‘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 those 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 also.

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 really enjoyed 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. 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 that 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 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 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 three of four ‘Spy Kids’ movies which I loved 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 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 back-story 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 this episode. I enjoyed the varying layers to her. It was amusing when she tried 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 when 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 this episode and I liked how fiercely determined she gets.

Jodie’s Doctor notices certain details about Becka Savage and King James I in the episode. She’s pretty defiant when she’s so determined to stop the witch killings in the story which I liked watching.

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

It was exciting when Jodie’s Doctor did confront those alien enemies led by 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, 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 I have read called ‘The Good Doctor’.

I did like that moment when Graham tries to veer Becka Savage off from her fiery beliefs in killing assumed witches. It’s a brief moment but it’s good. 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 off to hunt out witches in the TV 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 as 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 is while the Doctor was being accused of being a witch. I wished that aspect has been explored further. Maybe this’ll 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. 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 – ‘Junglos 4198’. 😀

So the idea of these mud creatures really appealed to me when I watched the story 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 that climax in how the Doctor and friends defeated the monstrous mud witches.

Willa joins the Doctor, Graham, Ryan and Yaz for this last venture too, especially when they go off to rescue King James who’s been captured by Morax and the mud witches. It was pretty gripping here.

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

But the saving grace for me was when King James burned Morax for being ‘a witch’ and the Doctor got angry with him. King James doesn’t understand why the Doctor’s angry with him as 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 the Doctor had 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 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 get accused for being witches. I like how this aspect of history gets portrayed in this 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 had 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 on 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


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