Doctor Who Review: It Takes You Away

Episode: It Takes You Away
Story Number: 285
Series: 11
Screenwriter: Ed Hime
Director:   Jamie Childs

Thoughts:

This is perhaps the most dynamic Doctor Who story of the Whittaker era as the tone shifts from eerie horror, to fantasy adventure, to family melodrama, and ultimately to a glorious WTF moment, that may be Whittaker’s greatest Doctor performance yet.  I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about this story which I enjoyed while watching, but find myself saying “yabbut” a lot in retrospect.

The most remarkable thing about this episode is that it’s full of premises that we’ve seen before in genre fiction, so much so that they can be cliches.  Here’s a short list of what we’ve seen before:

  • A house in a remote location barricaded against a mysterious threat (numerous horror/monster movies)
  • A mirror as a portal into a fantasy world inhabited by horrible creatures (numerous fantasy stories, including A Wrinkle in Time)
  • A mirror as a portal into a mirror universe of our own (numerous fantasy stories, including Doctor Who’s “Warriors Gate”)
  • Alien entities deceiving humans by appearing as their deceased loved ones (numerous sci-fi stories including Star Trek: Generations and Doctor Who’s “The Zygon Invasion”)
  • An antimatter entity that cannot safely coexist with our universe (Omega in Doctor Who’s “The Three Doctors”)
  • A hero appealing to the good side of a potentially dangerous entity in a white void (I’m reminded of the “It’s a Good Lide” segment in Twilight Zone: The Movie, but I feel there are others)

Despite not seeming to have an original idea (ok, the talking frog is definitely original), the story combines them in ways that makes it feel fresh and original.  And yet since it’s essentially three different stories tied together with a couple of major twists, things that looked good as they were happening seem questionable later on.  For example, the sequence in the antizone caves is properly scary and mysterious, but in retrospect Ribbons seems a disposable character, and the Tardis Team seems too easily navigate themselves back to Hanne’s home despite having the string cut.

There were some distressing moments in the episode that weren’t addressed that I found disturbing.  It was cruel that the Doctor took advantage of Hanne’s blindness to write a secret message, and even though Hanne realizes she was deceived, the Doctor is never taken to task for it.  More disturbing is the behavior of Erik, a father who abandoned his child alone in a house and created the psychological torture of believing the house was under the attack of monsters to keep her there.  Perhaps he was mad with grief rather than being deliberately cruel, but the resolution of “we’ll go home to Oslo” seemed all too pat.  It reminds me of the Doctor failing to address Robertson at the end of “Arachnids in the UK” or the injustice of Kerblam! giving employees only two weeks paid leave when the distribution center is closed for a month.  Granted, I know that a lot of things could be happening offscreen in all of these stories and there isn’t time to cram Erik and Hanne’s emotional rehabilitation in the story, but even a single line of dialogue addressing what he did wrong would make it far less problematic.

There are also a lot of moments in the story that I love, especially in how they develop the characters:

  • The beautiful fjord-side setting adds a lot to the mystery of the story, and for a show based on the premise of being able to go anywhere, it’s been limited in the places on Earth where stories are set.  It’s nice that Norway joins India/Pakistan in settings this season, albeit I’m not sure if it was filmed on location in Norway.
  • Graham’ packing sandwiches says a lot about his character, and addresses a long-time concern that Doctor Who companions rarely have time to stop and eat.
  • Ryan gets a lot of grief for stating that Erik has just run off, but ultimately he is proven correct, and the bond that forms between him and Hanne is genuine.
  • Ellie Wallwork’s performance as Hanne is terrific, and I like that they included a blind actor and character, depicting her as very capable, without falling into magical blind person tropes.
  • Yaz saying “reverse the polarity” and the Doctor’s response is hilarious.  I’m not the type of person who ships characters, but I ship them.
  • The frog is so wonderfully bonkers, and the Doctor’s conversation with it, right on down to blowing a kiss is everything that makes Doctor Who great.
  • Ryan calling Graham “grandad” has been inevitable all season, but it was very nicely acted by Sinclair and Walsh.  Perhaps next episode, Graham will get a fist bump!

This episode falls into the middle-of-the-pack as far as how I feel about it compared with other stories in the series.  But on the other hand, it also makes me more optimistic about the series on a whole.  It feels to me to be the least Chibnall-y episode, avoiding many of his least effective instincts and trying alternate ways to tell a Doctor Who story than we’ve seen this series.  As Elizabeth Sandifer writes on Eruditorum Press, “it feels like Doctor Who that has actually seen the Moffat era, taken on board the sorts of things it discovered the show could do, and moved on.”  I loved the Moffat era, and I realize I’m in the minority since the ratings for Series 11 are much better than they were during the Moffat’s tenure.  And that’s fine, because I like Doctor Who being successful and realize it doesn’t have to cater to my tastes. But Doctor Who that is weird and wonderful and challenging is my kind of Doctor Who and I hope to see more of it, so this episode gives me hope that Chibnall has found his own way to do just that.

OMG, there’s only one more episode left of Doctor Who in series 11, and then they’ll take it away.  Nooooooooo!

Score: 6 of 10

Related reviews and podcasts:

Do you also write/blog/podcast about Doctor Who?  Let me know and I’ll be happy to read, listen, and post your link here!

Series 11 episodes ranked!

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