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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

16 Comments

  1. Daniel Fekete
    March 4, 2024 @ 7:11 am

    I was dreading this post. Not much, just a little bit. But still – the Whittaker era Eruditorum has been pretty merciless so far, which is largely justified. It’s a bad era, for sure. But It Takes You Away is the one episode in this era I genuinely love. It’s the only one that just… clicked for me. The shifting genres, the Doctor’s compelling characterization, the Adamsian living universe that’s also a frog… This is imo the best episode of the whole era. And, like you said, nothing followed from this, and nothing was learned. Which is just painful. This episode really is a window into an alternative reality where this era did interesting things.

    Reply

    • Jesse
      March 4, 2024 @ 11:35 pm

      “This is imo the best episode of the whole era.”

      I agree. Mostly because of the frog.

      Reply

  2. Aristide Twain
    March 4, 2024 @ 7:35 am

    Hey now, the frog looks great. The lip-synching is off. Which might be how that phone call actually went. “Can you do a good-looking CGI frog?” “Sure…”, without Chibnall’s quite bothering to add that it would need also to talk.

    Reply

  3. William Shaw
    March 4, 2024 @ 8:33 am

    I loved this episode on first watch, and I still quite like it for its sheer chutzpah. But on rewatches I keep noticing some really bad directorial choices.

    The bit in the shed with the dead birds really gets to me. We clearly see them in the middle of the frame, Ryan walks in, and then reacts with shock to something we can already see.

    The episode manages to bungle a jump scare.

    Reply

  4. Brian Block
    March 4, 2024 @ 10:39 am

    What kills this episode for me more than anything is, actually, the Solitract doing all this in search of a friend. I am not sold on Jodi’s instant friendship with it. She’s charming for five minutes and then goes “Okay, but actually I’d rather if you slag off and die alone now”. I remember going on dates where I or the other person was normally able to be charming for well over five minutes before delivering that message; the other of us was not, even then, left feeling like the beneficiaries of a sincere connection. And that was after efforts on the order of “Dress nicely then get in the car and drive for ten minutes”, rather than “transform into an adorable frog, then upend the borders between realities”.

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  5. Kate Orman
    March 4, 2024 @ 7:22 pm

    This made me wonder if science fiction is the means through which Doctor Who manifests other genres, but then I thought that the same could be said of a large amount of SF, starting with Star Trek: The Next Generation. SF has always been metaphorical and attached to other kinds of storytelling. Does it ever have its own, pure identity? Maybe some of Greg Egan’s stuff.

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  6. Jarl
    March 5, 2024 @ 1:36 am

    The Solitract realm represents modern neofascist pagan ideals. It’s a chaotic demiurge in the form of a frog that exists on the other side of a magic mirror that steals a girl’s dad away because he’s depressed and losing contact with his real family.

    That’s all I got. Also I like the “Why do you have bear traps everywhere?” “Because there are bears.” exchange, that’s cute.

    Reply

  7. Corey Klemow
    March 5, 2024 @ 2:06 am

    The frog scene is not only my favorite scene in Chibnall Who, it’s up there with my favorite scenes in all of Doctor Who. The strangeness of it, grounded in the emotion of the Solitract’s terrible loneliness. The Whitaker Doctor as an endlessly kind and empathetic seeker and lover of wonders; I absolutely believed her when she said she’d happily stay with the Solitract if she could, just to get to explore a whole new universe. (Apologies to the poster above for whom this scene had terrible analogues in their own life.) And the music. It’s my favorite bit of music Segun Akinola composed for the show. I really liked Akinola overall, but I wish the era had had more episodes like this to give him more weird wonder to work with.

    So far as roads not taken, I’d argue that “Can You Hear Me?” (a story I know you didn’t think much of; I liked it a lot more than you did) at least tries to be the weird, anything can happen, emotionally resonant fantasy story of season 12, though the fantasy elements don’t land there anywhere near as well as they do here. But it does seem to me like an attempt to hit that same vibe. Who knows, maybe Chibnall originally planned to hit that vibe once a year? On first broadcast, “It Takes You Away” felt like a promise that the show wouldn’t completely forget to be strange, which was reassuring, even if once a year is far too infrequent for my tastes.

    Reply

    • Brian Block
      March 5, 2024 @ 9:48 am

      Oh, nothing terrible — I aimed for whimsical exaggeration, and in the absence of voice/ face cues, I clearly missed. It’s just we’re getting different things from the scene: to me, the ability to ooze empathy for a few minutes and then say “No” is one of the most ordinary human social skills. I’m glad you get something more from the scene, so love it all you want! But the wonder and conviction aren’t there for me personally, and I don’t think, without the Doctor doing anything real for the Solitract, they could have been.

