This week’s adventure brought Team TARDIS back to the present day, with a trip to Norway for a tale which appeared to promise far more than it delivered. If you will excuse the awful pun, it certainly wasn’t a fjord fiesta.
The Doctor and friends happen across a remote cottage which is boarded up, and contains a frightened young blind girl, Hanne (Eleanor Wallwork), who is hiding from a monster which apparently took her father away. However, things are not quite as straightforward as they seem, and the Doctor happens upon a portal which leads – via a dangerous buffer zone between realities – to the Solitract, a sentient universe trapped in a pocket dimension which she first heard about in a Gallifreyan fairy tale.
The remote Nordic setting indicated that we were in for a ghostly or supernatural tale, which made it surprising to see that the ‘villain’ of the piece turned out to be a misunderstood alien consciousness who just wanted to make friends. It seemed to harken back rather frustratingly not only to Steven Moffat’s time as showrunner, but also some of the weaker elements of Series 11, where there ends up being no actual bad guy. As mentioned in an earlier review, sometimes you just need to have a monster or evildoer behind a nefarious scheme or plot, as this is happening with annoying regularity, and becoming a real Achilles’ heel for the show in recent years.
However, with the lonely being creating a honey trap by manifesting itself in visions of departed loved ones, it gave us another chance to see the beautiful and heartfelt interaction between Graham (Bradley Walsh) and his late wife Grace (Sharon D. Clarke). Walsh has consistently been the MVP in the latest series for most of its run, as he has managed to provide the most rounded supporting character out of the trio of Graham, Ryan and Yaz, helped by some strong writing. Graham’s anguish at realising Grace was actually an illusion really was palpable: similarly, his joy as Ryan called him ‘Grandad’ for the first time. Walsh showed again why Doctor Who is all the richer for having him as a part of the lineup.
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it was also nice to see Yaz (Mandip Gill) getting the opportunity to use her Police training to take charge of the situation, as it can sometimes be the case companions’ attributes end up forgotten or sidelined. Sadly, the short straw this week was drawn by Ryan (Tosin Cole), who gets the least amount of action, relegated to effectively babysitting duties for much of his screen time, before getting suckered and knocked out; all he needed to do was twist his ankle, and he would have a full house on a ‘companion bingo’ scorecard.
At the centre of the episode was Hanne, with a bold piece of casting by having a blind actress playing the role. With all the accusations of diversity box ticking which have been bandied about by critics of the latest series, this will no doubt have come across as another example of the show’s alleged SJW agenda; however, as Eleanor Wallwork turned in a strong performance as Hanne, she should surely be judged on that basis alone. It was, however, a real shame to see the character ending up being sidelined about halfway into the story, as it felt as though she really needed to be at the forefront all the way through.
It really was a big disappointment to see Kevin Eldon’s first ever turn in a televised Doctor Who story (as he was in an audio adventure a while back) come as such a wasted opportunity. His character – the oddly-named Ribbons – was a resident of the buffer zone between realities, and served no real function, either in terms of driving the plot forward, or having any real purpose in being there. It was also a rather strange, arch performance which acted as a rather odd tonal shift and took you out of the story. Basically, the story would have worked just as well – if not better – without his brief appearance, which was utterly superfluous.
Special mention must be made of Jodie Whittaker, who continues to grow into the role of the Doctor. She gets well served by Ed Hime’s script, with plenty of intrinsic ‘Doctor’ishness, from tasting the dirt and confidently proclaiming about everything from the country and era, to babbling about a future sheep uprising, and even getting to reverse the polarity with her Sonic Screwdriver in best Jon Pertwee fashion. Whittaker also manages to carry off the gravity of the moment when the Doctor chooses to sacrifice herself to save the Solitract and our universe. There is so much to love here that if you have yet to board the Jodie Whittaker train, then it sadly seems unlikely you ever will. Which will be your loss, quite frankly.
Visually, the episode was a delight, from the fresh, open airiness of its depiction of a Norwegian fjord, to the threatening and shadowy Anti-Zone which separated the two worlds. Director Jamie Childs has done a strong job this year with helming ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’ and ‘Demons Of The Punjab’, convincingly delivering some very different locales, and his winning streak has continued with ‘It Takes You Away’. However, it seems the old adage about polishing a turd rings true, and Childs can only do so much with trying to make the ridiculous sight of the Solitract manifesting itself as a frog with Grace’s voice seem even vaguely convincing, and not the embarrassing spectacle it ultimately comes across as.
Overall, ‘It Takes You Away’ is a very odd beast indeed, and could have been a far stronger episode than the one we actually got. Probably the joint clunker of the season along with ‘Arachnids In The UK’. A real pity to see the series take a misstep like this after such a strong run of several consecutive winners. Hopefully, things will be back on track for next week’s big finale.