9:00 am EDT, December 3, 2018

‘Doctor Who’ 11×09 review: The Doctor’s bedtime story comes to life in the strangest way

The penultimate episode of Doctor Who brought back a sorely missed face that gave fans mixed feels and took them to another universe straight from The Doctor’s childhood bedtime stories.

“It Takes You Away” was yet another episode that effectively utilized the TARDIS team, presented controversial twists (if you avoided spoilers), and gave fans perhaps the most interesting alien threat this season.

It encompassed many of modern Doctor Who’s beloved elements – captivating suspense, emotional gravitas, strong imagery, callbacks, and quirky info reveals about the titular character who still manages to surprise fans 55 years later.

The crew stumbles upon a creepy, isolated cottage in Norway that screams “Stay Away” so of course The Doctor has to have a peek inside. It’s there that she finds Hanne, a blind young woman whose terrified of an unidentified monster and desperately trying to find her missing father Erik.

The series cast Ellie Wallwork to portray the role, which was a solid move considering she is blind in real life. While able-bodied actors are often cast to portray characters with disabilities, this does not work vice versa for disabled actors. It’s critical to not take away those opportunities and allows them to portray the character with a heightened level of authenticity.

Hanne’s revelation soon leads to Graham and Ryan finding a mirror where they don’t see their reflections (nice vampire joke btw Ryan), which predictably is revealed to be a portal to a similar universe. The Doctor chooses to take Graham and Yaz with her, which is kind of nice because you don’t see the two of them interacting often. Ryan is the linchpin between those characters so he is usually paired with one of them, but I like how they have developed their own camaraderie.

Graham and Yaz holding hands as they not-so-bravely perused the dark, cave-like buffer space between the universes was a small yet adorable moment. They both play well off of each other and The Doctor, filling in thought process gaps to help her along the way.

I felt like The Doctor left Ryan to protect Hanne because she recognizes his braveness, ingenuity, empathy, and leadership skills. If I were in a pinch and possibly facing a monster, I wouldn’t mind having Ryan by my side. I have maintained that Ryan is the “primary” companion in this group and this still feels true, even with the two episodes focusing on Yaz’s family and Graham’s arc.

It’s always interesting to see a companion paired with a one-off character because you learn more about their personality and motivations through their conversations. Ryan automatically believed that Hanne’s father abandoned her and he wasn’t too far off base.

It didn’t take him long to discover the monster sound recordings and the episode late revealed that her father pretty much abandoned her to kick it with his dead wife in the other universe. Erik knew that there was a possibility that he could get stuck there and never return home to his daughter.

Basically, he was a terrible parent but he surprisingly didn’t get any true comeuppance in this episode despite his actions aiding in the possibility of collapsing two realities.

Major points for Ryan’s compassion when he pursued Hanne into the portal after she knocked him out. He could have been angry and combative, but instead he understood her desperation to reconnect with her father and remained patient and supportive.

His character continues to be a refreshing and layered portrayal of a Black man who is given the space to have a wide range of emotions. Love him always. However, there were a couple of balls dropped between Ryan and Hanne.

I thought this would open Ryan up to reveal more about his broken relationship with his dad or his own physical disability with dyspraxia to connect with Hanne, but it never came to fruition. Without those threads being focused on, he did initially seem a bit jerky about the situation and no one can really blame Hanne for hitting him with a door.

The revelation of Grace was an unexpected shock to fans who avoided spoilers from across the pond. Grace’s fridging was a major issue at the beginning of the series and it was lovely to see her face again for a split second. But, Doctor Who fans knew it would be an elaborate ruse to take Graham through an emotional journey and bring him closer to Ryan, which was happening anyway because there’s nothing that will build a relationship like traveling with this strange Gallifreyan through space and time.

Ryan calling him granddad seemed more out of pity due to Graham having to essentially let go of Grace all over again as opposed to an organic relationship. I like where there are going as a duo and don’t think that Ryan needs to necessarily see Graham as a grandfather to have a special bond.

Grace, along with Erik’s wife, were representations of the Solitract universe whose existence collides with our universe. The concept of using a familiar face to lure humans into doing dangerous things is on brand for Doctor Who and this could have been done without Grace.

Hanne was a compelling character and her recognition of her mom not really being her mom vs. her father’s disbelief would have accomplished the same emotional impact. It wasn’t necessary to rehash Graham being in pain. Meanwhile, Ryan’s pain concerning Grace hasn’t been focused on nearly as much despite her being his Nan and the most important person in his life.

I did love Yaz and The Doctor in this episode. Yaz is absolutely brilliant and has a keen awareness of how to deescalate any situation.

She was very protective of Graham against faux Grace and worked to make Hanne feel safe in this high stakes situation. And, she has gotten a grip on The Doctor’s endless sciency jargon, which was evidenced when she told Thirteen to “reverse the polarity” to open the portal back up.

Bless you Yaz for being the companion that The Doctor really needed in this episode. Of course, Thirteen was brilliant as usual with funny references to seven grandmas (one of who was allegedly a Zygon spy) and the Woolly Rebellion that we deserve to see.

I loved her interactions with Ribbons, whose entire purpose was to be weird and provide some expository information, as well as her story about the Solitract to Yaz. The entire Solictract concept was a wonderful mashup of Doctor Who sci-fi elements and Gallifreyan folklore to make them the most fleshed out villain this season.

I didn’t fully understand why they showed up at that specific place, but I did get their motivations and overall purpose. It was the perfect way to introduce concepts of prolonged grief, unrealized hope, and the pain of letting go.

She wasn’t afraid to admit that she was completely confused and even scared at one point and she was willing to sacrifice herself for the sake of her companions and, by extension, the world. Jodie Whittaker was masterful as she ebbed from being firm, secretive, and empathetic throughout the episode, even in the very weird scene where she talked to a frog with Grace’s voice.

That was pretty trippy, even by Doctor Who standards. The realization that this character carries the grief and pain of her past companions is something that is always in the fringes of our mind, but it still stings to think about what The Doctor has been through.

Issues aside, I did appreciate the emotional premise of releasing the past to move forward, the character interactions, the dialogue, and the entire look/feel of the episode. The acting was undoubtedly top-notch and those flesh-eating moths were a great way to take something harmless and made it deadly.

Despite my feelings about the Grace/Graham situation, I still enjoyed the episode overall and I’m not ready for the season finale to come so soon.

Our Score

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