RogerBW's Blog

Doctor Who 2/11.08: The Witchfinders 28 November 2018

You can't go wrong with a good witch hunt.

Well, the Author's Message is back, but it gets a bit closer to a happy medium here; yes, there are simple Good and Bad people, but there's just a little bit more to the story than that.

The idea that you shouldn't interfere with history only happens when it's convenient to the plot, of course; and this episode makes that particularly obvious, with all that objection to the witch-crazes and the dismissal of women… but hey, that's history too, isn't it? And from the perspective of a time traveller, "now" and "the distant future" are surely also history that you shouldn't change… aren't they? (The thing that The Waters of Mars got more or less right.)

Still, that's not the story we'll get today. It starts off as a pretty effective historical, with creepiness and hinting and deduction… and then it goes full-on monster at the start of the third act, and all the interesting personality stuff is forgotten in favour of things that make megalomanic speeches between going "rar". Ho hum, yet more alien nasties imprisoned on Earth; was that it? It doesn't seem to have any thematic connection to the first two acts, and so it rather drops the dramatic arc that was being established.

Before that, it works pretty well – all right, we may wonder why a random landowner would expect to recognise King James, and how he would manage to travel without a retinue; but with a very hammy performance including crypto-gayness just barely crypto enough that the BBC can deny it when someone has a go at them for it, Alan Cumming does a decent job of providing a combination of comic relief and an effective mundane threat.

Like last week's, this isn't an episode for the ages; but it's reasonable workmanlike Who, always bearing in mind that this is meant to be a children's programme, and the sort of complex storytelling I'm ideally looking for and the old series sometimes managed just doesn't fit into the format any more – especially when you have to explain everything for the hard of thinking (which most children I've met aren't, but the BBC apparently feels the need). Even so, replacing the alien menace with something a bit more interesting (and less rushed-feeling), as it might have been some sort of paranoia-generating effect, would have made for a more fitting third act.

  1. Posted by Michael Cule at 10:26pm on 08 December 2018

    I kept worrying why King James didn't have even a slight Scottish accent.

    The Doctor needs to show more of her dark side: I have the feeling that they are unwilling to give the female Doctor any sense of guilt, any sense of the horrible responsibility that being who she is entails.

    There could be a theme of rebirth here, a rebirth more profound than that of previous regenerations, a rebirth that could be partly true and partly an illusion.

    But I don't think that's the sort of thing the show runner goes in for.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 10:36pm on 08 December 2018

    While I take your point, I think we've had far too much of the Doctor's dark side (and, more generally, how the Doctor is the Most Important Person EVAR) since series 26 of the original show and throughout the revived show, so I'm quite happy to have that aspect of things moved to the background for a while.

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