Doctor Who 'It Takes You Away': it tries too hard to be too many things
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
Doctor Who has, over the years, transcended the science-fiction genre. It is more than a sci-fi with bug-eyed monsters from outer space. The long-running series has been running for 55 years and counting in television and audio adventures, as well as on the pages of innumerous novels and stories. The secret to its success is that it is willing to be more than one thing.
It is a comedy, a tragedy, a mystery, a romance, a historical epic, a horror, and a satire. For the last half century, it has made children (and some adults) hide behind their sofas as the Doctor and his/her companions face spooky threats. Writers have turned every day objects and things into horrors - whether it is statues that move when you blink, shadows that eat flesh, or Nazi pepper pots.
It has also made audiences laugh, even in the face of danger. Children have been introduced to historical figures from Richard the Lionheart to Napoleon Bonaparte, William Shakespeare to Charles Dickens. In the latest series, with Jodie Whittaker at the helm of the TARDIS, the Doctor has met Rosa Parks and King James VI and I.
In her latest adventure with the Team TARDIS made up of Yaz, Ryan and Graham, 'It Takes You Away' managed to transcend multiple genres in just one episode. At first, it was a Scandi-noir with a hint of horror. The cinematography was gorgeous, as the threat was slowly built up. It then travelled to the sci-fi with multiple universes, sinister aliens, and the Gallifreyan fairytale of the Solitract.
This was an episode that could have easily stuck with one genre, and excelled. And perhaps there lies the problem: it was trying to be too many things at once. It could have scared the living bejesus out of viewers with the monster in the woods (which didn't turn out to be one after all), Ribbons, played by the unrecognisable Kevin Eldon, and the Flesh Moths were a credible and creepy threat, and the mirror universe would have been an emotional conundrum by itself.
The Doctor and Team TARDIS travelled to Norway in 2018, where they come across young blind girl, Hanne, alone and wanting her father in a fortified cottage. A mirror in the cottage with a chimney but no smoke turns out to be a portal into a mirror universe, controlled by an all-seeing universe that is not compatible with ours.
It conjured up the deceased to appeal to people from our universe, including Grace, Graham's wife who was killed in the first episode of Series 11. Bradley Walsh was excellent again, portraying grief and anguish in a quiet, dignified performance. It was utterly heart-breaking for the character, and tear-jerking for this Whovian.
And then came the frog. Yes, a talking frog. Nope, Kermit did not make a cameo. In what should have been a powerful moment in the episode, the mirror universe took on the image of a talking frog, voiced by Grace. It was surreal and silly, and only could work in Doctor Who. But it didn't work - it was a distraction from the real emotion.
'It Takes You Away' had many elements that worked, but not necessarily contained within the one episode. It tried too hard to be many things, whilst simplicity would have sufficed.
Doctor Who returns next Sunday on BBC One with its series finale 'The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos', penned by showrunner Chris Chibnall.