Doctor Who is at its absolute nutso best when it takes on surreal fantasy and wins: Warriors Gate, Enlightement, or this. They go beyond where special effects budget can comfortable take them, yet with so many ideas flying off the screen, these are stories worth matching in imagination.
That’s not to deny the extraordinarily beautiful realisation of these unconventional concepts or the skilful direction, because each one is a huge risk that could easily be a horrible mess. This is not the kind of story it is easy to get right.
It Takes You Away could easily have played it safe and stuck with the Nordic noir atmosphere (and I do like that we’re not in in England again, even if we seem to have turned up in 2018 yet again). I’d certainly have been happy with the spooky (and beautifully photographed) horror that unfolded in the first 15 minutes. It was on course to match the quality of the best of this series, with wit and suspense in equal measure. It turned on a dime from whimsy (“the woolly rebellion”) to a powerful sense of peril (a mirror with no reflection).
There was an incredibly dark moment as the Doctor deliberately lies to a blind girl, claiming to be drawing a map while writing to her friends “assume her Dad is dead” (a deception I’m pleased the Doctor didn’t get away with, at least in the sense it was unsuccessful).
But the variations between light and shade by the fjord’s edge were as nothing to the wild lurch the story then took (both in narrative and production) into anti-zones, flesh moths and sentient Universes. Flipping through a Tolkein-esque fantasy, it transitioned from horror to an alternative heaven. A false paradise manufactured by a rejected deity, a meditation on loss and longing, on loneliness and friendship, on identity and happiness. All of which gave Bradley Walsh yet another chance to be just… absolutely lovely.
And that’s before we even get to the frog.
I don’t know what chaos this must have caused in the tone meeting, but what an exciting treat to hurtle through 50 minutes of television so surreal it’s not just you don’t quite know where it’s going, but you don’t even know what kind of story you’re going to end up in next, and yet for it all to be rather brilliant.
More from me on It Takes You Away in a forthcoming episode of Fusion Patrol.