‘The Witchfinders’ (TV)

‘THE WITCHFINDERS’

Please feel free to comment on my review.

Team TARDIS meet King James

I saw the eighth episode of Series 11 of ‘Doctor Who’ called ‘The Witchfinders’ by Joy Wilkinson on BBC iPlayer with my parents. Once again, this has been a top quality drama TV episode in the season.

I don’t think this is as good as ‘Kerblam!’, but the tone and the atmosphere for this episode felt very believable to watch. It has a pretty gothic atmosphere about it which was very compelling 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. It’s the TARDIS! 😀

Come to think of it though, it probably was for the best that the Doctor and her friends didn’t see Queen Elizabeth I here. This is 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 as they see a witch trial about to take place.

A poor woman is about to sentenced to death by drowning since she’s accused of being a witch. This happened a lot back in 17th century England. Interesting how this ‘Doctor Who’ episode depicted it.

I’m reminded of another ‘Doctor Who’ story called ‘The Witch From The Well’ by Big Finish with Paul McGann’s Doctor. That audio drama had someone accused for being a witch and getting persecuted.

It ended up with that someone being sentenced to death too. ‘The Witch From The Well’ was also set in the 17th century. It’s intriguing for that same thing to occur in this tale except this time on TV!

I admit I’m not familiar with this particular period of history in 17th century England. It’s where women that made miracle medicines were accused for being witches and were sentenced to death.

But like with ‘Rosa’ and ‘Demons of the Punjab’ beforehand, this historical tale was a welcome one. I’m very pleased Chris Chibnall’s era of ‘Doctor Who’ delves more into history than Steven Moffat’s.

I was fascinated by the historical context being portrayed in this episode. I was also fascinated how the Doctor, Graham, Ryan and Yaz interacted with them 17th century English natives of that period.

It was rather off-putting to watch people from that period who believed in witches and that Satan was at work in these things. It was challenge to understand, but it was very fascinating to watch as well.

This episode does have a ‘Horrible Histories’ aspect to it with it being set in 17th century Lancashire. It could have easily been played for laughs, but I really enjoyed how serious the tone of the episode was.

It allows for the scariness factor to come into play, especially in the witch trial scenes and some night scenes. When witch trial scenes need to be dealt with in ‘Doctor Who’, they need to be serious here.

Anyway, the Doctor, Graham, Ryan and Yaz see Tricia Kelly as Old Mother Twiston, grandmother of Tilly Steele as Willa Twiston being sent down into the river in a chopped down tree. It’s quite horrid.

This is at the command of Siobhan Finneran as Becka Savage. I was shocked to see the water ducking scene as Old Mother Twiston went down into that river and Willa Twiston cried out for her.

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. My, my! How she contradicts herself here! 😀

Sadly the Doctor’s too late since the old woman is dead. It’s pretty sad. Very soon, the Doctor and her friends seek to act out as ‘witchfinders’ before Becka Savage and 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 three out of four ‘Spy Kids’ films which I enjoyed watching.

Alan Cumming 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’. I saw that film earlier in 2018 before watching this TV tale.

Before Series 11 began, I knew Alan Cumming was one of the guest stars. After seeing the ‘coming soon’ trailer from ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’, I looked forward to his ‘Doctor Who’ appearance.

In this ‘Doctor Who’ episode, I enjoyed Alan Cumming’s performance as King James. It was interesting to hear him sound so posh and play the witch-hunting King James during the TV episode.

There were times where I wasn’t sure whether he was playing the role for laughs. Mind you, I’m not that familiar with King James I as a historical figure. It was intriguing to hear his backstory revealed.

When I watched the scenes where King James was up against Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, the intensity of the drama was so spellbinding and incredible to watch. They are probably the story’s best scenes.

Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor again has been a joy to watch in the episode. I enjoyed the varying layers to her. It was amusing when she was doing ‘apple bobbing’ in an earlier scene of the episode.

Seeing Jodie with an apple in her mouth was very funny. Her Doctor also gets pretty frustrated since being a woman in 17th century Lancashire has its limits. It was intriguing to see that portrayed here.

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 the episode and I liked how fiercely determined she gets.

Jodie’s Doctor notices certain details about Becka Savage and King James in the episode. I enjoyed watching it when she was pretty defiant and was so determined to stop the witch trials in the story.

She also happens to be a good swimmer. Jodie’s Doctor certainly gets her hair wet a lot as well as her clothes when she’s diving into a river and when she’s being ducked into a river by Becka Savage herself.

