As talking points go, a speaking frog is probably going to end up making the Kandy Man look like Davros in the pantheon of unexpected antagonists. And in the middle of this back-to-basics version of Doctor Who, the Solitract’s chosen form was such an incongruous visual, it will have had viewers frozen mid-sip wondering if their television was playing tricks on them – and perhaps not especially well-conceived tricks either, as the physical frog was somewhat less articulate than its master. For the longer term fan, this was a jump-the-pond moment that can be pointed at with loud cries of ‘I told you so!’ directed at the basement ceiling. But for those of us who are prepared to let the programme turn its attention occasionally to places like the Land of Fiction or the inside of the Confessional Dial, this was simply evidence that Doctor Who – even in its current Sunday evening iteration – hasn’t lost its sense of wonder and imagination, and is still prepared to give them an occasional free rein.
But oh boy, that frog came mighty close to taking us right out of It Takes You Away.
If you’re looking for a location in which to set a mythology-deconstructing narrative, a remote wooden cabin as close to the top of the world as you can reasonably get was as appropriate as any other. Only time will tell quite how successful Hime has been at blending his influences, but what threatened to be 2018’s Fear Her might have turned out to be Series Eleven’s Kinda instead; or rather, and especially being in the penultimate slot of the run, this was The Metaphysical Mirror, or What Graham Did.
There were two stories taking place here, and whatever you might think of the current production’s Sunday evening execution – in which Jodie Whittaker instantly removed most of the mysteries by immediately telling us what was going on every time anything strange happened – you can’t fault Hime for stacking up his building blocks with careful attention to what each of them was saying, and it was nice to see some disguise about the theme and destination too. So what this was really about was the relationship between Ryan and Graham, given a classic ‘Is this really your dead wife/grandmother returned to life?’ spin.
We began with an abandoned blind child, whose mother had died and whose father had disappeared, and as this plot unfolded it became clear that abdication of duty – whether voluntary or not – was part of the issue. Cue Ryan instantly spotting the similarities between this situation and his own parental circumstance, and if the rest of the regulars were having none of it then Ryan was ultimately proved correct – allowing him to recognise the man who’d stepped into Ryan’s family and was still holding what remains of it together, for what he is. The ‘grandad’ moment therefore was both earned and by this point predictable, but no less satisfying for happening.
Graham, meanwhile, was being put through the emotional ringer, and maybe this subplot didn’t work quite as well, because although Bradley Walsh’s performance was just as assured and authentic as it has been all year, here his story existed more to facilitate Ryan’s development than perhaps as some kind of closure for Graham in its own right. Still, it was lovely to see them finally recognising the bond they’ve formed in words, as while this has been the main character development this series, a lot of the actual progress they’ve made has gone unspoken.
It was also nice to see Yaz commenting on her police training rather than simply using it unremarked upon in understated ways that have made her appear less developed and less useful than she’s really been. She’s an integral member of this TARDIS team, a quiet supporting character – in the best sense of the expression – and if she hadn’t been there we’d miss her much more than we might expect. This group will probably break up after Series Eleven is over, and while they’ve not been as involved or as ostentatious as many of the other modern companions, what they have been is an engaging and integrated bunch who have lightly exhibited a lot more chemistry than they might have appeared to.
But inescapably, we have to come back to the frog.
Chris Chibnall promised that Series Eleven would give old and new viewers alike a sense of the variety that Doctor Who can produce, and It Takes You Away was the series ‘doing David Lynch’ in a stripped back Scandi setting and with all the science-as-magic rationale you’d expect from the programme. If it would have been more satisfying not to get such comprehensive explanations for the anti-zone and the Solitract as we did (and Hime – or Chibnall – threw in a little brand new Doctor mythology for good measure, which no doubt will have offended fans who hold The Deadly Assassin up as one of the series’ high water marks), then at least the troll went unclarified and we could bring our own interpretation to his existence.
Not that he needed a lot. The anti-zone was pure mythological limbo, its realisation somewhat less than convincing but its status quite ameliorating in that respect – and both Ribbons of the Seven Stomachs and the Pitch Black-style flesh moths felt an organic part of its existence, each revised according to Doctor Who’s ‘homely oddness’ methodology.
The implementation of all this was occasionally patchy, and still rent through with this sense of not being willing to confuse the Antiques Roadshow crowd. But although It Takes You Away has its antecedents in the recent universe – The Doctor’s Wife and the aforementioned episode of Class, for instance – it’s also in theme and tenor unique to this iteration of Doctor Who just as much as Rosa and Demons of the Punjab were before it. Say what you like about that frog, but It Takes You Away had the courage of its convictions and looked caution in the eye without blinking, and for that it deserves the benefit of any doubt.
DOCTOR WHO SERIES 11, EPISODE 9: IT TAKES YOU AWAY / WRITER: ED HIME / DIRECTOR: JAMIE CHILDS / STARRING: JODIE WHITTAKER, BRADLEY WALSH, TOSIN COLE, MANDIP GILL, SHARON D CLARKE, ELEANOR WALLWORK, KEVIN ELDON, CHRISTIAN RUBECK, LISA STOKKE / RELEASE DATE: AVAILABLE NOW ON I-PLAYER (AIRED DECEMBER 2ND)