It Takes You Away Review
Delightful, but it’s impossible to look at this fact without noting that this is because it largely eschews the tropes of the Chibnall era in favor of being a Doctor Who story. Indeed, to stir the obvious and very tempting pot a little more, this is delightful because it has a relationship to the Moffat era other than studiously avoiding everything about it. It is not that this feels like a Moffat-era story, although it certainly wouldn’t have been out of place within Series 10. (Imagine it instead of Lie of the Land for the narrative job of dealing with Bill’s mother.) But it feels like Doctor Who that has actually seen the Moffat era, taken on board the sorts of things it discovered the show could do, and moved on. In feels like a story that belongs to that moment where we had Mathieson, Harness, and Dollard all turning up every season to do something interesting.
At the heart of this is an investment in making sure the nature of the story actually shifts in meaningful way. Haunted house horror (done, it must be said, with a pleasantly new coat of paint) gives way to a bewildering but evocative fantasy sequence in some magic caves, at the end of which we find a sentient anti-universe that I’m pretty sure is Urizen, but that’s another essay. At each turn there’s a new set of rules to figure out, a new set of genre conventions, and new stakes. But in a season that has been fixated on the procedural, here we have an episode that is eager to embrace Doctor Who’s capacity to go “no, this.” The Doctor’s leap to identifying the Soletract is delightfully unelaborated on. The basic ideas are huge “revise your basic Doctor Who cosmology” juggernauts that nevertheless feel reasonably-sized and accessible when they land. And there’s a frog on a chair at the end of it.’
But for all that this is rooted in the Moffat era’s unapologetic embrace of the logic and iconography of fantasy over science fiction this equally clearly isn’t a post-Moffat story. For one thing, the idea that the universe would be structured like this—that a passage through a mirror would lead to a deadly cave where you have to make bargains for your life, and on the other side of the cave is a sentient anti-universe that’s secretly a frog—is just taken for granted, as opposed to being treated as something that the viewer should appreciate the cleverness of. As a result, the show finds itself willing to revel in the strangeness of things instead of preening about them. It becomes “oh, of course the world is this weird and unsettling,” which is an interesting point to hit.
On top of all of this, it knows how to use its characters. Graham and Ryan are both used effectively, put in positions and roles that are tailored to who they are. Yaz is still a plot function, left to perform the emotional intelligence role of the standard new series companion in a show where the Doctor is perfectly capable of that now, but on the whole the supporting cast is better utilized than we’ve ever seen. More than that, the story is about them in a way not even Demons of the Punjab managed. There’s theme and payoff and an actual investigation into grief and abandonment that has things to say about these concepts.
But perhaps most delightfully, It Takes You Away finally has a truly stellar use of Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor. Correctly recognizing (as Demons of the Punjab did) that this radically non-confrontational Doctor only works if put into a story in which there’s nothing to confront, It Takes You Away creates a situation where there’s no villain and then lets Whittaker lose to appeal to the non-villain in a no way, offering friendship and empathy, promising to remember the Soletract and care. It’s brilliant, and for the first time in her tenure Whittaker is unquestionably the Doctor, but in a way that no previous actor in the part ever could have been. It’s the era’s first actually iconic Doctor moment.
It serves, in other words, as an uneasy proof of how close to working the Chibnall era is; how much of a maddening near miss this joylessly conservative procedural version of Doctor Who actually is. The raw elements are there. The big picture decisions are all spot-on. And if we widen the lens slightly, it’s notable that all four of the guest writer episodes do well in the rankings and are interesting, compelling pieces. This show works; it just needs to not be by the writer of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and Cyberwoman. But for this week at least we have a sorely needed win.
- Ed Hime looks to be an interesting writer; very few credits to his name, but a staggering amount of interesting stuff in development. I look forward to seeing where he goes from here. And snigger at the fact that a writer of acclaimed radio dramas broke into Doctor Who via television and not Big Finish.
- The easiest explanation for the Doctor’s multiple grannies is, of course, Looms. The really tough bit to reconcile is the Zygons. I mean, obviously we’re not supposed to believe that it’s plausible Granny Two was a Zygon, but the fact that Zygon impersonators are in the zeitgeist of Gallifrey during the Doctor’s childhood is bizarre on its own. The Daleks weren’t even a big deal yet. What in Zagreus’s name are the Zygons doing among the echelon of involved species, to nick a term from Banks? This may actually be the biggest continuity revelation of the season.
- I’ve seen some reviews suggest that the Antizone stuff was filler. And there’s something to this, although I mostly think it’s that it’s been a long time since we’ve had a Doctor Who story that has moved through three distinct premises as opposed to just having one turn in the middle. But the Antizone was evocative and strange, and made the world far more interesting than just having two universes juxtaposed at a mirror. Also, flesh moths. Flesh moths are delightful.
