In “It Takes You Away”, The Doctor and Team TARDIS find themselves in Norway, near a fjord, in 2018, where they find a boarded up cottage, a monster, a blind girl, and a mirror to another universe.
This recap of Doctor Who Season 11, Episode 9, “It Takes You Away”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
“It Takes You Away” feels like we’re finally finding our legs with Doctor Who after the middling “Witchfinders” which followed up the excellent “Demons of the Punjab.” This, the penultimate episode of series 11 (at least until the 2019 New Year’s special), fires on just about every cylinder, from emotion to character to plot to science-fiction storytelling.
The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her companions, while taking in a scenic Norwegian fjord, come across a creepy, locked up house in the middle of nowhere with a blind girl, Hanne (Ellie Wallwork) hiding in a cupboard from an unseen monster lurking in the forest. But it turns out that the monster is the least of their worries. A day before, Hanne’s dad put locks all around the house, then vanished.
As the TARDIS crew explores the cottage, a mirror appears that doesn’t reflect anything, but it’s a portal to another dimension—an anti-zone of nothingness between the fabric of our universe and another. It’s there to protect the two universes from touching, which will destroy both. Apparently, there’s a conscious energy from the beginning of all things that stops the laws of the universe from working: the Solitract. It wants to experience all the things that our universe has to offer, but if it overlaps with ours, everything will fly apart.
Everyone finally gets their moment here—one of the few times the ensemble has felt balanced this season. Guest star Ellie Wallwork, a blind actress, stands out opposite each of the main cast. Yaz (Mandip Gill) gets some character moments, connecting and reassuring Hanne, mentioning her police training, that with kids you have to reinforce what makes them safe. Ryan (Tamsin Cole) and Hanne connect, she outwits him and he bumbles about a hit. Graham must make some difficult decisions and the pain registers all over Bradley Walsh’s face. Graham points out the obvious but overlooked: the Companions often go a long time without eating. So he packs a cheese and pickle sandwich in his jacket whenever they leave the TARDIS. It’s a great touch and moments of levity in the midst of the intense run-and-dash nature of this episode.
The production crew held nothing back in “It Takes You Away.” The production design and cinematography bear similarities to the psychedelic surrealism of this year’s Nick Cage gonzo horror-film Mandy. There’s vivid neon, strange beauty, and a good bit of questioning of our reality.
And then we get to the Doctor’s shining moments: she delivers some intense emotional appeals, talking an entire universe down from destruction and then befriending it. This is the stuff that Doctor Who is made of: the immensity of loss and love and the lengths we would go to recapture what once was. Graham and Hanne and her dad each have to face something they’ve lost because the Solitract has lured them into its universe to take them; not malevolently, but to absorb their experiences. It genuinely is lonely and wants them to be a part of it. However, in doing so, the Solitract’s universe will die. They’re offered the chance of a reunion with a lost loved one, but have to come to terms with the heartbreaking reality that they can’t recapture what they’ve lost. There’s a whole galaxy to be had in the moments that could have been, and “It Takes You Away” lets us sit with that poignancy, as the best episodes of Doctor Who do.
I was getting worried that we’d just be stuck with an up-and-down season with a few high points in the midst of the low, but “It Takes You Away” gives me more hope. This is a strange, brilliant episode that brings to mind all the greatest stories that Doctor Who has to offer while bringing some new things to the table.