So. That happened. I liked it. Let's talk about it.
The Doctor and her friends go a bit further afield than usual in “It Takes You Away,” dropping in on a cabin in the wilds of Norway. And then they go even further than that. At first, it seems like business as usual–a scary, probably alien menace in the woods, a scared little girl, a vanished father. Nothing out of the ordinary for the TARDIS crew.
Then things get weird. Really weird. And kind of amazing.
I will be delving into spoilers in this review, since there's really no way I can talk about it otherwise. First off, though…
The Quick and Spoiler-Free Verdict
“It Takes You Away” is pretty much the first episode of Series 11 that actually takes risks and tries to tell a truly revolutionary sci-fi story. It succeeds on both counts, delivering the first and only breakout episode of the season. This is one to remember. It's not exactly a classic on par with entries like “Blink” or “Listen,” but it does get fairly close to their level. If you're interested in watching this episode, I'd advise that you sop reading now so that you can enjoy it unspoiled.
Content and Themes
No politics whatsoever this time around, but a bit more scares and violence than usual (which, I have to say, is a massive improvement).
What I Didn't Like
I honestly can't say there was anything I particularly disliked about this story. On the whole, I still enjoyed “Kerblam!” more, only because the emphasis of that episode was more fun than cerebral, but all the same, “It Takes You Away” was amazing.
What I Liked
Let's break this down. The Doctor and company find a blind girl (played by a blind actress, which was a nice touch) menaced by what seems to be an alien monster, who apparently killed or kidnapped her father. Then they find a creepy mirror that's a portal to another universe. Standard sci-fi fare, except you can't just step through into the other world, you have to go through a buffer zone full of MOTHS THAT WILL EAT THE FLESH RIGHT OFF YOUR BONES.
YES. *fist pump* I distinctly remember thinking a few episodes back, “You know what would really kick things up a notch? Killer moths.”
Okay, maybe not, but I was definitely thinking we needed monsters that were actually scary. These most definitely were.
Moving on, after the carnivorous moth reveal, we find out that the girl's father set up fake monster noises to scare her into staying in the house.
That is messed up, and shocking, and brilliant. It totally shatters the idea that this is going to be a standard, predictable, saccharine tale of the Doctor thwarting an alien plot and putting everything back together again good as new.
Then we get heartbreaking, beautifully-acted scenes between Graham and a woman claiming to be Grace. After that, it's revealed that the true threat is a SENTIENT UNIVERSE.
Again, YES. This is real sci-fi. More importantly, this is Doctor Who's unique brand of mind-blowing sci-fi that expands the horizons of storytelling instead of wading in the shallow waters of trite, predictable tales. The Thirteenth Doctor finally stops holding everybody's hands and launches into a properly Doctor-ish, completely wacky explanation of what this other universe is and how it came to be. It's a daring move, since not all viewers will necessarily be tracking with the story at this point. Quite a few are probably scratching their heads (I know I was, a little). But still the story forges on.
Finally, the Doctor sacrifices herself to save her friends, and faces off against the sentient universe…which has taken the form of a talking frog.
I realize that this was a little too out-there for some viewers. But here's the thing. After all those episodes which rarely offered up anything in the way of engaging science fiction, I'm not going to complain about a talking frog that's also an alternate universe. It's not the fact that its main character can gender-swap which makes Doctor Who unique and amazing. It's the fact that it can pull off wacky stuff like this.
And it works. The final scene is beautiful despite the weirdness, and Jodie Whittaker finally gets a chance to really show us what she can do as the Doctor. We also get a major pay-off for the Ryan/Graham character arc (finally!), and…roll credits.
That was awesome. More, please, Chris Chibnall.
In all seriousness, I do hope we'll see more episodes like this. Once again, the fact that a guest-writer has far outdone Chibnall himself is very telling. I'm not going to get into all the implications of that now, because there's a lot to be said about it. For the time being, however, I will point to “It Takes You Away” and “Kerblam” as proof that Doctor Who is still capable of offering up excellent stories. That does not mean, however, that my skepticism about the show's future has lessened. We'll need a lot more than two strong episodes out of ten if Doctor Who is to stay on our screens.
Tomorrow, I'll be reviewing the finale, “The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos,” then I'll be back with a full-season review on Thursday. Stay tuned!