After two fairly generic Who-romps, episode 9 mixed things up a bit. It was as mad as a box of frogs, and it might just be the best one from this season so far…
It starts with a spooky cabin in the woods, mysterious shrieking noises from an unseen monster, and a terrified young girl whose father has disappeared. But then there’s some weirdness with a mirror, and before you know it, we’re in full-on bonkers territory.
The Doctor can never not help a sad child, and Hanne is alone, confused, terrified and vulnerable. Ryan’s skills with children are bit lacking, but the rest of the team have a better rapport; Yaz has had training in talking to vulnerable young people, and Graham — well, Graham always carries an emergency sandwich just in case, and if I wasn’t fully Team Graham before, this would have tipped me over the edge.
A little bit of investigating and some scary noises later, Graham and Ryan find themselves in front of a mirror that doesn’t reflect them back. “We’d know if we were vampires, right?” asks Ryan. Valid question: Remember when Bill didn’t know the terrible awful truth? But it’s not them; it’s the mirror. Or rather, the mirror turning into a portal, signalled by a high-pitched noise. The Tinnitus Portal tries to lure them in, but the Doctor gives a trademark wave of her sonic then takes a little peep at what’s on the other side. It looks awful. So of course, that means they are going in.
For some reason, she nominates Ryan to stay behind and babysit Hanne. (I’m sure Hanne would prefer Sandwich Man.) The Doctor is working on the assumption that Hanne’s dad is dead, and so writes Ryan a note on the wall that she pretends is a map so that Hanne — who is blind — doesn’t suspect anything. This doesn’t work at all, but points for effort, I guess. Hanne wants to go through the portal too, but Ryan wrangles her from the room and locks the door.
It was just as well; on the other side of the Tinnitus Portal is the labyrinthine anti-zone: dark, dangerous, and full of gigantic flesh moths. The Doctor, Yaz and Graham use a line of string to mark their way, like Theseus in the actual Labyrinth. They strike a deal with a terrifying character called Ribbons Of The Seven Stomachs, a tricksy cross between Gollum (I know a short cut! And I want your preciousssss sonic!) and Gnarl, the creepy cave-dwelling demon from Buffy that tried to skin Willow. Ribbons is both ridiculous and desperately scary. I mean, his name is Ribbons. He is covered in wee. He has lamps that look like red balloons. But he also wants to eat them, and will kill them as soon as he can get away with it.
Back on the other side, Ryan is following a lead. Literally. He follows a strange cable from the house and finds speakers hidden on the edge of the property. That shrieking noise was a recording. And that was the first Admiral Akbar moment of the episode.
Ryan runs back to find Hanne, but gets knocked out for his trouble. Hanne steals the key to her father’s room; she’s going in.
There’s another double cross on the other side.
Ribbons has cut the ‘umbilical’, leaving the team at his mercy. But then the moths come. Shudder. They are bad enough when they munch on your knitwear, but these ones prefer the taste of blood… And Ribbons gets caught in a swarm. Bye, Ribbons, you terrifying weirdo!
Team TARDIS legs it, and soon they can see the portal up ahead. They charge through it — only to realise they have gone through a different one. It’s Hanne’s father’s room, but not, at the same time. It’s Mirror World. And Erik’s fine! Just chilling out, making some food for his dead wife. Here’s a dramatic re-enactment of the scene that follows.
Erik: Chill out, I left my daughter some food and rigged up a sound system to scare the crap out of her so she wouldn’t wander off. It’s fine!
The Doctor, Yaz and Graham: What the damn hell, Erik?
Erik’s wife, Trine: Hey! I’m definitely dead and yet also not quite as dead as people thought. It’s all fine! I’m perfectly OK with my husband abandoning our daughter in the cabin of nightmares to come and hang out with me, his formerly-dead-and-currently-alive-somehow wife. Best not to ask too many questions, yeah? And oh, by the way, your friend is outside…
Me, spitting my tea: DON’T YOU BLOODY DARE. NO. YOU WOULDN’T.
Spoiler alert: they did.
How could you? My poor blessed Graham, with his kind soul, and his pep talks, and his emergency sandwiches, and knowing exactly what people need to hear, and his broken, broken heart. I didn’t need to see Graham’s face crumple in a mess of confusion, loss, and wild hope at seeing his beloved Grace again. No. Nope.
