TV Review – ‘The Witchfinders’ (Doctor Who)

SPOILERS ALERT!!!

Hello everyone! 🙂

Welcome to ‘Bradley’s Basement’ blog and I’m Tim Bradley!

I’ve seen the eighth episode of Series 11 of ‘Doctor Who’ called ‘The Witchfinders’ by Joy Wilkinson. Once again, this has been a top quality drama episode in the latest ‘Doctor Who’ season. I don’t think it’s as good as ‘Kerblam!’, but the tone and atmosphere for this episode felt very believable to watch.

The episode has the Doctor, Graham, Ryan and Yaz visit 17th century Lancashire. They were meant to go the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I, but the TARDIS got sidetracked…as usual. Come to think of it, it’s probably for the best considering the Doctor’s changed appearance for dear Queen Liz One.

(ponders) What was I talking about? (realises) Oh yeah right, ‘The Witchfinders’! But yeah, the TARDIS team find themselves in 17th century Lancashire and they see a witch trial about to take place. A poor woman is about to sentenced to death by drowning as she’s accused for being a witch.

I’m reminded of another ‘Doctor Who’ story called ‘The Witch From The Well’ by Big Finish with Paul McGann’s Doctor. That had someone accused for being a witch; getting persecuted and being sentenced to death. That story was also set in the 17th century. Intriguing to see the same thing in this episode!

I admit I’m not familiar with this particular period of history in 17th century England where women that made miraculous medicines were accused for being witches and they were sentenced to death. But like with ‘Rosa’ and ‘Demons of the Punjab’ beforehand, this historical tale was a welcome one.

I was fascinated by the historical context being portrayed in this episode and how the Doctor, Graham, Ryan and Yaz interacted with the 17th century natives of England in that period. It was rather off-putting seeing people who believed in witches and that Satan was at work in these things.

This episode does have a ‘Horrible Histories’ aspect to it with it being set in 17th century Lancashire. It could’ve easily been played for laughs, but I like how serious the tone of this episode is. It allows for the scariness factor to come into play, especially in the witch trial scenes and some night scenes.

Anyway, the Doctor, Graham, Ryan and Yaz see the Tricia Kelly as Old Mother Twiston, grandmother of Tilly Steele as Willa Twiston being sent down into the river in a chopped down tree at the command of Siobhan Finneran as Becka Savage. It was quite horrific to see that water ducking scene.

The Doctor, despite her insistence to her friends to not interfere with human history, decides to dive into the river and save the life of Old Mother Twiston. Sadly she’s too late as the old woman is dead. Very soon, the Doctor and her friends seek to act out as ‘witchfinders’ to uncover the dark mysteries.

The episode features a special guest appearance of Alan Cumming as King James I. I’ve seen Alan Cumming before as he played Fegan Floop in the ‘Spy Kids’ movies. He also played Nightcrawler in ‘X-Men 2’ (or ‘X2’) and it would be remiss of me not to mention that he was in ‘The Airzone Solution’.

Alan Cumming was the special guest star that I knew well before Series 11 started. I was looking forward to his appearance in ‘Doctor Who’. In this ‘Doctor Who’ episode, I enjoyed his performance as King James. It was interesting to hear him sound posh and play the witch-hunting King James.

There were times where I wasn’t sure whether he was playing the role for laughs, although I’m not that familiar with King James I as a historical figure. But when I watched scenes where he was up against Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, the intensity of drama was so spellbinding and incredible to watch.

Jodie Whittaker again has been a joy to watch in this episode as the Doctor. It was amusing when she tried doing ‘apple bobbing’ in an early scene of the episode. Seeing Jodie with an apple in her mouth was very funny. She also gets pretty frustrated when being a woman has its limits in this story.

I was anxious when Jodie’s Doctor got accused for being a witch herself and she was almost about to be sacrificed. But she comes out strong in this episode as she notices certain details about Becka Savage and King James. She’s pretty defiant when she’s so determined to stop the witch killings in this.

She also happens to be a good swimmer. Jodie’s Doctor certainly got her hair wet as well as her clothes when diving into the river and being ducked into the river by Becka Savage. It was exciting when she did confront those alien enemies led by Morax in the episode and how she defeated them.

