Monday, 3 December 2018

I Wanna Be Like You

Doctor Who
It Takes You Away
Series Eleven, Episode Nine

Well that was… interesting.

Seriously, there’s a lot to be said for interesting.  Series 11 can be aggressively uncomplicated: it’s hard not to imagine the writers being like Jodie Whittaker, hopping from foot to foot, flapping their arms up and down and hoping the next scene will write itself.  It Takes You Away is the first episode that seems genuinely mysterious, with plot developments not altogether guessable from the outset.  The script has ideas – plural!  And while Rosa and Demons of the Punjab did things a little differently from most of the New Who you’ve seen, this one feels eerily apart from everything else this season.

Which is all very nice, and worth celebrating.  I really hope there’s more like it to come.  But oh, wouldn’t it be nicer if it worked.

Apropos of nothing - certainly none of her other behaviour - this is
the most unfluffy, alien thing this Doctor has done.  I love it.  More pls.
For a while you’re spoilt for choice.  The TARDIS arrives near a mysteriously empty cottage in Norway – and the Doctor has to check where they are by tasting soil, which is legitimately funny but wow, look what happens when you replace all the TARDIS tech with sweetie-dispensers, doodads and bits of old honeycomb.  I’ve long wanted a TARDIS you can’t steer properly, but pairing that with an already intellectually-challenged Doctor just makes her look even more useless – also, doing that with the first female Doctor is… yeah.  Talk about whoops.

Anyway!  Noticing what appears to be someone inside, they barge in and “investigate” (no input from Yaz here, even though a police officer might have an interesting POV, oh well) and they find Hanne, a blind girl whose father is missing.  A monster is stalking the woods at night, and it may have made off with him.  Before they can really investigate this – although seriously, the Doctor’s spidey-sense should have gone off by now, how much of a monster expert is she, she has ears, I mean come on – they discover a mirror in the house showing no reflections, on and off.  A quick peep of the sonic and it turns out this can be paused (?), and the mirror is actually a portal to somewhere else.  This is a horrible cave world full of flesh-eating moths, dead rats and a very rotten-looking Kevin Eldon.  It’s not clear how he’s managed to survive here or if anyone else has, or if the place is any bigger than a particularly craggy corridor, but anyway, it’s time to see what’s on the other side of the mirror: a whole mirror universe!  In it are some of our dead loved ones, and all they want is for us to stay.

Monsters, weird monstery-places and dead loved ones in a backwards world – there’s loads of potential here (and just plain loads, generally), but there’s a reason it’s hard to suss what’s going on.  I’m guessing these elements all came about independently, since the “monster” doesn’t inform the cave world at all, and the cave world has no deeper relationship to the mirror world than it happens to link it to ours.  Why get excited about Kevin Eldon’s weird little character and his idiosyncrasies?  It’s all padding to get us to the mirror place, which is what the episode probably should have been about in the first place.  Unless you think they should have really gone to town on the Norwegian Cottage In The Woods, which is fair enough – I’d watch that.  (I’m not sure Walking With Flesh Moths has legs.)  There probably is more to say about the cabin story, what with the dad deliberately using fake monster noises to keep his blind daughter indoors, honestly rationalising that she’s a teenager and there’s food in the fridge.  But no, we leave those two together at the end, almost no questions asked.  All good?  Off we pop then.

The focus, and certainly the lasting impact of the episode is on the mirror world, and not wanting to leave people behind there.  It’s a shame Hanne’s dad is already in our bad books, as it makes it harder to empathise with his need to stay with his “wife”.  But that’s where Grace comes in, causing Bradley Walsh to have some more impactful scenes that Yaz and Ryan probably wish were getting shared out at this point.  (Yaz might as well go already: her whole job is underscoring the obvious with inane questions, or asking incredibly stupid ones like “So is it a good thing or a bad thing?” after the Doctor loudly says “OH NO.”  Jesus Yaz.  What do you think?)  The Graham stuff is good, although Grace – even a fake one – is such a monotonous presence that it’s all on him.  It’s poignant watching him cling to his experiences with the Doctor as the reason he should keep an open mind here.  But the whole thing is distinctly wobbly because the Doctor, not to mention the script, can’t quite decide if there’s an antagonist present.  In one scene she says Grace and Hanne’s mum aren’t aware of what they’re doing, in another scene she says they are.  By the end it’s pretty clear there’s no harm intended.  The deadies spend most of it just looking bewildered.  It’s all a bit too shrug to be properly creepy or truly heart-rending.