      Reply

      • Einarr
        March 5, 2024 @ 2:17 pm

        This isn’t exactly to do with what you’re saying here, but if I may I’ll spring-board off your “without the Doctor doing anything real for the Solitract” comment:

        I remember at the time of broadcast that some fans were pretty upset with the decision to leave the Solitract alone at the end of the story, especially given the resolution to the other ‘problematic relationship’ (Erik’s with his Not-Real dead wife) was to ensure he returns to the real world of his daughter and his friends. But I think some of the objections might have been conflating two things: (a) when people deal with grief by seeking isolation, letting grief ‘take you away’ as Erik does, which is addressed by the need to grow up, accept your responsibilities, and live in the real world (more specifically in his case: being a proper parent for Hanne); and (b) dealing with isolation by constantly trying to draw others in, by honey-trap or emotional manipulation, and then growing up by no longer doing that, accepting that you’re enough and do not NEED to depend on other people (as the Doctor says to the Solitract, “keep on being brilliant by yourself”). So, yes, on a literal level of ‘if-this-frog-universe-really-existed’ it seems like a cruel plot resolution, but as a metaphor and counterpoint to Erik it’s quite effective.

        (It would probably be all the more so if the episode had spent a bit longer at the very end on just how badly they’re going to need Social Services to investigate Erik’s behaviour, and probably bucket-loads of therapy, rather than just the wishy-washy stuff about getting back to society and friendship circles. Although I suppose most DW stories ought to have the unspoken corollary about the guest cast that “and they all went along to therapy for several years afterwards”).

        Reply

        • Corey Klemow
          March 5, 2024 @ 2:35 pm

          Yeah, the lack of any real call-out for Erik’s behavior towards Hanne and acknowledgement of how it might affect his relationship with her going forward is, for me, the episode’s biggest flaw (and hoo boy, it’s a biggie). Its absence is so glaring – Erik never even apologizes to her – that it makes me wonder if there was a cut scene or a bit of cut dialogue. Really, it would have only taken a few lines. But this is the Chibnall era, so it also would not surprise me if nobody quite thought this element through. Sigh.

          Reply

          • Richard Pugree
            March 6, 2024 @ 7:39 pm

            Yes exactly. This is really the only one in the era I’ve had particular desire to watch again, and there’s lots to love about it – but it relies on just deciding not to think about Erik’s torturing of Hanne.

            As you say, a few lines could be enough to see that the episode acknowledged it, even if it wouldn’t be enough to make it ‘okay’.

            And now I’m thinking about 9t, I wonder if actually that makes this worse than Kerblam! in that regard. Becasue Kerblam, whilst it ends up being evil in the service of a narrative twist, at least has the blackly ironic line about the staff getting a month off with 2 weeks pay which to flagrantly signal that something is wrong here, even if the satire overall can’t quite decide what it’s target is. But It Takes You Away doesn’t even manage that.

  8. Anton B
    March 5, 2024 @ 5:21 am

    The Nordic folk horror setting was cool. The frog universe was a good rug-pull, heel turn, WTF moment that, pleasingly, had some NMD fans get their knickers in a twist. I genuinely thought the Doctor might choose to stay with her new friend in a new magical universe and, briefly, was made to contemplate what that might mean for the show (Oddly I think it might have meant we got The RTD2 magical realism era a few years early! So it’s no surprise Hard SF Chibnall swerved it).
    The other bits of sub Gaiman/Pratchett whimsy could have, (like in all of Whittaker’s episodes), benefited from a further editorial pass. However, ‘It Takes You Away’ is the only story from this era I remember with any fondness.

    Reply

  9. Arthur
    March 5, 2024 @ 8:06 am

    I don’t mind that the frog isn’t that convincing because it specifically is a fake frog. Inhabiting the uncanny valley a little or not quite passing the authenticity test is arguably exactly what the effect should be going for.

    And yeah, in retrospect this is the high water mark of the entire era. I used to think Demons of the Punjab took that prize, but that one has shrunk in my estimation since first watching it whereas It Takes You Away has grown (and I’d gladly rewatch ITYA it sooner than anything else in Jodie’s run). As good as DotP is in many respects, there’s the at best softballed, at worst sanitised politics you identify, plus fundamentally it puts a lot of narrative weight on multiple people closely examining a dead body and failing to notice a fatal gunshot wound.

    Reply

  10. Przemek
    March 5, 2024 @ 10:51 am

    The overwhelmingly positive reaction to the frog scene in this episode was one of the things that made me realize that I don’t really enjoy this level of weirdness in my media. The scene just made me raise my eyebrows and disengage emotionally from what was, until that point, an unusually interesting and enjoyable episode of the Chibnall era.

    Thanks for another great essay.

    Reply

  11. Jesse S
    March 5, 2024 @ 11:41 am

    I don’t think I’ve rewatched any of the 13th Doctor episodes, so I’m not sure if I have a strong opinion on the “best” Chibnall era episode. But I do remember that this was pretty much the only episode to give me anything near the same level of emotional engagement as the best Davies and Moffat era episodes. This was the first time in Series 11 that I felt that the show was even approaching the usual high water mark established for the new series, and sadly I don’t think it ever got as far again (though there were episodes here and there that I found enjoyable enough).

    Incidentally, I was shocked at reading that four episodes was the longest stretch without Chibnall’s name on the writing credit. I suppose some of that is due to the shorter seasons, but still… (For comparison, for Davies it is 8, in Series 4, and for Moffat it is 6, in Series 5 or 7b.) I also noticed that cowriting credits became more common in the Capaldi era, so I wonder if some of this also reflects BBC policy regarding writing credits.

    Reply

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