WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD…
Reviewed by Tim Robins
This is an updated version of this review. We apologise to anyone for mistaken use of a draft version sent by accident during the O2 blackout which featured mis-spellings not picked up in the edit. This was totally unintentional on the part of Tim and this web site, and we are very sorry for any offence some language featured may have caused.
First UK Broadcast: Sunday 2nd December 2018
Writer: Ed Hime
Director: Jaimie Childs
Guest Starring: Eleanor Wallwork (Hanne), Kevin Eldon (Ribbons), Christian Rubeck (Erik) and Lisa Stokke (Trine)
On the edge of a Norwegian fjord in the present day, the Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz discover a boarded-up cottage and a girl named Hanne in need of their help. What has happened here? What monster lurks in the woods around the cottage – and beyond?
The Review: It was fitting that It Takes You Away was set in Norway, because Doctor Who has recently been beset by Trolls. Equally fittingly, their activities were first reported back in 2017 by The Sun, which, under the ownership of Rupert Murdoch, has trolled the British Nation with ‘Fake News’, tits-out-for-the boys journalism, and headlines such as “STRAIGHT SEX CANNOT GIVE YOU AIDS – OFFICIAL ’ since it first became a tabloid in November 1969.
But even The Sun couldn’t stoop to parroting vloggers’ claims that Doctor Who has had a massive drop in viewers as a direct result of the programme trying to indoctrinate viewers with politically correct propaganda. Instead, copy such as ‘DOCTOR WHO RATINGS PLUNGE AFTER JODIE WHITAKER TAKES OVER WITH PC PLOTS’ an ‘Doctor Who has lost a quarter of its viewers as many blast Politically Correct storylines…’ implied a causal link rather than clearly stating one (“as” only indicates that something happens during the time when something else is taking place, while “after” simply indicates the temporal order of events as opposed to “caused” or “lead to” or “resulted in”).
Often, actual trolls don’t believe in their own arguments, they just welcome the opportunity to amass more attention (and money) or play with people’s emotions. As one self-identified- troll explained to me, he enjoyed making people cry. This startling admission can (only just) be explained by trolling’s roots in ‘fishing’ (trolling) for newbies – pranks pulled on inexperienced new members of a group. Unfortunately, some of the Doctor Who cast took the bait and precipitated an online feeding frenzy.
“It makes me laugh,” said Madip (Yaz) Gill, quoted in numerous papers, “because having the words ‘too’ and ‘correct’ in the same sentence is really bizarre to me. How can you be too correct about something?”
It’s a fair point about a hopelessly slippery term but, as night follows day, Gill’s comments were twisted by some vloggers to suggest that she had called them bizarre.
This is one of the more nauseating rhetorical tricks of the crypto-white supremacist Alt.Right – the assertion of White Victimhood (a claim that White, Christian, males are the real victims of those who have been victimised).
There’s a reason for the Internet injunction “Don’t Feed the Troll!” It takes you nowhere.
I did wonder what the vocal minority would make of It Takes You Away. Would The Doctor’s talk of a “Woolly Rebellion” led by sheep be exposed as leftist vegan propaganda? Did the BBC cast Ellie Wallwork to play a blind girl in order to meet a covert PC quota system aimed at creating a state of “equity” (sic) in which half its staff will be sight impaired?
Or could the plot – in which Graham (Bradley Walsh)and Norwegian widower, Erik (Christian Rubeck), nearly destroy the Universe because of their love for their respective wives – be seen as another example of Chris Chibnall’s imputed imperious yet tortured, male-hating psyche born of unhappy relationships with young women at school attempting to humiliate and stigmatize Christian, heterosexual White men?
Awww, you guessed it; they went with that one.
Personally, I think It Takes You Away was an analogy for Brexit. Norway is not in the European Union, but its trade relationship has been held up as an exemplar for post-Brexit Britain. And The Doctor’s sadness at saying goodbye to the sentient Solitract surely reflected Remoners sadness at leaving behind historic enemies but current allies such as the French?
Wasn’t It takes You Away nothing less than “A Farewell to Frogs?”
Wasn’t The Doctor in effect saying “We’ll always be friends but Britain has to leave you because staying together will destroy both our worlds!” and “It’s the referendum result that takes us away!
Personally, I think It Takes You Away was an analogy for Brexit. Norway is not in the European Union, but its trade relationship has been held up as an exemplar for post-Brexit Britain. And The Doctor’s sadness at saying goodbye to the sentient Solitract surely reflected Remoaners sadness at leaving behind historic enemies, but current allies, such as the French?
Wasn’t It takes You Away nothing less than a farewell to Frogs?
The third person singular in title evoked horror movies such as It Follows, It’s Alive not forgetting the Stephen King blockbuster, It. But it was probably for the best that Hime didn’t exploit the potential of a blind girl being stalked by a monster. Remember the out-cry that greeted the scene in Silence of the Lambs in which Clarice Starling was hunted through the dark of a cellar by Buffalo Bill? And, let’s remember that Doctor Who is for children and is being first transmitted on a Sunday evening (although there was some suspense provided by deeply unpleasant flesh eating moths).
