After an up-and-down season of stories with big ideas but questionable execution and moderately small stakes, we find ourselves surprisingly near the end of this season of Doctor Who without any real “big moments” to show for it. While this week’s episode, “It Takes You Away,” definitely continues that trend, it at least does so with (in my opinion) the best “ride” and overall presentation of Series 11 to date. Read on for more details!
WARNING: Spoilers for this episode of ‘Doctor Who’ lie ahead, obviously. If you haven’t seen the episode and don’t wish for any of its content to be spoiled for you, the time to turn back is NOW!
RECAP: The action opens in present-day Norway – as has become increasingly par for the course, no real explanation of how or why the Doctor and companions are here, it’s just inferred that “the TARDIS randomly brought us here” or something along those lines. The group sees a house in the distance, so they figure “why not” and start the trek to check it out. Upon arriving, however, they discover that the home has been boarded up in such a way to indicate an intentional barricading – but was it done to keep something out, or to keep something in?
Turns out, it’s the former: a blind girl named Hanne lives inside, and she tells the Doctor that her father has been gone for four days, most likely a victim of a horrible, roaring monster that lives in the nearby hills. She’s been instructed to stay inside but is running out of food – and hope. The matter is complicated when Graham, poking about a bit in the house, discovers a mirror that doesn’t reflect his image back to him (“We’d know if we became vampires, right?” is one of several great one-liners quipped throughout this episode).
After some (very) quick investigative work from the Doctor and her Sonic Screwdriver (more on this below), it’s discovered that the mirror is actually a doorway to the Anti-Zone, “buffer region” of sorts between two dimensions they are not supposed to touch. Flesh-eating moths and one random sentient alien being live in the Anti-Zone, for reasons unknown and unexplained by the episode; despite all this, the Doctor, Graham, and Yaz (Ryan stayed behind to protect Hanne) make it through to the other universe, where the find Hanne’s father; he’s been taking a bit of an odd other-worldly holiday there as his wife is somehow alive here, even though she passed away in the “real world” years ago.
Complicating matters more: Graham discovers Grace alive and well here too. It’s a pleasant surprise to see actress Sharon D. Clarke reprise her role as Grace, as it was one of the more iconic and heart-wrenching moments of this season when she met her demise in the series opener. The appearance of the dead people helps the Doctor realize that this universe is created and inhabited by a mythical creature called the Solitract – an entity whose very existence is at odds with the existence of our universe, and as such, they can never come together or both will be destroyed. Per usual, it’s up to the good Doc to figure out a way to save the day and put everything back to normal(ish); do we as the audience really have any doubts on what the end result will be here?
- More all-purpose, convenient-answer-to-whatever-problem-lies-ahead Sonic Screwdriver in this episode. As touched on in my review of last week’s episode, it’s a sci-fi trope that is starting to wear a bit thin for me. Yes, many other sci-fi shows have used “future tech” to help protagonists out of tight spots before, but one of the long-standing pride points of Doctor Who has always been the natural ingenuity and intelligence of the Doctor; any dumb-dumb can wave a magic wand and cure what ails them, but it should be the savvy intellect of a wizened alien that should be the focal point of more mystery-solving here in this season.
- The Doctor is awfully quick to suss out how this other dimension came to be in existence, in referencing the story that her “Fifth Granny” told her about the Solitract. Many, many other DW stories across previous series have dealt extensively with characters coming back to life, in a variety of ways, so why is the Doctor so sure so quickly that she has the “real” answer here?
- One of the most impressive feats of the episode is something that seems to be going largely unnoticed (or at least, un-commented-on) in the very early waves of online feedback I’ve seen about “It Takes You Away” – when the humans (and the Doctor, of course) are in the Solitract’s universe, everything is mirrored to be the opposite of the “real world,” and I do mean everything. Most noticeable is the “Slayer” shirt that Hanne’s father is wearing (the text is printed backward), but more eagle-eyed viewers will also note that the Doctor’s hair is parted on the opposite side, Graham’s jacket has been reversed (most notable in the collar flap), and the Doctor is even using her Sonic Screwdriver with her left hand instead of her right hand! Fabulous attention to detail by the creative team.
- If you’ve been following my reviews this season, it’s no secret that Graham has steadily been becoming my favorite character of this story arc, and this episode really allows for significant character growth for him. From the ability to learn that space-faring adventures with the Doctor usually come with long stretches without meal times, to his ability in overcoming his emotions in seeing his dead wife and doing “the right thing” instead, to his finally getting his “granddad” moment with Ryan, it’s been a joy to watch Bradley Walsh continue to evolve this character across the season. Which almost assuredly means, of course, that he’ll die in the next episode – such is the luck I have in picking “favorite ” characters!
CLOSING THOUGHTS: Next week brings the end of this shortened season, and with it comes the inferred promise from the previews of a “returning” threat, something that showrunner Chris Chibnall has worked hard to avoid throughout the season. Is is the Stenza, the villainous alien race introduced in the opening episode of the season? Or is it another character from deeper in the Doctor Who lore of yesteryear? The “smart money” is on the first option, but only time will tell, so join us back here next week and we can talk all about it!
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor
Bradley Walsh as Graham
Mandip Gill as Yaz
Tosin Cole as Ryan
New episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ air on Sunday nights on BBC America.