- I also saw someone say this is what Baker and Martin writing the new series would be like, and while I can see that in its sort of endless “here’s a new concept” inventiveness, I’d say that The P’Ting Dilemma and The Ghost Monument are much closer to Baker and Martin. Which is to say that they often shared Chibnall’s propensity for forgettingt hat stories should be about things. This, for all its wild excess of concepts, is remarkably and delightfully focused. Hence the Moffat comparison.
- To extend the Moffat analogy a bit and get one final bit of snark in about last week, The Witchfinders’s quality level was “perfectly adequate Gatiss story.”
- Some uncertainty around the podcast at the moment. I think it’ll be up on Thursday, but I won’t know til this evening. Heck of a guest though.
- I should give another link to the Eruditorum Press Discord Server, which remains a very nice place.
- Demons of the Punjab
- It Takes You Away
- The Witchfinders
- The Tsuranga Conundrum
- Arachnids in the UK
- The Ghost Monument
- The Woman Who Fell to Earth
December 4, 2018 @ 10:17 am
I feel like the Doctor interrupted a Gaimanesque fairy tale in which Hanne would have done most of these things herself: found the way through the mirror, bargained with Ribbons, escaped the moths, found the other mirror, exchanged herself for her dad and then persuaded the magic frog to send her back.
December 4, 2018 @ 11:38 am
After the episode aired I was tossing around the thought that they could have leaned a little more Gaiman and referred to the Soletract as the Other Matter or something (a very Coraline trick), and hearing an alternate-ITYA with Hanne filling this narrative function the Coraline analogy I was tossing around as a joke seems in a way much much more possible
December 4, 2018 @ 10:27 am
I was with this episode up until halfway through the resolution. It just felt really uncomfortably like emotional manipulation to me. (Which I know isn’t new for Doctor Who) The Doctor gets rid of all the soletract’s friends then leaves it lonely. Obviously it couldn’t co-exist with our universe, but the Doctor basically gets out of the situation by reiterating a fact both she and the sole tract knew before it attached itself to the mirror. The soletract was willing to risk it before, why just let the doctor go? That was its whole MO. If there was a happier ending than “the soletract experiences a one way friendship for five seconds then has to be lonely forever” I’d have been more on board.
December 4, 2018 @ 10:33 am
The rest of it? Beautiful. Good to see an episode that acknowledges 2010-2017 happened.
December 4, 2018 @ 10:51 am
I presume you mean stylistically, rather than in continuity references? There have been plenty of the latter.
But yes this recaptured a certain “magic”.
December 4, 2018 @ 10:38 am
If the Doctor had stayed in there for longer and formed a more meaningful friendship with the Soletract, would that have been better, do you think?
December 4, 2018 @ 10:48 am
I’m not sure. Obviously scenes have to be kept reasonably short. But the way this episode goes, the Doctor’s in this other universe for less than five minutes, spends the first minute complaining about missing the old one, and spends most of the rest pleading to go back. All the Doctor’s done with this universe is argue with it, and agree to a hostage exchange. There’s no friendship there, and no implication the Doctor ever planned to go through with staying there. But at the moment, the Doctor leaves the soletract completely alone for another few billion years, and swans off talking about how she made a new friend. If there was a little coda about the Doctor finding the Soletract a new friend, or if she made a proper go at living with the soletract, it would have been fine. But what we saw there isn’t friendship.
December 4, 2018 @ 10:50 am
This Doctor does decide very quickly that she’s friends with people, though.
See also: Yaz in the opener. That’s her thing.
December 4, 2018 @ 12:03 pm
The mirror plane could accommodate some things/content/people from our universe for a long time. Erik had been in and out for days or weeks. But when a bunch of people showed up, it made things unstable. Even after everyone else left, it was still breaking down, maybe because it was too fragile or because the Doctor is too big a presence to be contained.
I don’t think the Solitract relates to people, as it is a universe so it relates to our universe on a universe-to-universe basis. But because it’s conscious, I’d imagine it would have a bias towards beings with consciousness.
The Solitract asked the Doctor to talk about our universe. The Solitract doesn’t care about the Doctor herself. It misses and is interested in our whole universe. When it says “I miss you” to the Doctor (and not “I’ll miss you”), it means that it has been missing us, all the things that make up our universe, which the Solitract hasn’t seen since the dawn of time.
December 4, 2018 @ 3:18 pm
This reading seems to rely on assuming that the Doctor is being deceptive in the conversation with the frog. But presumably the Solitract has some mind-reading ability in order to duplicate other people and could detect insincerity. It can certainly detect the moment when the others reject it.
I thought the scene sold the Doctor’s excitement at this new adventure and her disappointment when her arms started to destabilize. Though it is true that she’s not going to Heaven Sent a solution to rescue the Solitract. (The best solution would be to find a way to get Omega into this other universe, but that’s fanwankery of the highest degree.)
