“It Takes You Away”
Doctor Who: Series 11 – Episode 9
Written by: Ed Hime
Directed by: Jamie Childs
Synopsis: On the edge of a Norwegian fjord in the present day, the Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz discover a boarded-up cottage and a girl named Hanne in need of their help. What has happened here? What monster lurks in the woods around the cottage – and beyond?
With its fairly uninspiring synopsis, I was expecting “It Takes You Away” to be a relatively straight-forward and simple Doctor Who adventure about a monster lurking outside a cabin, possibly rooted in Norwegian myths and fairy stories. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth as writer Ed Hime instead weaved a compelling mystery, hidden beneath multiple layers and filled with misdirection that sought to confuse and confound viewers in equal measure. There was definitely an element of Steven Moffat about this script, which played with audience expectations throughout and pulled the narrative rug from underneath our feet multiple times. While the majority of the series has reined in the science-fiction elements in favour of character-driven drama, this episode offered a surprisingly complex sci-fi explanation at the heart of the narrative. While the science might be a tad shaky, the concept made sense thematically and it actually accentuated the drama and emotion rather than running against it.
Without spoiling too much in this episode, as the joy of watching was the discovery of every little wrinkle and plot development as they unravelled, the main theme was loss and grief – which gave the episode’s title a dual meaning. All season I’ve been expecting Graham, Ryan and Grace to reunite – either through meeting a younger version or somehow reversing her death – but “It Takes You Away” found an ingenious and wholly original way for the Graham/Grace reunion to occur, which had my eyes quivering to hold in a tear. Both Bradley Walsh and Sharon D Clarke were spectacular in this heart-wrenching scene, and it added much more emotional weight to the episode than the relationship between Erik and Trine. I loved how the episode wrung every last bit of emotion and drama out of the encounter, with poor Graham forced to reject the one thing he had wished for. It was so effective, and one of the more emotional Doctor Who scenes I’ve ever seen – up there with the Doctor/Rose goodbye in “Doomsday” and Amy and Rory’s final scenes in “The Time of the Angels”.
I was very impressed with Eleanor Wallwork’s acting skills, and kudos to the production team for inclusive representation of a blind actress. While her blindness allowed her to be manipulated by events, she never felt like a victim and demonstrated extreme capability and courage throughout the episode. At one point, I even suspected her as being the architect of the mystery, luring victims into the parallel universe so it could feed on their essence. I was way off, although I love the idea of the Solitract being like a Venus Flytap, using memories and mirages to lure victims in. I initially felt bad for Ryan because he missed the opportunity to see his Nan one more time, but after seeing the effect it had on Graham and the emotional turmoil it caused in him, it was probably a blessing that he didn’t go into the Solitract plane. That said, it did provide the moment of familial bonding between Ryan and Graham that I’ve been hoping for all season. Hopefully, next we’ll get to see Ryan and Yaz admit their feelings for each other in the finale – or possibly a cheeky kiss in the New Years special?
Another highlight of the episode for me, aside from the emotional pay-offs littered throughout the script, was the appearance of Ribbons (who was actually played by comedy veteran, Kevin Eldon) and the Flesh Moths. The transition into the anti-zone and Ribbons completely shifted my expectations as to what the episode would be – something that would happen again once the Doctor, Yaz and Graham made it through to the other side. I loved Ribbons’ personality and the level of detail on his make-up – definitely one of the more interesting of alien creatures to appear in this season. The flesh moths were also a great idea, albeit reminiscent of the Vashta Nerada from “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead”, and they offered a genuine threat to our heroes. Again, these were misdirections to lead the viewer to expect a certain conclusion, and contributed to yet another curveball in the final act of the episode.
While the concept of the Solitract and its motivations were a bit flimsy, it was the emotional consequences of this revelation that made the episode nail the ending. A lot of the episodes this season have often delivered strong opening half, yet fizzled out and lost momentum at the ending – with “Arachnids in the UK” and “Kerblam” as two notable examples – but this episode had such a thrilling pace throughout that it actually had me get more and more invested as each new plot development dropped. That said, I could see this episode being a bit too cerebral for the child demographic – and while the action and emotional drama did ensure it was accessible, it did run the risk of becoming impenetrable like some of Steven Moffat’s more convoluted plots.
Hitting that sweet spot of human-led drama and fresh, compelling science-fiction, “It Takes You Away” is my favourite episode of Doctor Who this year and earns a full five-star review. The scripting was marvellous, and a brilliant example of how a tightly-plotted mystery can delight and excite fans. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this episode at all, based on the paper-thin synopsis, yet it has turned out to be one of the more interesting and original Doctor Who episodes in recent memory. I just love to be surprised, so it was great fun to see all of my theories, which I shout out regularly to both impress (and infuriate) my wife, get disproved within minutes of being spoken. Whenever I watch an US drama, I can predict most of the telegraphed plot twists and even finish off the predictable lines of dialogue, so it is an absolute blast to watch a series that subverts tradition and breaks the rules so frequently that I can only sit back and bask in its brilliance. That’s why I love Doctor Who, and this episode was a beautiful reminder of that.
Score – ★★★★★
Next Episode – “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos”
On the planet of Ranskoor Av Kolos, a battlefield, a conflict-scarred survivor, and a deadly reckoning await the Doctor, Ryan, Yaz and Graham.