I drew three conclusions about the Doctor Who episode It Takes You Away. To me the themes were obvious, but satisfying amid the classic Who scares, Doctory-mythos talk, a fairy tale turned reality, and a Scandi-noir story that turned into something else. But to the conclusions, first:)
The very first thing I thought was NOT ANOTHER DEAD MOTHER PLOT. FFS writers. Then I got over that thought with the idea that the loss of the mother is primal and important and this could be interesting, in a kind of Ariadne’s thread kinda way. Then this story skates over this to focus on the loss and apparent restoration of the romantic partner, the slightly lame Erik and Graham. But only Hanne, the blind girl, with her primal connection and second sight can see this mother isn’t her Mother. Yes The Doctor can also tell this, since she is the only one who knows the story, and, because she is the woman equipped with an abundance of grandmothers. Does seven grandmothers make up for the lack of mothers?
The next conclusion I reached is that this episode is obviously a meditation upon grief. Yes the family, Graham and Ryan, but also the idea of a consciousness that is a separate universe. Literally grief is what takes you away from the world. Grief as its own self-aware universe is as accurate a description as any in peer-reviewed psych journals. If you can’t see it, let me explain: grief leaves you in a bubble, it leaves you alone in it, and lonely, even if you are surrounded by others who are also grieving. Grief, at least how contemporary westerners perform it, is solitary, isolating, and painful to the point it is medicalised and shunned as taboo. It cuts you off from the world, even as it dupes you into thinking you are in the world. It plays tricks, it leads you astray. The world of grief pain is real but our individualised suffering dilates the distances between people. Our friends and family and colleagues become uncomfortable, or annoyed with our separate expressions of loss, invariably no matter how these expressions manifest (big reaction, no reaction, little reaction, not crying, crying a lot, withdrawal, excessive engagement, risk taking, drifting). At the height of grief you believe it’s a world you don’t think you can escape, or you think grief is what the world is…However, with the passage of time, friends, the pull of life, the universe and everything, you return to yourself and a wider world. What you are left with is occasional day trips to grief-universe, they come on unexpectedly or slowly approach at certain dates and times. And you ride out the grief trip with its all consuming moth eaters of life, its dangers and darknesses, and maze-like tricks to keep you stuck there. But you do emerge, knowing next time you will take the string to guide you out more easily. And even though you return you are changed, as with a tadpole into a frog, else you are shredded into Ribbons (pun intended). Sometimes others around you change. Upon your return you may be closer to those who have suffered in similar ways, as Ryan and Graham demonstrate. Other times the lessons from your grief cannot be shared except as a warning beacon in the dark.
The final thing that occurred to me about this episode was that it was a parable about god. Or whatever you want to label as a conscious creator of the universe. The Solitract is a conscious universe in itself but is separated from the building blocks of our universe so our universe could coalesce and come into being. But a sole consciousness alone in itself wanting what it always wanted: to be with the elements commensurate in age with it: our universe. This felt familiar. I’m no expert, but I think we can understand the Solitract using Kabbalah. If so, then of course the Solitract manifests as a woman called Grace . She is Grace personified, because the Solitract is the Divine Feminine, Schechinah (Shekinah) who yearns for her divine lover. But this word also means ‘hiding the face,’ ‘presence’ and ‘dwelling’, or the ‘dwelling place of the divine’. Here, perhaps the divine feminine is the hidden presence and the place, filled with her own grace. A universe unto herself, with the ability to transform (symbolised by the frog), with the power for love and desire for those who can reach her. And, as is the way of this world, the goddess is the one taken away, exiled from this universe of man-made monsters and grief.