Television review: “Doctor Who – The Witchfinders” (Episode 8, Season 11)

Television/Sci-Fi

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Ten Episodes

Produced by: Chris Chibnall

Featuring: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill

The Doctor:“I am the Witchfinders…. assistant?” 

This weeks episode “The Witchfinders” marks one of the final episodes of the eleventh season of “Doctor Who” (1963 – present) which has seen, I believe, some very good episodes, not absolutely great ones but some decent ones that have highlighted the new Doctor as well as her friends as they all get to know each other, as well as letting the audience in on these new relationships. This episode is another historical episode which I believe have been the highlights of this new era, which is something they possibly were not in previous incarnations of ‘The Doctor’, in my opinion this is a very good element of the show especially if you are unaware of the periods in question as they open up the world illustrating how far we have come as a race, yet how far we have to go.

As should be the case by now the entire cast seems to be gelling together very well with all knowing their characters as well as each others so that interactions with each other as well as guest stars appears seamless. I believe this is one of the strengths that Chris Chibnall brings to the show, the ability to cast characters extremely well which is not only bourn out by the main cast but by all the excellent guest stars we have seen over the first seven episodes. This week the highlight has to be Alan Cumming who is well known in genre circles as King James who is a delight to see in “Doctor Who” – he helps in elevating this episode to one of the best of the season so far.

My only real gripe with this new season is that there has been a lack of really memorable antagonist’s, something to really hold on to as well as maybe offering some kind of real foe that lends the show some weight giving audiences a real taste of what a “Doctor Who” villain really is, apart from the classic ones who are noticeably absent so far. Audiences both old and new in this age of peak viewing need a reason to hang around week after week, the only way to do that is to make them return to see what happens next in the plot as well as, hopefully, an overarching narrative. Now while I am not a fan of a heavy serialization in my television I think a page out of the Tennant era is required, that is a light  narrative that loosely connects a season together with some revelations made in the final few episodes – this is something that is not happening as of yet, the clock is running down far too quickly for that to occur now. 

With all that said this week’s episode feels like a history lesson in a good way, we are exposed to King James who was an unusual character in that he really was fascinated with witchcraft as well as the hunting of witches. This episode also highlights the disparity between men and women as well as the importance of control through fear as well as the power of superstition where science does not exist, and how the poor pay the price for the rest of society. Once again a historical episode highlights our present as well as possibly our future in the idea of governments, especially from larger countries, bringing forth ideas with little evidence but somehow convincing the masses that one or a portion of the population is to blame for anything bad happening in the world, whether it be the economy, social events or even the weather. If you have seen this episode or not watch it again if need be and see how Trump’s messages jibe with the head of the village, a landowner who is killing people she says are witches, in contrast to a certain caravan of refugees heading towards the US border as well as peoples reaction to both.

This weeks episode then is another monster of the week that really is entirely forgettable, which is a missed opportunity especially with the direction that this story went in. Once again the actual antagonists are secondary to the important story, I wish the show runners had the courage to ditch these monsters as we really do not need them. The strength in the best episodes this season are the plots that the humans have created, in this case the power of fear not the actual quasi sci-fi/elements that really do fall on their face after elements that are as serious as any fantasy television show.

This episode could have gone a variety of ways, the first third is excellent, explaining about the Witchfinder General, King James and many other historical moments as well as of course some great performances. The second third is the weakest with all the second rate villains as well as the horror/sci-fi aspects. The third act with all the action as well as King James showing who he is, and of course The Doctor saving the day is as you would expect. 

I watch “Doctor Who” on a 4K television and the step up in effects, especially the CGI is noticeable, this week was a week where we had some excellent make up effects especially on the zombies who were lurching around and in the end on the main villain. The strength of this episode as well as few others is the location shooting which gives the show a particular look, that goes along with the new Doctor, this something that other Doctors did not have as they were definitely city-centric either in the present, the past or the future. 

All in all though I am very much enjoying these new episodes quite a bit, it is a big step up from last season, with stand alone episodes being a very good decision to get audiences used to some very big changes, I am looking forward to what is to come. My only hope is that the writers are able to be a bit more original, follow through on some of the early promise as well as making the show relevant, not forgetting that it is a sci-fi show first that operates on the fact that the central character is a Timelord who is not only one step ahead of her friends but also knows instinctively what is going on around her, think back to not only classic Who but also the very best of new Who as well. 

“Doctor Who – The Witchfinders”

Written: Joy Wilkinson

Directed: Sallie Aprahamian

Arriving in 17th Century Lancashire, the TARDIS team become embroiled in a witch trial. With the arrival of King James I, the hunt for witches intensifies. However, could something more dangerous be at play? Can the Doctor, Graham, Yaz and Ryan keep the populous of Bilehurst Cragg safe from the forces surrounding the land?


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