I don’t know what to make of tonight’s episode of Doctor Who, “It Takes You Away.” Maybe you will…
The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Yas (Mandip Gill) have landed in Norway in 2018. There’s no obvious reason for it, but they spot a house near the fjord they’re on, and they walk over to check it out.
When they reach the house, it is completely boarded up on the outside, but they see movement through a window that isn’t completely covered and go inside to investigate. They discover Hanne (Ellie Wallwork), a blind teenage girl, hiding in an upstairs cupboard. She has been in the house alone for four days since her father went to find out what the monster in the woods was.
Team TARDIS splits up to search the house and grounds. Ryan and Yas find a shed full of dead birds and bear traps, and Graham finds a bizarre mirror in Hanne’s father’s bedroom. The mirror reflects the room, but not Graham.
The monster begins roaring in the woods, and everyone who’s outside runs to get inside. Once they’re all back indoors, they gravitate towards Graham and the mysterious mirror.
The Doctor determines that the mirror is actually a dimensional portal. She sticks her head through it, but that isn’t satisfactory. She decides she needs to go through to look for Hanne’s dad, Erik (Christian Rubeck). Everyone else wants to come, too, but The Doctor tells Ryan and Hanne to stay behind and guard the portal opening and the house from the monster in the woods.
Beyond the mirror, Graham, Yas and The Doctor find themselves in a bleak cavern. The Doctor uses her sonic to confirm that they haven’t moved to another world, but rather to an “anti-zone,” a buffer space between worlds. They move cautiously into the cavern, and Graham spots a light around a bend.
The light comes from a lantern belonging to a creature called Ribbons (Kevin Eldon). He is a hungry thing, and an opportunistic one. He concedes that he’s seen a human in the anti-zone, and agrees to lead them to him and let them use his light… in exchange for The Doctor’s sonic. She agrees, and they follow him deeper into the cavern.
Once they’ve gotten in deep enough not to easily find their way back, Ribbons cuts the string The Doctor used to Hansel and Gretel the path to the portal. He tells them it’s time to renegotiate, and that they’ll have to pay dearly if they want passage both to and from the human. He makes a grab for the sonic and bolts, but Graham tackles him. The sonic skitters away.
The ruckus attracts a swarm of “flesh moths,” white moths the size of birds that strip flesh from bone at a dizzying speed. Ribbons tells them to run, but The Doctor realizes he’s trying to use them as a distraction. She tells her companions to freeze in place, and they do. Ribbons can’t resist the temptation of the sonic lying on the ground a few feet from him, and as soon as he moves towards it, the moths converge on him and kill him.
The Doctor grabs her sonic, using Ribbons as a distraction, and she, Ryan and Yas run. They see a portal ahead, and they dive through.
On the other side, it looks as though they’ve returned to Hanne’s home. Everything is a little different, though, and The Doctor deduces that they’ve wound up on the other side of the mirror. (They’ve literally gone through the looking glass.)
They go downstairs and find a laid back Erik nonchalantly making breakfast for two in a sunny kitchen. He apologizes for leaving Hanne so long when they accuse him of abandoning her in a house vulnerable to a monster. He also explains something Ryan has just discovered on the other side– that there is no monster. The monster noises were coming from speakers Erik rigged in the woods as a deterrent to Hanne to keep her safely indoors.
The Doctor asks him who the other plate is for, and in walks Trine (Lisa Stokke), Hanne’s dead mother. It turns out that Erik has been sneaking off to this alternate dimension to be with his late wife. They’ve been trying to figure out how to get her back to his world, but nothing has worked so far. In the meantime, Erik has become addicted to being in this idyllic place with his lost love, unconcerned with how desperate and frightened his daughter is back home.
Although The Doctor recognizes immediately that something is wrong, she doesn’t know what it is. She wants to grab Erik and go back, but Trine asks if they don’t want to see their friend first– someone who arrived at the same time they did.
She leads them outside, where they see Grace (Sharon D. Clarke) standing near the water.
Graham goes to her. He doesn’t believe it’s Grace at first, but she knows everything about him, and everything about the frog necklace of hers that he’s wearing. He begins to believe, and soon he has the same poppy-eater air that Erik does. Grace wants him to stay, and he wants to.
At about this moment, two things happen:
- Yas says something that triggers a memory in The Doctor. Her seventh granny used to tell her bedtime stories about the “Solitract,” a conscious universe whose energy is so incompatible with the elements of our universe that it was banished eons ago.
- Hanne knocks Ryan unconscious and sneaks through the portal to find her father.
Once The Doctor has a name for the Solitract, she understands what’s happening. The Solitract always wanted to be with our universe, but because of the incompatibility, it couldn’t be. It has created a world it thinks “we” would like and lured a human there. Now that several more humans and one timelord) have arrived, things are destabilizing and both universes might be destroyed.
The Doctor struggles to get the whole group inside and back to the portal, since both grieving husbands don’t want to believe that their wives are just traps created by the Solitract to keep them there. Once she does get them all to the mirror, she discovers that the conscious universe has adapted to the way she locked the portal earlier, and she can’t reopen it.
Yas suggests trying a different way, like by reversing the polarity, and that gives The Doctor an idea on how to open the door. It’s open just long enough to allow Hanne to come popping through. Ryan, who woke up in time to follow and help her through the cavern, has gotten stuck on the other side, hiding from the flesh moths.
Hanne recognizes Trine immediately as a hoax. Both she and Yas anger the faux women enough that they’re blasted forcibly back through the portal.
Graham tells fake Grace that Ryan is in trouble in the anti-zone, and when she insists that he is a smart boy and will be OK if they leave him alone, the spell is broken. Graham knows the real Grace would never leave Ryan in danger. He rejects her, and she blasts him through the portal, then disappears.
The Doctor manipulates fake Trine by suggesting that of the two remaining people, she’s a better choice to keep than Erik. The universe is still unstable, so one of them needs to go, and she’s lived longer and seen more and can share it all with the Solitract. As soon as Erik sees his wife considering this seriously, he realizes she is fake and rejects her. Solitract Trine blasts him through the portal.
Once they’re alone, The Doctor tells Trine that she can relax and stop being in that form if she likes. Immediately, the house disappears and becomes an abstract white space full of fog. The Solitract takes the form of a frog with Grace’s voice, because the form delights it as it delighted Grace. They begin to talk, and The Doctor is actually open to the adventure of being best friends with a conscious universe. But she misses her friends, and she can see evidence that even with just one person there, the energy is so incompatible that she needs to leave or they’ll both die.
With her promise to be friends forever with the Solitract, the frog blasts her back though the portal.
The people make a mad dash through a collapsing cavern, and as soon as they’re all safely through the portal into the real world, The Doctor breaks the mirror with her sonic.
Afterwards, Erik admits that it isn’t healthy for them to stay so isolated. He’s taking Hanne back to Oslo and moving on from his grief.
Graham is withdrawn from The Doctor, Yas and Ryan as they make their way back to the TARDIS. He hangs back to take a last look at Norway, somewhere he and Grace had always hoped to visit. Ryan comes to him to check in, and he finally calls Graham “granddad.” Graham is moved enough to shake out of his funk a little and get back on the TARDIS with the others.
So what was that? Is it just me, or did the episode feel like a serious metaphor for someone’s amicable divorce? “We love each other so much, but we are incompatible on a universe-destroying level and must separate forever because of it, but I’ll always love you.”
It was nice to see Grace again, even if she was a stolen form, but on tomorrow’s AnyWho you can count on me taking issue with what the meaning behind this episode was.
Also, in a season defined by the theme “man’s inhumanity to man is the greatest evil,” was selfishness the real monster this time?