It was exciting when Jodie’s Doctor confronted the alien enemies called the Morax in the episode. It was especially exciting how Jodie’s Doctor defeated them, noticing the clue in Becka’s cut-down tree.

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 into an authority role and in charge of the TARDIS ‘witchfinders’.

Graham’s wry sense of humour comes into play, especially for tense moments. It was also interesting to see his reactions to the witch-trials and how he interacts with the Doctor, Ryan and Yaz over this.

Of course, Graham isn’t good being an authority figure, despite wearing the big hat he gets. This was illustrated before in one of the ‘New Series Adventures’ books that I’ve read called ‘The Good Doctor’.

I did like that moment when Graham tried to veer Becka Savage off from her fiery beliefs in killing assumed witches. It’s a brief but very good moment. I also liked it when he gave the Doctor his hat. 😀

Tosin Cole is very good as Ryan in the episode. He accompanies Graham when the two blokes are meant to veer Becka Savage and King James off from going to hunt after some witches in the episode.

Like Graham, I don’t think this has been a standout episode for Ryan. He too struggles to be an authority figure, as he and Graham think of excuses to veer Becka and King James from their intent.

Ryan somehow forms an interesting connection with King James in the episode. It was interesting to see and like Graham, Ryan tries to veer the king off from his fierce beliefs in witch-killings and Satan.

I liked it when Ryan mentioned his mum and his nan to the king during the episode, as the two exchange family histories. I also did like how brave Ryan was in the tale once 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 in order 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 Willa was safe? I mean, isn’t going alone after some complete stranger going to be very dangerous?

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 with solving the mystery of the mud creatures.

This happened while the Doctor was being accused of being a witch. I wished that aspect has been explored further. Maybe this will be explored again when it comes to ‘The Witchfinders’ Target novelization. 😀

With the twist of there being aliens inside a hill that is actually a prison and a tree being the lock on the door before it gets chopped down by Becka Savage. That was very intriguing to watch in the tale.

I also liked the twist where Becka Savage got infected and she transformed into the monstrous Morax Queen. I wasn’t expecting that as it took me completely by surprise. Thankfully it was in a good way.

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 called ‘Junglos 4198’. 😀

So the idea of these mud creatures really appealed to me when I watched the episode through and through. I wonder how these mud creatures came to be and how they got formed in the first place.

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 liked the climax in how the Doctor and her friends defeated the monstrous mud witches.

Willa joins the Doctor, Graham, Ryan and Yaz in this last venture too, especially when they go off to rescue King James who has been captured by the Morax Queen and her mud witches. It was very gripping indeed.

I did think that the climax was a little rushed with so much going on beforehand.  This was due to the fact that the Doctor and her friends needed to defeat the mud witches as quickly as possible in the story.

But the saving grace for me was when King James burned Morax for being ‘a witch’ and the Doctor became angry with him. King James doesn’t understand why the Doctor is angry with him and it gets tense.

Another thing regarding those supposed witches that got sacrificed and became mud monsters in the episode. They all ended up dead in the end! They never got resurrected! They all stayed dead. 😐

That’s how you know how things have changed radically in the TV series. In Steven Moffat’s day, ‘everybody lives’! But this is Chris Chibnall’s era of the series and those poor souls stayed dead here!

I liked it when King James tried to speak to the Doctor about his actions but couldn’t. It was interesting how the Doctor refused to speak to him. Still, he’s thankful that the Doctor saved his life.

I also liked how the episode ended with King James being amazed at the TARDIS’ dematerialization with Willa beside him. There are also some intriguing historical resolutions provided at the episode’s end.

I could again be pedantic on how everyone in 17th century Lancashire seems to accept the Doctor, Graham, Ryan and Yaz’s modern-day 21st century dress sense. They also accept the way they speak.

But honestly it’s a minor issue in the episode. Mind you, I’m not sure why the TARDIS team didn’t dress up for that period? They were meant to see the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I, weren’t they?

Overall, ‘The Witchfinders’ has been a good piece of solid historical drama in ‘Doctor Who’! I enjoyed the dark tone and the atmosphere featured in this TV adventure. It did feel very refreshing.

The episode has a bleak quality that’s definitely required for such a dark period of history where women are accused for being witches. I like how this aspect of history gets portrayed in the TV tale.

My Dad gave this episode a ‘thumbs up’ when he saw it and I give it a ‘thumbs up’ too! At this point, I felt the TV series had found its footing again in telling coherent dramatic stories that I could enjoy.