December 4, 2018 @ 10:55 am
Best episode of the season by miles, for me. A nice commentary on death and loss. The frog with Grace’s voice was just mind-bendingly weird, which I loved.
Wouldn’t the easiest explanation for the multiple grandmothers not just be something like: due to absurdly long lifespans/regeneration, The Doctor’s extra grandmothers are actually all of her great-grandmothers and it’s just more expedient to refer to them by number? Although on the other hand, I’m currently amusing myself with the idea that Granny #1 is The Other and imagining how much that might upset some canon nerds.
December 4, 2018 @ 11:15 am
Time Lords could also just be polyamorous, which would affect the family structure. No need to bring Looms into it.
Paul F Cockburn
December 4, 2018 @ 12:44 pm
Or the Doctor was just lying. Again.
December 4, 2018 @ 5:45 pm
Counterpoint: everything’s better with Looms.
December 5, 2018 @ 1:42 pm
Can you elaborate as to why? I’m genuinely curious.
December 6, 2018 @ 2:39 pm
Partly because I read Lungbarrow when I was a teenager and thought I might be asexual: thus the sexless families of Gallifrey, though in hindsight really not a good depiction of asexuality given that it’s the result of a literal curse that ends up “fixed” at the end of the story, nonetheless made me think “I might be like the Doctor”, and I’m still grateful to the idea of Looms for that. Partly because the Pythia’s curse and the Houses and the weird gothic dysfunctional families of Cousins are cool as fuck and Gallifrey needs all the horror-fantasy aesthetics it can get. Partly because it’s a conceptual alternative to the hetero-centric model of family that dominates the real world. Partly because it associates Time Lords with other things woven, like the threads of fate. And partly because it’s just fun to say.
Roderick T. Long
December 7, 2018 @ 8:46 pm
Maybe the Time Lord family structure is a sedoretu.
December 4, 2018 @ 5:46 pm
Each Granny is from a different genetic reincarnation of the Other.
Also they’re Sisters of Karn.
December 4, 2018 @ 8:01 pm
Granny #4 was also half human, as following Clara’s return to Gallifrey she fell in to a loom, and therefore she is also The Other/The Doctor’s granny by way of genetic transfer. Me was also pushed into a loom by a Sontaran during the same incident and she is thus Rasillon’s dad, and also Omega’s second cousin. This is also probably the only satisfactory explanation for the true nature of the hybrid as told by Steven Moffat.
December 4, 2018 @ 11:10 am
Delightful episode; but I’m just not sure that “today is the day Jodie Whitaker finally because the Doctor” – for me she remains the weakest element in the show (including Yaz, who is at least useful).
Those questioning monologues! Oy.
I’m glad the show can still be good, but Whitaker is still an insoluble problem for me – which is not to say she won’t get better next season.
December 4, 2018 @ 11:12 am
Because = became
Followup question: Has the show yet found something emotional to say about a character who isn’t Graham or Grace?
December 4, 2018 @ 11:16 am
Depends what you mean by that. The moment where Erik saw what the Doctor wrote on the wall packed some emotional wallop imo.
The ending was as much a Ryan moment as it was a Graham one, surely.
December 4, 2018 @ 8:55 pm
I dunno, I’m currently failing to find anything wrong with this description:
“Because middle-aged men are best and most interesting, in this story, Ryan does not get to meet with the image of his dead grandmother, instead he goes through character development to teach him to reward Graham for doing the right thing with her. Eventually.”
(And Hanne, who did the right thing immediately, gets her abusive father back without the whole creating a fake monster issue being addressed. Because middle-aged men are best.)
(There might easily be factual things wrong, I haven’t exactly been watching most of this series at 100% attention levels. Though this story is the first one where I regret that.)
December 4, 2018 @ 11:41 am
I mean there’s a case to be said that the series is interested in emotional arcs, it’s just that some of those have been handed off to the guest cast of the week rather than the companions. I mean Ryan and Yaz can do with something a bit meatier on a more regular basis, but it’s still been doing emotional beats
December 4, 2018 @ 11:48 am
There are emotional moments, but ’cause Chibnall can’t do character development, they never feel earned (to me). Is there a reason why Ryan suddenly calls Graham grandad, or is just “nice” in the moment?
So I only end up feeling anything for Graham and Grace because they’re the only two performers good enough to act beyond the limitations of the scripts.
December 4, 2018 @ 11:57 am
I felt it wasn’t particularly earned either. Although to be fair, in this episode ryan confronted a few fatherhood issues, like seeing someone else have a rotten dad and becoming an ersatz father figure himself briefly. That, combined with hearing about how Graham reacted to seeing Grace again probably confirmed that Graham’s alright, actually, and part of the family to him. It works, but it still would have been nice to see Ryan get told about Grace, or having the granddad moment come after a moment they were both in together. An awful lot of the Ryan’s dad arc has felt like it doesn’t quite fit with the episodes it’s been put in, but I think this is the first episode to deal with it in a meaningful way.
