This Story in a Nutshell: Mad as a box of frogs. Quite appropriate, really.
Oh Brilliant: ‘I’ve lived longer, seen more, loved more and lost more…’ After watching this story if people are still complaining that Whittaker isn’t the Doctor in their eyes then I’m not sure what more this production team could possibly do to convince them. This has everything I want from the Doctor. She’s quirky (the woolly rebellion), witty (‘with a very low trip advisor rating’), curious, authoritative (leading the way to the mysterious cottage), smart (thinking her way through the entire episode), brave (jumping head first into the intersection between worlds), assertive (bartering with Ribbons), knowledgeable and forgiving. It’s a very giving script, and one that Whittaker seizes with both hands and runs with. The tale of the Solitract could have been just a massive info dump but instead Whittaker tells the story with such zeal and passion it becomes a vital scene. She has really has gotten into the habit of holding the sonic screwdriver in a defensive posture, hasn’t she? It’s like she’s brandishing a weapon. For once the Doctor is genuinely terrified because she has no idea what to expect in the Solitract plane. At one point during the climax somebody asks if the Doctor is completely mad. Of course she is. The Doctor is not unsympathetic to what Graham is going through at the climax but she understands that he needs an emotional slap to save him and the two realities that are collapsing. Calling his dead wife furniture with a pulse should do it. This is the story where the Doctor tries to describe the universe she is from to a form that cannot exist within it. Really big and incredibly beautiful.
Graham: I’ve always said that Graham was the audience identification figure. Having an emergency cheese and pickle sandwich is exactly what I would do if I was a companion of the Doctor. The second it becomes clear that Grace will appear I knew I was in for a world of heartache the way only Bradley Walsh knows how to deliver. Looking at his dead wife, he sadly asks ‘don’t do this to me.’ He’s travelled the universe to try and move on and to cope with his grief, but what good is that when the sadness keeps catching up with him. The moment where she says it sounds like he is doing fine without her and he quietly admits that he is lost is one of the most poignant moments of the show. It’s a particularly cruel form for the Solitract to take and I really like how long Graham holds on in hope for, because this is the one thing he has wanted all season. It takes the Doctor to forcefully, almost unkindly snap him out of his dream of having her back at his side. He has to lose her again, but this time of his own choosing. Because when she dismisses Ryan’s fate Graham knows it cannot be Grace. This is not the sort of adventure that a companion can just skip back to the TARDIS and be on their merry way so I’m pleased to see how haunted Graham is in the character-focussed coda. I’m also pleased to see how Ryan has accepted him now as a member of his family.
Ryan: Much like last week, Ryan is paired up with the guest star if the week and it brings a different side out of him. He’s trying to be protective of Hanne but it’s almost impossible given how fiercely independent she is. He’s pretty forgiving given she attacks and knocks him out.
Yaz: It’s nice that somebody has remembered that Yaz used to be a policewoman and has had some training that might be useful.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Let her go or we’re all going to die.’
The Good: A word for the title music, that I am really starting to dig as reach the end of the first season. I love the way the music suddenly drops away in the first third and I’ve grown increasingly fond of the graphics too. It’s both a subtle and an urgent rendition of the Doctor Who theme, a unique piece for a unique era. I’m very aware that this series has been far more believably continental then usual, with some genuinely stunning location work throughout the entire year. Whilst Punjab still takes the medal for the most visually glorious episode of the season, It Takes You Away scores huge points in its early scenes for convincingly pulling off a Norwegian landscape. I love shots of the TARDIS in beautiful surroundings (remember the snowy hillock at the beginning of Revelation of the Daleks) and standing proud in the Norwegian forest with a beautiful fjord babbling in the distance is a memorable example. I’ve had some mainstream reviewers call the early scenes Nordic noir and there is definitely something in that. I’ve seen far to many horror films set out in the woods (although weirdly not Cabin in the Woods) and Childs emulates the disquieting suspense that runs through the early scenes of those types of films (before it gets bloody). There’s a fabulous shot through the boarded-up slats of the creepy old house that sees the Doctor and company approaching and a shadowy hand breaks into shot. Childs is telling a lot of this story through pictures, with gripping preciseness. I love the fact that the idea of a cabin out in the Norwegian should be almost fairy-tale like but instead this is a situation of terror and uncertainty. The script subverts the usual clichés of a horror movie. Ryan pulls open a cupboard which I fully expected to be empty but instead he screams at the frightened blind girl hiding inside. The I was counting on Hanne to be