When is a mirror not a mirror?
Episode 9 of this season of Doctor Who was about what we see, what we want to see, and the things we refuse to see because it hurts too much. Because of that, and a very sweet moment with a talking frog, "It Takes You Away" feels like a break-up, like an ode to heartbreak and grief and what it means to let go. And like all those things, it was sadly beautiful.
"The Doc" and friends arrive in picturesque Norway, finding a house that's been boarded up and a young blind girl hiding inside. Hanne (Ellie Wallwork, who is actually blind) is waiting for her father to return after four days and scared this creature in the woods has taken him. But the creature isn't real — and Ryan's at best misguided comment that her father may have just taken off turns out to be the truth.
After a trip through the terrifying anti-zone, the Doctor, Yaz, and Graham find themselves on the other side of the mirror — down to completely reversed hairstyles, earrings, and preferred hands. Hanne's father Erik is there, with Hanne's dead mother. But she can't be Hanne's dead mother — and Graham's wife and Ryan's nan Grace can't be Grace. But she's there. And she seems to be real.
At least, they're real to Erik and Graham. Once she bursts into the other side, Hanne sees through the impostor, as it were. And she has to confront that her father lied to her about the mysterious creature and instead chose to leave her for days to be with this version of his wife, that her father is not well or thinking clearly. Graham has to confront that this Grace is so, so close, but could never be his Grace, one who would never even consider letting him stay with her and not Ryan.
The things we convince ourselves out of love, out of grief, out of desperation to cling to something we've lost or can no longer have. We try, and we deny, and sometimes it works. But it's not sustainable. The world comes crashing down around us eventually — and in this episode, literally.
The Solitract, an ancient universal myth and bedtime story (and a lonely, sad conscious universe in the form of a frog, something that greatly delighted the real Grace while she was alive) devised the mirror world to bring people from the real world in and be with them. And that's when we realize this episode is about more than aliens and anti-zones and flesh moths. It's about loss. It's about losing someone you love — by choice, by death, by all of the myriad things that can take one life away from another.
"You may want us to be together, but it's not working. It can never work... You are the maddest, most beautiful thing I've ever experienced and I haven't even scratched the surface. I wish I could stay. But if either of us are gonna survive, you're gonna have to let me go and keep on being brilliant by yourself."
Honestly, going through a divorce this year, this scene was deeply impacting and emotional in a way I didn't expect. In a season that's given us so much humanity, its best and its worst, this was an exceptionally human moment and episode. And while the season's vocal detractors presumably hated this one too, "It Takes You Away" was a kind of beautiful Doctor Who needed. A sad beautiful.
So when is a mirror not a mirror? When the reflection is wrong. When we're not seeing what's real and instead choosing an impossible fiction. Whether you're letting go of a person, an idea, or your preconceived notions about a television show, ultimately, reality is all we've got.