Bradley Walsh is great as Graham in this episode. I don’t think this has been a standout episode for Graham, but I liked it when he was put in an authority role where he was in charge of the TARDIS ‘witchfinders’ for a bit. Graham’s wry sense of humour comes into play especially for tense moments.

Graham of course isn’t good being an authority figure, despite wearing the big hat he gets. This was illustrated before in ‘The Good Doctor’. I liked it when Graham is veering Becka Savage off from her fiery beliefs in killing assumed witches. I also liked it when he gave the Doctor his hat. 😀

Tosin Cole is very good as Ryan in this episode. He accompanies Graham when the two blokes are meant to veer Becka Savage and King James off from going to hunt out witches in the episode. Like Graham, I don’t think this is a standout episode for Ryan. He too struggles to be the authority figure.

But Ryan somehow forms an interesting connection with King James. Like Graham, Ryan tries to veer the king from his fierce beliefs in witch-killings and Satan. I liked it when Ryan mentioned his mum and nan to the king during the episode. I also liked how brave Ryan was when they defeated the enemy.

Mandip Gill is equally good as Yaz in the episode. Yaz shows concern for Willa Twiston when she loses her grandmother and even follows after her to seek answers and make sure she’s safe. Wait! Yaz went off on her own to follow Willa? Why didn’t Ryan accompany her to see to it that she was safe?

Yaz gets a shock when saving Willa from some strange mud creatures rising up from the ground. I liked it when Yaz, Graham and Ryan had their subplot in solving the mystery of the mud creatures whilst the Doctor was being accused of being a witch. I wished that aspect has been explored further.

The twist of there being aliens inside a hill which is actually a prison and a tree being the lock on the door before it gets chopped down by Becka Savage was pretty interesting to watch in the episode. I also liked the twist where Becka Savage got infected and she transformed into the monstrous Morax.

The concept of the mud witches was pretty disturbing and interesting to watch in the episode. I’ve done a mud monster-like creature called the Mud Man in my ‘Fifth Doctor’ story, ‘Junglos 4198’. So the idea of these mud creatures really appealed to me as I watched this story through and through.

Like I said, there was a lot to take in and I’m not sure I fully grasp the entire historical context that’s included in the episode. I did enjoy the climax in how the Doctor and friends defeated the monstrous mud witches. Willa and King James join the Doctor, Graham, Ryan and Yaz for this last venture too.

However, I did think the climax was a little rushed with so much going on beforehand since the Doctor and her friends needed to defeat the mud witches as quickly as possible. But the saving grace for me was when King James burned Morax for being ‘a witch’ and the Doctor got angry with him.

Another thing is those supposed witches that got burned and became mud monsters in the episode. They all ended dead in the end! They never got resurrected! That’s how you know how things have changed in the series. In Steven Moffat’s day, ‘everybody lives’! But in this, those poor souls stay dead!

I liked it when King James tried to speak to the Doctor about his actions but couldn’t. Still he thanked the Doctor for saving his life. I also liked how the episode ends with King James being amazed at the TARDIS’ dematerialization. There are some intriguing historical resolutions at the end.

I could again be pedantic about how everyone in 17th century Lancashire seems to be accepting of the Doctor, Graham, Ryan and Yaz’s modern-day 21st century dress sense and the way they talk. But honestly it’s a minor issue in the story. Although why didn’t the TARDIS team dress up for that period?

Overall, ‘The Witchfinders’ has been a good piece of solid historical drama in ‘Doctor Who’! I enjoyed the dark tone and atmosphere in this story. It has a bleak quality that’s required for such a dark period of history where women get accused for being witches. I liked how it’s portrayed in this one.

My Dad gave this episode a ‘thumbs up’ when he saw it and I too give it a ‘thumbs up’! At this point, I feel the series has found its footing again in telling coherent dramatic stories led by a superb group of regular cast members including Jodie Whittaker. By the way, Doctor! You faced Satan before, remember?! 😀

Next week’s episode is called ‘It Takes You Away’ by Ed Hime.

Thanks for reading!

Bye for now!

