“A Discovery of Witches – Season One” (2018)
Created by: Deborah Harkness
Featuring: Teresa Palmer, Matthew Goode, Edward Bluemel, Louise Brealey, Malin Buska, Aiysha Hart, Owen Teale, Alex Kingston, Valarie Pettiford
Matthew Clairmont: “Once the world was full of wonders, but it belongs to the humans now. We, creatures, have all but disappeared. Daemons… vampires… witches… hiding in plain sight. Ill at ease even with each other. But, as my father used to say, in every ending, there is a new beginning.”
There has been a real fascination with horror as well as fantasy stories since the dawn of the motion pictures as there has been in the written word, so it is logical that as the idea of peak television approaches that instead of adaptations going to the big screen they should end up on the small screen, not only on broadcast networks, but cable and now of course, streaming outlets. So it really is with little surprise as well as a small fanfare that Deborah Harkness’s ‘All Souls’ Trilogy should be brought to life on the small screen with her first book, “A Discovery of Witches” (2011) being turned into a series of the same name – with the other two following at a later date. To be fair if you have read or viewed other horror or supernatural novels/movies/series that involve any kind of monster then the stories being told here will not be new, in fact this new series plays out like an older more mature ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘Twilight’, although I for one found this new series a lot more like-able as well as more logical, less aggrandising as well as moving the plot along a lot more quickly – I found the aforementioned franchises plodding and drawn out to the extent that I was very happy they came to an end.
This series is based around Diana Bishop, a historian and reluctant witch, unexpectedly discovers a bewitched manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library. This discovery forces her back into the world of magic in order to unravel the secrets it holds about magical beings. She is offered help by mysterious geneticist and vampire, Matthew Clairmont. Despite a long-held mistrust between witches and vampires they form an alliance and set out to protect the book and solve the mysteries hidden within while dodging threats from the creature world.
What is really different about “A Discovery of Witches” (2018-) is that it is all about adults, it is set in the real world, it involves witches as the mainstay of the series and it offers a very different glimpse into an original fantasy world. What is the same as any other fantasy narrative is that it does offer a heroes journey which is identifiable as well as atypical, it is all about a ‘chosen’ one’, it does offer cross species pollination which is now de rigueur for this genre and there is a larger mystery at play which will be revealed over time – I hope. What is great about this new series is that all of these very different elements compliment each other to provide something that is not only original but offers some real surprises from episode to episode, and I hope eventually from season to season.
Another aspect of the show that I enjoyed was the slow revealing of the plot through the use of real locations across a few countries, which coupled with the very different actors provided the show with not only depth but breadth, something I think required for this new series to really set it up. It made a change from having people in a corner of a country or being transported to places through dubious magical means. “A Discovery of Witches” sets itself firmly in the real world with a nod to humans, who are not in danger, to the more fantastic elements that are set up in the first episode as well as laying the groundwork for the rest of the first season. The show also paints a picture of a group of beings who are all in peril with no one agreeing on what is occurring as well as what to do about it, which is in fact a reflection of a myriad of problems we face on a global scale, something that always works so well with the horror/fantasy genre. The other element of the show is that while it is does revolve around a main character who is a woman, it is also gives most of the power to women in just about all aspects with men attempting to hijack that power in many cases. Not only that but Diana Bishop has agency in all her decisions, she makes her own way through the first season with little fear or apprehension. These are all aspects that I enjoyed thoroughly and kept me engaged for most of the running time of the season.
“A Discovery of Witches” is led by two very good actors in Teresa Palmer and Matthew Goode who have had chances in bigger budgeted fair but nothing has really hit, so they have been character actors in a great many other projects, however here they both get to shine together as well as separately in very different ways which is a gift for an actor over a number of episodes. In particular it is Palmer who has the heroes arc, she is young but ends up playing an old soul who has lost much but still has people around her for support who she does listen to which is something unique in this fantasy genre. Goode on the other hand has to be reserved for much of the series but does have moments of real emotion which have to be believable, luckily he is such a good fit that he has no issues in whatever he goes for within the character. Other highlights of the show are great English character actors Trevor Eve, Owen Teale, Alex Kingston Sophia Myles and Lindsay Duncan who all offer very different takes on archetypical genre characters, that could be bland but are all engaging in one way or another, especially in relation to the two main stars which is extremely welcoming.
The look of the show is subdued as it should be with origins that derive from the gothic as well as having directors that are experienced in the sci-fi/horror/fantasy genre, which is exactly what is required to frame the performances around. They all coalesce well to have a narrative that is cohesive, easy to follow as well as engaging the audience for the run of the first season. There can be a tendency in genre narratives to set people against each other with a technique of hiding information from each other, here that does not happen, in most cases information is shared between the two central characters which again will lengthen the appeal of this new series.
All in all this is a vey good first season and although it ends on a hard cliff-hanger which I am not fond of this is an engaging watch which I recommend audiences stick with, the good news is that it already has been renewed for a further two seasons which is success in anyone’s book.
- Things get creepy for historian and closet witch, Diana Bishop, when she calls up a magical manuscript. Her discovery is about to throw her back into the world of magic and into the path of Matthew Clairmont, a centuries old vampire.
- As Matthew fights to control his cravings, he leaves Diana to face her enemies alone. And those include powerful witch Peter Knox.
- There is another dark turn in store for Diana when an alarming package is slipped under her door. Meanwhile, her relationship with Matthew moves forward, but something is about to happen that will cast them both further into danger.
- Diana gets a chilly welcome when she seeks safety at the Clairmont family home. Back in Oxford, trouble is brewing. Juliette shows up and throws Marcus’ life into danger, while Satu pays the price for her curiosity.
- Tensions between the creatures grow as the witches find out the vampires are studying DNA. Matthew crosses a line when he returns to Oxford. Diana discovers his dark past, before something unexpected tears them apart.
- Matthew and Baldwin race to save Diana from Satu’s dangerous dark magic. In Oxford, Sophie shocks Agatha with a confession.
- Diana’s aunts’ home gives up all sorts of secrets when Diana and Matthew pay a visit. Danger looms as Juliette breaks free from Gerbert.
- With danger at every turn, Diana and Matthew are forced to run. But will they escape in time?