The series also has a superb group of regular cast members including Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill. By the way, Doctor! You have faced Satan before, remember?! 😀

The DVD/Blu-ray special features for this episode are as follows. On Disc 3 of ‘The Complete Series 11’ of ‘Doctor Who’, there’s ‘The Witchfinders’ – Closer Look’ featurette.

‘The Witchfinders’ rating – 8/10


‘DOCTOR WHO – THE WITCHFINDERS’

Please feel free to comment on my review.

In the Water, In the Fire, In the Air, In the Earth

I wasn’t expecting this ‘Doctor Who’ novelization to be made so soon after reviewing the TV tale!

I greatly enjoyed reading and hearing the Target novelization/audiobook of ‘The Witchfinders’! I wondered if a novelization of a Thirteenth Doctor TV adventure would be made after the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors had their turns. And we are still going through her era on TV. 😀

In my opinion, ‘The Witchfinders’ is the best of the three new series ‘Doctor Who’ Target novelizations that came out in 2021. Whilst I enjoyed the ‘Dalek’ and ‘The Crimson Horror’ novelizations/audiobooks, I felt they lacked some of the material included from the original TV tales.

The author Joy Wilkinson has been able to include all of the scenes featured in her original ‘Witchfinders’ TV script as well as add some extra new material not included in the TV episode. It was satisfying and it matches to what I consider to be a good novelization of a film or TV production.

So far, Joy Wilkinson has made a fair contribution to the world of ‘Doctor Who’ since writing ‘The Witchfinders’ for TV. She’s written a couple of short stories including ‘Gatecrashers’ for ‘The Target Storybook’ and ‘The Simple Things’ for the ‘Adventures in Lockdown’ anthology. I’ve enjoyed those.

She’s also sat ‘Behind the Sofa’ on a number of classic ‘Doctor Who’ stories for the Blu-ray box set collection of classic ‘Doctor Who’ seasons. I was looking forward to how Joy would tackle novelizing ‘The Witchfinders’ and how she would make the tale richer compared to how we’ve seen it on TV. 🙂

I like how Joy has spaced things out when novelizing ‘The Witchfinders’ TV script into prose. It helps that she divided the story into 23 chapters. I was able to absorb each chapter per day and feel a sense of satisfaction that each aspect of the tale was being developed whilst reading and hearing it. 🙂

I like ‘The Witchfinders’ as a ‘Doctor Who’ story. It’s considered one of the best stories out of Series 11 when it was shown in 2018. I would have preferred it if ‘Kerblam!’ was novelized instead since that’s my favourite story out of Series 11 of ‘Doctor Who’, but ‘The Witchfinders’ is good enough. 😀

As I read/heard ‘The Witchfinders’ novelization/audiobook for two weeks in June 2021, I revisited the TV episode to be familiar with the lines of dialogue in the book. I also learnt Siobhan Finneran (Becka Savage in the TV tale) was also in ‘Downton Abbey’ which I was currently watching on DVD. 🙂

It was also exciting that ‘The Witchfinders’ audiobook was being read by Sophie Aldred, who is well-known for playing Ace in ‘Doctor Who’ on TV and audio. Sophie has done a number of Thirteenth Doctor-related audiobooks over the years and happens to have that voice for the Thirteenth Doctor.

I’ve encountered a couple of Thirteenth Doctor-related audiobooks read by Sophie. They include ‘Time Lapse’ for the ‘Thirteen Doctors, 13 Stories’ collection and her own story ‘At Childhood’s End’ where Ace meets the Thirteenth Doctor. I’ve enjoyed Sophie’s readings of those particular stories. 🙂

As far as I’m concerned, Sophie is a decent choice to narrate ‘The Witchfinders’. Mind you, I wonder why people like Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill weren’t asked to read the audiobook instead. Mandip Gill herself has read the audiobook for ‘Combat Magicks’ in the past.

I raise this issue since Sophie didn’t have any particular involvement with ‘The Witchfinders’ as a TV production itself. Then again, Sophie must have seen ‘The Witchfinders’ with her family at some point and is very into the Thirteenth Doctor as a character, so it’s not a big issue that she’s reading it.

In terms of how much has changed with the overall plot, there’s nothing majorly significant that’s different. Although Joy Wilkinson has been able to provide a new beginning and a new end to the story, which concerns the Morax’s coming to Earth and what Willa Twiston’s fate turned out to be. 🙂

Chapter 1 called ‘Dear Doctor’ is essentially half a page where we find out that Willa’s writing a letter to the Doctor. Throughout certain parts of the novelization, there are short chapters depicting Willa writing to the Doctor when she’s been put in gaol during the 1634 witch trials. More about this later!

