NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Doctor Who” are present in this review
Doctor Who really does seem to be riding high as Series Eleven approaches its climax, and the season’s penultimate episode kicked up the strong momentum from last week even further! “It Takes You Away” was another highly effective old-fashioned Doctor Who mystery, this time taking place in present-day Norway, when a mysterious creature appears to be keeping a solitary blind girl captive in a cabin. Things only escalate from there, as The Doctor and her companions end up facing one of their strangest new obstacles to date, leading to a resolution that is both unexpected and very heartfelt.
This week, it was Graham that really felt like the MVP of the episode, after Yas and Ryan have seen some equally strong episodes over the past several weeks. The payoff takes a while to play out though, with the effective slow burn storytelling appearing to present one mystery at first, only to pull the rug out from viewers by instead revealing this week’s strange happening as coming from a very different source than initially anticipated! Some may be disappointed that there isn’t ultimately some kind of mysterious creature in the remote Norwegian forest, with the related sounds instead being faked by an intricate speaker system set up by the lone girl’s father, but fortunately, where the mystery does end up going winds up being even better!
The episode really gets good once The Doctor inadvertently discovers an ‘Anti-Zone’ in a mirror within the cabin, a buffer space between dimensions that is created because another universe-scale force is trying to collide with reality. Yas and Graham accompany The Doctor into the Anti-Zone, but Ryan has to stay behind to watch the girl, who is revealed to be blind and named, “Hanne.” Neither Hanne nor Ryan are happy about the arrangement of having to stay out of the mirror, especially since Ryan is not great with kids, and has no idea how to talk to Hanne, nor make her feel better. This actually called back nicely to the brief conversation shared between Ryan and Yas during, “The Tsuranga Conundrum” a few weeks ago, namely in how Ryan fears that he has become emotionally stunted after being abandoned by his father, and now has to face that challenge head-on with Hanne.
Of course, Ryan’s arc would have been more effective if the episode didn’t need to strain to make him uncharacteristically incompetent as a companion this week. The fact that Ryan gets full-blown knocked out by a teenage girl slamming a door on him is pretty pathetic, for starters, not to mention the fact that Ryan would even suggest that Hanne’s father would abandon her just seems like a dumb thing to say in the first place. I get that Ryan struggles with children, but even considering his own daddy issues, would he really be that inept at looking after Hanne, who is already a young teenager? Fortunately, these more annoying scenes with Ryan thankfully don’t eat up much of the episode, with more focus being given to The Doctor and friends in the Anti-Zone, where The Doctor has to try and barter her Sonic Screwdriver to try and convince an enigmatic alien trader named Ribbons to lead them to Hanne’s father, which obviously doesn’t go as planned. I suppose it’s moot though, since Ribbons is soon after eaten alive by flesh moths, giant moth-like creatures that inexplicably inhabit the Anti-Zone.
The Anti-Zone doesn’t ultimately get that much of an explanation, and nor does what’s on the other side, where Hanne’s father is actually hiding, but in this case, the lack of concrete explanation actually works in this episode’s favour. This is because Hanne’s father has somehow stumbled into an alternate reality space called the ‘Solitract’, a dimensional anomaly that apparently prevented our universe from properly forming at the dawn of time, before it was exiled to a different dimension. The Solitract is conscious and lonely, and it desires a companion, so it lured Hanne’s father, Erik into the mirror by impersonating his dead wife and Hanne’s dead mother, Trine. Since the Solitract is incompatible with real-world life force however, the presence of The Doctor and her companions quickly causes the reality to overload and start collapsing, which also comes at the inconvenient timing of Hanne and Ryan being trapped in the Anti-Zone, with flesh moths in hot pursuit!
Normally, this would be a cut-and-dried situation, but the Solitract pulls another trump card when The Doctor and her companions arrive, namely by forming Grace! Thus, Graham has to confront his guilt and grief over the loss of Grace made flesh, and quite nearly dooms everyone in the process! Both Graham and Erik can only save everyone and prevent the collapse of reality by rejecting the desire to cling to the past, which is both clever and poignant. Graham ultimately manages to break free from the Solitract when he realizes that ‘Grace’ would never leave Ryan in danger, though Erik refuses to let go, forcing The Doctor to bargain herself to force Erik back into the real world. The result is a scene that is both very weird and strangely beautiful, as The Doctor interacts with the Solitract, taking the form of a sentient talking frog, and says that the two can’t be together. The Doctor convinces the Solitract to let her go free, but on the promise that they will be friends forever. Like I said, it’s weird, but also effectively emotional, presenting two of the loneliest beings in existence being forced to part ways, due to circumstances beyond their control.
The episode doesn’t spell out whether the Solitract ultimately survives its reality being compromised either, which is actually pretty great, since it allows the viewer to interpret for themselves whatever happens to the Solitract after it’s cut off from our reality. All around, the emotional storytelling was perfectly on point on Doctor Who this week, particularly in the resolution, as Erik finally decides to move on with Hanne, and Ryan even comes around to calling Graham, “Grandad” for the first time! Even with some of the bittersweet air still lingering in the conclusion, “It Takes You Away” still ended up being a superb feel-good episode of Doctor Who, one that doesn’t sugarcoat the pain of grief and letting go, but also one that effectively points toward a more positive outcome for those who can to terms with the pain of loss. This leaves Series Eleven deftly riding high in the lead-in to next week’s season finale, and the upcoming New Years Special! Here’s hoping that the show won’t trip up at the finish line next week, because this seems to be the point where the series’ new leadership are really starting to make their mark!
- Effective mystery that reaches a strong, unpredictable resolution!
- Graham's highly emotional confrontation of his grief over Grace
- The Doctor's bittersweet peace with an entire living universe
- Ryan's aggressive incompetence with Hanne