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"The Witchfinders" (review)

This review's a bit late because we lost our ability to watch DW on Sunday nights. We don't subscribe to cable, so we've been relying on the TV at work. That job's over now and the new place doesn't have a break room with a TV, so I had to find an alternate method. I discovered that you can buy episodes from services like Amazon Prime and Google Play which are released the day after the premiere of the episode. $15 for the entire Season 11? Deal. I bought it on Google Play so that we can watch on our TV using the Chromecast (Amazon Prime does not work with Chromecast), so now we watch the show on Monday evenings.

"The Witchfinders" is the first episode this season that my husband has unequivocally enjoyed, so that's a thing. He's liked most of the episodes so far but has disliked at least parts of them enough that he hasn't categorized any of them as being good. I think that he liked that the story was an adventure with little need for explanation or exposition.

One of the things that DW sometimes does that I really enjoy is encouraging me to go find out about the person or event that the episode is about. I knew enough about James I to understand everything he told Ryan (and in fact paused the viewing to explain to my husband about Mary Queen of Scots, James' succession to Elizabeth I, and the little I knew about his court, so that he could understand as well), but after the episode, I went to read about his involvement in the witch hunts of the 17th century. My husband hadn't believed that the monarch would be personally involved in hunting witches, but Wikipedia bore out that characterization, saying that James was dedicated to finding and eliminating witches and personally presided over trials - at least until a certain point, at which he started cautioning people to be careful of trusting accusations. Thus, it seems that this episode was meant in part to explain James' change of heart, which is another favorite thing of mine in DW - explaining real-life historical mysteries. (Oh, now I need to go listen to "The Kingmaker" again...)

The episode started with a relatively common scene - the witch trial of woman - which seemed to be nothing more than a historical event, but then blossomed into tracking down the causes of unexplained events in the village which had been blamed on witchcraft. It depicted the spreading hysteria well, especially in the trial of the Doctor, where even Willa, the girl the Doctor was trying to help, turned against her under pressure. I think the only part of the episode that was disappointing was the aliens themselves. Why do they always have to be slow, shambling threats? And always aching to destroy the planet once they get out?

I'd say, though, the most fascinating part of the episode was the portrayal of the witchfinders, who were doing things we find reprehensible but were absolutely convinced they were doing the Lord's work. Even Becka, while slowly being taken over by a hostile intelligence, fought against them internally and hunted witches because she truly believed that she was a good person and that if she did good works and eliminated Satan, she would be saved in the end. It was refreshing to see that she was convinced of this to the end, and not doing it because she'd turned evil.

The companions were largely irrelevant in this episode, though Ryan got quite a bit of attention from James and Graham got a cool hat. Sadly, Yaz was largely invisible. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though - this time, the Doctor was the focus of the story, and that's fine. It was also nice to see her grump that asserting authority was a lot easier when she'd been male.

By the way, when this series first started, I hated the bass glissando in the intro to the theme. Now I really like it. I guess it just needed to grow on me.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 29th, 2018 04:14 pm (UTC)
First, let me say I loved the episode and agree with most of what you said. There were two things, though, that struck me.

1) The name "Witchfinder". I know it's accurate and historical but -having immersed myself in "Good Omens"- all I could think of was Shadwell!

2) (and this was a serious bit of annoyance for me) Why was everyone so nonchalant about the truly odd clothing of the "newcomers"? James' line "are you actors?" just didn't cut it for me. I know the former Doctors never bothered to change for the period (he was in a suit after all) but really? Did we all forget about the scandalized attitudes in "Tooth and Claw"? Or Rose's dress in "The Unquiet Dead". Or Donna in "The Unicorn and the Wasp". And any number of occasions in Classic Who. Is the costume budget that small??
Nov. 29th, 2018 05:32 pm (UTC)
I kinda did the same thing with the word "witchfinder", but in a roundabout way. I visited bas_math_girl earlier this year, and while we were in the museum in Colchester Castle, I saw a bunch of stuff about witchfinders, and all I could think about was Good Omens and Shadwell. It didn't help that the Witchfinder General in Colchester was Matthew Hopkins, which is the name of friend of mine. So then, when the name of the episode was revealed, I kept going back and forth between Shadwell and hoping that the episode was going to be set in Colchester. :D

I thought exactly the same thing about the TARDIS crew's clothing! Especially since Yaz was wearing jeans! Since they were actually aiming for the time period (Elizabeth's coronation), I would think that the companions would have been eager to try out period clothing and would have stepped out of the door appropriately dressed. It had to be a conscious decision on the part of the director and/or costume department to leave them in modern clothing, and an odd one at that.

Edited at 2018-11-29 05:32 pm (UTC)
Nov. 29th, 2018 05:37 pm (UTC)
Oh, yeah. Elizabeth I's coronation! I had forgotten that tidbit too. Why were they going there again? I can't imagine the Doctor didn't remember the last two times she encountered Elizabeth. Especially why her coronation? I guess she (the Doctor) assumed the Queen would not recognize her now she was a woman.

Edited at 2018-11-29 05:46 pm (UTC)
Nov. 29th, 2018 05:54 pm (UTC)
Yes, that's what I figured - it would unlikely for them to meet Elizabeth personally, and then the future queen would not associate male Ten with female Thirteen. Though, you'd think that after all these years, the Doctor would learn to anticipate that no matter how innocent she thinks the trip is going to be, it's going to go pear-shaped and the worst things that can happen will!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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