Doctor Who: It Takes You Away
(1 episode, s11e09, 2018)
Ribbit… or is it tibbir?
The TARDIS lands in a Nordic forest. The companions enjoy the views while the Doctor confirms the time and place by tasting the grass, then everyone jumps when the Doctor spots a sheep. She determines that they are in 2018, leaving 193 years before the great Woolly Rebellion, an event that forced a renegotiation of the entire human-sheep relationship on Earth.
The team sets their sights on a distant cabin, and the Doctor wonders why there’s no evidence of smoke from the chimney despite it being the middle of winter. The cabin is boarded up but Ryan catches a bit of movement through the window. The Doctor uses her sonic screwdriver to unlock the three locks on the front door and the team investigates. Ryan finds a girl hiding in the upstairs wardrobe, but she refuses to move when the Doctor asks. Once Graham offers up his emergency sandwich(!), the girl joins the team in the kitchen.
The girl’s name is Hanne and she’s afraid of the thing from which her father was defending the house. She can’t explain what the thing looks like because she’s blind, but she knows that her father disappeared four days ago. She asks the Doctor for help.
Ryan’s not great with kids, but Yaz immediately bonds with Hanne over a t-shirt for the Arctic Monkeys band. Hanne knows that her father didn’t simply leave her because the boat is still tied up nearby. Hanne gets nervous when her watch beeps, signaling the daily hunting time for the beast. As Yaz and Ryan scout around, they find animal traps and hear a loud roar. The team convenes outside but can’t find a beast to accompany the roar, so the Doctor orders everyone to secure the house.
Upstairs, Graham sees a mirror that doesn’t reflect his image. Ryan wonders if they are vampires before the mirror bleeds strange energy and the Doctor arrives. The mirror changes to normal for a moment before shifting again, but the Doctor is able to lock it in phase and take a look inside. The mirror is a portal to another dimension, and the Doctor decides to take another look but wants to leave Ryan behind to look after Hanne. She writes “Assume her dad is dead. Keep her safe. Find out who else can take care of her.” on the wall, telling Hanne that it’s a map of the house for Ryan’s benefit. Then the Doctor, Graham, and Yaz enter the mirror in search of Hanne’s father, Erik.
What lies beyond is a foggy and narrow cave. After leaving a trail of string to find their way home, they follow a light to a strange being named Ribbons. Ribbons offers his lantern in exchange for the sonic screwdriver (which looks pretty), and the Doctor promises payment upon delivery if Ribbons can show them the way to Erik.
As they progress, the team is introduced to killer flesh moths which Ribbons lures away with dead rats. He then cuts the thread while the team is distracted and betrays the team. As flesh moths descend, Ribbons mentions that this place is an anti-zone, a buffer that appears wherever the fabric of spacetime is threatened. The flesh moths extinguish the lantern and Ribbons tries to run after snatching the sonic screwdriver, but Graham stops him. The Doctor warns the team to stand still, but Ribbons tries to grab the sonic and is consumed by the moths. While the moths are busy, the team runs to a nearby portal and escapes, but they’re on the other side of the mirror.
Back in normal space, Hanne calls Ryan’s bluff about the map. Hanne is upset about Ryan’s attitude, but they team up when the roars come closer. Ryan finds a wire and follows it to a speaker, discovering that the roars are a recording. Ryan runs back to tell Hanne, but she knocks him out and goes through the mirror. When he comes to, Ryan pursues.
In the mirror world, the team finds a beautiful and tidy cabin. They also find Erik, wearing a Slayer t-shirt with a backward logo, and a revelation: The monster is a recording. Erik tried to keep Hanne safe while he was gone because Trine (Hanne’s mother) is in the mirror zone. Or rather, her mirror universe version exists here, but cannot travel through the mirror. The team is also introduced to another traveler.
Grace is here.
Both of the women have memories of their lives before death. Graham tells Grace all about his adventures with the Doctor, but he’s unsure if he can trust Grace until she explains her passion for frogs. Meanwhile, the Doctor tells Yaz about the Solitract, a story that her fifth grandmother shared when the Doctor was a child. It existed at the start of the universe along with all of the other elements, but it couldn’t exist in the universe so it was exiled to another plane so it could exist naturally. The Solitract isn’t malevolent. It’s just lonely. But because of its nature, nothing from this universe cannot enter N-Space.
Graham and Erik have to choose between life here with their loved ones or their real lives in the normal universe.
As this detail is made clear, Ryan and Hanne navigate the anti-zone. Ryan sends Hanne ahead while he distracts the flesh moths. Hanne is overjoyed to find Erik but is not convinced that Trine is her mother. The world around them is falling apart since it is full of incompatible N-Space energy, but the Solitract wants to keep them as a cure for its loneliness. When the travelers reject the Solitract, they are knocked back into the anti-zone, and the Doctor offers herself in exchange for the others. She will stay behind since she’s seen the universe that the Solitract misses. The Solitract rejects Erik to save its universe.
Then the mirror universe goes white.
When it resolves again, the Doctor is faced with a skeleton of the cabin’s attic and a frog sitting on a chair. It speaks to the Doctor in Grace’s voice, taking an avatar that once delighted Grace. The Doctor begins to vibrate as the universe continues to destabilize, and the Doctor makes the case that the Solitract cannot survive if it holds on to what it cannot have. The Doctor tells the Solitract that they will remain friends even in her absence, and the Solitract sends her back into the anti-zone.
Everyone runs back to N-Space as the anti-zone collapses. The Doctor seals the portal behind them as the survivors come to terms with their losses. Erik and Hanne plan to move back to Oslo and start again, and Hanne is proud of her father for coming to terms with Trine’s death. Ryan and Graham talk about how Grace would react to this adventure, and Ryan finally calls him granddad. Together, they join their TARDIS family and set course for a new time and space.
I’m going to avoid a Calgon joke.
This is a beautiful story without a true villain. Instead, the Solitract is lonely, and to make connections, it offers companionship to those who grieve. Erik and Graham both get to heal a bit from their grief, and they extend this to their dependents. Graham specifically makes a deeper connection with Ryan through their shared trauma.
Now, I understand the Solitract taking a frog’s form in honor of Grace, but I think it would have had a better impact if it had taken a form that would tempt the Doctor to stay. Sure, the Doctor is tempted by this Time Lord fairy tale, but the whole point of the Solitract’s game was to bait companions with someone they miss. The perfect avatar would have been Susan, extending some goodwill with the return of Carole Ann Ford.
After all, “one day, I will come back”… yet the Doctor never really has on television, have they? Instead, we get another fast ending and more questions about things we’ll likely never see again.
The casting was great with Eleanor Wallwork, the first blind actor in Doctor Who to play a blind character. That degree of authenticity was wonderful, as was the general low-budget horror atmosphere of this kinda spooky tale.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.