" reverse the polarity or something."
Sure, I can buy Yaz plucking this out of nowhereYAZ.
A lot of this, as is so often the case with Series 11, is the script.  There’s a point around 30 minutes in where the Doctor is doing what she always does to work things out – flail her arms about and think no faster than she can speak.  And the script, having given us no prior clues to work any of this out, sees no alternative and goes for broke.  The Doctor, on the spot, unprompted, remembers a story her gran told her about the Solitract, a dangerous force that once existed in our universe only to get exiled.  And this is probably it, she’s guessing.  (Needless to say, Yaz follows this with “Hang on, are you saying we’re on the Solitract plane?”  YES, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE YAZ, HOW HARD IS IT TO KEEP UP.)  And this is the Doctor for the rest of the episode: when faced with the dead loved ones, she tells them they probably don’t know they’re involved.  Then tells them they are.  Then tells them they “want the same thing you’ve always wanted!” before spelling that out, too.  No one seems to have any agency here, it’s just the Doctor showing up, guessing what’s going on, shrugging, then insisting that’s what’s going on.  It’s an avalanche of telling rather than showing, all megaphoned by a character that sounds like a kid making it up as she goes.

And then we get the ending, which will be the bit people who seriously hate the episode open and close with.  The frog.  The Doctor tells “Hanne’s mum” that it’s not her husband she needs, it’s a Doctor, so then it’s just the two of them.  Only, because it’s a mixture of what Grace said to Graham about frogs, it’s now a literal frog on a chair, talking with Grace’s voice.  This is the Solitract: a sentient universe that wants to be a part of ours, only it can’t because it’s toxic to us.  (Exhibit A: the bit where Hanne shows up in mirror-world, and the Doctor promptly tells everyone that this probably means there are too many people now and it will all fall apart.  All power to the Guesstimator!)  All her wibbling about whether the Solitract means any harm is finally disarmed, as the Doctor convinces it immediately to let her go.  (“We’ll be friends forever,” she says before departing and having no idea if the Solitract survived.  Grand.)  It’s a weird enough scene, what with the frog, and Jodie acting to nobody again, arms-a-go-go, trying to make her tortured yackifying sound like an epiphany, before you get to the actual frog.  The rubbish, fake-looking frog that probably could have been bettered in ’80s Who.  The frog that can’t lip-sync properly.  (Why even bother?  It just flaps open and closed, Kermit-style.)  Did, seriously, nobody look at that and think, that’s a bit shit, better be careful it doesn’t detract from the already loopy ending we’re shooting here?

My favourite thing here, other than Graham’s sandwiches which are a great idea thankyouverymuch Ryan, is the discombobulating sense of weirdness the episode puts across.  Too many times this year just we’ve just plodded through the motions, and it’s oddly refreshing to look at stuff like a weird mirror world and think, huh?  On the other hand, I want to love the emotional baggage at the end, which is well acted, with Ryan finally calling Graham “Grandad” – sure enough it was pretty binary, i.e. Ryan has just decided not to be a tool now – but I don’t think the script makes a clear enough case for what these phantoms actually are, and how hard it is to leave them behind.  (Especially as being there at all is probably going to kill you.)  I feel like there’s a better episode buried in here about grief, with that probably being the thing that takes you away, but there’s so much going on that it doesn’t quite resonate.  And there goes the weirdness, as the script has too many separate parts and no idea how to organically weave information between them.  It Takes You Away has some hallmarks of a standout episode, certainly against this motley lot, but sorry.  By the end I was just bored again.


  1. Yes, lovely! We agree with all your criticisms, but this is still by far our favourite of the season. As you so aptly say, ideas - plural! What a treat! Also, we're always suckers for good comedy, and watching Kevin Eldon and Bradley Walsh doing their thing made us realise how grimly unhumorous this season, and to be fair a lot of the previous Doctor's stories, have been. Oh, for Matt's brilliance with physical comedy. Sigh. We hadn't linked the Doctor's soil amuse-bouche with the sub-par TARDIS, but of course you're totally right about that. We most definitely do not think they should have gone to town in the monster stuff, because we've seen that over and over again. It was really nice to discover we weren't going to be subjected to yet another base under siege.

    But the whole thing is distinctly wobbly because the Doctor, not to mention the script, can’t quite decide if there’s an antagonist present. In one scene she says Grace and Hanne’s mum aren’t aware of what they’re doing, in another scene she says they are. By the end it’s pretty clear there’s no harm intended.

    Yes. We can't remember if we ended up putting this in or not in ours, but we think what they meant to show here is the Doctor figuring out eventually that the two women were in fact projections of the Solitract, but they missed out the part where she went from A to B. Considering that, as you say, she operates mostly on guesswork, perhaps there was no A to B.

    We were gobsmacked to find people didn't like the frog. Despite the shit effects, we thought that part was a major contributor to the sense of weirdness you mention that sets the episode apart. It really had an impact that was quite out of the ordinary, just because of the type of being it was, and the frog was so much more interesting than the usual ways of getting this kind of stuff over.

    While we agree that the episode is chunked into very separate parts with not enough linking them, and it didn't explore all of its potential, nevertheless for us this was by far the most un-boring Chibnall-era ep so far. We were so grateful not to see absolutely everything coming, even if we did have to suffer through the Doctor's tortuously slow thought processes. Whet it's looking like Yaz is outthinking her, something's gone wrong somewhere.

    1. Hiya. I think this one’s just a bit mercurial - it’s one of those that either works for you or doesn’t, regardless of the faults. I think it’s entirely fair that folk like it more than I do, but I still can’t.