December 4, 2018 @ 1:54 pm
I’ll go the other way and say I think it’searned this time out. There’s been several episodes where Graham has specifically reached out to Ryan to try and bring them closer together and Ryan has rebuffed his efforts. Yet here, when Ryan has been through a surrogate-father experience AND seen just how deeply the experience of meeting Grace again has affected Graham, he finally softens and allows the relationship between them to grow by acknowledging him as his grandfather. Putting aside the obvious Who symbolism associated with the word “grandfather”, it’s a sweet moment and Walsh and Cole sell it very well. It’s not given the massive-highlight-and-swelling-strings beat it might have been in previous eras but it’s definitely layered throughout the season and given a conclusion there. There’s plenty to criticise the Chibnall era for, and of course it’s possible to wish for more, but I think this is one moment it honestly landed (and in the best episode of the season, too).
December 4, 2018 @ 3:23 pm
Ryan’s clearly a parallel/contrast to Erik’s response to grief, which is to push away in an attempt to escape from or deny instead of to embrace someone else who shares his suffering. It’s not just Ryan seeing Graham’s loss and suffering, it’s in sharing it.
Erik left his daughter because of grief. Ryan’s dad abandoned him, possibly for the same reason. It makes sense he’d have difficulty accepting a Graham, but in the context of this story it becomes painfully clear both that Graham never abandoned him and that Ryan didn’t always make that easy. It helps that Ryan, in that moment, is in a position to take care of Graham, too.
December 4, 2018 @ 12:04 pm
It said some very emotional things about the Solitract’s solitude.
December 4, 2018 @ 12:22 pm
I’m not sure I agree about the big picture ideas being spot on. The decision to have three present day companions still feels arbitrary, The Doctor’s character still feels unformed, there’s been almost zero sense of structure to the season and there’s no momentum going into the finale.
I can’t help but be frustrated that good episodes are still possible, but that they happen by accident more than design. Even the ones that have had great potential in the premise seem to have been squished by the Chibnall cookie cutter (not this one, I should add).
Good review as always, El.
December 4, 2018 @ 6:58 pm
I wouldn’t call the decision to have three companions arbitrary. Indeed when questioned about it Chibnall has pointed to the fact that three companions was the original number. So definitely not arbitrary. I would call it “mis-guided” though. Chibnall failed to realize that the classic series format was more conducive to 3 companions by allowing characters to drop out for long stretches, sometimes for a full episode of each serial. The New Who format does not allow for this, however, so there isn’t enough to give them all meaningful things to do, and even in the classic series it didn’t always work so well.
The best number of companions will always be 2, but even moreso than having 2 consistent companions, I like what RTD did having one primary companion with secondary companions joining for short stretches. In season’s 1 and 2, for example, we start with just Rose, then Adam joins for an episode, back to just rose, then Captain Jack comes on for the season end run, then just Rose again, followed by Mickey joining for a few episodes, etc. That was my favorite dynamic.
December 4, 2018 @ 12:42 pm
I somewhat resist the suggestion that Whittaker is the only Doctor who could have done that final scene. Eccleston is too much a survivor of the Time War and one’s never really sure when Smith’s Doctor means what he’s saying, but while it would have been out of either Tennant or Capaldi’s comfort zone I think they both could have done it. Which is to say that for all it’s somewhere the Doctor hasn’t been before it’s still recognisably the Doctor.
It’s also not quite fair to say that Yaz is just doing generic companion work: even before she mentions that she’s had sensitivity training, I was thinking that Gill was playing her as someone with a police background, which hasn’t always been the case in the way she’s written.
December 4, 2018 @ 3:28 pm
Ten could never have given up Rose, if they were together, and if they were apart he’d have seen her instead of a frog. Same with Twelve and Clara, though for slightly different reasons. The Doctor had to be willing to stay with the Solitract itself, not some lure it had constructed, and then able to frame their necessary parting in a way which would comfort the frog, which might have been beyond Ten and Twelve and was certainly beyond Eleven.
December 5, 2018 @ 8:24 pm
I don’t think the relationship between Tennant and Rose is that dominant a note in his character during, say, The Girl in the Fireplace.
In any case, the ability required is not willingness to stay in the parallel universe but the capacity to forge a meaningful emotional connection to the parallel universe precisely as the Doctor explains she can’t stay.
December 4, 2018 @ 7:06 pm
I could easily see Davison doing it. He was willing to give up all his remaining regenerations to some guys he had just met stuck on a spaceship; it’s not much of a stretch to see him be willing to spend time with a sentient universe.
December 4, 2018 @ 7:48 pm
I feel like C. Baker could’ve done it too. He seemed like the Doctor who was most particularly interested in finding places to retire for a considerable length of time, be it initially wanting to stay as a hermit on a desolate planet or just sitting around for a spot of fishing.
