“I always carry a cheese and pickle sarnie. Y’know, just for emergencies.”
After Alan Cumming’s insane performance in last week’s episode, I was sure this week’s adventure would be a more down-to-earth (albeit moth-filled) trip to present day Norway. But instead we got one of the more bizarre cosmic stories that I think the show has ever done.
Carrying on this series’ tradition of just wandering into trouble, the episode opens with Team TARDIS just wandering into trouble. This time it’s a creepy abandoned cabin in the middle of the Norwegian woods. Inside they find a blind girl, Hanne, whose dad is missing (probably dead) and who is being hunted by a creature in the woods. Things get weirder when the gang find a portal in the bedroom mirror. Where does it go? Did the monster come out of there? It’s a great set-up, and one that ends up being a colossal red herring.
It turns out that on the other side of the mirror is a mirror world, created by a living, conscious universe called the Solitract. It’s existed since before time began, but when our universe came about it was exiled because us and the Solitract can’t exist together. Still following? All it really wants is a friend to hang out with. So it’s begun luring in human beings with the promise of meeting your dead loved ones. Hanne’s dad finds his wife, Graham finds Grace. And that isn’t even mentioning the sort of limbo that exists between the two dimensions, filled with killer moths and a weird guy with bone knives. Frankly I’d be shocked if drugs weren’t involved at the creation stage of this story.
The Solitract is a big, abstract, science fiction idea – the first proper one we’ve had this season. Things like this are always difficult to describe. It’s like the cosmic characters in the Marvel universe – when you have a character who is the embodiment of literally every universe in the multiverse, things tend to get a bit abstract. Luckily the episode does us a favour towards the end when the Solitract takes the form of a frog with Grace’s voice. It’s so silly and a little campy, but also a really great scene, thanks in no small part to Jodie Whittaker’s phenomenal performance and committment to taking it so seriously. THIS is what Doctor Who should be, this scene is the show distilled down to the parts that make it work. A cracking concept, some melodrama, and something silly.
Not everything worked perfectly. I did find the girl Hanne to be pretty annoying. Ryan didn’t handle himself that we’ll, but to go all Hotline Miami on him and knock him unconscious with the door was a bit much. I get that she was scared, but going into that portal (alone and BLIND) was crazy. But I did like how she knew the woman wasn’t her real mother. Was it a blindness power, a la Daredevil? Who knows, but it was refreshing to see someone not be suckered in.
Despite the flesh moths being genuinely scary (did you see that one crawl out of that guy’s eye?!) the real villain here was grief. No wait, come back! It was done in a good way. Seeing your loved ones again is a hell of a lure, there aren’t many that could resist such an offer. And it was this grief that made Erik go all Nordic noir and look his daughter in the house. I may not have liked Grace all that much, but her return this episode gave Bradley Walsh’s Graham some really great material to work with. And it was effective, in that I really didn’t know whether he was going to stay or not. Though I do reckon Graham’s days are numbered. Ryan calls him “Grandad” at the end of this episode, which more or less completes his arc. All I’m saying is don’t be surprised if Graham heroically sacrifices himself next week.
I’m tempted to say that this was my favourite episode of this season, for sheer scope alone. I also enjoyed the many rug pulls, turning what could have been a generic Doctor Who story into something far more ballsy and beautifully surreal.
Reviewed by Jack