Reviewed By: Mercury
Review Date: 12/11/18 1:54 pm
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This is clearly a divisive episode that some will hate but most will love. Meanwhile, as is often the case in divisive matters I am somewhere in between, mostly positive but with reservations. People, I feel, often over react and proclaim hate when in fact it is just a few aspects which spoiled something good. I prefer to acknowledge those problematic aspects but also take into account all the good parts. Overall there is a lot of good stuff in this and it is great as entertainment if you ignore the annoying issues which clash with the lore of the show or logic. I cannot ignore them but I cannot ignore the great qualities either. You also have to give credit for the great ambition even if it does not all work.
The story is that the TARDIS arrives in Norway near a secluded house where they discover a blind teenage girl all alone who says her mother died a while ago and that her father who she lives with has been taken by a monster. They hear the sounds of the monster outside but find a strange mirror inside which turns out to be the real story as it is a portal to an 'antizone', a barrier zone between two alternate universes. The other universe is ruled by the Solitract, a sentient power from Time Lord mythology.
This has some similarities with those occasional classic Who stories which delved into a fantasy world like The Celestial Toymaker or The Mind Robber or more recent efforts like Amy's Choice or The Doctor's Wife. In another way it very much reminds me of a Moffatt era story in that it is crammed with clever ideas, some excellent, some that felt good to the writer but end up appearing contrived and illogical to people who question it. Like many Moffatt stories this lacked a firm hand in charge to stop the writer getting carried away with the ideas and losing focus on some elements to ground it in believable limits. There is so much good stuff in it but it almost comes off the rails and for some viewers it turns them completely off. For me I still appreciate all the good elements but feel sad that as with so many stories ever since RTD left this ends up failing to be the classic it could have been and becomes just a decent effort due to ambition overriding good storytelling decisions.
The TARDIS arrives near a fjord and from that moment we get fantastic cinematography and production values as with the rest of series 11 (until one effects aspect at the end which feels a letdown). The problems begin though in an initial little introductory scene where The Doctor tastes soil and makes silly proclamations based on that 'sample'. A totally unnecessary and stupid little moment that would have been far better and more logical if she had just read the TARDIS scanner and told them they were in Norway in the middle of nowhere but there was a life sign nearby. There is also a misleading camera shot appearing to represent something watching them which turns out not to be the case.
Immediately after that initial silly scene it becomes a really good creepy episode as they discover the boarded up house, meet the blind girl who tells them her father has been taken by a monster and hear the monsters roars outside. These scenes are unsettling, intriguing, brilliantly scripted and well acted by all the cast so I felt we were going to get a classic scary tale as trailers had suggested. They then find the mirror portal and the antizone and all the scenes in this part continue with the great quality of production, acting, creepy atmosphere and enjoyable story. We now are moving away from the scary monster in the woods idea and into pure fantasy but it is working well. When they reach the alternative universe there is a brilliant, clever touch that has everything subtly reversed as if in a mirror. Almost impercebtibly everything is backwards from their faces to the logo on the T-shirt worn by the blind girl's father Erik. So far, apart from that tiny scene at the start this episode is tremendous. But then The Doctor tells Yaz and us about the Solitract. It is not necessarily any more silly or illogical than a hundred other ideas in Doctor Who but it just seems a silly concept and it seems odd we would never have heard of it. If only they had made the universe the realm of the Celestial Toymaker or linked it in with the Mind Robber, Amy's Choice, The Doctor's Wife or another existing idea fans could get excited about. The Solitract just feels a bit of an over complicated new idea. The dialogue where The Doctor describes her 7 grannies also feels wrong. Finally when the Solitract manifests itself as a frog, not only is that idea pretty strange and silly but the frog itself is poorly created and stands out as a bad effect in series 11 which otherwise has been visually the best ever. Why did they go with the idea of the frog when that would obviously annoy a lot of viewers and they could have had the Solitract fake Susan, a former companion or The Doctor's mother? Why did they not do a proper realistic CGI frog at least?
The other thing that seemed more wrong than the Solitract when you think about it is Erik's behaviour. Why would he think up and fake a terrifying monster and leave his daughter alone and scared when he could have tried taking her with him to the other universe or finding another way to keep her safe? It would have been far better if the monster was a real one that entered from the antizone and Erik had gone to the other universe and been seduced by the Solitract's tricks so that he forgot about returning for his daughter until The Doctor made him remember her. Instead he just gets rejected by the Solitract and never chose to return to his daughter. This, along with the frog are the biggest issues I had with the episode.
On the plus side in this latter part of the episode there continues to be some really great acting and interesting themes about loss, loneliness and grief with emotional scenes with Graham and Ryan at the end. When you combine these with all the great stuff throughout the episode it makes this far above the worst Who episodes.
The issues of just a couple of scenes of dodgy dialogue and a couple of ideas presented in a way that feels silly or illogical sadly detract from what could easily have been a 10/10 classic. We had creepiness, cleverness, awesome cinematography, thoughtful themes, great emotion from Graham, solid acting from the whole cast, a great Norwegian location and the whole concept including the antizone and alteranative universe which could have been great if they had not confused matters with the questionable Solitract idea and Erik's weird decisions.