Warning: Massive spoilers for “It Takes You Away”
Just to give all the folks who might have clicked on this room to click away without seeing spoilers, here’s a terrible joke.
Q. Knock knock
A. Who’s there?
Q. Tenth Doctor
A. Tenth Doctor Who.
Q. Knock knock
I am not welcome at open mike nights for good reasons.
“It Takes You Away” is the most-recent episode of Doctor Who, and it has gotten a very mixed reaction from fans because of a talking frog. The Tardis crew follows a teenage girl’s missing father through a magical mirror portal where something called the Solitract has been using imitations of deceased loved ones to try and snare itself some company. The Solitract is a sentient entity that was apparently incompatible with the laws of reality, sort of like a celestial anti-vaxxer. It was walled off from creation due to the fact that it made existence buckle and snap just by being around it, and ever since then it has been so lonely that it occasionally tries to trick beings into its universe for company.
The Solitract is the latest in a long line of extra-dimensional, parasitic and vaguely Lovecraftian villains The Doctor has faced. It’s far more benign and less sinister than House, the Celestial Toymaker or my favorite, Edward Grove, but the premise is basically the same in that something Beyond needs constant stimulus from our realm. The episode is heartbreaking as the girl’s father is forced to reject the copy of his wife and Graham must also put away a doppelganger of his beloved late wife Grace to escape back to his grandson in peril.
That ultimately leaves The Doctor alone in a white room after promising the Solitract that she would be its companion and tell it all about the universe that was cut off from if it would let everyone else go. The Solitract took the form of a frog with Grace’s voice, saying that the form delighted her as it had delighted Grace (Grace’s love for frogs was a minor plot point earlier in the episode).
The frog form is what I see a lot of fans complaining about. Most of them wonder why the show didn’t take the opportunity to return someone significant from The Doctor’s past instead of a random amphibian. Surely fans would have loved to see Jack or Bill or even a random Gallifreyan in robes more than this.
I for one think the frog was absolutely perfect. I’m not alone. That opinion is shared by Doctor Who novel writer Jonathan Blum. He told me:
The frog's rationale for choosing that form — "Because it delights me" — is one of the most Doctor Whoish things we've seen all year. And an attitude like that sells why The Doctor would be friends with such a creature!
Think about it for a second. The Doctor has been all across space and time. She’s seen everything, been everywhere. That includes friends and loved ones up and down their respective time streams. It’s old news to The Doctor, but a talking frog? That probably hasn’t come up before. Giant frogs sometimes, but talking one who just want to have a chat about how awesome everything that has ever been is? Nope, it is exactly the sort of thing The Doctor would want to see. It’s new and different.
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Beyond that, she had just seen three people’s hearts broken by the copies of their dearly departed. It clearly wasn’t easy. Why would The Doctor put herself through that with shades of River or Adric or C’rizz? What would be the point of reliving a lie with lives that were over? We know The Doctor is full of guilt over the lives she couldn’t save and the harm that she’s done in her meddling. A reminder of that as a manipulation trick wouldn’t seem like a very good way to make her feel at home.
Who fans are like Potter fans sometimes in that they get so thoroughly addicted to being reminded of things that made them feel strongly before that they forget to look forward to the next experience. The last half of Steven Moffat’s run on the show was a constant drip feed for nostalgia junkies right down to re-casting the First Doctor. It’s Star Wars prequel syndrome like we just saw in The Crimes of Grindelwald. We get used to lip service reminders of what we’ve watched before, and that makes every chance to do it again that isn’t taken feel like a denial of our feels-fix.
If there’s anything Doctor Who needs less of right now it’s the show’s past, which has been hanging around like fallout since “The Day of The Doctor.” It needs to let go and move on. Honor and remember what came before, yes, but don’t let it get it the way of moving forward into new adventure and caring about the contemporary people who need you.
Which was, by the way, the whole moral of “It Takes You Away” in the first place. That’s why the frog was perfect. We wanted an illusion, and we couldn’t have it because the future needed The Doctor more than yesterday and guilt do.