And it’s at this point that we get a different sort of dread settling in. Because Hanne is on her way through the anti-zone, and Ryan has regained consciousness, and followed her in to keep her safe. Hanne is about to see her dead mother again, and Ryan is about to see his nan. That’s if they get past the flesh moths, anyway. And there’s something wrong; this isn’t really Grace.
Graham’s head knows it, though his heart wants it to be true. He tests her; she passes. He’s still not sure. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Yaz frantically try to figure out what’s going on. What is so terrible about Mirror World that there’s an anti-zone keeping it away from the real world? The answer: Nuclear chicken pox. OK, metaphorical nuclear chicken pox. The Doctor’s Granny Five used to tell her bedtime stories about the Solitract, a conscious universe that is incompatible with the real universe, and had to be somehow kept away from it forever. The Doctor is “genuinely terrified” at the prospect of being in the Solitract, firstly because of the nuclear chicken pox thing, but also because of what it means is Really Going On. Why has the Solitract built a copy of their world, and a doorway? Come on, Admiral. Say it again.
Unfortunately, this realization comes at the exact same time that Graham’s heart wins the argument, and he finally hugs Grace. It’s time for a terrible choice: “It’s her, or the real world.” The Doctor gets them to the portal, and orders them through. But Erik and Graham have lost their wives once; how can they leave them behind now?
The Doctor can’t hold the portal open, and just before it closes, Hanne runs through, leaving Ryan behind in the anti-zone. Unlike her father, she senses the weirdness of Solitract-Trine. Yaz speaks up, too:
“The real Grace was a beautiful, smiling superstar. And you know what she was above all else? She was brave. And she’d be leading the charge through that mirror.”
Solitract-Trine blasts Yaz and Hanne back through the portal, and suddenly the brutal, heartbreaking escape route presents itself. All the others have to do to get out of Mirror World is to reject the Solitract. But to do that, they have to tell their dead loved ones to sod off. “Reject her”, says the Doctor. Holy moly, this is cruel. But poor, precious Graham steps up.
“Grace would never let me leave Ryan in danger. You’re a fake. I wish you weren’t, but you are.”
It stings, but it saves him; Solitract-Grace blasts him through the portal. Erik is struggling even more with the idea of rejecting Trine, so the Doctor resorts to self-sacrifice to keep him safe. And that’s how we arrive at the most bonkers moment of all: A nice friendly chat with a talking frog. And this is Classic-Who territory because the frog was so bad. Sooooo bad. But in a nostalgic, home-made way, you know?
Look, the Solitract might be nuclear chicken pox, and a trap, but it’s also lonely. It just wants a friend. It’s fundamentally incompatible with everything in the whole universe. (And it can’t even comfort-eat one of Graham’s emergency sandwiches.) Poor Solitract. But it has a conscience as well as being conscious. It knows that keeping the Doctor will destroy them both. And it can’t do it. The Doctor promises that they will be “friends forever”, and the Solitract replies, “I will dream of you”. And then it lets her go.
They make it back through the anti-zone and through the original Tinnitus Portal. Hanne hugs Ryan — no longer her least favourite person on the team. And then, finally, it happens. Ryan says what we’ve been waiting for him to say for weeks. It’s the perfect, perfect time. It’s exactly what Graham needs.
Excuse me, I seem to have something in my eye.
In summary, ‘It Takes You Away’ was an episode about loneliness, and fear, and desperate hope, but also about seeing what you have, and making a fresh start. It was bonkers; it was brilliant. And it broke my damn heart.
Timey-Wimey Fun Stuff
“Reverse the polarity” klaxon! Out of nowhere, from Yaz!
Granny Five thought that Granny Two was a secret agent for the Zygons. I would like to meet Granny Five. Hit me with some Granny Five dream-casting below!
Always thought sheep were up to something. Turns out, they are secretly plotting the “utter bloodbath” of the Woolly Rebellion. (Have they got any suggestions for Brexit? Perhaps we could start diplomatic meetings now and prevent a war?)
That frog, though…
Next time: Mark Addy joins the cast for the finale!
Header Image Source: BBC