Warning: Potential spoilers for the episode ahead.
Since its on-screen regeneration in 2005, Doctor Who in the 21st-century has had many things that separate it from its 20th-century incarnation. One of the biggest, introduced by Russell T Davies nearly 15 years ago, was wrapping the series' science fiction plots inside more substantial emotional stories. Even with him vacating the showrunner chair in 2010, it's something that the series hasn't quite shaken off, much to its credit at times. One such recent example came with the penultimate episode of Series 11.
The set-up is pretty basic. The TARDIS arrives in present-day Norway when the Doctor and co making their way toward a remote cabin. There they find a blind teenage girl whose father has disappeared, warning her to stay inside as something is lurking in the woods beyond. Never being one to pass up either a mystery or a person in distress, the Doctor sets about investigating. What her and Team TARDIS discover leads them to a parallel universe, an ancient creature, and a face from the past with ramifications for one member of the crew in particular.
"It Takes You Away" is a fascinating episode to look at with its mix of elements and genres by writer Ed Hime. In one way, it follows in the footsteps of the previous episode "The Witchfinders" in how it draws upon the horror genre for much of its initial set-up. Indeed, the Antizone sequences in particular very much draw upon that genre, almost gruesomely so. The back half of the episode draws upon the science fiction genre with some big concepts that bring to mind Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, its 1972 film adaptation from Andrei Tarkovsky, and some of that director's other works. It's a combination that likely sounds absurd on paper and, in one or two instances, actually clashes a bit on-screen. In the bigger picture, however, they dovetail nicely into one another in a combination that is uniquely Doctor Who.
What helps them to do that is the emotional core of the episode. While it has concepts and tropes drawn from the worlds of horror and science fiction, Hine is clear with what his script is about beneath those trappings. It Takes You Away explores the themes of loneliness, solitude, and grief with three different sets of characters. There's Graham, still dealing with a loss from the season opener. There's the father Erik. And finally, and most Whovian of all, the ancient creature known as the Solitract. How each of them deals with their emotions becomes important to the episode's conclusion, wrapping everything together rather nicely.
It does more than that, however. The focus on grief allows the wrapping up of a running sub-plot of this season, dating back to the end of "The Woman Who Fell to Earth." In doing so, it allows actor Bradley Walsh to deliver an exceptional performance as companion Graham who's been the biggest surprise out of the Series 11 cast. One might even go so far as to say that his performance is his best of the entire season.
Nor is Walsh the only surprise out of the cast. For much of the season, Whittaker's Doctor had felt as though the writer's under showrunner Chris Chibnall had been writing a generic New Who Doctor. There had been a certain David Tennant quality to her characterization, mixed with a frantic bubbliness. With this episode, one gets the feeling of Whittaker's true take on the character appearing at last. From her confrontation with Ribbons to the final scene with the Solitract, her performance mixes a harder edge with a fascination with the times and places the Doctor winds up within. Perhaps with this episode, and maybe the two proceeding it, the Thirteenth Doctor has come into her own.
Though it has some minor tonal clashes, there is plenty to recommend the episode for. Its mixture of elements makes it a uniquely Whovian piece of storytelling. More than that, it explores the emotions of two of its leads, allowing them to give their best performances to date in the series. For all those reasons, "It Takes You Away" is one of the standout episodes of Series 11.