Less blink-in-a-moment sightseeing and more taking the time to enjoy each place he visited. A few thousand years alone with a sentient universe probably would’ve been a pleasant experience for him.
As long as he’s companion-less or could easily return to Peri afterward, I suppose.
Paul F Cockburn
December 4, 2018 @ 12:53 pm
“The Doctor’s leap to identifying the Soletract is delightfully unelaborated on.”
You might have found it delightful; I just found it annoying, distracting and… well, dull. While having the Doctor blatantly info-dump about something has been a notable feature of a lot of 21st century Doctor Who (a plot-speeding device on a par with the psychic paper and the sonic), under Chibnall’s watch it seems to have got more unsubtle.
December 4, 2018 @ 2:25 pm
Agreed. It was interminable. That was the big sour note for me during what was an otherwise really good episode. There’s very little drama in the Doctor being able to save the day because she remembered something we have no prior knowledge about.
I also thought Whitaker was awful here. Yes, it would have been difficult for any of the Doctors to salvage much from that scene, but she handled it particularly badly. She just can’t sell those kinds of lines. She’s the opposite of Pertwee, in that his line reading of things like “wrong sort of chap is creeping into your lot, Tubby” took things at face value that were meant to be jokes, whereas she automatically reaches for ‘flippant aside’ so it comes across as a particularly unfunny joke, when I’m fairly sure they weren’t written to be jokes at all. I’m sorry to say it, because I don’t want to be mistaken for one of those people, but she’s the weakest lead actor of the revived series by some considerable margin.
December 4, 2018 @ 2:28 pm
Sorry, that was meant to be a reply to Paul F Cockburn directly above.
December 4, 2018 @ 2:30 pm
El, do you think they earned the moment where Ryan calls Graham “granddad?” I don’t know why this thread of the season has interested/bothered me so much but though it was a nice moment for Graham, it seemed out of character for Ryan, to me. Andrew Ellard on Twitter made a good point that Ryan did it because it was the best gift he could offer Graham after losing Grace again, and that’s probably what they were going for but the buildup in the rest of the season pointed to that moment being more about Ryan than Graham, to me.
December 4, 2018 @ 3:30 pm
For the first time in ages (with the possible exception of “Oxygen”), I found myself wishing an episode was a 2-parter. Moffat thought carefully about allocating time; Chibnall has shown no sign that he’d competently structure shows at any length (even though I’m enjoying other aspects like the humor, kindness, and weirdness). But this episode was well-enough written — it just desperately needed space to breathe.
the Graham and Grace interactions needed time to have distinct personality beyond the necessary, predictable steps. Those steps were done well — but let them say/ do things unique to who they are.
the charmingly evil Ferengi in the Antizone could not possibly, from what we see, have developed ideology or even language in its tiny isolated space. Give him a story; let him be real.
I like this episode as a well-done outline. But to me Jodie is so far a nice Colin Baker: utterly charming, but unable to sell bad/ unearned dialogue. And to me, everything with the Solitract was that. With time, it might have been more.
December 4, 2018 @ 5:52 pm
* the charmingly evil Ferengi in the Antizone could not possibly, from what we see, have developed ideology or even language in its tiny isolated space. Give him a story; let him be real.
There’s no way the flesh moths could have developed in that tiny isolated space. It’s very unlikely the Antizone would have breathable air or Earth-like gravity. The Antizone just is, fully-formed from nothing. Or at least that’s my reading.
December 5, 2018 @ 2:20 am
I agree, and I don’t like any of that. It wasn’t original enough to get by on pure weirdness, so let it function as a vaguely plausible actual place.
Similarly, I don’t see any gain from setting the episode on earth. Nothing Norwegian was evoked — why does every single bizarre thing need to lead to earth?
December 5, 2018 @ 10:44 am
Earth gives you an immediately recognisable setting where you already know how everything normally works.
December 5, 2018 @ 11:11 am
There are significant and important political/cultural reasons for choosing Norway, to be discussed when I get round to reviewing.
December 7, 2018 @ 3:21 pm
December 4, 2018 @ 4:41 pm
Loved the little nod with the Grannies to the idea that this Doctor is influenced the most by Peter Davison’s. After all, seven grannies for the seven Doctors of the original run.
December 4, 2018 @ 5:01 pm
Would chime in with some of the other commenters that I thought this episode got really rushed at the end – I love the weirdness of the talking frog bit, but that (plus all the character stuff once we got to the mirror universe) felt like it needed at least another 10-15 minutes to flesh out, revel in the surreal not-quite-right universe collapsing in on itself and make the doctor’s relationship with it feel less stilted and abrupt.
When compared to other attempts at characters finding themselves in a false/alternate reality (thinking specifically of Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, the Clara bits of the Zygon Inversion and Extremis) – this seemed a bit…thin by comparison. Either it needed a part 2 or some Moffat-style narrative acceleration to leave more time for the key stuff at the end.
