What happens when a British institution lands in Norway with some monsters in the woods, an interdimensional portal … and a frog?
If you need to catch up, previously, we discussed “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” “The Ghost Monument,” “Rosa,” “Arachnids in the UK,” “The Tsuranga Conundrum,” “Demons of the Punjab,” “Kerblam,” and “The Witchfinders.”
This week, we all ask some of the wild questions brought up by this week’s episode.
Hannah: What a mind-boggling episode! I wrote last week that “I’d like a stronger central idea for this era.” Boy, did I get one. Various elements of it reminds me of Twin Peaks, The X-Files, noir-ish shows like Vera (no wonder, Jamie Childs also directed two episodes of that show), and odd alternate universe stories like Labyrinth or Mirrormask.
I’m not sure this little bit of weirdness is going to set any precedents for the show going forward, but it was bolder and stranger than anything I’ve seen so far. At the same time, the harsh family drama and cool Scandi feel don’t feel at home in a cozy British institution like Doctor Who. Do you hope we see more episodes like this, or is it just too surreal and detached?
Jenna: It does feel bolder and stranger than any this series, but I will say this felt like such a reminder that we are in fantasy/sci-fi land. The weirdness of the frog, plus the cave and the monster there, really reminded me of something out of the Classic Who years I’ve seen.
I think it’s good to have that level of bizarre at least once a series to remind people this isn’t just a drama and to keep audiences aware anything could happen. I saw a lot of fans hoping it was a past companion she was blowing the kiss to, and then with the line about “your friend,” it seemed primed for that, but I’m so glad it wasn’t and Chibnall fulfilled his promise not to do that because a fake version of someone we are still mourning and a conscious universe and a disturbing frog are exactly the genre we’re in, not a soap opera.
Maybe it’s the elitism of the geeks, but I kind of enjoy that this sort of surreal element sets it apart from other more normal, realistic things on TV.
Aaron: It certainly had a “I didn’t see that coming” feel to it. One of the wonderful thing about Doctor Who is how genre-bending the show can be. It started off as a fairly standard horror story with a monster in the woods, adding a middle layer of an alien confrontation, then transitioning to fantasy realm of bringing the dead back to life, and then the absurd ending of the frog. That’s a lot to fit into a one-hour show.
But, you might be right Hannah, the strangest thing of the show may have been the TARDIS in Scandinavia. (Though I would like to see if the Doctor could assemble some IKEA furniture with the sonic screwdriver.) It seems, however, that it is part of taking the show to more earthly locales to expand (and connect with) the shows global fanbase.
Hannah: The Ryan-and-Graham storyline paid off in a big way in this episode. Interestingly, it tied in with Graham’s ongoing battle with grief, as he is forced to let go of his longing for Grace to commit to the present: saving Ryan.
After all of this goes down, Ryan finally accepts Graham as his granddad. How do you feel about how this storyline has developed throughout the season? Did you find its resolution satisfying?
Jenna: Yes! I’m so glad they went there with this episode, finally letting them come together for a sweet granddad and grandson moment there at the end, with the beautiful landscape. I think Graham got to say a lot of things he needed to to get closure with Grace, but I totally agree it was also necessary for him to commit to the present, and commit to Ryan, in a new way. I hope they can continue to grow together.
Aaron: This was a great episode to bring their relationship to somewhat of a conclusion. I hope they can build off of that going forward to the season finale. Still the fact that we are talking about Ryan and Graham again, but not Yaz illustrates the problems with this many companions.
She hasn’t grown or developed so far this season. She seemed to indicate she was trying to get away from her family, but we didn’t see any significant issues when she spent time with them. I hope they give us a real reason why Yaz is a companion before the season is over.
Jenna: The introduction of a new kind of parallel universe, in Norway, especially, was an interesting choice. The creation account also reveals more about the Doctor’s point of view.
I thought it was touching that it was taught to her as a folktale from a granny, not from a science textbook or some sort of unquestionable authority. Did the explanation make sense to you?
Hannah: I never really expect Doctor Who’s ancient mythology to all hang together. You have the Eleventh Doctor talking about the Big Bang in romantic but scientific terms. You have references to ancient evil beings from before creation in “The Curse of Fenric” and “The Satan Pit,” as we mentioned last week.
In the Fifth Doctor episode Terminus, they speculate that a specific spaceship travelled back in time and dumped fuel which caused an explosion and thus, the Big Bang (it was a dumb episode). You also have the Fourth and Eleventh Doctors say they saw it happen (respectively, 11 minutes into the mediocre “Destiny of the Daleks” and in the “Rings of Akhaten” speech).
So does this new creation myth make sense in the context of the show’s mythology? Nope, but Who has always been inconsistent about this sort of thing. What’s most important, I think, is that this myth fits into the story of “It Takes You Away.” It’s scientific, but because it’s a folktale, it gains an eeriness and a strangeness that helps us buy the ultimate odd abstract explanation of the thing. The Solitract is by nature nonsensical, so it has to be understood on a gut rather than a mind level. Thus, explaining it through a fairy-tale makes sense.
