Doctor Who Season 11×09 “It Takes You Away” Review

By
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TV:
Christian Bone

Reviewed by:
Rating:
3.5
On December 2, 2018
Last modified:December 2, 2018

Summary:

The penultimate episode of Doctor Who season 11 is possibly the most emotional and definitely the weirdest installment so far. It just didn't come together as well as it should have.

While some have lapped up the stripped-back, easily-accessible approach to storytelling that season 11 has taken, other Doctor Who fans have been craving something a little bolder in the ideas department for the past couple of months. Well, “It Takes You Away” – the penultimate episode of the season – is definitely more high-concept that what we’ve seen so far. However, it might be an example of be careful what you wish for, as it’s probably going to put some people off with its weirdness.

From the promotion of the episode, it looked like “It Takes You Away” was going to be a fairly slight story – a nice bit of creepy Nordic noir with a monster in the woods and a young kid to save. In reality, though, only the first ten minutes fit this description. From there on in, rookie Doctor Who writer Ed Hime’s script swerves into a number of unexpected directions and by the time the credits roll, it’s become probably the most emotional and definitely the weirdest episode this season. It’s a bit of a jarring shift to have an outing like this so late in the run, but the surprise is a welcome one.

Once the “monster in the woods” concept has been revealed as a hoax, the real mystery becomes the other reality accessed through a bedroom mirror – a bit of a fantasy trope, maybe, but it perfectly fits Doctor Who‘s purview. There’s some enjoyable concepts in this section, too – like the flesh-eating moths – but unfortunately, the time spent in the Anti-Zone is where the pace starts to drag. The sleazy alien and his treachery doesn’t much serve the story, and feels a bit like an excuse to get another guest star in there (in this case, British comedian Kevin Eldon).

Thankfully, we’re back to much surer footing once the TARDIS team arrive out the other side and end up in a Coraline-like alternate, but similar reality. Except people don’t have buttons over their eyes in this world. Instead, the dead have come back to life. It turns out the reason Eric left his daughter Hanne (Ellie Wallwork, the show’s first ever blind actress, does strong work here) was because he’s reunited with his dead wife. And soon, one of the Doctor’s friends gets the chance to do the same.

Giving Bradley Walsh the task of carrying the episode’s emotional weight was definitely the right move, as he’s been so terrific all season as the loveable, grieving Graham. Seeing as we’re all savvy to the genre and know things aren’t as they appear, it was heartbreaking to see him get pulled in by the fake Grace and attempt to cling on to the hope that maybe it really was his late wife. It was great to have Sharon D. Clarke back as Grace as well, after she made such an impression in the season premiere.

Unfortunately, while the poignancy of this twist is handled well, the in-story reason for it falls rather flat. The Solitract is an ill-defined antagonist – essentially put, it’s a sentient separate universe – that’s too conceptual to really make much of an impact. This becomes clear when, for the Doctor’s big confrontation with it, it takes the shape of a frog speaking with Grace’s voice. On the one hand, this is a delightfully whimsical scene but, on the other, it might have made more contextual and emotional sense to have had Grace herself appear in the flesh. Or, if you wanted to please the fans, a dead figure from the Doctor’s own past.

Speaking of the Doctor, Hime does a good job of adding some texture to her. Whittaker’s nailed the breathless, excitable big kid by now but we’ve been really craving the chance to see some other sides to the Time Lord of late. Finally, we get some of that here, as the Doctor has to deal with an old friend coming back to life and then encountering something as extraordinary and fascinating as a sentient universe and having to let it go, possibly to die. Whittaker’s speech about how much she’s seen of the universe is also one of her best Doctor moments so far. More like this in the finale, please.

As for the other half of the TARDIS team, Yaz once again doesn’t get much to do but honestly, we’re used to that by this point. Instead, Ryan has a solid bit of character development as he learns to handle Hanne and get a little better with kids. His instant jump to theorizing that her dad has abandoned her reminds us of his own deep-seated daddy issues – the episode doesn’t go so far as to wrap them up, but it feels like he’s slowly dealing with them. Case in point: the touching moment where he finally calls Graham “Granddad,” something the latter has been waiting for all season on Doctor Who.

Overall, “It Takes You Away” is an intriguing tale with a good brain and a big heart that, despite its initial appearance, proved to be worthy of its near-climactic placement in the run. However, the pacing sagged in places and some of the silliness just didn’t sit right with the more dramatic material. To give this such a middle-of-the-road grade (see below) seems wrong, but while I admire the imagination on show here, I’m just not sure the whole thing completely coalesced together – a bit like the Solitract and our universe.

Doctor Who Season 11x09
Good

The penultimate episode of Doctor Who season 11 is possibly the most emotional and definitely the weirdest installment so far. It just didn't come together as well as it should have.

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