      Like the frog. Setting aside the production of the thing, I was so confuddled by the script up to then that I couldn’t enjoy it. It *is* more unexpected than say, Rose turning up, but I was still trying to figure out if anything was at stake. Is the thing harmlessly schmoo? If so, isn’t it all a bit... feh? Again?

      A lot of it is Jodie. Nine weeks is enough to know, isn’t it? Worst New Who Doctor for me. Probably at the bottom of the pile overall. I keep hoping a non-Chib writer will find her inner wow, but it seems like Chib has laid down pretty strict guidelines that they all follow. Sigh. No mysterious brainiac for us.

      And god, Yaz. That poor bloody actress, dutifully showing up just to shed more brain cells.

      By the way, loved your point about Hanne magically knowing it’s not her Mum. “Hanne can sense it. Why can’t you?” Er, why CAN Hanne, more like.

    2. Oh, and you are dead on about the lack of comedy. There’s the odd joke, but it just isn’t a funny show any more. Probably comes with the lack of intelligence on display.

      Of course you can go too far the other way. I watched most of Deep Breath the other day and it is just *desperate* to make you laugh. (I don’t miss Moffat’s “Love me, love me!” approach.) A middle ground would be nice.

  2. The Doctor did say the universe was in danger of exploding or something, so not entirely harmlessly schmoo, but as ever we can't say we were worried at any point about anybody's safety (except Ribbons. RIP). Ha, yes, Hanne. We probably wouldn't have noticed this stuff as much if one of us didn't have first-hand acquaintance with it, but portrayals of blind people as mystically woo-woo and/or with supernatural hearing are everywhere. To be fair, aside from that one slip this script did a far better job than most. And Ellie Wallwork was amazing. We positively basked in her contempt for Ryan.

    We can't work out whether the lack of intelligence is because of Chibnall's lack of intelligence, or whether he's so desperate to avoid Moffat mysteriousness that he wants to spell everything out veeeery slooowly. Tbh we suspect the former. It's not as if his previous scripts were exactly scintillating either, and his much-vaunted Broadchurch wasn't nearly as smart as it thought it was. And yes, like her though we did in her first episode, this isn't working out. We think on balance we dislike Nine more, because for us he just seemed perpetually embarrassed by the Doctor's wackiness, but Jodie is just trying so hard and the strain in showing. No matter what potential she might have, she's never going to escape the cage of this writing. But yes, Moffat can be utterly cringey with his look-at-me comedy. Although for us his chief crime in Deep Breath is casting someone who excels in comedy that's dry as a desert and giving him broad farce. Still, at least it isn't Rompbot of Shitwood.

    You're more plugged into the Doctor Who zeitgeist than we are: how do you think this season is being received?

    1. It’s a bit of everything. Plenty of people hate it, but that divides into “This is poor quality stuff, script, casting etc” and “PC IT’S TOO PC IT’S NOT NURSE WHO IS IT.” That dreck almost makes me madder at the show: like the Ghostbusters reboot, things like this NEED to be good or it gives the trolls an easy target. It’s such a shame.

      A fair chunk like it as well, but I’ve yet to see a very persuasive positive review. It mostly seems to be relief that the show isn’t complicated and self-obsessed any more, which is fair, but god, aren’t they bored? Even a little bit? Even I think there are good bits, but I have no idea why the show in this form deserves an excited, attentive audience. But with no arc, -2 episodes, Sunday evenings and no Christmas slot, it’s like they don’t want one.

      Re Hanne, how the heck did she knock Ryan out, first go?! Also, does she give lessons? Asking for a friend.

  3. Thanks. Interesting. Oh, God, we keep forgetting about the PC complaints. Bring back the original Ghostbusters, featuring Bill Murray as a professor putting the moves on his students! That's real entertainment! (We saw it again recently and were shocked at how it had aged. Also, we love the new one.) We've heard from some people who say they switch their brain off and that way find it entertaining, but how do you do that?

    It looks like it's shedding viewers like autumn leaves, too. What puzzles us is why the Beeb stripped it of the precious Saturday night and Christmas Day slots *before* the season launched. It doesn't exactly show a lot of faith in the new reboot. The new style is clearly designed to pull in larger viewing numbers, so why put a atrike against that from the off?

    Hanne: we frame by framed it, and we can't rule out that she hit him on the head with the door. His head is tilted forward as he comes through it and it might have been first in line depending on the angle. It doesn't take a vast amount of force if you hit someone on the temporal. Or he might have hit his head on the way down or when he hit the floor. Recovers pretty quickly, though, doesn't he? That's not the kind of injury you're meant to leap up and sprint away from.

    1. The scuttlebutt re Christmas is that he couldn't think of any Christmas stories. (It was in the papers, FWIW, but I never saw a rebuttal.) This would be fair if he was on his fifth, but he can't think of ONE? Write anything and bung a bit of snow in it, FFS! Fight for that prime telly slot, you absolute melt! It's going to be harder to get it back.

      Mind you, little mercies: if it's New Year's Day I won't have to hear it over my nieces and nephews.