December 4, 2018 @ 7:13 pm
If they had more time, they could have had the Doctor setting the Soletract up on a date with Omega. He’s controlling his own antimatter pocket universe, so the two of them have something in common they can talk about.
December 4, 2018 @ 5:18 pm
I loved this bit:
“The Woolly Rebellion. In 193 years there will be a total re-negotiation of the sheep-human relationship. Utter bloodbath.”
…it was a throwaway line, but my favorite part of the season so far. I’m sure the Doctor was probably pulling everybody’s leg and it will never be mentioned again, but damn. Woolly Rebellion. I love stuff like that.
I like that this episode felt weird and unpredictable. I got very excited when Ryan found the speakers playing the monster sound. That’s a great reveal because know you’re not watching a monster story anymore, but you don’t yet know what kind of story you ARE watching. Anything could happen!
I kind of wish they would have done the Moffaty thing where the Doctor spends a couple thousand years telling stories to the magic frog, before getting sent back at the exact time she left. Wouldn’t have changed anything except dialogue but would have made the resolution feel more meaningful.
Paul F Cockburn
December 4, 2018 @ 10:42 pm
I’m sure Big Finish are already “on it”. Probably in the tenth “Jenny” Boxset. 😉
December 4, 2018 @ 5:57 pm
I sincerely hope that a Frog Urizen essay will make it’s way into existence as bonus content in the Jodie Whittaker Eruditorum book.
December 4, 2018 @ 6:22 pm
So I’m the one who tweeted to Liz that this was about what I’d have expected a Baker & Martin script to be like of they wrote for NuWho. While I definitely concede that “The Tsuranga Conundrum” fits that description even better – and I’m surprised I didn’t notice it when that aired – I think “It Takes You Away” is still a lot more like Baker & Martin than it is like Moffat. Sure, this has a more solid theme than what B&M used to deliver, but only barely, imo. The theme doesn’t really land. By and large, what we got this week was an overabundance of ideas that don’t quite cohere and don’t really payoff but still form a largely enjoyable story and deliver some great visuals – exactly like a Baker & Martin script. And it’s those visuals that really make the comparison stick. The the Anti-Zone resembled a dark version of the alien ship interior from “Claws of Axos”. And let’s not forget the frog! A sentient universe taking the form of a talking frog doesn’t have a direct analog to anything from a B&M script, but it is precisely the kind of delightfully bonkers image that they would deliver. Moffat could deliver some great imagery, for sure, but nothing so completely out of left field; nothing so boldly outré that the pure weirdness is what makes it memorable.
That first phrase I used to describe the frog – delightfully bonkers – is the best description of this episode for me, and I really liked it despite the flaws. Still a step down from “Demons of Punjab” yet, strangely, still closer I would argue to almost hitting classic status. I guess what I mean here is that as is, “Demons” was better but even if it’s flaws were fixed it wouldn’t hit tall-time great status, I don’t think. On the other hand “It Takes You Away” isn’t quite as good the way it was done, but since it has a foundation more in line with what Doctor Who has traditionally been and done well, it has more to gain in quality and reputation if they could have made it work better. Basically, the best possible version of “Demons” would have still been a notch below all-time classic whereas the best possible version of “It Takes You Away” would have hit that mark handily.
And I just want to say again how much I really loved the frog bit. That was the kind of thing I could only get from Doctor Who, which is one of the main joys of watching the show – seeing things I would never otherwise see! Any episode that delivers something so uniquely Doctor Who is at least a moderate success, and this one was quite a bit more.
This gives me three episodes now this season that are definitely worth a rewatch, two that are MAYBE rewatchable, and the rest to be ignored indefinitely.
Demons of the Punjab
It Takes You Away
Arachnids in the UK
The Woman Who Fell to Earth
December 4, 2018 @ 7:20 pm
Given that Hanna was blind, if the Doctor really cared about her and wanted to be her friend she would have given Hanna those glasses that she was using as Capaldi to see somewhat when he was blind.
December 4, 2018 @ 8:19 pm
Those glasses were a terrible cop-out even for dealing with temporary sci-fi blindness. I personally would find it cringing if the Doctor presented them to a blind-since-birth character played by a blind-since-birth actress who doesn’t have that option, and said “Look! I’ve fixed you!”
December 4, 2018 @ 8:32 pm
Is it just me who’s biggest problem with the episode is that I remain unconvinced that Hanne being back under the care of the neglectful idiot who caused all this is the happy ending we’re supposed to see it as?
December 4, 2018 @ 8:47 pm
The terrifying and imprisoning of his daughter with a fake monster is the detail I’d pick up on, but yeah, pretty much.
Second of Many
December 5, 2018 @ 3:43 am
I had a problem with this as well, and mentioned it below the patreon review. The fake monster is downright gaslighting and psychological abuse. And the fact that he tortured his daughter like that is never acknowledged.
