In the ninth and penultimate episode of the eleventh series of Doctor Who, the team finds a young blind girl alone in a cabin in a remote part of Norway, terrified that she’ll be taken away next. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
Trigger Warning: For extensive discussion of grief/death, and for mention of ableism.
Why is this show determined to destroy me!!!
The House in the Woods
Oh, this episode starts off with some great horror tropes, and I love that it goes in a direction I never could have guessed from those earlier scenes. I think that’s partially due to audience knowledge, which I’ll get to in a bit when I’m discussing the Solitract. I just accepted that what was happening was real and that Ryan’s assertion—that Hanne’s father willingly left her—wasn’t true. But that’s the cleverness of this script! This story is set in an isolated locale, one where it’s believable that some sort of mysterious creature is tormenting the father and daughter who live there. It’s also believable that this monster either kidnapped or ate Hanne’s father because… well, the alternative is so grim, isn’t it?
And so, we watch as yet again, the companions all willingly rush into the face of potential danger in order to help someone. As I said before, it’s a pleasure to have seen all three companions grow as characters and in their own bravery over the course of series eleven. The initial scenes of them trying to determine what’s wrong with this house in the middle of a Norwegian forest are tense and upsetting, especially once they meet Hanne and her story is really, really awful? But I liked that there was also an interpersonal conflict mixed in with it, that Ryan butted heads with Hanne, but then had to learn to overcome his belief that he was “rubbish” with kids. These two characters started off on the wrong foot, and then spent most of the episode… well, hold up, there was that moment where Hanne knocked out Ryan with a door.
I am very, very thankful that every aspect of “It Takes You Away” is committed to being THE WEIRDEST THING POSSIBLE. Virtually nothing about this episode is comfortable or recognizable or familiar. The design for the Antizone—a weird buffer “space” that exists to protect universes from damage—is dark. Creepy. Claustrophobic. AND THEN THERE ARE FLESH MOTHS? And weird sources of red light that just look like balloons? And we never really find out where Ribbons came from or what species he was or what he was actually trying to do. He’s just a bizarre fucking character in the midst of a nightmare realm. And yet, it all made a weird sort of sense to me? If Antizones are inherently places made to protect from one universe from mixing with another, a dark, twisting cavern full of flesh-eating moths that fixate on light and motion is a pretty effective system. Maybe that’s where Ribbons came from: he was created by the Antizone as a protection method. Regardless, there was a metaphorical meaning to that place: these people traveled through a hell in order to find… what? Heaven? Hope? It certainly seemed to be a better world.
Now, it’s possible that the Solitract was mentioned in a past episode or in the Classic series. But I operated under the understanding that this was the very first mention of it on Doctor Who. Which is fine! Yes, it meant that guessing the outcome of this story was pretty much impossible, but that didn’t bother me. The story that the Doctor tells us as she figures out what is going on is emotional enough, and the ramifications of the Solitract are just so goddamn hearbreaking that this all worked for me. I didn’t realize it until later that the Doctor nearly figured this out when she said that Graham was “lured” by the portal. JESUS, SHE WAS RIGHT.
That luring, though, is just.. holy shit, y’all. This episode punched me right in the heart. I remarked recently that this season feels like Doctor Who plunging into the future, undaunted and unattached. I’m beginning to think that was intentional, that Grace’s death was planted earlier so that there’d be two characters dealing with grief. In particular, Graham traveled with the Doctor to specifically escape his grief. He couldn’t stay in his home with traces of Grace all around him. And so, he traveled the known universe. He became closer with his step-grandson. He made friends with Yaz and the Doctor and he saved lives and he nearly died and he lived.
And then the Solitract lured him into their world with an image of Grace.
It makes a heart-rending amount of sense. The Solitract, unable to exist in our universe, desired companionship so much that they created an entire world they thought we would love to live in. This was not malicious; it was an act of love and desperation. That doesn’t make this any less cruel, of course, and watching Graham interact with the image of his dead wife was TRULY FAR TOO MUCH. Because this seemed so real to him. How could he leave her behind? How could he lose her all over again? Oh god, and then there was Erik, who LEFT HIS DAUGHTER BEHIND so he could be with his dead wife. Oh my god??? That reveal was so deeply fucked up, y’all, and I am glad we got that chilling moment where the Doctor glared at Erik once he was back home and saw the message scrawled on the wall.
But I will say that this episode does a fine job of showing what grief can do. Erik’s reaction is extreme, of course, but that’s why the Solitract’s world was so appealing. What if you could be with the person you lost again? What if you could pick things up right where they were left off? What if you could stay with them forever?
The other shoe eventually dropped, but not before the Doctor gave herself up to save the humans. It is in this that the show goes EVEN WEIRDER, and I am so goddamn happy that the Solitract just appeared as a talking frog and we just have to accept that. I found it easy to do so because of how emotional that final scene was, and Jodie Whittaker completely stole the show. She had to portray the Doctor’s genuine joy at becoming friends with the Solitract, only to then immediately ask them to let her go, lest the Solitract’s universe collapse from the instability. The Solitract was just lonely.
Hi, who allowed this?
So, as I’m about to go into the finale, I just want to say what a pleasure this has been. I’ve loved every single one of these episodes, and I’m so impressed with what Chibnall has done with the show, y’all. It’s so consistently good and rewarding and emotional, and you can consider me a STAN for Thirteen. AND ALL THREE COMPANIONS. I’m not ready for this ride to be over!!!
The video for “It Takes You Away” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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