“It Takes You Away” Review – More Like, “It Blew Me Away”
Clint Hassell gives his spoiler-filled commentary on the ninth episode of Doctor Who Series 11.
Note: this review contains full SPOILERS for episode 9 of Series 11.
In its 55-year history, Doctor Who has assumed many forms – – educational adventure show, monster-of-the-week thriller, surrealist satire, character study – – and crossed every conceivable genre from science fiction to comedy, fantasy, horror, noir, romance, and western. However, in its modern era, the series has presented five episodes – – “Love & Monsters,” “Blink,” “The Doctor’s Wife,” “Listen,” and “Heaven Sent” – – that have broken with the standard Who format (if, indeed, such a plastic format can have a “standard”) to create something distinct within the narrative. To this list, one must now add “It Takes You Away,” a truly unique story that is bold and breathtaking in its scope and execution.
For starters, the plot of “It Takes You Away” covers an unprecedented gamut, moving from a scenic fjord in Norway to a shuttered cottage, a nightmarish anti-zone between mirrored worlds, and a sunny dimension of conscious energy to end, well, here:
While “The Doctor’s Wife” similarly features a pocket universe being used as a trap, to personify the second cosmos as beneficent – – and as a frog, no less – – is “the maddest, most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced.” Moreover, using the “separate, exiled universe that is also a consciousness” to proffer commentary on such human conditions as loss, longing, and isolation is truly science fiction at its finest.
Yet, “It Takes You Away” is notable for so much more than its utterly bonkers third act. The episode both trades on one of its core characters to make a poignant social statement and shades the Doctor in a heretofore unseen light, giving series lead Jodie Whittaker the best chance to date to define Thirteen’s personality.
Early in the episode, Ryan is chastised for assuming that Hanne was abandoned by her dad. It seems out of character for the normally genial companion, and the episode mines the tension it creates, as the Doctor leaves Ryan to protect Hanne from the unseen monster attacking the house. “Assume her dad is dead. Keep her safe. Find out who else can take care of her,” the Doctor writes on the wall, attempting to shield Hanne from the probable truth.
Burdened, Ryan asks about Hanne’s blindness – – which is reductive – – and then pities her condition as “hard,” when it is different than his. “I don’t need you to feel sorry for me,” she barks. Hanne is offended because Ryan’s narrowmindedness assumes her blindness to be such a hardship that her dad would leave her. She is also hurt when she realizes that the Doctor and her companions are hiding aspects of her situation from her – – in their minds, rightfully so, because she is a child, and at a disadvantage, and they don’t know her maturity level well enough to quickly and accurately decide what is best for her. Ryan is dismissive of Hanne’s feelings, dragging the girl from the room and locking the door, so that she cannot endanger herself by investigating the mirror. While Ryan’s thought process is sensible, considering the Doctor’s “keep her safe” edict, the way he acts towards Hanne is insulting because it robs her of her agency. It’s fascinating that “It Takes You Away” not only dares to shade one of the series’ main characters as socially ignorant, but also examines Ryan’s prejudice in the light of one of Series’ 11 main themes: “doing the wrong thing for the right reason.”
The placement of the scene is especially important because, just as the episode rebukes Ryan for treating the disabled Hanne as less than a person, the episode reveals that the “monster” is a ruse meant to unfairly control Hanne through fear. Continuing another Series 11 theme, the real monster isn’t roaming the forest but having brunch with his dead wife in a mirror universe. In “a shocking bit of parenting,” Erik “turned [his] house into a fortress to keep [his] daughter scared.” Ryan was correct in his assumption about Hanne’s father, complicating the parallel between how the two men treat Hanne.
Once in the anti-zone, Ryan again lies to Hanne, describing the dim, dank cave as less ominous than it really is. Hanne can sense this, so Ryan reveals the truth: her father faked the “monster” to keep her inside the house. “He . . . lied to me?” she asks. “Yeah,” Ryan admits. “And now you’re lying to me, about how bad it is in here,” Hanne retorts. Stymied, Ryan reasons, “I’m trying to look after you.” Pointedly, because both lie to “protect” Hanne, Ryan is no different than Erik, in this situation – – a brave move for a show that condemns the latter for abandonment.
