‘It Takes You Away’ – a Doctor Who review

It may not be perfect, but It Takes You Away elevates this series to new heights.

Right, I know I said this last week… and the week beforehand. But seriously, this is now the best episode of the series.

It’s not easy to explain. While I would say that this script is not as tight as The Witchfinders, or as funny as Kerblam! (and indeed has a great deal many more flaws), it builds to such a satisfying conclusion that it overcomes all those shortcomings.

At its best, It Takes You Away is everything brilliant, magical, idiotic, and just wonderful about Doctor Who.

Doctor Who and co. come across a cabin on the edge of a forest in modern day Norway. But something is not right, a girl has been left on her own and her father is nowhere to be seen.

And I think that’s all the plot you need. I went into this episode not really knowing anything beyond the title, and I personally think that made the experience just better.

So… it’s going to go without saying that if you haven’t seen the episode. I recommend you leave now and watch it.

Again, I realise I’ve been saying this more often for the recent episodes. But when they’re good, it’s better to go in knowing less.

First things first, an amazing performance from Eleanor Wallwork as Hanne. And it’s especially great how they cast a blind actor to play a blind person. I know that sounds kind of obvious, but actors with disabilities do tend to get the short end of the stick in the industry. I mean, this is a first for Doctor Who itself. It’s just really nice to see someone get that sort of opportunity here, and it’s particularly wonderful to see them do so well in the role.

Additionally, the rest of the cast do really well performance-wise. I’d argue this is Whittaker’s best turn as the Doctor yet, and Bradley Walsh gets some really genuine moments towards the end as Graham. Gill and Cole are also solid, but their characters don’t really get a chance to do much. Yasmin’s is the nice-but-not-very-interesting companion in this story, and Ryan… poor Ryan.

Okay, it’s not entirely horrible. And he gets redeemed at the end… kind of. But, there’s a girl whose father has gone missing and Ryan is written like a total idiot. The worst thing is, I get it. Ryan’s father abandoned him as a child, but Ryan before this had not been written as the sort to assume the worst of other people, and especially not the sort to tell a scared girl that her father has abandoned her. It gets worse when Ryan is proven right later. He does not need vindication for being a jerk. It is so annoying as well, because it’s a minor moment that has a ripple effect and it could have been so easily fixed.

All they had to do was let Ryan have his doubts about her father, as a result of his own experiences, and just not have him be such an idiot about it. It’s so simple!

Moving on, I love the idea of the mirror world and how it’s utilised in this story. Even the direction surrounding it is pretty neat stuff. Notice how the image of everyone is flipped on the other side, it’s subtle enough that I didn’t even notice it on my first viewing, but it really is a nice detail.

And the idea of a separate universe that wants to re-join the main universe, just because it feels lonely, is such a wonderful idea. Towards the end of the episode, this gets realised to a beautiful degree.

So, my question is, why couldn’t the mirror just lead directly into the mirror world? What was the point of the weird dark cave anti-zone area with the flesh-eating moths and Kevin Eldon in makeup?

It’s odd because that whole middle section wasn’t bad? It was perfectly enjoyable, you get great moments like the “tubular”. But (and I didn’t realise this until it was pointed out to me) it can be entirely cut out. It doesn’t add or take away anything from the story that’s being told, the story that matters. It’s just there.

If it was cut, then I feel like we could have spent more time focusing on the really great parts of the episode, giving them more time, and more depth to explore.

Also, I know I just praised one aspect of the directing earlier. But I think Jamie Childs is a bit of a boring director? He’s not awful, and it’s clear he knows what he’s doing, he is a professional after all. But all things considered, a lot of the shot choices and editing are just dull. So much is just close-up cutting between close-up. And this is more a point aimed at the series as a whole, but there is a strange obsession with having light leaking in so many shots.

In all honesty, despite listing off a bunch of perfectly valid criticisms of the episode, I still don’t really care. I do believe that the episode’s third act is that well-earned.

I love how the ‘big bad’ is just a sentient universe wanting to make a friend. And I love how the Doctor’s solution is just to be its friend. It’s so sincere, and lovely. Like the Doctor says at the end: “Shame, I made a new friend, a whole conscious universe, and I had to say goodbye.”

It’s one of the few moments this series where the writing gets Whittaker’s Doctor, and the performance and writing go hand in hand. And much like last week, she saves the day!

And one final thing, I think it is amazing that this sentient universe took on the form of a talking frog to be the Doctor’s friend. I also think it is amazing that the talking frog was a puppet. There were so many boring ways they could have taken this scene, and they nailed it.

Although, it’s probably not a surprise that I think the talking frog is amazing. My favourite Doctor Who companion is a talking penguin after all.

I know it’s not perfect, but I do kind of love It Takes You Away. It cheered me up in a way Doctor Who hasn’t done in a while. And I am all the more grateful for it.

Next week it’s the finale The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos, and honestly, not that excited for this one. Not that it looks bad, the main trailer on YouTube actually looks fairly solid. It’s just there’s been no  build up to this story. No series arc or character arcs that have made me go: yes, I need to see this. It just feels like it’s going to be another episode, rather than the finale.