Doctor Who review: It Takes You Away – a creepy horror story or a strange fairy tale?

The Doctor finds herself in a very strange world in It Takes You Away.
(Image credit: Doctor Who/BBC.
Image obtained from: official Doctor Who website.)

It Takes You Away was in some ways very different to previous Doctor Who episodes this series. But it also shared a lot of similarities, too. Which strengthened it more: the similarities or differences?

It Takes You Away was quite the Doctor Who episode, wasn’t it? I’ve looked at many reactions on Facebook and Twitter, usually very strong ones. But there’s hardly a consensus that I’ve seen. For every person who’s commented that it’s a truly strong piece of television, there’s someone posting a gif of a certain huge pile from Jurassic Park.

It’s easy to see why this episode has been so divisive. It’s a very strange story, in some ways. There are, admittedly, key similarities in terms of style compared to previous episodes this series. Particularly with a monster who isn’t a monster.

But this isn’t a tale of epic invasions, or a historical adventure. It’s not even a story of scary monsters (although some do show up in the form of flesh-eating moths).

On the surface, it’s more focused on portals to other dimensions, mirror worlds, and frogs. (That last part has definitely thrown some audiences off.) But beneath the surface lies a number of deeper issues that are explored throughout this episode.

Are the hidden depths of It Takes You Away enough to make this a memorable Doctor Who story? Or is it just too strange to really work for its audience? Let’s see what our writers think.

We got a very strange but fairytale like episode with It Takes You Away.
(Image credit: Doctor Who/BBC.
Image obtained from: official Doctor Who website.)

Raphael Kiyani – Staff Writer

There is no getting around it. Ed Hime’s It Takes You Away is weird. Really weird. A cacophony of the bizarre and peculiar. From moths to portal mirrors to talking frogs. It seems to have all the hallmarks of a basket case of an episode.

Yet, it works. Leaning more into the realms of fantasy, with themes and imagery evocative of Pan’s Labyrinth, this story stands out from the rest of Series Eleven by quite a margin.

Landing in a Norwegian fjord, our Team TARDIS swiftly find themselves upon a suspicious looking cabin house. Immediately the setting and score create an over-arching sensation of sombre moodiness cloaked behind the picturesque Nordic vista.

Like much of the Nordic region of Europe, I find scenes from such locations to rouse a beautiful bleakness. This is a perfect way to describe the initial feel and later plotting of this story.

There is an atmosphere of dream-like whimsy that hearkens back to the early Matt Smith-era, but with an underlying grit and melancholy. The discovery of steely but vulnerable Hanne reinforces the solemn ambience here. She was a cool character and rose above being a generic scared child.

Despite her impairment, Hanne had autonomy and played off our Team TARDIS well. Her begrudging cooperation with Ryan was a nice touch that highlighted his distrust in his own father. Character moments such as those frequent this story and make it all the more important growth wise.

Through the looking glass

Now, enter the mirror portal. This is where It Takes You Away shifts into a wackier gear. The anti-zone was gloriously grim. Giant flesh-eating moths and grotesque denizen Ribbons take this episode to dark fairytale heights.

The next discovery – a mirror world – as far as concepts go, is pretty standard.  However, it’s how this sci-fi idea was utilised that truly makes this dimensional plane shine. A sentient universe, luring people with emotional traps? Now that’s a twist.

Like all mirrors, this sentient universe was reflective. It delicately unpicked deep-seated human fears such as loneliness, isolation and sorrow to great effect. Bradley Walsh steals the show with a performance filled with subtlety, range and pathos. Walsh has proven to be an inspired casting choice.

Ed Hime has concocted something very special here. The interplay between emotional drama and reality bending science-fiction clicks together. Hime has written a well paced script that has the right amount of haste and exploratory beats. In the hands of a lesser writer this could have easily been a dull slog or a rushed mess.

