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Doctor Who: Series 11 (or 36 depending on how you count): Episode 8: The Witchfinders by Joy Wilkinson.

With the latest episode of ‘Doctor Who’, this must be a record in recent series to have 3 stories set on historical Earth and this is the earliest yet with the Team TARDIS appearing in the 17th century. Also back in Lancashire, home territory for all of them except the Doctor, although she can speak with the accent.

Oh, in case anyone is wondering why I haven’t included actors names this year, not all of them have been released at the time of writing these reviews.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, unless you’re a witch, avert your eyes for a paragraph I go over some of the plot details and I don’t want to spoiler you.

The Doctor and her friends appear to be travelling the Earth’s timeline to visit various people except, as usual, the TARDIS takes them where they are really needed. They become witnesses to a witch trial by ducking. If you drown, you’re not a witch. If you are still alive after the ducking, then you’re a witch and get hung. The ultimate no-win situation. For this village, this is the 36th victim and the Doctor tries to save the latest witch but fails. Posing as witchfinders, the Doctor tries to persuade the lady of the manor, Becka Savage, not to kill people.

Meanwhile, Yaz tries to comfort Willa, who has just buried her grandmother, the accused witch, only to see tentacles come out of the mud. Into this mix, is King James, who has come to this village of Bilehurst to help in the removal of witches. While the Doctor sends Ryan and Graham to help Yaz, she finds herself accused of being a witch herself. This is also the first time that the Doctor has found herself at a disadvantage at not being male where she would get respect. The discovery that the manifestation isn’t witchcraft but aliens is all you need to know so you can watch how they resolve the problem.

This is a story where they find things aren’t quite what they seem and an SF element brought into the mix that hasn’t appeared too superfluous. You would have to ask yourself if this menace is responsible for all the witchcraft in England at this time or just here. Oddly and puzzling, I don’t understand why setting fire to parts of the tree would damage these invaders, although judging by the colour of the flames, it must contain high levels of potassium for those who know their chemistry flame tests.

The Doctor trying to convince King James of her intensions made me think that she ought to be renamed the Psychologist as, over the episodes, she has done quite well in that regard.

‘The Witchfinders’ moves along at a good pace, not giving you much chance to stop and think. Well, unless you’re doing what I’m doing cogitating what I’ve seen. Scriptwriter Joy Wilkinson has done a fine job here, mixing the gristly with some dashes of humour. From the couple times the Doctor was in the water, it looks like Jodie Whittaker didn’t rely totally on a stunt double.

I haven’t remarked much on the standard of this season yet but with eight episodes down, I can say the quality is improving as they all settle into their roles. I suspect, in retrospect, this story will get a special mention and a strong reminder that no one should be accused of witchcraft. Although, because of the subject matter, I wouldn’t call it enjoyable, it will cause you to stop and think about earlier times and that’s important.

© GF Willmetts

25 November 2018


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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