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.
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.
|"...like reverse the polarity or something."|
Sure, I can buy Yaz plucking this out of nowhere. YAZ.
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.