Doctor Who Series 11, Episode 9
“It Takes You Away”
Posted by Sage
Alt-universe stories are a dime a dozen these days, but with “It Takes You Away,” Doctor Who puts a devastating twist on that idea. Commonly, the other universes we’re introduced to are running parallel to the prime one, which comes with its own set of established circumstances – including but not limited to our characters meeting slightly or drastically different versions of themselves. But that’s not what the solitract is, and that’s not the experience that the Doctor and her companions have through the looking glass. No, this AU is encroaching, desperate to meld with our own even at the risk of being destroyed along with us. At least we’re with the right nutter.
It was pretty much guaranteed that this series of Doctor Who would tackle grief when Grace died tragically during the premiere. We knew logistically (because the BBC is Not Great™ at keeping secrets) that Sharon D. Clarke was returning eventually, but not how. This episode forces Graham to face his grief head-on, after deciding to run away from the terrestrial version of it for good back in “Arachnids in the UK.” Though he has the healthy notion that’s it’s good to talk and to think about Grace, he had to remove himself from the life he shared with her to be able to do it. And because I won’t consider any other option but the show not harming a hair on Graham’s head, odds are that he’s going to eventually going to have to re-settle into Sheffield, or at least on Earth. And to do that, he’s going to have to move into another stage of mourning.
Like “Heaven Sent,” “It Takes You Away” gives us a visual representation of grief. Twelve had the wall he had to punch through over several billion years of Groundhog Day. In this episode, we get Graham (and Erik, except Fuck That Guy) standing in front of a mirror – the person they lost, whole and healthy, on one side; the world without that person on the other, and a dark, treacherous journey in between. “It Takes You Away” is strange, even for this show, but it breaks down into simple pieces. The antizone represents the emotional journey that both Graham and Erik have to take, and if they choose to remain with the mirror versions of Grace and Trina, they’ll be lost to their real lives forever. Basic stuff, but so strangely executed that the overall effect is pleasantly haunting.
Of course, there are elements of the episode that go nowhere, and not just because it begins with what is revealed to be a massive fakeout. There is no monster in the woods outside of Hanne’s house. The monster is her father and his selfishness. The one criticism of the episode that it seems almost everyone agrees on is that Erik didn’t deserve to be redeemed, and, in fact, wasn’t. This man moved himself and his daughter out into the wilderness because he couldn’t be strong for her. Then, when he had the chance to regain his happiness, he sold her out, prioritizing his wife over his child, and himself above both of them. (“Erik! You got mirror married.”) Erik abandons Hanne – who is BLIND – then gaslights her, and would have stayed in the solitract forever unless Hanne herself hadn’t exposed his entire ass AND Mirror!Trina. The Doctor, Yaz, and Graham are disgusted when they first meet Hanne’s father and see what’s going on. At the end, they’ve warmed to him slightly, and they don’t see a problem with leaving this young girl with an emotionally abusive and neglectful parent. Hanne even says that her father had not been the same since her mother passed, hinting that there are some deep psychological wounds that need to be healed. Simply moving back into the city isn’t going to “fix” Erik on that front, and it was irresponsible for the show to let these larger issues go unaddressed.
Graham shows Erik up in every way. He, of course, is drawn to the memory of Grace, and boy, did Sharon and Bradley Walsh play those scenes beautifully. (“Don’t do this to me.”) But his number one concern is Ryan. Ryan’s safety, Ryan’s happiness – all of that comes before Graham’s, and it would come before Grace’s too. It’s a handy trick to pull back the curtain on the deception – though, so was Yaz’s determination that the real Grace would be barreling head-first through that mirror, whether it were known to be dangerous or not. But it also goes to show that Graham deserved Grace in every way. We didn’t get enough time with them together, but we have these moments to show us why they worked so well. Ryan became important to Graham as soon as Grace did, and those feelings didn’t fade when Grace died. If anything, they’ve become stronger. He is more protective of a young man who isn’t his flesh and blood, whom he’s only know for a few years, than Erik is of own daughter. And that saves all of them.