Beyond its insightful commentary, “It Takes You Away” offers the most nuanced look at the Thirteenth Doctor since “The Woman Who Fell to Earth.” First, the Doctor is notably more proactive than in much of Series 11, investigating Hanne’s seemingly abandoned cottage merely on a hunch. In the anti-zone, the placid, pacifist Doctor goes on the offensive, threatening Ribbons in order to protect Graham. “Let him go,” she demands, brandishing her sonic, “Because you do not want those words to be your last.” The Doctor also attempts to convince Erik to leave the mirror universe with a markedly venomous barb, “She’s not your wife; she’s furniture, with a pulse.”
However, nothing comes close to this scene:
“Congratulations, Erik wants you. Just one thing: this world is falling apart. I reckon you can only keep one of us. You sure he’s your best option? ‘Cause the Solitract doesn’t want a husband. You want a whole universe. Someone who’s seen it all, and that’s me. I’ve lived longer, seen more, loved more, and lost more. I can share it all with you, anything you want to know about what you never had. ‘Cause he’s an idiot with a daughter who needs him. So, let him go, and I will give you everything.”
The Solitract looks at her, allured, enticed, beguiled.
In “It Takes You Away,” the fate of the universe rests on the Doctor’s ability to seduce a woman.
Sure, it could be argued that the Solitract is not technically a woman, but a conscious universe. However, the Solitract only ever presents as female. Peter Capaldi famously refused any romantic scenes for the Twelfth Doctor, even declining to remove his wedding ring for the part. There was a line Capaldi was reticent to cross with the character. Here, Whittaker embraces the opportunity, giving herself over to the scene and approaching the Doctor’s actions with courage. It is an amazing moment of representation, highlighted by a fearless actress’ talent. Whittaker embraces the opportunity, giving herself over to the scene and approaching her character’s actions with courage. It is an amazing moment of representation, highlighted by a fearless actress’ talent.
It should also be noted that, in “It Takes You Away,” the Doctor makes her biggest sacrifice. “It’s really big, and incredibly beautiful,” she gushes as she describes her universe, before wistfully resigning, “and apparently, I’ve just said goodbye to it.” The Doctor has sacrificed her sonic screwdriver, the TARDIS, several companions, a chance at happiness with Joan Redfern, parts of her memories, and even Gallifrey. Travelling the universe is the defining feature of the character, and she gives up the opportunity, without a thought, for Erik, a deadbeat dad.
Beyond Ed Hime’s stunning, unique script, the distinctive quality of “It Takes You Away” is bolstered by the location filming, casting, and the score. From the beautiful Norwegian setting to Eleanor Wallwork’s distinctive accent, the episode certainly looks and sounds different. Wallwork especially deserves praise for her range, as she is central in establishing both the conflict and the tension in the first two acts. Initially, Segun Akinola’s score is ambient and pensive, subtly setting a tonal mood as the audience actively pieces together their concept of Hanne’s surroundings in their minds. As the Doctor and Yasmin deduce the actual nature of the Solitract universe, the music features an ever-quickening beat – – meaning that the score literally “clicks” faster, as more pieces of the plot “click” into place. Finally, Akinola’s grand, adventurous theme stops the moment the Doctor breaks the mirror in the episode’s denouement, adding to the emotional impact of the Doctor and Graham’s losses, and the Doctor’s handwritten message, still visible on the bedroom wall.
(Time) Capsule Review
Featuring a script by Ed Hime that is truly one of Doctor Who’s most unique, “It Takes You Away” balances humor, horror, and haunting loss to examine the very human conditions of longing and isolation. The episode makes a poignant comparison between Ryan’s dismissive attitude towards Hanne, and Erik’s abandonment of his daughter. Guest actress Eleanor Wallwork breaks the “child actor in Doctor Who” curse with her depth and range. Jodie Whittaker demonstrates courage and talent in a historic scene where the Doctor seduces a female-presenting, sentient universe-cum-frog.