Still, I felt that Hime’s script rather too quickly took the story in another direction. That direction led to a kind of Star Trek: The Next Generation episode. In a mirror world in which everything is reversed (an effect achieved by flipping the digital image) Graham’s and Erik’s respective wives have apparently returned to life. Even though the widowers’ know that they are being fooled, they just don’t care. The trouble is that our world and mirror world are incompatible with each other and are destroying themselves.
It turns out that Erik and the TARDIS gang have entered the consciousness of the Solitract, a sentient aspect of Time and Space known only through Time Lord Folklore, in The Doctor’s case through stories told to her by her five (!) grandmothers. It seems that the misbehaving Solitract was, in effect, sent to a cosmic Pupil Referral Unit with no hope of future reintegration.
As an aside, The ‘Solitract’ was yet another addition to the season’s limply named aliens. I assume it was not inspired by being the brand name medication designed to help people with poor bladder control. Again, the programme is no longer that pant wettingly scary. Instead, I suspect that Solitract was a portmanteau word combining ‘Solitary’ and ‘Tract’ – the Solitary Tract being a bundle of fibres in the brain through which sensory input is transmitted. So the mirror in the house was part portal, part sensor.
What marked It Takes You Away as belonging to the Chris Chibnall paradigm (of which the story itself was paradigmatic) was its emphasis on feelings. The house was neither a base under siege, though we were led to believe so, nor any other Doctor Who trope. Instead, as in other stories this season, the elements of Doctor Who have been restructured to create a qualitatively different kind of show. Doctor Who is now a kind of big smiley emoji signalling good will and friendship across time and space.
For those looking for some continuity between the other Doctors we have seen since the series returned, then the Thirteenth is what the Doctor did next, now that the scars of the Time War are finally healed. Released from the burdens of the past, Whitaker’s fresh out of the packaging Doctor sees the Universe through enthusiastically fresh eyes.
The Embarrassing Dad Doctor and his tormented predecessors are long gone, replaced by a Doctor whose main aim sets out to make friends and influence people for the good. Although The Doctor seems, at times, frustratingly clueless, Whittaker is perfect for this role and the writers have also given her a clever side that delivers amusing quips that belie any imputed naivety.
I particularly liked a scene in which The Doctor resisted trading her ‘Sonic’ for information from the not particularly trust worthy Ribbons but then, in a form of dramatic mirroring, persuaded The Solitract to trust her to trade her life for the lives of her friends.
If the story had a subtext then, again, like many stories this season, it was focused on emotion. For example, the script explored different aspects of empathy. Left alone in the Cabin, Ryan and the little girl, must learn to see themselves from the other’s point of view, to walk in each other’s shoes, while Graham, Erik and The Solitract had to come to terms with different kinds of loss. Sometimes, the script argues, we can’t always stay together, we have to let go.
It’s a lesson that is going to have to be learnt by some of Doctor Who’s vloggers who are everywhere excluding themselves from society and, instead, inhabit not a mirror world so much as an image cast through the lens of a Camera Obscura, a topsy-turvy world that sorely needs standing on its feet.
One difficulty is that we seem to be living under the baleful influence of Plato who argued that the world we perceive through our senses is merely a shadow of the truth. It’s an outlook that contrasts strongly with the historically more recent development of ‘English Empiricism’, which argues that what we sense is what there is, all things being equal.
It is hardly surprising that those who feel no allegiance to any sensory input beyond their own thoughts can, for instance, look at Doctor Who’s ratings and interpret them to suggest that the BBC has a diversity programme aimed at destroying all-gender identity while, surely contradictorily, paving the way for a female dominated future (sic). Or that, the BBC is covertly indoctrinating its audience with this propaganda while at the same time the audience is not being indoctrinated but, instead, is leaving the programme in droves.
To touch base with reality, the ‘plunge’ in ratings The Sun and others refer to is merely the difference between episode one, The Woman Who Fell To Earth (10.5 million viewers) and episode two, The Ghost Monument (8.67 million viewers).
The difference in ratings is nothing particularly exceptional. For example, the BBC’s prestigious Sunday night serial The Little Drummer Girl had 5.2 million viewers for its first episode and 2.9 million for its second (of three). Returning to Doctor Who, Rose, the story that re-launched Doctor Who in 2005 was watched by 10.81 million viewers, while The End of The World, the second episode of that season, was watched by 7.97 million viewers, a fall of around 25 per cent.
This obsession with ratings may be fun for fans and grist to newspapers’ mills, but it is the product of a culture that is alien to much of British television. For instance, in the case of the BBC, if the ratings for a programme are too high, questions begin to be asked about why a public service broadcaster is making a potentially commercial product that might more properly be made by more commercial Networks.
