By JD Phillips
Where the hell did that come from?
Before this season began, I had high expectations for this show to add a new sense of style and urgency. While there have been a few high notes that reflected my expectations this season, most of the episodes have been pretty standard as far as this show has been the last decade. Then there’s “It Takes You Away” which starts like an average horror episode of the show but then creates a completely new style that leads you into a labyrinth of fear and heartbreak. I want every sci-fi episode of the show to come from the same bizarre mindscape this episode came from because it was wild.
An episode about a blind girl all alone with a scary monster in the woods is a pretty normal plot for the show. Luckily, all of that was just a red herring for the strange journey that was to come. Once the Doctor, Graham, and Yaz stepped through that mirror, the show itself became a whole new entity altogether. The lighting, music, set design, and costume design were completely different from everything that’s been done before. It was like some strange mix of a moody Panos Cosmatos film and Jim Henson’s “Labyrinth”. It had a creepy troll, a magical balloon lantern that cast eerie red light, man-eating moth monsters, and a magnificently bizarre toad puppet. This is a far cry from the CGI gremlin we got in episode 5.
Our cast delivered another standout performance this week as once again every character was well utilized. This week though, it was Graham and Ryan who got the spotlight. About thirty-five minutes into this episode, it decided to drive a well-placed knife right into the audience’s heart when it seemingly brought Grace back from the dead. That character made such a great impression in the first episode that there has been a Grace shaped void in the following eight episodes. When she turned around, for the briefest moment I believed the show had found a way to bring her back. That maybe she’d join Team Tardis with her husband and grandson.
But that’s not how this show goes. This episode’s monster, the Solitract was a different kind of antagonist. Its evil plan wasn’t to destroy the universe or conquer a planet. All it wanted was to not be alone anymore. So it used people who felt horribly alone in their grief as a way of traveling to our world. It’s a beautifully tragic entity that’s made all the more so by how simple its effectiveness was. I felt a push and pull myself whether I wanted Graham to take Grace through the portal with him. It was a painful journey from Graham’s acceptance of the imposter Grace to realizing that the real thing would never put her grandson in danger. Bradley Walsh has given outstanding performances in every episode, but I do believe this was his best.
At the end of the episode, right when you feel the full weight of Graham’s pain and sacrifice they offer another beautiful moment. Ryan finally accepts Graham as his granddad. It was a heartwarming moment that was placed in exactly the right spot this season. Ryan’s character is starting to come to grips with the loss of his Gran and his father’s abandonment. He finally sees who his real family is. The show felt like it was moving towards this moment since episode one and when it finally arrived, they played it perfectly.
Not that everything was perfect in this episode, however. I find it to be very out of character for the Doctor to be outsmarted by a simple cave alien that makes Gollum look like a genius. We’ve seen this character outsmart so many enemies in the past that it was a really disappointing moment when Seven Stomachs pulled that second knife to the Doctor’s surprise. I feel like this Doctor is trusting to a fault. Hopefully, that’s a quality they are planning on exploiting at some point in the future and not just a character defect. It’s hard to imagine Peter Capaldi falling victim to the two knives swindle. The oldest trick in the book.
That’s not to say Whittaker didn’t still give an amazing performance for the rest of the episode. Her compassion and deep sense of empathy really distinguish her from the cold, distant Doctors we’ve had before. I would just love to see a scene where she has to come to grips with the fact that she cannot always be the nice Doctor. It would be interesting to see an episode where she is pushed to showing the darker sides she seems so hellbent on keeping at bay.
All in all, this was a fabulous episode of “Doctor Who” which hopefully sets a new style standard for the show. I hope the sci-fi episodes continue to be more like this one than most of the others this season.