DVD review: “A Discovery of witches: Series 1 – 3” (
“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.”
Released recently on DVD is the entire series of the Deborah Harkness adaptation “A Discovery of Witches – Season 1 – 3” (2018-2022) which sees all of the familiar characters back for more witch, vampire and demon action that feels more like a supernatural version of “Outlander” (2014-present) with less history and much more brooding although there does seem to be more a plot after the initial season that for me was a little plodding narratively except for the scenes in which the great Lindsay Duncan would make an appearance all arch and mysterious.
The past thirty years or so has seen the proliferation of tween supernatural sagas in book form which on one hand means that people are still reading which is a feat in this age of screens and social media, on the other hand since the global box office success of certain fantasy properties, both old and new, means that even below average books now seem to be able to make it the big screen or in this case small screen. Upon a cursory glance “A Discovery of Witches” may seem like a Twilight ripoff there is a little more going on, and of course it gains credibility by being set in Europe. In fact this series owes more to the aforementioned “Outlander” especially this season with its time travel aspects as well as the meeting of historical characters which I enjoyed immensely.
In case you missed it “A Discovery of Witches” concerns Diana Bishop, a historian and reluctant witch, who 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 a 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.
One of the issues with a multipart television series is that there are normally different writers and directors working any number of episodes, that is the case here although there are a limited number of these so the style is mostly carried through episode to episode which means there is a nice look and feel to series two. For the most part the narrative holds together nicely with the strength of this new season being the trip to the past and the discoveries made there.
In the leads Teresa Palmer and Matthew Goode both seem to be able inhabit their own characters and I believe since both have been involved in genre film before they know exactly how to play these parts. My only concern is that they play these parts a little too stiffly and sometimes it feels like Bella and Edward redux. As I have mentioned my favourite character is Ysabeau De Clermont played by Lindsay Duncan who like her costars has been in genre television before so knows what she is doing. This series we also get to meet Philippe De Clermont played by James Purefoy who was a welcome addition, I hope there is an excuse to bring him back for the final series.
In contrast, A Discovery of Witches is, considering the subject matter, painfully genteel. Despite featuring vampires on the loose it rarely lets much blood flow, and the boffing between these two inhuman superbeings, whose ardour is meant to fuse two immortal, elemental forces, is strictly vanilla. The big consummation in season one was over in seconds and somehow involved both participants keeping their trousers on, while the central relationship doesn’t work as an elegant, demure will-they-won’t-they romance either. Diana and Matthew committed themselves to each other fully about three episodes in, and have been comfy companions ever since. Teresa Palmer and Matthew Goode are competent leads, but they look as if they want to sack off this netherworld palaver, climb into a Range Rover and hit David Lloyd’s for a jolly game of doubles and a nice Aperol spritz.
For a series about vampires, witches and demons there seems to be a conscious effort to steer away from too much blood, gore and violence, something that many tween stories have to do or risk turning away audiences. Even with this I do enjoy watching the show although the need for cliffhangers does seem forced but knowing there is only one more season means I will be back as I suspect readers of the books will be as well.
- 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?
- In Madison, Satu, Knox and Gerbert arrive at the Bishop house to find that Matthew and Diana have disappeared. The couple arrives in 1590’s London and are confronted by a face from Matthew’s past.
- As Diana continues her search for a mentor she meets a wealthy alchemist Mary Sidney. London’s vampire ruler demands fealty from Matthew.
- In the present, Domenico makes a disturbing discovery in Oxford. Back in 1590, Matthew must beg for forgiveness from Father Hubbard.
- Another vicious vampire murder rocks present-day Oxford. Marcus makes a breakthrough.
- Matthew and Diana arrive in France on their journey to face Philippe. Elsewhere, Louisa and Kit cut a swathe through London.
- Philippe makes a troubling discovery, provoking a conflict with Matthew. Ysabeau, Em and Sarah start to look for a message.
- Matthew and Diana go to Bohemia to search for Edward Kelley and the Book of Life. There, they encounter the strange Emperor Rudolf II.
- In 1590, Diana is transfixed as she tries to work out what the Book is telling her. Matthew worries over the Book’s power.
- As Diana and Matthew return to London, Diana learns news that could change everything. The Queen holds Matthew to account.
- Realising that she must return to the present, Diana aims to complete her training.
- Matthew and Diana return from Elizabethan London to find tragedy at Sept-Tours. Agatha challenges Knox in the Congregation. Diana learns she’s carrying twins.
- Diana is forced to make a confession to Matthew after the pair are shocked by the appearance of another familiar face – Jack Blackfriars.
- In New Orleans, Matthew and Marcus struggle to reconnect with Marcus’s children. In London, Diana and Phoebe find a lead in their hunt for the missing pages.
- Struggling to pin down T.J. Weston, Diana, Phoebe, and Sarah seek help from other witches. Benjamin has a proposition for Satu. Matthew finally returns home.
- Benjamin’s plan to bring down the de Clermonts is set into motion. Matthew and Diana return to Sept-Tours with the twins. Gerbert demands to examine the babies.
- After receiving Benjamin’s message, Matthew leaves Sept-Tours at dawn to track him down; Diana enlists Sarah’s help to finally get the Book of Life.
- As Benjamin tortures Matthew to near death, Diana makes plans to rescue him. Revelations from the Book of Life illuminate the long-hidden secrets of creatures.