I can’t fault this story. For me, everything feels accomplished and fine-tuned. It was exactly what I look for in an inventive Doctor Who episode. It certainly won’t be for everyone though, this style is definitely different. I imagine it will continually be fiercely analysed and debated.

In conclusion, It Takes You Away is a special episode that carries itself with gut-punching raw emotion and fantastical invention. A masterfully abstract dissection of grief and loss. It balances character, psychology and science-fiction to produce a cerebral and thought provoking story that will be remembered for years to come.

Graham and Grace were reunited in It Takes You Away. Or were they?
(Image credit: Doctor Who/BBC.
Image obtained from: official Doctor Who website.)

Luke Molloy – Staff Writer

Pre-broadcast, It Takes You Away promised a horror thriller, set in a remote location with a huge evil big bad slowly closing in. It sounded perfect. However, about 15 minutes in, it became apparent that’s not what was on the menu.

For this week, we weren’t just having a good roast at Granny Five’s, we were fine dining the best the universe had to offer. Constantly surprising, beautiful and interesting, It Takes You Away really did what it said on the tin.

After weeks of simpler stories that have dragged in some parts and filled time with office-style small talk, it was surprising that this intricate, complex gem of a story sprung up out of nowhere, like it came through the anti-zone itself. No information was spoonfed, no exposition was un-needed and big ideas popped up everywhere. It was great for the audience to finally get that respect back.

Yes, there can be a bit more going on in Doctor Who and yes we will understand it. It had only been eight episodes but I already thought Series Eleven was never going to do an episode as interesting as this.

Every time you thought the plot might slow, it tossed you in a totally new direction. When the Doctor and friends came out of the portal and they were in a mirror-version of the world, it was the first time in Series Eleven that Doctor Who went beyond intriguing and became truly interesting.

Family drama

The Graham and Grace plot-strand was really well done and even better so (like a lot in this episode) for being unexpected. It offered that closure to Graham that Bradley Walsh made somehow obvious he needed, even though he hadn’t mentioned her for weeks.

It also allowed for the Ryan and Graham “Grandad” payoff we’ve been waiting for all series – a payoff that was guaranteed to be utterly cheesy and yet somehow was endearingly sweet.

Usually child actors in Doctor Who leave a lot to be desired, but Hanne was one of the best actors we’ve had all series. Like the plot itself, you never quite knew where you stood with her, and it added to the suspenseful scenes with her and Ryan. Blimey did I feel sorry for her too, her dad has got some serious apologising to do.

Ribbons was a pretty funny dude and reminded me in both body and mind like Griphook from Harry Potter. However, it was a bit too obvious that he wouldn’t kill Graham and also a bit too obvious that he would definitely be killed by the flesh moths.

The flesh moths were absolutely brilliant mind. Their design felt so unnatural, so alien, and they had serious Web Planet­ vibes. They were also fierce beasts of death – release the flesh moths upon Earth and the Doctor would have her work cut out.

After consistently being surprised – the anti-zone, the mirror world, Grace returning, the Doctor sacrificing herself – the world went white and I held my breath. I had butterflies stirring. Was she stuck in this universe? Was this going to be a two-parter? And what’s that in the distance… Is it a cot? Is this the aforementioned “Timeless Child”?

You know, I thought what we got was even better.

The end of the episode left its biggest surprise for last. Did the Doctor talking to a frog actually work?
(Image credit: Doctor Who/BBC.
Image obtained from: official Doctor Who website.)

The frog

Maintaining the episode’s theme of surprise – we were presented with a Grace-talking frog, Shrek 2 style. It was so baffling, so bizarre and so bloody wonderful, I never expected anything like this from the way the series has been heading.

Again, the Harry Potter parallels were strong – it reminisced Harry’s afterlife scene with Dumbledore but that’s not a bad thing. “Good old J.K!” as the Doctor once said.

This was Whittaker’s best scene to date too. She played it serious and again was much better for doing so. It’s only in Doctor Who that you’d get the main character talking silly nonsense for eight episodes around her friends but suddenly straightens up when talking to a universe-conscience-talking frog. This show can be fantastic sometimes.