It fits into the really disturbing trend this season of just how often the Doctor has decided not to confront bad guys. Every time we get a character like that, she simply lets them go free.
I agree that this is one of the stronger episodes of the season, I really appreciate the weirdness and the fact that it feels like a Doctor Who episode that didn’t pretend Moffat never happened. But the episode also very clearly has the worst tropes of Chibnall’s era on display. And the fact that we can’t avoid those tropes even in an episode that is rightfully described as largely eschewing the tropes of the Chibnall era is really sad.
I’ve heard the rumours that Chibnall and Whitaker are considering leaving some time next year, and I’m sad to say I actually hoping this is true. Which is the last thing I wanted to say about the first female Doctor. I really love Whittaker’s performance, so I’d love it if she stays with a different showrunner. But this season has been wearying and really making me question if I’m going to watch next year.
December 4, 2018 @ 8:44 pm
I won’t speak the word. You know the word. The silence, the void that I leave will speak the word just as clearly as my voice.
We meet the primordial chaos from the dawn of time, and it is a frog.
“ENTERTAIN US!” cries the frog, and we on the other side of the screen do so, whether we want to or not.
(Not That) Jack
December 4, 2018 @ 10:48 pm
I guess I get to be the grouch here-and I hate to be, because two-thirds of the way through I’d bought into this one because it felt so like a latter third of the season Moffat episode-but I can’t. I just can’t. Because the entire episode is defined by the so unearned ending that it reverberates back into the episode and wrecks it. Each section sets up a story that isn’t paid off, delivered on, or even thematically connected. The delightfully creepy haunted house/thing in the woods story? Nah. it’s just a neglectful father coming up with an overly complicated way to keep a blind person inside the house. The anti-verse section? It’s…uhm…about flesh moths and has nothing to do with either story on either side of it save being a buffer zone. And even loses its threat of being a maze filled with death that no one knows how to navigate when…everyone just runs through it.
And the last section? The Doctor remembers a story her grandmother told her, and doesn’t really connect that story to what is going on. (“And I know it’s this, because of Thing Z going on here!”) The Doctor’s affection and wonder for the thing going on here is unearned. Ryan decides to call Graham his grandfather and NEVER SEES HIS GRANDMOTHER.
So close, though. It was so close. Moffat or RTD would have spotted the flaws and fixed them before it aired. 0 for 9 on the re-watching list.
December 5, 2018 @ 1:05 am
I wonder if Sandifer is aware that an actual blind contributor would find it very difficult to comment here. The “captcha” that you’re taken to is entirely visual, and while there is indeed an audio option (if you can find it with your screenreader), I suggest someone actually tries listening to it to see if it’s in any way comparable.
December 6, 2018 @ 4:24 am
“There’s a blind person in this episode so I will concern troll on behalf of blind people?” Oof, man, don’t hurt yourself reaching that hard.
In any case, here’s some commentary on how Google’s ReCAPTCHA technology does on accessibility issues. tl;dr, not bad and better than most alternatives.
December 5, 2018 @ 11:58 am
It’s surprising how tolerant some are when the series delivers an episode, in its ninth week, that is – almost -competent.
But the laughably awful exposition, the excruciating jokes, the technobabble, the speech ripped from “The Rings of Akhaten” and the facetious plot solution from nowhere absolutely ruined all the enjoyable visuals and ideas here.
Hanne would have been a far better companion than Yaz or Ryan.
Whittaker is still truly awful.
December 5, 2018 @ 1:48 pm
“It’s surprising how tolerant some are when the series delivers an episode, in its ninth week, that is – almost -competent.”
Alternatively, some people just thought it was really good.
Megara Justice Machine
December 5, 2018 @ 4:35 pm
I watched this one right before bed and went to sleep thinking how the Solitract (just now noticed that ‘solitary” is at the first of its name) could, with a bit of nudging, become the Watchmaker God who set the universe up and then left to let it run itself. I mean, we know it’s a frog, who says it can’t be a God who had to leave Their Creation to let it run without interference, ala something like the quantum state of an unmeasured particle? (if I got that science wrong, feel free to say so of course).
Also, calling the Witchfinders “perfectly adequate Gatiss story” is funny and so spot on it goes beyond snark, I think.
December 5, 2018 @ 8:12 pm
Pretty much everything El says here. Years from now this will be remembered as the marker of everything Whittaker and her era could be, and Chibnall and his writers should note that now.
December 5, 2018 @ 10:11 pm
I was disappointed, when the episode had Whittaker say “when is a mirror not a mirror?”, that the follow-up wasn’t “when it’s ajar! A jar to seal people inside!”
December 6, 2018 @ 12:13 am
I wanted to like this more than I did. Clearly plenty of good stuff in there, but I felt it was dragged down a bunch of things, most of which have been mentioned already.
