The Doctor deals with a girl’s missing father, only to find out that he’s even more lost than she could have imagined.
The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and the TARDIS trio of Graham, Yaz, and Ryan (Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill, Tosin Cole) land in Norway in 2018. They find a cabin nearby that seems abandoned, until they find a blind girl hidden in the house named Hanne (Eleanor Wallwork) who has been terrified by a monster that she hears from the woods. They find out that Hanne’s father Erik (Christian Rubeck) has been missing for a few days. In the attic, they find a mirror that doesn’t reflect people, which the Doctor discovers is a portal to the Anti-zone, the buffer universal material that keeps universes separate. She goes into the portal with Graham and Yaz, while leaving Ryan to watch Hanne.
Inside the portal, they find a terrible alien called “Ribbons of the Seven Stomachs” (Kevin Eldon) who appears to be a scavenger. He tries to trade the Doctor information on Erik in exchange for the sonic, but attempts to backstab her on the way. He is eaten by one of the Anti-Zone’s resident creatures, the Flesh Moths (guess what they eat). Ryan discovers that the “monster” is actually just a speaker system that her father uses to scare her into staying home. He returns to tell Hanne, which she uses as an opportunity to knock him unconscious and follow the group. He wakes up shortly and follows her.
The Doctor, Graham, and Yaz find a mirror copy of Hanne’s home and, inside, Erik. He reveals that he intended to come here because a copy of his deceased wife, Trine (Lisa Stokke), lives there. However, it’s revealed that it can’t be her, because she remembers dying. While the Doctor is still trying to figure out the situation, they run into Graham’s deceased wife Grace (Sharon D. Clarke). Similar to Trine, she remembers dying, insists she knows she isn’t real, but also says that she is real. Graham is tortured by seeing what he knows isn’t his real wife.
The Doctor finally realizes what’s happening: They’re in the Solitract, a sentient universe which was severed from the regular universe because the Solitract interferes with the normal universe’s operations. It set up this “heaven” mirror-world in order to convince people to come to it and stay because it’s lonely. Graham finally manages to accept it and leaves. Erik refuses to leave, but the Doctor tells the Solitract that she’ll stay in his place. Erik is ejected. The mirror universe collapses itself and becomes a white room with a talking frog, the chosen form of the Solitract. However, the Doctor is incompatible with the Solitract, so she leaves, promising to be its friend even if they’re separate. Back in the normal universe, Graham and Ryan finally start to bond over Grace.
I will admit at the beginning of this episode, I thought we were going to hit the final point for me. I thought that this was finally going to be the episode that was just too serious to feel like Doctor Who. See, this entire season, while I have enjoyed it overall has definitely been closer to the original Doctor Who episodes with William Hartnell which, while they were amazing for the time, isn’t quite the feel the show’s had since the reboot. They’re a little more serious, a little less campy, and a little less funny. However, while that’s been refreshing so far (for me at least), it’s bound to hit the point where it just feels not fun enough. With a missing dad, a mysterious monster, and a blind girl, I was about 30 seconds away from going “okay, we’ve hit the wall.” But then the mirror happened and Ryan said what is definitely one of the most “companion” lines ever: “We’d know if we’re vampires, right?” The delivery was flawless and immediately brought me back up a little.
From there, the episode goes through Ribbons and the Anti-Zone, which, if not particularly interesting and probably unnecessary, is at least well-designed and creepy as hell. Next, we get to the Solitract, find out that Erik actually isn’t a great parent, and witness Graham interacting with Grace again, and the episode suddenly has left-turned into super emotional. Bradley Walsh once again gives one hell of a performance as a man who has recently lost the love of his life. Then, we get The Doctor giving one of the better humorous monologues in the season so far when she explains how one of her seven grandmothers told her a fairy tale about the Solitract. The final scenes of Graham and Erik having to give up on their dead wives is another solid emotional scene, which leads into… the Doctor talking to a frog. We end the episode with Ryan finally acknowledging Graham as his grandfather, which, after all the buildup, is a solid tearjerker. Honestly, this episode is all over the place in terms of tone, but the comic scenes are exactly the kind of thing that I felt were missing from the show.
Doctor Who doesn’t have to be comedy sci-fi, of course. Some of the best episodes have horror elements or action, for example, but it always managed to balance that with some solid comic relief. This episode doesn’t quite nail the ratio as well as past ones, but it comes close. In a season filled with much of the darkness in human history, this episode at least was somewhat lighter at points.
Overall, it’s not a bad episode, but it doesn’t have the gravitas of the good episodes of the season. The sequence in the Anti-Zone is basically just filler that amounts to nothing and should have been cut. However, aside from that, this was still pretty enjoyable.
I give it a B.
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