Series 11 – Episode 9
When the Tardis arrives above a Norwegian fjord, the Doctor’s team find blind teenager Hanne abandoned by her father in a remote lodge and traumatised by faked monsters. A mirror in the loft is a portal to an anti-zone, a gloomy buffer between realities, where they encounter a shifty alien called Ribbons and flesh-eating moths. A second portal leads to another domain, the Solitract, a consciousness expelled since the dawn of time. Benign but lonely, it tempts visitors to stay with visions of dead loved ones, including Graham’s former wife, Grace. When the Doctor befriends the Solitract, it takes the form of a frog but she must leave it alone again.
First UK broadcast
Sunday 2 December 2018
The Doctor – Jodie Whittaker
Graham O’Brien – Bradley Walsh
Ryan Sinclair – Tosin Cole
Yasmin Khan – Mandip Gill
Ribbons – Kevin Eldon
Hanne – Ellie Wallwork
Erik – Christian Rubeck
Trine – Lisa Stokke
Grace – Sharon D Clarke
Writer – Ed Hime
Director – Jamie Childs
Series producer – Nikki Wilson
Music – Segun Akinola
Designer – Arwel Wyn Jones
Executive producers – Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens
RT review by Patrick Mulkern
It Takes You Away begins well and ends well. The opening treats us to a gorgeous vista of Norwegian forest and fjord, the police box nestling iconically among the undergrowth. The travellers’ investigation of a barricaded wooden lodge offers a few mini-chills, until its lone occupant, a blind child Hanne, is discovered, abandoned by her father. So far, so Nordic noir.
The conclusion back at the Tardis is also reasonably satisfying, delivering a long-anticipated, tender punch as Ryan finally connects with Graham, opens his heart and calls him Granddad. Surely, the main purpose of this episode was to concoct a “Grace ghost” that would bring Ryan and Graham together.
But what happens between these points? Well, it’s almost as if a noir-ish thriller shimmers into 1960s Lost in Space, tumbling through a mirror into a dark dimension and coshing us with its Shifty Alien Of The Week. (I adored Lost in Space as a nipper but Doctor Who was always by far the better programme.)
Kevin Eldon (the likeable comedy actor and writer) has the challenge of portraying “Ribbons of the seven stomachs”, a scavenger who smells of someone else’s wee, an annoying, duplicitous weirdo who is the time travellers’ only guide through this murky netherworld. Unfathomably, Ribbons carries a lantern in a domain plagued by flesh-eating moths and he isn’t mourned when he carks it.
It Takes You Away is for the most part staggeringly dull. Odd, because the writer Ed Hime generates potentially intriguing ideas: the mirror/portal; the anti-zone, described as “a protective buffer to keep threats at bay”; the aforementioned moths; and the Solitract. “A whole conscious universe” going back to the dawn of time, it’s actually just a bit lonely, poor thing, and is eventually – don’t snigger! – embodied as a solemn frog squatting on a chair.
It’s soon apparent that the anti-zone is not just a buffer between universes but tedious filler in the narrative. The subsequent Solitract tract isn’t exactly riveting, either. It’s deadened by screeds of chitchat as any viewer still awake waits for the “dead wives” to show their hand – literally, as an outstretched palm conveniently flings each character back into the anti-zzzzone.
I don’t buy the idea of Erik having left his blind daughter for days on end with just scraps of food and rigging loudspeakers to freak her into not venturing out. No matter how lost in grief he was or how happy he is to see his dead wife, he’s a character in search of conviction. How did he flit with ease between universes to set up the lodge for Hanne? Why not take her with him from the start?
The script doesn’t pause to flesh Erik out or give him redemption, or waste time with Solitract temptations for the Doctor and Yaz. It’s in haste to secure that series tent-pole of reuniting Graham with Grace. We probably all guessed we’d get at least one more sighting of Sharon D Clarke, who still makes me wish she’d been part of the Tardis team all along.
On a positive note – and I do look for them, reader! – young blind actress Ellie Wallwork convinces as the traumatised but on-the-ball Hanne, while the casting of Norwegian actors Christian Rubeck and Lisa Stokke as her parents adds a veneer of authenticity.
Against the odds, Jodie Whittaker excels in her final exchange with the frog – alone in a white space, acting in reality with nothing. It’s like an audition piece. She radiates a beautiful spirit, some of that ethereal luminance promised in her debut as the Hooded Woman in BBC1’s big reveal. A quality that hasn’t really materialised in series 11 as she’s galumphed around.
On balance, It Takes You Away is a disappointing excursion and mostly plays like some generic dreck you’d stumble upon while channel-hopping through the higher numbers on your TV Guide, tolerate for 30 seconds before moving hastily on. Extraordinarily, it’s going out under the banner of Doctor Who on primetime BBC1.