Tim. 🙂

4 thoughts on “TV Review – ‘The Witchfinders’ (Doctor Who)

  1. This episode was better than the teaser last week gave us.

    I was expecting this episode to basically be the Doctor and crew taken into custody and accused of witchcraft. Was very happy that it didn’t start out that way.

    First off, Alan Cumming was the best thing about this episode. I can’t imagine anyone else playing King James the way that he did. This is one character I would like to see return to the Whoniverse with Cumming in the role.

    This was the first week in a while that we actually had a baddie and not just someone who was there and doing no harm to anyone. Hopefully, we’ll get more as the show progresses.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Corey.

      Thanks for your comments on this episode. Glad you enjoyed it.

      I tend not to rely too much on the teasers/trailers given to us for these ‘Doctor Who’ episodes especially as they’re short anyway. Although it’s always nice to see previews of what new upcoming episodes are like as well as have some ‘first look’ scenes to get an idea of what a certain episode is going to be. I think the ‘first look’ scenes are the best videos on ‘Doctor Who’s YouTube channel. There should be more of those before each episode. We only had it for ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’, ‘Arachnids in the UK’ and ‘Kerblam!’ so far this season.

      I didn’t know what to expect when I saw this episode. I guessed the Doctor might be in trouble and be accused for being a witch by the 17th century locals. It turned out to be the case, but I’m glad the Doctor was strong in opposing those who were accusing her for witchcraft and she managed to overcome the odds in identifying what happened to Becka Savage and managing to defeat Morax and the mud witches at the end.

      Yeah Alan Cumming was brilliant in the episode and I like how he balanced the humour and drama in his portrayal for King James I. Hmm, King James coming back in ‘Doctor Who’. Not sure how that would be possible. It’ll be nice if it did happen, but what story could you tell with King James coming back. I’ve heard someone say he could be the Churchill of the Chibnall era. I’ve also heard he could be a relation to the Doctor since he’s a relative of Queen Elizabeth I.

      I’d like to know whether we will get villains in the last two episodes of Series 11, especially in the season finale concerning a battle/war. I’m wondering what this threat in the New Year Day’s Special for January 2019 is going to be. I have my guesses, but I’ll hold back in case I’m wrong.

      Many thanks for sharign your insight into this episode, Corey.

      Tim. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A outstanding review Tim, i thoroughly enjoyed this one, mud witches, the whole murky atmospherics of the story, the dark aspects to the adventure, Alan Cummings as King James I a character who could’ve easily have been played for laughs & Jodie being awesomely Doctorish.

    The story’s throughout have been enjoyable just lacking villains, thankfully this had a great monster & again this series shows how cruel history can be & not sunshine & rainbows travelling with the Doctor as well as showing there are consequences to one’s actions which was sorely lacking during Moffats era, i like that there isn’t always a happy ending it keeps the drama real, gritty & raw.

    I agree the story’s climax felt a little rushed & maybe needed to be five minutes longer but this & Kerblam are among my favourite two episodes of series 11 & has made me excited about watching Doctor Who again like i did during Tennant era.

    My rating.
    4.5/5

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Simon.

      Very pleased you enjoyed my review and that you liked ‘The Witchfinders’ as a ‘Doctor Who’ episode. Yeah the murky atmosphere and dark aspects are pretty evident in this adventure. Alan Cumming and Jodie Whittaker do stand out for me well in this episode. I especially liked it when King James I faced the Doctor when she was being tied up with ropes before she was about to get killed. I’m pleased you find Jodie to be ‘awesomely Doctorish’ in this episode.

      Yeah I’m finding how much I’m enjoyed this season of ‘Doctor Who’ stories despite the lack of villains. ‘Kerblam!’ and the historical adventures have been the best so far in this season and I like how solid Series 11 is in telling thumping good stories which I concur was sadly lacking in the Steven Moffat era. I do feel that Chris Chibnall’s approach to ‘Doctor Who’ is a direct response to that era and despite the Doctor being played by a woman nowadays, it manages to hold up reasonably well.

      I agree, I haven’t been this excited about the new series of ‘Doctor Who’ since the David Tennant era. I was hoping for this new era with Chris Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker to be good and so far it’s proving to be the case. I look forward to what happens in the next episode, the season finale and the New Year’s Day Special in January 2019.

      Thanks for your comments, Simon.

      Tim. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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