trying to endow it with more function than it’s probably worth and straining its storytelling as a result.
It’s such a shame, because the character work coming to fruition in this episode is really satisfying by the time it reaches it. Mainly, seeing Ryan and Graham physically and metaphorically letting go of Grace, and Ryan finally accepting Graham into his life by calling him ‘grandad’. There’s a nice moment with Yaz falling back on her police training (hey, remember that was her job?) to comfort Hanne.
Also, the young Ellie Wallwork is very good as Hanne, even if the conclusion to her story feels like it should end much darker than it does, and considering how poorly her father Erik ended up treating her it’s amazing that she can even stand to trust him again.
The weakest link of the episode from a performance standpoint, shockingly, is Whittaker. She’s been very agile at handling quirky, emotional and serious so far, but here she’s all over the place as she rapidly throws out exposition without rhyme or reason and her proclivity for thinking out loud ends up just being irksome An absolute state of emotional tug and war is on display to such a point that when she starts literally crying over her conversation with the talking frog after such little time has been spent to realise of any of it, the dissonance is quite jarring.
It Takes You Away is the weakest episode of the series, mangling its themes and emotional punch by rushing them, squandering it’s potential by filling in the cracks with what might as well be white noise distraction, and lacking any real intrigue beyond slack-jawed confusion most of the time. There will be those who see more in it and take more from its metaphorical concepts regarding grief and guilt, but others might just find it dull and needlessly strange for the sake of it.