Doctor Who: Thoroughly Ambitious, Radical Story Investigates Sadness

by thethreepennyguignol

You know what’s nice? Actually looking forward to Doctor Who on a Sunday night.

For so long, Doctor Who was something I approached with…trepidation? I know that’s a ridiculous thing to say about a TV show, but this is a show that meant so damn much to me and it just continued to disappoint me. Week after week, Steven Moffat would walk directly into my living room and poke me in the eye for forty minutes, and I guess at some point I stopped enjoying it, somehow. Even a few wobbles  early in this season had me nervous, but after a few great weeks, I’m finally back at a place where I look forward to curling up with my cat and my man in his Tardis dressing gown and watching this show that I have loved for almost my entire life.

But anyway, enough with the soppy stuff, and let’s get into the recap. This week’s episode, It Takes You Away, is one of the first-present day outings we’ve had in a long time, and I’ve been looking forward to it for a while: some real horror, some familiar settings, something to get the kids diving behind the sofa where they belong. The episodes follows a young woman in a Norwegian fjord (for which she is, perhaps, pining) who has barricaded herself in her cottage against the onslaught of monsters she claims are after her.

But that’s really just a macguffin that the episode uses to set us of on the kind of bonkers, brilliant journey I haven’t seen on Who for a really long damn time. It’s soon revealed that Hannae (the young girl in question) has lost her father to an interdimensional portal, beyond which lies a pocket universe containing his late wife – and Grace, Graham’s lost love from episode one. Trying to explain the wild direction this story actually takes is going to be a bit of a fool’s errand, so I’m just going to assume you’ve seen it and know what I’m talking about and get straight to the review.

Like so many episodes this season, this story felt as though it was just bursting with ideas and ambition in everything it wanted to put on our screens this week. The path between dimensions, guarded by a grimly Pratchett-esque ferryman, was gorgeous; the direction was handsome, cinematic, and felt genuinely fresh. The alternate universe taking the form of a badly-animated frog was just the most deliciously Douglas Adams thing I’ve seen in a long time, and I actually loved how ropey it looked, given that it was meant to have been tossed together by an alien life-form on the fly. Jodie Whittaker this week had to pull out the harshness for a change, lending a depth to her compassion and reminding us that her kindness doesn’t always come from doing what everyone around her wants, as well as reminding everyone just how tremendous an actor she can be.

But for all the hugeness of this story, it’s the small details of this episode that really make it stand out as a truly excellent season of television. You can throw all the fantasy and sci-fi you want at a script, but if you can’t ground it in something real, it’s just frippery. It Takes You Away is a wonderful misnomer of a title – it conjures images of creatures emerging from the woods to carry you off into the night, but it’s nothing to do with that. Instead, it’s the places that grief takes us – Graham, upon meeting Grace again, tells her that he is lost without her, and that’s really the running theme of this episode. Hannae’s father has literally fled his own life and his own mind, so devastated by grief that he has to escape the real world where that pain exists. There’s echoes of Father’s Day to this episode (one of my all-time favourite DW outings), with the gruelling emotional reality of being willing to destroy the world to bring back someone you loved. It’s brutal, heartfelt, and finds a lyricism in the grinding pain of loss.

For me, this is one of the best episodes of the season, and not for the silly funny frogs and sandwiches and sheep rebellions. For all the oddness, It Takes You Away feels the most grounded outing of Chibnall’s run so far, finding humanity in the hilarity of this absurdist storyline. It’s a magical hour of television, and a strident step forward in just what Doctor Who can be under the showrunnership of Chris Chibnall.

What did you think of this ambitious little? How are you enjoying the season so far? Let me know in the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter or Tumblr! If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to check out the rest of my Doctor Who recaps right here, and also check in with my other recapping projects – I’m currently covering the first Harry Potter book as well as the current seasons of Riverdale and Vikings. If you want to read some of my fiction, please check out the ALPHA FEMALE erotica series (eighteen-plus, obviously), available on Amazon now. As ever, if you want to see more stuff like this, please consider supporting me on Patreon!

(header image via Digital Spy)