The Antizone did seem rather pointless, except to provide a bit of actiony stuff in an episode whose more substantial parts were lacking in it. I suppose the danger provides some sort of a reason why Erik didn’t just take Hanne through with him, but once you start thinking about that sort of thing you start asking questions like how Erik managed to cross it at least three times without getting eaten, why he would have attempted it in the first place, and seriously what the actual fuck with the whole bizarre fake monster set-up? (Since there seems to have been stuff cut from the Antizone some of that may have been addressed in the script, but not in what we got, and “needed more Antizone” would seem an odd line to take on a story where the important stuff was at each end.) And yes, it is a real problem that the story goes out of its way to make Erik’s treatment of Hanne so startlingly awful and then just forgets about it at the end.
I was also another one who found the infodump monologues very laboured. Maybe if less time had been spent on the Antizone it might have been possible to work through discovering the nature of the situation more organically. Key character moments also felt a bit predictable – for instance, as soon as Ryan came up to Graham at the end I thought “so this will be the calling-him-Grandad bit then”.
I also had real problems with the Solitract resolution. You say that the Doctor offered “friendship and empathy”. She was friendly, yes, and kind, but empathy was what I felt was glaringly lacking, from the Doctor and from the cheery tone of the narrative. There is no sense of an appreciation of how utterly horrific the Solitract’s situation is. The Doctor effectively says “You’ll be all right”, when clearly it is not all right, it never has been, and we are given no reason to think it ever will be. There are a bunch of ways the story, through the Doctor, could have offered it hope – devising some non-destructive way to interact with the “real world”, or suggesting that it could find other entities out there that it would be able to connect with (someone on the Discord half-jokingly mentioned Omega), or that it could create life within itself which would offer “company” (it is in effect a kind of god in its own plane, and shown to be capable of generating imitations, but the possibilities of original creation are frustratingly ignored). What we actually got provided no hope at all, while not even acknowledging the awfulness of that.
December 6, 2018 @ 12:20 am
Oh, and another thing, on the wider thematic resonances of the Solitract – the association of “alone” with “dangerous, and to be avoided” was one that I really did not like.
Roderick T. Long
December 7, 2018 @ 8:57 pm
“The Doctor effectively says ‘You’ll be all right’, when clearly it is not all right.”
And I’m suddenly reminded of Ultron’s saying, “Oh, I’m sorry — I’m sure that’s going to be okay” after he cuts off Klaw’s hand in “Age of Ultron.”
December 6, 2018 @ 12:16 am
One little thing which is kind of obvious but that I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere – this was another one with a playfully misleading title, with “it” turning out to be death or grief rather than the anticipated monster in the woods.
December 6, 2018 @ 5:35 pm
This episode really needed a line from Graham to the effect of “my wife was a nurse, I’ll ask one of her friends who you should talk to…” in relation to the father’s breakdown. Or about how he will call to check in on them when they get back to the UK or SOMETHING.
The dad understands he needs help but that daughter needs some support in getting it for him.
That being said… frog in a chair. Was it a puppet with CG eyes? I want it to have been a puppet.
December 7, 2018 @ 8:05 am
Ed Hime’s work in development includes an episode for Series 12, according to this page: https://www.unitedagents.co.uk/ed-hime
December 7, 2018 @ 11:43 am
Ooooh, that’s fantastic news!
December 7, 2018 @ 3:23 pm
December 7, 2018 @ 10:22 am
This is more by way of an aside, as I have not watched this episode yet. In fact I have no great enthusiasm for the show at all right now; maybe I’m too busy.
It seems to me that the critical concensus here is that the show is alarmingly conservative (probably in the small-c English sense of the word as accepting/tolerating status quo, not in the American sense). And yet, I’ve seen opinion pieces in the British press and satirical sites suggesting that Doctor Who is now radical and full of SJWs.
Debating point: “The programme has adopted the posturing of the left while flirting with politics of the right”. Discuss.
December 7, 2018 @ 11:42 am
“Debating point: “The programme has adopted the posturing of the left while flirting with politics of the right”. Discuss.”
You might want to have a look at the Kerblam! review.
Roderick T. Long
December 7, 2018 @ 9:10 pm
To the sorts of people who complain about “SJWs,” anything they see that’s at all left-wing looms out enormously to them, while anything that’s the opposite tends to be virtually invisible. That’s how they’re able to remain convinced that the most marginalised, excluded, and oppressed people are actually dominant all-pervading threats.
Add to that the fact that the show’s lefty aspects are highly visible and obvious (OMG, the Doctor’s a woman and two of her companions are nonwhite), while the ways in which the show is reactionary (e.g., the Doctor’s repeated passivity in the face of awfulness, the fact that the Amazon knockoff in “Kerblam!” ends up mostly endorsed rather than condemned, etc.) are a bit more subtle, and subtle is not exactly the strong suit of most of these anti-SJW critics.