It Takes You Away was a strange story in many ways. The first half or so was an excellent example of Doctor Who as horror, something this series has largely shied away from. It’s coolly excellent as if trying to prove that it has avoided horror deliberately rather than through not being able to do it by calmly acing the genre.
And then, suddenly, the story changes and contracts, becoming a very personal story of grief and loss. It’s not bad at all, it’s not even jarring exactly, because each plot twist flows naturally from what came before. It’s just surprising that so many episodes this year have seen this type of contraction back from a typical big Doctor Who story to something quieter, more small scale and more emotional and contemplative. Doctor Who stories usually grow, both across the length of the story and from year to year, but this series has produced a series of miniatures. As I’ve mentioned before, it feels more like Star Trek, particularly Trek’s less successful episodes and series, the contraction from the epic down to the personal, whereas Doctor Who’s skill, particularly in the twenty-first century, has usually been making the epic feel personal.
This has happened so many times (in almost every episode this year, to be honest) that it is clearly a deliberate narrative strategy on Chris Chibnall’s part and I wouldn’t call it unsuccessful, although it does feel surprising for long-term viewers (as with many aspects of this season, Chibnall seems to be resetting our expectations of the programme almost back to November 1963). What is unclear to me is why he wants to do this, and that may not be obvious for some time, perhaps not until another Chibnall-overseen series has aired.
I don’t want to sound negative, as I really enjoyed this episode. It was second only to Rosa this year in the enjoyment stakes, which is saying something. It probably needs a second viewing to be fully appreciated, and it’s probably not the only episode this year where that applies. But it leaves me wondering where Chris Chibnall is taking us, what does he have planned for the season finale and new year’s special? I can’t wait to find out…