2nd Opinion: “It Takes You Away”

Connor Johnston & Gustaff Behr give their takes on the ninth episode of Series 11.

Connor’s View – Effortlessly Unique

Loneliness.

Perhaps there’s nothing quite as terrifying, threatening or corrupting as loneliness. “It Takes You Away” may at first seem like a relatively monster-less adventure, but only because there’s nothing that can really motivate and conjure fear in the same way as being left utterly alone.

We’re introduced to the concept of loneliness via three main vessels: Hanne; deceived into thinking she’s being hunted by a monster because, unsettlingly, it’s a less terrifying scenario than the reality of her father abandoning her. Graham, whose grief following Grace’s death has shaped both not only his own journey throughout the series but also his relationships with other characters. Finally, the Solitract; motivated not by malice or revenge, but by the yearning for companionship.

Loneliness, the episode asserts, is the one underlying weakness uniting human and universes alike. More than this, it’s the incentive and threat the episode needs to have a real impact.

In an episode full of skilful misdirection and winding blows, it is difficult to narrow in what moments are the most significant and important to its overall success. Despite Grace only appearing significantly in one episode (bar a ghost-like cameo in “Arachnids”) her role in both Ryan and Graham’s lives and the presence she’s had in their character journeys since ensured that her return was both powerful and deserving of a genuine emotional response. While Graham and Erik’s temptations were relatively straightforward – having the Solitract take the form of something to lure the Doctor’s companionship was never going to be an easy thing to justify. A sentient universe taking the form of something as nonsensical, joyful and insane as a frog is evidential of Who’s unique ability to fill its world with mystery, wonder and beauty in the most unique ways – and more importantly make them work in the context of the narrative it creates. It is how Who challenges convention and rejects predictability that has ensured not just the success of this episode, but of its 55-year existence.

I mentioned in my review of “Kerblam!” that Whittaker’s performance had, at that point, “reached its definitive moment and in being as established and impressive as that of her predecessors.” Her two episodes since then have spared no efforts in proving that remark true, but her performance this week may go further in not just being as established – but potentially becoming one of the most impressive portrayals of the character to date. The balance of vulnerability, authority, charm and energy she brings to each new adventure is infectious and has driven the series and her era from success to further success. It’s not just the Doctor that’s on fine form this week though; with Yaz, Ryan and especially Graham benefiting from some more meaty material – and each actor rising above and beyond the emotional demands of the script. Having already praised Sharon D Clark’s moving return as Grace, Ellie Wallwork’s driven and scene-stealing turn as Hanne is not only a testament to her talent and Hime’s script, but a stern rejection of the industry’s backwards and inaccurate assumptions about blind performers.

The nature and word restrictions of a 2nd Opinion review often (and regrettably) make it to tempting to devote little space to comment on the production values and skill showcased in an episode, but when an episode is as cleverly and creatively produced across all departments as this one it forces a more significant mention. Director Jamie Childs has had quite the series so far, from introducing Whittaker’s Doctor in “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” and presenting a visual symphony of India and Pakistan in “Demons of the Punjab”. His work this week is without question his most impressive, if purely for the fact that an episode that tonally and physically transforms so regularly would have been so easy to get wrong. Akinola’s score once again helps shape the episode’s atmosphere so eloquently and ranks with “Demons” and “The Witchfinders” as his best work this series.

When a show has been running for over half a century and needs to compete not only with its own history, but with the ingenuity and originality of the entire TV landscape – the most difficult thing to achieve is something truly unique. Yet, “It Takes You Away” is just that. It’s ridiculous, profound, thought-provoking and unpredictable. The confidence it has in both the story it tells and its place is the series is second only to the way is demands such a strong response from its audience.

Unique concepts are impressive enough, but the success of Ed Hime’s script is due to so much more than an original pitch – but an original experience. Nothing is more worth worthy of praise than its power to effortlessly and unapologetically take us away.

Gustaff’s View – A powerful assortment of positives (and a cheap frog)

Much like “Kerblam!”, this week’s episode of Doctor Who made use of outside-the-box thinking, combining creativity with originality in order to deliver a quite frankly bizarre piece of television. There’s a strong part of me that wants every episode of Doctor Who to be like “It Takes You Away”, but another part of me can see why some fans wouldn’t like that.

“It Takes You Away” features a powerful assortment of positives. Graham completely steals the episode, despite only being prominent in the last act. He is also the only companion to receive any sort of meaningful character development this year. Killing his wife and allowing the audience to see his struggles coping with Grace’s death has won my heart, and if I had to pick one character to stick around long-term, it would be Graham. I love you Bradley Walsh.

Ryan began with lots of potential for a character journey with his dyspraxia, but as the show went on, it seemed that this disability only acted as such when it was convenient to the plot. Yaz has received so little attention this series that the script has to go out of its way to let the audience know she is present and special. “You were good back there”, “I had training”. These declarations only exist to make Yaz seem more important than she actually is.

I really liked Hanne’s character, even if I felt the actress portraying her gave a weak performance, putting me in the mind of the girl from “Fear Her”. The line delivery felt very flat and wooden, and if not for the emotional connection I had to the character, it would’ve broken the episode for me.

Visually the episode once again looks stunning with beautiful outdoor shots and cinematography to mimic traditional spooky cottages. The first act of the episode felt very much as though it jumped right out of a horror movie. Like “The Witchfinders”, it set the mood and the atmosphere and allowed for a very entertaining ‘abandoned house’ exploration.

Inside the cottage, the idea of a sentient universe isn’t that far away removed from sentient planets which have been featured in Doctor Who before. However, making the universe a social entity, unable to do so because of how poisonous its very existence (physics and laws) is to others evokes a very grim and sympathetic reaction.

However, the final scene with the puppet frog completely shattered my suspension of disbelief, and everything that had come before it feel cheap and insulting. It speaks volumes when I can find one scene so bad that it threatens to override every positive thing I feel about the episode.

Next week sees Series 11 draw to a close with a stand-alone conflict in which every main character is guaranteed to survive thanks to the BBC overlords themselves spoiling as much with the TARDIS crew in a New Year’s Special promotional material. Whatever happened to no spoilers? Given how every ‘good’ episode this series has come from someone not named Chris Chibnall (most of his episodes, bar the co-written “Rosa,” scoring low in the overall Doctor Who rankings), I do not hold out much hope that next week will produce a diamond in the rough.