“This woman is clearly an alien force
collapsing two realities and impersonating your dead wife. Time to move on!”
What an intriguing title! It Takes You Away immediately called to mind the horror genre, with titles like It’s Alive and It Follows. That cabin in the woods setting only served to reinforce the impression, and of course, when that monstrous roar started sounding…
Which of course was all a clever bit of misdirection. Ed Hime’s script wasn’t a horror story at all (though it certainly had scary moments), but rather a complex puzzle that meditated on love, grief and loneliness. As a Who story, it was a bit all over the place in terms of ideas, but its heart felt like it was in the right place.
And while it was one of (so far) only three stories this year set on contemporary Earth, the setting of rural Norway was an unusual choice. It looked absolutely beautiful –kudos to director Jamie Childs for some stunning visuals of wherever it was shot. It might actually have been Norway I suppose, but the show has a habit of filming in international locations that don’t actually match the story settings, so who knows?
The Norway setting was a nice touch, shifting the story away from London or even Sheffield to a contemporary setting that was totally unfamiliar (except to Norwegians obviously). It also influenced the production design in a positive way, with that very Scandinavian looking set for the interior of Erick’s cabin. Given that so much of the ep was shot on that set, the distinctive look made an impression throughout.
As did the guest cast, all of whom got a fair share of the limelight. Star turn was obviously Eleanor Wallwork as Hanne, who was the most visible onscreen throughout; ironic given her blindness. As well as being an integral part of the plot, that aspect was well served by casting an actor who actually is blind – sighted actors can carry this off, but not always. It helped that Hanne wasn’t always a likeable presence, her fear pushing her to argue with the well-meaning Ryan and put herself in unnecessary jeopardy. But that made her a believable, rounded teenager.
And she had reason to be angry, as it turned out. The actions of her father Erick were, as Yaz pointed out, far from a good example of parenting. But they were understandable too. This was a man in love, driven almost mad by grief, who then found his wife “alive” but unable to come back to the real world. It was understandable that he’d want to spend time with his wife and his daughter, even if it couldn’t be in the same place. Erick came across as weak but sympathetic, a good performance from Norwegian actor Christian Rubeck (who was also fairly easy on the eye). One little touch I liked was the reversal of the logo on his Slayer T shirt either side of the mirror!
In between the mirrors and near unrecognisable was the legendary Kevin Eldon as Ribbons of the Seven Stomachs. Eldon, who does well with this sort of weird character,basically stole every scene he was in with his pidgin patois and hissing,sibilant voice. It was almost a shame to lose the character so quickly, but at least it meant the other actors got a look in to make an impression.
As ever though, there wasn’t really room enough for all the regular characters to shine. This week it was Yaz who drew the short straw, while Ryan had some good scenes with Hanne and Graham had the meatiest material in his reunion with “Grace”. It was great to see Sharon D Clarke back again, and you really felt for Graham – this sort of thing keeps happening, and it’s not going to help him get past his grief. Bradley Walsh was, yet again, incredibly moving; you could really see the struggle in his head as he finally rejected “Grace”, knowing his real wife would never have been content to leave her grandson in danger.
If there’s been any running plot arc at all this year, it’s been entirely about these characters and how they relate to each other. So it was not only heartwarming but believable when Ryan, hearing about the return of “Grace”, finally called Graham “Grandad”. I’ve seen some criticism of Tosin Cole’s performance, but I think when he gets the material he can be superb. I’m betting a return of that repeatedly denied fist bump is on the cards next week.
Jodie, meanwhile, was as good as we’ve come to expect as the Doctor. She’s finally settled into the part; her Brian Cox-style big hand gestures while explaining weird stuff in wide eyed wonderment is both perfectly Doctorish and uniquely her. And there was plenty of weird stuff to explain in the form of the Solitract, a “sentient universe” forever separated from ours by basic incompatibility.
The Solitract was one of those beings who represented a perfect metaphor for what the story was about. As frequently this year, it wasn’t actually a “villain” as such. Being forever on the outside of the real universe, it was lonely, and all it wanted was friends. That chimed perfectly with Erick’s loneliness and eagerness to be with his wife; but even more so with Graham’s ongoing struggle with his grief for Grace. It also, of course, chimed with the Doctor herself. We saw her forlorn look when she thought her companions were about to leave her in Sheffield; she needs her friends as much as anyone. After all, this is a character who’s been described as “the Lonely God”.
Which made the ending all the more bittersweet, as the Doctor, having effectively sacrificed herself to save her friends, really did make friends with the lonely Solitract; only to have to abandon it to save both of them. That final speech, more than anything, summed up the theme of the episode. Even if you’re lonely, sometimes you just have to let go of people. However hard it can be. With everything that’s happened in my life over the last year, that had a lot of resonance for me.
It Takes You Away was, far from its initial impression as a horror story, a truly emotional exploration of feelings of love, loss, and loneliness. Once again it felt unevenly paced, and could perhaps have benefitted from some trimming or rebalancing of the script; the red herring about the monster outside of the cabin could have been dealt with far more quickly, since it really wasn’t the point of the story. Overall though, I found this an affecting little episode that, while unlikely to be considered a classic, provided plenty of food for emotional thought.