Actually, it’s interesting how Willa writes to the Doctor in certain small chapters of the book. We cut ahead to years in the future before going back to the main events of the story. I wonder what ‘The Witchfinders’ would have been like had these little extra scenes been included and televised in 2018.

The second chapter of the story depicts how the Morax were imprisoned for their war crimes by a race of beings that resemble Cherubs. I hope they weren’t baby Weeping Angels like the ones seen in ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’. 😀 The Cherubs could be this entirely different species altogether. 😐

There’s a moment in the second chapter where the Morax Queen called Sselde killed one of her number for talking back to her. The Morax Queen and her kind were condemned to an even worse prison since they ended up beneath Mother Twiston’s favourite tree which was on Pendle Hill itself.

I like how the Morax get developed as an alien species. This is especially when the Morax infected people through their souls with mud. This is established more clearly in the novelization compared to the TV story, especially when Becka Savage had lost her soul once possessed by the Morax Queen.

Willa and Mother Twiston’s prayer also gets utilised more in the novelization compared to the TV adventure. I was able to spot the prayer “In the Water, In the Fire, In the Air, In the Earth” more through certain pieces of dialogue, exposition and the chapter titles whilst reading and hearing the book/audio.

Chapter 3 of the story features a TARDIS scene with the Thirteenth Doctor, Graham, Ryan and Yaz before they arrive in Bilehurst Cragg in the early 17th century. I like how the TARDIS team are introduced in the novelization, especially in terms of how they arrived in Bilehurst Cragg at the start.

I like the reference made to the events of ‘Kerblam!’ by Joy Wilkinson in Chapter 3 of the book. I also like how the point is raised about the TARDIS team being able to walk about in their 21st century clothes where they could be noticed by 17th century locals. Graham raises this point to the Doctor. 🙂

I like how each scene of the TV story translated into prose is embellished with how the characters are thinking and feeling. This includes how characters like the Doctor, Graham, Ryan and Yaz are experiencing things from their points of view. Joy Wilkinson is good developing the main characters.

Becka Savage and Willa Twiston are also given their backstories when reading and hearing the Target novelization/audiobook. It’s revealed that Becka, though the granddaughter of Mother Twiston, was really the illegitimate daughter of a woman who dwelled nearby. That woman was called Annie Clay.

Ironically, Annie Clay was the first woman Becka killed for witchcraft and she didn’t even know that she was her mother. Annie Clay asked Mother Twiston to take care of Becka before she ended up marrying Richard Savage. Later on, Becka poisoned her husband and took control of Bilehurst Cragg.

I like how this backstory is touched upon in Willa’s musings when she’s burying Mother Twiston after she’d been ducked in the water by Becka Savage. Becka Savage’s backstory gets touched upon again, especially when it gets revealed she’s infected with Morax mud and Mother Twiston couldn’t kill her.

There are nice nods to ‘Doctor Who’s past, especially when the Doctor shares to Yaz that she’s been on trial a couple of times in ‘The War Games’ and ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’. Yaz is clearly surprised by this as she didn’t expect that the Doctor would be a person that would be on trial in her lifetimes.

I like how Yaz’s friendship with Willa is developed in the novelization. There are touches of foreshadowing in how Yaz’s school life and being bullied is revealed in an episode like ‘Can You Hear Me?’ from Series 12. I’m not very sure if Joy Wilkinson had this in mind when novelizing her TV story.

In my TV review, I hoped Graham, Ryan and Yaz’s story in following the mud-witches would get developed in more detail in the Target novelization. It didn’t quite work out that way since most of the novelization is more or less a straight-forward note-for-note translation from TV story into prose.

But at least when reading and hearing the novelization/audiobook, you have time to absorb each scene and know what Graham, Ryan and Yaz are thinking when following the mud-witches. This is different watching the TV story where it’s fast-paced and you’re not given time to absorb each scene in detail.

I do like how King James’ character gets developed in the story. It helps when Sophie Aldred does a good Scottish voice impersonation of him. I’m not sure if that’s from watching Alan Cumming at some point in his career or whether she’s had practice from doing Sylvester McCoy’s Scottish accent.

