[This review contains some minor SPOILERS!]
It is all but impossible to describe “It Takes You Away” without giving away the whole episode. I think it may be the most divisive episode of Series 11. It may also be its best. It might also be its worst. Even having watched it twice, I’m still not sure how to feel about it myself, but I am leaning towards “best.”
The reason why it is so hard to pin “It Takes You Away” down as good or bad is that the plot goes through several different stories over the course of the episode, with a variety of monsters, threats and continual shifts in settings. The only thing I can think to compare it to is a fairy tale being told by two excitable children who are trying to top one another with the telling as they keep adding onto a story that threatens to grow out of control.
The fairy tale comparison seems apt given the episode’s basic plot does have several fairy tale trappings. A cottage in the woods. A missing father. A blind daughter. A monster in the forest. And a magic mirror that acts as a portal into another world, where dead loved ones are still alive and a Happily Ever After seems all too plausible if you’re a grieving widower like Graham.
Attempting to describe “It Takes You Away” beyond that requires a full synopsis of the plot. Yet doing that would defy traditional analysis given that there is no logical pathway through the story to analyze. Fittingly, the whole thing depends on dream logic, the power of love and the magic of a good story. The final effect is incredibly surreal, but is as brilliantly mad as Neil Gaiman’s work on The Doctor’s Wife. Ed Hime’s script is a powerful thing and we can only hope he’ll be writing more for Series 12.
Jamie Childs’ direction also helps keep the story moving along at a brisk pace, presenting many amazing images, even in the rather static caves making up the Anti-Zone between worlds. The visuals of many childhood fears – such as man-eating moths or mirrors that can suck you into somewhere else – are perfectly executed by the design team and this may be the most innovative episode of the series, if not the most fantastic looking.
What truly sells the episode, however, is its performances. Jodie Whittaker is starting to come into her own as her own distinctive version of The Doctor and is easily recognizable as The Doctor even if she’s a far more compassionate figure than her more recent compatriots. (The 12th Doctor, for instance, would not have the sense of tact to avoid suggesting that the absent father is dead in front of his distraught daughter.) Mandip Gil has the least to do as Yasmin (a frequent problem this series) but she does prove herself to be the best detective of the group, noting things that even The Doctor missed. Tosin Cole gets some good moments as Ryan, who has to overcome his inability to work well with kids. (Ironic given he’s the youngest member of the TARDIS crew right now.) The best performance of the episode, however, is that of Bradley Walsh, who captures the perfect level of reserved anguish in portraying Graham being confronted with his seemingly resurrected wife.
For me, “It Takes You Away” is some of the best that Doctor Who has to offer. Your mileage may vary, but this episode perfectly captured the sheer insanity that this series often entails. Its only real flaw, on reflection, is that it lacks the easy accessiblity of other classic introductory episodes like “Blink” or “Flatline” as the scenes with Graham lack punch if you haven’t seen Grace in “The Woman Who Fell To Earth.” Apart from that small issue, this is as close to a perfect Doctor Who episode as you can find.