Unfortunately, the script doesn’t dig into Ryan’s grief, which is different than Graham’s but no less important to us. I understand why it was Graham, and not Ryan, who went through the mirror and met Grace, however. Grace was his nan, it was surely her hope that he would outlive her by MANY years, and it would be less believable that any version of her would ask him to stay with her. Presumably, she expected Ryan to leave their home someday soon, and set out on his own or with someone else. Plus, the plea that Mirror!Grace made was inherently romantic – the “we didn’t have enough time” thing doesn’t REALLY work with a grandmother/grandson dynamic. That absolutely applies to Grace and Graham though. They met late in their lives, so perhaps they already felt some regret there. And they were only together for a few years before they were permanently separated. “All my life I was looking for you, then I found you,” Graham says. “I was so happy.”
At the same time, I don’t LOVE the way Ryan’s emotional life was treated in this episode, with one major exception. Despite his issues with his awful deadbeat father, the Ryan I’ve gotten to know wouldn’t be so casually cruel to a child. His reticence to believe that something really happened to Erik feels device-y, even though he was absolutely right in a way. Ryan knows that parents are not infallible, and that they can be arrogant and weak. But he wasn’t allowed to express those feelings in a very nuanced manner. He’s better than that, and he’s been WRITTEN better than that.
However, this was THE perfect time to deploy “granddad,” which I’ve been waiting for since Episode 1. Ryan tells Graham he “heard” that he saw Grace in the mirror, which means Yaz probably also told him how Graham was convinced to leave. It’s not the only proof Ryan has that he’s wanted and loved by his step-grandfather, but, in this case, he finds out that Graham’s love for him actually saved reality. Ryan shows so much emotional intelligence in that moment that it makes his earlier behavior seem even more out-of-character. At least he had something to do, though – unlike Yaz, who was just sort of along for the ride in this one.
So if the solitract isn’t an alternate universe as we’ve come to think of them, what it is?
I think it’s sadness. It wants you, because your emotions feed it. It’s always trying to get in and get a piece of you. But it’s no villain. And that’s why, in the end, it takes the shape of a frog – something Grace loved. Well, for that, and also for the memes.
So far, Jodie’s “I am the Doctor” moments are tonally so different from the ones we’ve gotten from other modern Doctors. Her appeal and speech to the solitract hews closest to Eleven’s tearful monologue in “Rings of Akhaten,” as many gifsets have pointed out. But while Eleven was satiating a hungry, vengeful god, Thirteen is trying to extricate herself from a clingy friend. (“I will dream of you. Out there, without me.”) She parts from it as gently as she can, because something about the two of them together makes all the sense in the world. It feels like Prior’s “more life” moment in Angels in America – because as tempting as it is to be handed all the secrets of existence, it’s much more rewarding to find a few more out for yourself.
Timey Wimey Observations
- I…have nothing to say about Ribbons. What was that even about?
- If you didn’t think about Slartibartfast the moment the TARDIS landed in Norway, please turn in your geek card.
- Would watch a miniseries about the Woolly Rebellion starring Liam Cunningham.
- “We’d know if we were vampires, right?”
- It warms my heart that the Doctor is so proud of the sonic that SHE built.
- “All of us got lured, it’s not like I gave it credit card details.” NEVER CHANGE, GRAHAM O’BRIEN.
- “Relax. Enjoy Ribbons.” “Oh, we are.”
- Doctor/Yaz shippers, you guys okay?
- “How’s that for an old codger, aye Two Knives?”
- We all agree that Granny 2 WAS a secret agent of the Zygons, right?
- Graham telling Grace about Rosa Parks KILLT ME.
- “Always pack a snack” is just good travel advice!
- IT WAS A FROG. That trailer scene we were all so worried about? She was blowing a kiss. To a frog.
What’d you think about “It Takes You Away”? Let us know in the comments!
Featured Image Source: BBC