Synopsis 11×09: The Doctor must enter another universe to save a child’s father, but nothing is quite what it seems.
This episode has layers upon layers of plot. First, it looks like a base-under-siege, then a monster-of-the-week, then a parallel universe story. In fact, it is all of these plots rolled into one, and it is a weird and wonderful episode —possibly the best of the season.
The Tardis lands in Norway, near a fjord and an abandoned cottage. Thanks to its Nordic setting, the episode has the look of a Scandinavian thriller or detective series: grey tones and sharp turns.
In the cottage, the Friends find young Hanne, a blind girl whose father has been missing for 4 days. (PS- Ellie Wallwork, who plays Hanne, is actually blind, and she does a great job in this episode.) She tells them of the monster outside that hunts at night. A roar in the yard backs up her story. Ryan is skeptical, believing the girl’s father has abandoned her since her mother recently died.
While preparing the house for a monster attack, Graham finds a mirror that’s not a mirror, but a portal. The portal leads to an Antizone, the buffer between two worlds. The Doctor, Graham, and Yas all travel through the Antizone, led by the creature Ribbons. He’s a trade-obsessed hobgoblin who lives in the Antizone. Think of him as a savage, carnivorous Ferengi from Star Trek. Also, he perishes pretty early on.
The trio escape to another portal that shows them an alternate world; one where Hanne’s mother is alive, as is Grace. We all knew Grace would be back at some point, though this was a bit of a letdown. She was spectacular and fantastic, the Grace we came to love in episode 1 of the season. But as the mirror was not a mirror, Grace is also not really Grace.
The world is a trap. It’s a parallel universe designed to lure humans and keep them inside. That’s why it called to Graham, who is still mourning the loss of Grace. And that’s why Hanne’s father Erik is there, as he’s grieving Hanne’s mother, Trine. The Doctor figures it all out, based on a fairy tale from her Granny Number 5 (she had 7 Grannies in total): The Solitract.
The Solitract is a conscious universe who desperately wants to be friends with humans. “Think of it like a child with chicken pox,” the Doctor explains. The infected child must keep away from the rest, but all it wants is to play with everyone else. That is what the Solitract is, an infected individual who must be quarantined.
Everyone must reject the Solitract to escape. Graham breaks free once he realizes that Not-Grace is willing to keep Ryan in danger, something Real-Grace would never tolerate. Only the Doctor remains, sacrificing herself to the companionship of an isolated universe.
The Solitract speaks to her with Grace’s voice in the body of a frog, an animal Grace liked. I personally am scared of frogs and had to look away for most of this scene. Was it heartwarming, the Doctor making friends with an abandoned universe? Yes. Was it also terrifying for me because I am afraid of frogs? Yes!
The gang returns to Norway and all is well. Then Ryan makes the audience cry when he calls Graham “Grandad,” thus completing their character arc. It was a lovely moment for the penultimate episode.
There were some parallels that strengthen the familial theme. Pairing Graham and Erik together as two husbands grieving their dead wives. And pairing Hanne and Ryan, two children abandoned by their fathers. They aren’t immediate friends, but hardship and adventure bonds them. Then there is that pesky humans-are-their-own-worst-enemy theme, with Erik leaving his own daughter in her time of need in order to satisfy his own.
Seeing as Ryan’s dad has been hinted to throughout this season, I’m hoping he’ll appear in the next episode. Moffat would have left Ryan’s dad a mystery for another 2 seasons, only to wrap him up in a banal Christmas episode. Don’t believe me? Then let’s talk about that Tardis exploding plot point from the Matt Smith era. Humbug.
After watching all of Broadchurch and Torchwood, I trust that Chris Chibnall will wrap things up nicely. Get it, wrap? It’s a Christmas pun since we’re not getting a Christmas episode this year. So here’s hoping for a happy ending to season 11! See you next week!