Aaron: Like Hannah said, I don’t expect the Doctor’s story of creation to remain coherent across Doctors, seasons or even episodes. Use the one that best fits within the story and that’s all that matters. Having said that, I was a much bigger fan of the first part of the episode than the last.
I enjoy when the show dabbles in horror. It often helps maintain a sense of danger when that’s so frequently lacking. Rarely do we feel the Doctor or his/her companions are actually going to die or get hurt. This week, we got that tension for a bit before it was switched to the bizarre.
Her retelling of her granny’s (at least one of them) creation story was a nice touch, but the show has been relying on dialogue to convey information instead of emotion a lot this season. The speech was better than the science lesson we got in “The Tsuranga Conundrum,” but I still found myself pulled out of the emotional moment in the story.
Jenna: She describes the Solitract as a disease at first, but ends up calling it a friend and blowing it a kiss. Did you feel for the Solitract despite the (REALLY WEIRD) frog form?
Hannah: It took me a second to warm to the frog, but I ended up loving it. It’s sweet and whimsical and helps to establish a lot about the character of the Solitract, which before just seemed creepy and manipulative.
I half-expected the writer, Ed Hime, to put in a cameo appearance from an older companion that the Doctor desperately wanted to see again, but I’m glad he didn’t.
It would have taken up precious screen time to explain who the companion was for new viewers, it wouldn’t have had the same emotional impact for every viewer, people would still be debating about why it should have been Rose instead of River or vice versa, and it wouldn’t have established certain things about this new Doctor—namely, that she loves finding new remarkable things. So yeah, I’m glad we got the frog.
Aaron: A frog is probably better than a previous companion for all the reasons Hannah gave and as a connection to this season’s story, but that doesn’t negate just how bizarre that ending was. I think you compared it to Twin Peaks earlier and that seems about right.
As I said earlier, the last part of the episode was the weakest part for me. Not just that it was strange—I can appreciate that when done well—but it seemed so disjointed from the first part. This week almost seemed like three different stories all crammed into one episode. I don’t need the Doctor’s creation accounts to be cohesive, but I do want the episodes to be.
Because of that, I had no real emotional attachment to the Solitract. It’s hard to develop attachment to a conscious parallel universe in the form of a frog that I just learned existed 10 minutes ago.
Now, Graham and Ryan … that got me because the show invested time and story to their relationship.
Aaron: We got three potential monsters this week. One that was completely made up. One that was quite literally a cutthroat dealmaker. And one that really just wanted a friend. That doesn’t even count the flesh-eating moths(!). What did you think of the villain roster and fakeouts this week?
Jenna: I felt like surely the monster outside was connected to the point of the episode somehow, maybe something sneaking through the mirror or something, and it was heartbreaking that it was just made-up but really spoke to that dad’s character.
I thought the cave dude was alright as far as contributing to the weirdness and being a plot device. But it was definitely different than the Pete’s World style parallel universe where it was just them landing in London… but an identical parallel London.
Hannah: I didn’t actually mind the fakeout monsters, except for Ribbons. He didn’t serve any story purpose—he was scary, sure, but he didn’t have a real role to play. Ultimately, the fact that there was real, genuine menace in all the situations meant I didn’t mind so much that the Solitract was kind of sympathetic at the end.
The things that it wanted to do were still villainous—even if it wanted to do them for good reasons. That was, in fact, the point of the story—lying to our loved ones and refusing to let them go is the definition of poisonous love.
Aaron: Despite enjoying the show, as a father, I struggled with the central concept of the show—that Erik essentially terrifies his blind daughter into staying locked up in her house so he can go to an alternate universe where his wife is still alive.
Why would he not get Hanne and bring her with him instead of setting up an overly complicated plan to keep her in the house? Did that part seem off to you? What do you do when an episode’s concept in Doctor Who (or another show) doesn’t work for you?
Jenna: haha I almost mentioned above that as far as monsters go, I wouldn’t say the dad was one, but he certainly wasn’t on the “good guy” list for me. Yeah, very weird that he wasn’t even going back for her. It works in that I think Chibnall wants to write complicated characters and situations.
Much like how the company in Kerblam wasn’t the ultimate villain, but they were still much to blame for some of the systematic issues at the heart of the problem. Erik wasn’t a full-on villain here, but he also isn’t some angel of a dad. I think their future is going to be better back in the city but still complicated, like most families, especially those that have suffered.
To answer your question, though, when something doesn’t work for me, I just make up my own version in my head until I can see why the writers made that choice, which in some shows has really paid off later and some I still hate when I rewatch and have to pretend it didn’t happen. ha!
Hannah: It did seem odd that he wouldn’t simply bring her through the anti-zone. But I think his reasoning can be inferred by examining his behavior and by the themes of the episode—characters like Erik and Graham have a desire to live in an unreal world with dead lovers and ignore the very real needs of their dependents.
Another unspoken thing: Erik probably didn’t want to deal with his disabled daughter when he was in the dream. He’s a selfish person who’s dismissive of Hanne’s needs.