the shrieking violet of the piece but instead she is one of the strongest characters of the year; a brutally honest, unforgiving, smart teenager who really doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She’s remarkably cold in places, and horrible to Ryan despite his attempts to help her and I loved the subversion of the usual sugary tweeness assault that struck when children turned up in the Moffat era. Hanne is a bit of a bit bitch but you kind of like her anyway because she’s having a really bad time of it. Another subversion, just when you think that you know where the episode is going with a ruddy great creature attacking from the woods Ryan discovers the speakers that are making the creatures growl. Who or what would want to trap a little girl in a cottage in the middle of nowhere? Gloomy, creepy tunnels dancing with smoke, a man who looks like he has had his face ripped open with dead rats in his belt, lamps that float in the air and taint everything with a bloody glow and moths that attack if they sense movement and strip the flesh from your skin and fly from your eye sockets. The scenes in the anti-zone are spooky and atmospheric and bolstered by a phenomenal performance from Kevin Eldon as Ribbons. He manages that unusual mixture of being ghoulish and fun (his vernacular is very creative). Just when you think you know where the episode might be going, we hop through another portal into another universe and Grace from the first episode of the season shows up! If a single soul said to me that they could have predicted where this episode would end up after the first five minutes I would call them a big fat liar. The Solitract is one of those huge ideas that Doctor Who plays about with from time to time. An energy that is incompatible with our universe and was banished to another so ours could form. When we’re talking about the sentient toxins from the building blocks of the universe you know you’re dealing with a writer that is willing to think big. Hanne standing up to both her mum (who isn’t real) and her dad (who is, but very sick) doesn’t deserve to be as triumphant as it is given we’ve only known her for one episode. But that is a consequence of genuinely good characterisation. The urgency in the scenes where the Solitract plane is collapsing is palpable.
The Bad: Ribbons was such a terrific character that it is a shame to lose him after 10 minutes of screen time. Yaz is not wrong, keeping his daughter trapped and scared is a shocking bit of parenting, My one problem with the climax is that the Doctor is happy to leave Hanne with this man after the rather sick situation he put her in.
Result: ‘And there’s me thinking the day had no more surprises left…’ One of the most genuinely baffling episodes of Doctor since Listen, or probably since Ghost Light. It Takes You Away refuses to play by any of the rules, switching tones, styles and narratives with gleeful abandon and yet somehow gelling into an unpredictable piece that remains touching, dramatic, suspenseful and satisfying. Jamie Childs has proven to be a hell of a find and he has to cerate three very different worlds in this story; the crisp suspense of the Nordic Noir sequences, the comic book horror of the anti-zone nightmare, and the dreamy brightness of the Solitract plane. The episode hops from one to the other without apology and it is simply a case of keeping up or getting off the ride. You should hold on tight though because it ultimately leads to a touching confrontation between the Doctor and Graham, a breakthrough for Ryan and that moment that everyone has been waiting for when Whittaker cements herself as the Doctor and blows a kiss to sentient universe. My favourite scenes were the in the middle sections, the Doctor and co exploring the anti-zone. It feels very classic Who but with a really nasty streak to it, especially with the inclusion of Ribbons and the flesh-eating moths. I just loved the aesthetic, it’s unlike anything else we’ve seen all year. That’s one thing series 11 has done extremely well, plonking the TARDIS down in visually distinctive and diverse places. Truly suggesting that this show can go anywhere. In contrast to the rest of this year however, which has very much gone down the road of telling a self-contained story with a particular feel to it, it Takes You Away takes massive joy in opening out the possibilities of Doctor Who again and having carte blanche to take you anywhere it likes. That freewheeling indulgence leads us to an insane sequence where the Doctor gets to talk to a sentient universe in the shape of a frog, a concept so out there you might think that Douglas Adams had gotten hold of the script from the afterlife. It’s beautifully scripted and performed and Doctor Who has dished up far more bizarre shit than a talking frog. I just accepted it for what it was, a playful expression of life. This doesn’t have the usual climactic momentum of a penultimate episode, proving that series 11 is really doing its own thing. I thought Chibnall would relent and have a one-part lead in to his finale but he’s truly a man of his word when he said that the season would entirely comprise of one-part stories. How can I possibly complain though when I walk away from an episode that intrigued, thrilled, boggled and touched me? It’s another memorable tale, and one where Whittaker truly gets to claim the series as her own. I thought it was quietly magnificent: 9/10