I suspect that that is why Chibnall has balanced his claims that Doctor Who will be as glossy and cinematic as the products of Netflix with statement’s about Doctor Who’s public service function, such as the educational nature of its adventures in history, and its role in furthering the duty of the BBC to promote equality of opportunity and inclusion.
The current way in which ratings data is being used by some fans smacks of the values of a more commercially driven television environment, such as that of the United States. There, ratings were important because they are how the traditional networks attract sponsorship and advertising, which the BBC only not only don’t need but are expressly forbidden to do.
However, interestingly, ratings for some of the new media providers such as Amazon Prime and Netflix are hard to come by. (One reason for this might be that what pay-to-view channels care about is the money they receive directly from its viewers).
The idea of ‘fan service’ is partly an extrapolation from customer service. One of the comments accompanying the recent article in The Sun suggested that the BBC should survey Doctor Who’s audience to determine what they wanted. That’s not how the BBC has ever rolled. The BBC may not always know what its audience wants, but it is certain that it knows what the audience needs.
As for fans, the former chairman of the BBC Michael Grade referred to them as being pointy headed, while Russell T. Davies, who successfully revived the show in 2005, called them “ming-mongs”, a description that he subsequently tried to clamp down on, telling interviewers he didn’t like it.
If we stop looking at the world through the lens of some vloggers’ Camera Obscura, what we see are large, commercially motivated American companies with little or no accountability to society, playing host to attacks on the very idea of public service television. In this environment, the agendas of commerce, the interests of authoritarian nationalism, the propaganda of inequality are free to attack a British institution performing its duty as a public service.
At the moment, a small Alt. Right group of vloggers are beginning to operate as an ‘Alternative Internet’. In this realm, legitimate criticism of the programme and entirely ordinary subjective judgements are being press ganged into a more problematic cause.
Even the criticism that the BBC are anti-Christian has this topsy-turvy quality. In fact it was the Christian National Viewers and Listeners Association, under the leadership of Mary Whitehouse who, in the series’s history, was the only pressure group to have an impact on Doctor Who. In the 1970s, this pressure group contributed to the end of the Third Doctor’s focus on Earthbound horror and effectively ended the Gothic Horror stories that were promoted by Then producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes.
Again, the Christianity that informs the American right is the kind of Protestantism that sociologist Max Weber indentified as ‘The Spirit of Capitalism’, one for which individual success in life, including acquiring obscene amounts of money, is not only read as a sign of God’s Grace, but means the individual is predestined to entre Heaven and escape Judgement Day altogether by The Rapture, in which God takes them away.
In the face of this, perhaps fans could follow The Doctor’s example and, while empathising with the emotional core of this small, lonely, frightened mirror world, firmly but politely point out that their nature has excluded this world from civilized discourse and the humanitarian aims of Western democracies.
Unfortunately, unlike The Doctor, I doubt that this particular Solitract of and I will ever be friends, let alone remembered.
As for the genuine Doctor Who fans who currently hate the programme, if they are true to their word, then I guess they will take themselves away and that will be sad.
A freelance journalist and Doctor Who fanzine editor since 1978, Tim Robins has written on comics, films, books and TV programmes for a wide range of publications including Starburst, Interzone, Primetime and TV Guide. His brief flirtation with comics includes ghost inking a 2000AD strip and co-writing a Doctor Who strip. He reviewed comics and films in posts and podcasts for the Mindless Ones until he became a net diva and forgot to name check the rest of the team at a San Diego Comic Con panel. The Mindless Ones gave him the nickname ‘Tymbus’
• Wired: THE ALT-RIGHT ARE SAVVY INTERNET USERS. STOP LETTING THEM SURPRISE YOU by Emma Grey Ellis
Read up on what’s going on with the ‘Alternative’ internet
Here are some fun vloggers to check out:
An American, a webcam and a lot of rambling enthusiasm
For a young, precocious and alarmingly confident take on Doctor Who
A highly competent man in a hat tells it like it is.
If you want to hear an attempt to understand Doctor Who using the language of the Alt.Right then (amusingly) I recommend Centre Left. At least the vlogger himself is sincere – and has a great Scottish accent to boot!
• A Million Mad Musings
For girl-to-girl reviewing action enter the messy, excitable and thoroughly entertaining world of ‘AMillionMadMusings’. There’s a lot of content, so you’ll have to search her channel for Doctor Who posts, but how can anyone resist a review that starts “Hello Lesbians!”.This episode in particular – titled “Was A Female Doctor Just For Political Correctness?” – doesn’t
A freelance journalist and Doctor Who fanzine editor since 1978, Tim Robins has written on comics, films, books and TV programmes for a wide range of publications including Starburst, Interzone, Primetime and TV Guide.
His brief flirtation with comics includes ghost inking a 2000AD strip and co-writing a Doctor Who strip with Mike Collins. Since 1990 he worked at the University of Glamorgan where he was a Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Media Studies and the social sciences. Academically, he has published on the animation industry in Wales and approaches to social memory. He claims to be a card carrying member of the Politically Correct, a secret cadre bent on ruling the entire world and all human thought.