TL;DR – Well this is an odd one indeed, and while it is looking at an important issue, it just feels like it never really all clicked together.
Score – 3 out of 5 stars
Throughout history, there have been numerous times when the people living in villagers have needed a scapegoat for their current woes, and often times that scapegoat has been any women of note in the town. Now, of course, the most well know, though not well understood, occurrence of these witch trails was in Salem, Massachusetts in the US, they also happened across the world (and still happen today), and in tonight’s Doctor Who, we look at England’s past. However,while this setting should feel right up The Doctor’s (Jodie Whittaker) ally,something just does not quite work.
So to set the scene, the TARDIS Gang – The Doctor, Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ryan(Tosin Cole), and Yas (Mandip Gill) – have gone back in time to see Queen Elizabeth the First’s coronation, but the TARDIS is known to be stubborn and instead sends them to Bilehurst near Pendle Hillin Lancashire where the PendleWitch Trials happened. But this is not a town in recorded history, nor is this one of the famous trials but as The Doctor and the gang arrive just that is just what is happening as we see Becka Savage (Siobhan Finneran) holding atrial of Old Mother Twiston (Tricia Kelly) if she drowns she is innocent, if she lives, she is to be hanged for being a witch. Now The Doctor is the first to point out that it is best to not interfere with the ‘fundamental fabric of history’ before immediately herself interfering with the ‘fundamental fabric of history.’ Now as always, we will be looking at the episode as a whole, so there will be [SPOILERS] ahead.
Now,this should have been the perfect episode for Doctor Who, but it feels like it has so many different motivations for existing that it never can get them all to work. Firstly, there is the clear intention that with The Doctor being female, that in this situation she would probably be called a watch where if she was a man it would be fine. That is there but it is there it is not developed enough and was not integrated into the core part of the show. Now, where do see some more interesting development episodes look at women of power like the hard power of Becka and the Queen of the Morax, the soft power of Old Twiston and her daughter Willa (Tilly Steele),and then compared to the 78% horny power of King James (Alan Cumming). As well as all this, it is clear this season that Doctor Who is making a big push into the American market, which you can see with Rosa (see review) and other facets, and we can see it here tonight. Everything here was presented in a way that would track with what people know about the Salem Witch Trials.As well as this, we have to make all of this work within the standard plot beats of a Doctor Who episode, and it just does not quite come together.
While I don’t think the episode worked as well as it could have, there were still some interesting parts. Now one thing I want to be a fly on the wall is the moment people decided to have Alan (or he himself) to play James the First as if he was in a Shakespeare play. He flirts with everyone and everything,every word is spoken like it will be his last, it is both off-putting but also deeply captivating, and you can’t help but laugh as he looks around in bewilderment as to where the TARDIS went. This season is the first time since the restart where Murray Gold is not composing the musical score. This week I really started to get on-board with the shift in musical tone that Segun Akinola brought to the episode. As well as this, It was nice that for the first time in a while that the villain was actually the villain. Throughout this season they have used the “these guys are the villains, actually,no the real villain was …” you can see it in the Demons of the Punjab (see review) where the demons are not the aliens. This week while Becka was not the big bad, she was a villain, and the reanimated clay was also as villainous as it first appeared.
In the end, do we recommend The Witchfinders?Look it’s okay, but it is not great and that is quite common for Doctor Who, but in a season where we have Rosa and Demons of the Punjab, which show the strength of this new season it is a little disappointing when it misses the mark.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV,he’ll be talking about International Relations,or the Solar System.
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Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Doctor Who
Directed by – Sallie Aprahamian
Written by – Joy Wilkinson
Showrunner – Chris Chibnall
Starring – Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole & Mandip Gill with Alan Cumming, Siobhan Finneran, Tilly Steele, Tricia Kelly, Arthur Kay & Stavros Demetraki