It Takes You Away was full of brilliant ideas that it was a pleasure to watch this story unfold and even more of a pleasure that it’s placed in story-basic Series Eleven. I may moan when we don’t get evil monsters for the Doctor to defeat but when the story is this original, the plot this surprising and the ideas this high concept, I really couldn’t care less. Plus, I like frogs.

5/5

Next week we have the staggeringly titled The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos. It is Chibnall and I have no idea what to expect from him. But it’ll be interesting to see if Series Eleven can keep up its current form and end on a high…

It Takes You Away had been advertised as a horror episode. But was what we got better or worse?
(Image credit: Doctor Who/BBC.
Image obtained from: official Doctor Who website.)

James Aggas – Site Expert

When I finished watching It Takes You Away, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. After chatting with my girlfriend about this one, she was convinced that I didn’t like it. But that wasn’t it. At least, not for the whole episode.

Because when looking at the episode as a whole, it’s actually a really strong, interesting piece of work. A story that explores the power of grief as much as love. Where there’s a clear difference between the reality you want and what’s actually there.

We were also given plenty of interesting ideas, particularly with the anti-zone, and it was great to see some really significant development for both Ryan and Graham. Plus, the return of Grace was definitely a brilliant surprise! It was also handled just right too. It wasn’t a moment that brought her back from the dead properly, but it did allow for plenty of significant development for Graham.

A misplaced episode?

So what held me back from instantly loving this episode? Well, for one thing, there was the fact that, as Luke pointed out, it wasn’t exactly the story that all the promotion had suggested it was.

We were expecting something of a horror story, and as someone who enjoys those stories the best, especially in Doctor Who, I was really excited to get a story like that. Especially with a title as suggestive as It Takes You Away.

But, while the episode did have scary elements, particularly within the anti-zone, as the other writers have pointed out, it’s definitely much closer to a fairy tale or a fantasy than a horror. Not a bad thing in itself, and in fact, I usually enjoy those kinds of stories. But it was a little disappointing compared to what I was expecting, at least initially.

This also brings me to something else that held me back from liking the episode. Once again, we have a “monster” that’s not really a monster, just something misunderstood. OK, that’s not a bad plotline to have every once in a while, but this has been so common throughout this series of Doctor Who that it doesn’t work as well as it should.

This is the kind of story that should subvert your expectations, and yet because it’s become so common with Chris Chibnall as showrunner, it doesn’t stand out as much as it should have done.

Demons of the PunjabArachnids in the UK, even The Tsuranga Conundrum – all have featured creatures that have been more misunderstood or are more focused on their own survival than being a genuine threat. Chibnall, this is Doctor Who you’re in charge of – scary monsters should be a key part of the series!

The frog (again)

Last but not least, let’s come to the elephant in the room. Or, rather, the frog. That was definitely a bizarre choice, and one that everyone’s talking about. That definitely threw me off the most.

But, since everyone is talking about it, perhaps it wasn’t a bad choice. I’m still not convinced – honestly, still maintaining the form of Grace would have worked for me for that final scene – but that was my least favorite aspect.

Looking back on the episode as a whole however, there was a lot to enjoy, and I think it’ll be one of those episodes that, like The God Complex, I’ll like more over time. Especially knowing exactly what kind of an episode it is. Being prepared for one genre and getting another can sometimes be rewarding, but it can also dampen the initial viewing experience.

However, it has to be said that It Takes You Away is a pretty magical episode. It’s not perfect, and would’ve worked much better if it hadn’t been part of Series Eleven – a series that’s so incredibly focused on trying to subvert the audience’s expectations with the monsters every single week.

But overall, it’s a really effective and enjoyable episode, and one of the stronger ones we’ve had this series.

Did you enjoy It Takes You Away? What did you love about it? What didn’t you like? Were you expecting more of a traditional horror story than a Doctor Who fairy tale? Let us know in the comments below.