It Takes You Away.

TV "Zagreus sits inside your head. Zagreus lives among the dead. Zagreus sees you in your bed. And eats you when you're sleeping." I don't know about you but those are the words which flickered through my head on hearing the Doctor talk about her grandma's fairy tale about the Scaramucci or whatever it was called (Jodie seemed to have great fun wrapping her chops around whatever was written in the script).  For the casuals, Zagreus turned up the second season of Big Finish Eighth Doctor stories, a result of the Time Lord absorbing a shed load of anti-time and becoming the epitome of a Gallifreyan bogeyman.  Eventually he trapped himself in a divergent dimension without causality in order to protect the Whoniverse.  He then spent a couple of years oscillating between fairly standard adventures and the kind of surreal whimsy the actual television show broadcast tonight.  Some of it was quite good.

For a few brief moments, It Takes You Away seemed like it was going to become a full blown homage to that controversial story arc to the point that the Kro'ka and Rassilon might turn up attempting to use the portal to go home (sorry casuals), but instead it's more clearly influenced by Andrei Tarkovsky, most notably his adaptation of Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, and Jean Cocteau's Orphee which has previous having been a key source for Stephen Gallagher when writing Warrior's Gate (along with La Belle et La Bette).  Like Solaris (see also the Soderbergh remake), our travelers are enticed into remaining in the alt.verse by convincing recreations of the recently deceased.  Like Orphee, a mirror is the means of entering the alternative dimension in which those loved ones reside.  Not sure about the significance of the moths (The Duke of Burgandy?) but the big red torch could be a reference to Lamorisse's The Red Balloon.

Good evening.  As you can see I'm back.  There will be a review of The Witchfinders during my shiny disc rewatch (although every episode now seems to have been set for permanent residency on the iPlayer so ... shrug.gif ... might be sooner) but I'm in much more comfortable territory with an episode about mirror universes and small rubber frogs as the big bad.  If the shot of Dogbolter's cousin raising its tiny hand to banish the Doctor from its solopsistic matrix isn't the image of the series, then I still haven't read enough Paul Magrs novels (which is actually true, I still haven't experienced Verdigris).  But yes, it's the second of December, BBC One have already adopted their Christmas idents and I'm feeling much more chipper.  Much chipperer.  Chipperly?  Positively peart.  Anyway, the early broadcast means I might be able to finish this at a reasonable hour so I'd best get on.

This season continues its geographic diversity with a trip to Norway.  Not having seen much Scandi-noir outside Forbrydelsen or Män som hatar kvinnor, I don't know the extent to which director Jamie Childs replicates the mis-en-scene of those shows, but it certainly feels authentic with its blue washed colour timing and simple camera movements.  Both actors Christian Rubeck and Lisa Stocke are both Norwegian and appeared in the types of shows imported by BBC Four for a Saturday night broadcast.  Perhaps more interesting is Stocke, who looks under-utilised when we discover she's a graduate of LIPA, was in the original cast of Mamma Mia, the voice of Elsa in the Norgwegian dub of Frozen and has been a contestant on 4-stjerners middag (Four Star Meal), the local version of Come Dine With Me, which ditches members of the public in favour of celebrities.  Cue showreel.  Since it is nearly Christmas, here she is singing The Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth as part of a charity campaign:

I'd be "drite seg ut" if I didn't note that this isn't the first occasion the revival has visited Norway's lovely crinkly edges, with the anomaly that allowed Tenth and Rose to interface located at Dårlig Ulv Stranden, fifty miles out from Bergen in Pete's World.  Perhaps that's also the source of the interface between these worlds, the walls between different realities especially thin across the fjords.  You can imagine in about five years Big Finish'll produce a boxed set which ties both of these stories together, along with the shaft in Torchwood's Miracle Day and it'll all be revealed to be a result of Kermit's plastic pen friend.  I joke, but honestly however much truthiness Jennifer Saunders offered on Have I Got News For You ("Actually, Doctor Who will probably be busy delivering its lecture on colonialism and the collapse of the British Empire. Probably worth missing that."), there's always a tiny metal munching alien or a universe sized consciousness which manifests itself as an amphibian in the next episode.

This is still Doctor Who, through and through.  Ed Hime's script is even structured like an old two parter.  Pause the iPlayer version at twenty odd minutes and we find the potent reveal of Erik's wife, which while not life threatening for the Doctor etc, would be a potent choice at Big Finish.  Plus Jodie's now entirely comfortable in the character's skin and the writers and director are unafraid to play up her eccentricities.  Only the Doctor would be more interested in chewing dirt than taking in the view.  Where once the Doctor was a mad man in a box, now she's just a nutter.  They've also gained confidence in allowing her to carrying a two hander, something rare in this iteration, and there are shades of Eleventh in The Rings of Arkanoid as she faces the Solitract and offers her history as a trade to save others.  But whereas she was then all fire and fury, now she confronts Fredo with peace and compassion.

Speaking of which, as Doctor Who itself has illustrated in the past, the return of a deceased spouse can lead to potent, emotional choices.  But unlike Pete Tyler and Danny Pink, here Grace is a manifestation of Graham's memory, a near idealised version of her, someone who is everything he remembers her being which is an incredibly cruel choice for the antagonist.  Bradley is incredibly strong in these scenes, his face wretched, underplaying the re-surfacing of his grief and fighting his want to believe.  Sharon D Clarke also makes the important choice of making the distinction to make the recreation of his wife colourless, motion going, presenting just enough personality to draw Graham in, but not so much that audience doesn't dismiss its own cynicism, underscores by the Doctor, about these sirens of time.

Ed Hime's another interesting choice as a writer.  Chibbers has largely ignored the choice in previous administrations of selecting showrunners from other dramas to write scripts, preferring those with perhaps less experience of television and/or perhaps more used to working in a writer's room.  According to his agency website, his only previous TV experience is a couple of episodes from latter day Skins, his other credits mainly found in radio drama and theatre.  If he's a fan, and there's enough in here to suggest he is, it's amazing the audio drama wing of the franchise haven't snapped him up already.  When and if there is a new series, will Chibbers retain these writers or give others a chance?  We're not quite back to the eighties approach of commissioning writers with little to no experience of television, but it is still gratifying that we're looking beyond other successful series to keep the narrative engine running.

In previous years, the penultimate episode was often the tipping point into the finale's hi-jinks so it really is quite odd that we go in there with little or no idea about what to expect.  My guess is it'll be like last stories of yore in none regeneration years in which we have an epic story without much in the way of lasting consequences - we know that the whole TARDIS team survives in time for the festive special.  But I still have a nagging suspicion Chibbers will pull a fast one and it'll be revealed that there has been a story arc running right through the year hidden in plain sight, the Room 237 nature of which will blow our minds.  Something related to most of the villains surviving the episodes, the TARDIS being a bit skittish about were it deposits her passengers or something the Doctor hasn't been saying in order to keep her friends safe.  Either way, ten episodes might be the perfect number for a Netflix MARVEL series but it's not been enough for this season of Doctor Who.

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