More is developed in terms of how King James’ upbringing was troubled, especially with how his parents ended up being killed. This is enhanced more through James’ conversations with Ryan whom he forms an attachment to and when he’s talkng to the Doctor who gets accused for being a witch. 🙂

There is a moment in Chapter 21 where the Doctor remarks about saving King James from Guy Fawkes. I’m not sure if this is a reference to the ‘Virgin Missing Adventures’ book called ‘The Plotters’. I would need to check that ‘Doctor Who’ book out, but it would be a clever reference indeed. 🙂

King James’ history is explored more, especially in the penultimate chapter where it’s revealed how his witchfinding came to an end and how he eventually died. It’s also intriguing that King James didn’t take Willa Twiston with him back to London, advising her to go aboard to a place like America.

Speaking of the penultimate chapter, Willa’s fate gets revealed. This involves her incarceration during the later Pendle Hill witch trials of 1634. It’s interesting how Joy Wilkinson gives us more history lessons in the novelization after introducing the witch trials’ significance during their infancy.

After writing her letter to the Doctor when in gaol, Willa is on her way to be hanged/executed for being a witch. She’s rescued by the Doctor who turns out to be her hangman as well as Graham, Ryan and Yaz. I assume that this occurred immediately after ‘The Witchfinders’ for the TARDIS team.

It’s nice that Willa gets saved by the Thirteenth Doctor TARDIS team. It’s emphasised how Willa’s significance in the universe means that she can’t be allowed to die. At least not in the way in which she’s accused for being a witch! I like how Joy Wilkinson unveiled Willa’s fate as it is a happy ending.

The novelization ends with Willa being revealed to be one of the three witches, norns or fates of mythology alongside Clara Oswald and Ashildr from ‘Hell Bent’. Wait a minute! Clara and Ashildr are still alive by this point. Hmm. Perhaps Clara never returned to Gallifrey like she said she would do. 😐

I mean, I’m assuming this takes places before the Master destroyed Gallifrey according to the events of ‘Spyfall’. Intriguing Joy had Willa teamed up with Clara and Ashildr by the end. Yes, I know Ashildr is called ‘Me’ in the book, but I refuse calling her that here. She’s Ashildr whether she likes it or not.

Perhaps I should do a follow-up to that scene I wrote set after ‘Hell Bent’ called ‘The Impossible Girl Returns’ where Clara saved Danny Pink. Maybe I should do a full-length story. I could have fun writing for Clara, Ashildr, Willa and perhaps Danny where they have an adventure fighting an evil menace. 🙂

Actually, now I come to think of it – three witches? As in the three witches from ‘Macbeth’ by William Shakespeare?! I’m getting some inspiration for a story idea coming along. Maybe this is what Joy Wilkinson had in mind with sending Clara, Ashildr and Willa to tell Macbeth of the king prophecy. 😀

Anyway, ‘The Witchfinders’ Target novelization/audiobook is very good. I like how Joy Wilkinson has embellished the scenes of her story with enhanced character development when novelizing from TV script into prose. The extra new beginning and new ending for this tale are also a joy to read/hear. 🙂

The audiobook is well-read by Sophie Aldred, who continues to be amazing voicing the characters of the Thirteenth Doctor, Graham, Ryan and Yaz in ‘Doctor Who’. I look forward to telling Sophie at conventions how much I’ve enjoyed her audiobook readings of the Thirteenth Doctor stories she’s done.

Regarding the future of new series Target novelization/audiobooks, I look forward to more of them. I hope more of my favourite new series ‘Doctor Who’ stories like ‘The End of Time’ and ‘Kerblam!’ will be novelized. How they’ll turn out and whether I’ll like them or not is something I’m keen to discover.

‘Doctor Who – The Witchfinders’ rating – 9/10


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2 thoughts on “‘The Witchfinders’ (TV)

  1. Timelord 007

    Yeah great episode this & one of my favourites of series 11, a fantastic detailed review of both the episode & audiobook Tim it’s good you highlighted the additions to the novelization in this case those additions add to the story & not just filler.

    Another great review.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Tim Bradley Post author

      Hi Simon.

      Glad you enjoyed my reviews on ‘The Witchfinders’, both in TV form and in novelization/audiobook form. 😀 I enjoyed the additions featured in the novelization/audiobook and I’m pleased they added to the story in terms of the extra ending for Willa’s character. Indeed the additions weren’t just filler. I’m glad you like how I’ve highlighted the additions featured in the novelization/audiobook in my review.

      Many thanks,

      Tim. 🙂

      Like

      Reply

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