BooksDoctor Who

Doctor Who: The Witchfinders by Joy Wilkinson (book review).

In another of the novelised version of a TV episode Joy Wilkinson writes her own novelisation of her story ‘The Witchfinders’. Most of the story is recognisable but it is more comprehensive tale perhaps due to time and budget.

Yorkshire in the 17th century is still a time of superstition and magic. The country is now ruled by James the sixth of Scotland the first of England. He is very into the superstitions of the time and even published a book on witchcraft and absolutely obsessed with tracking down the supernatural. He could have joined the good ole boys, the Winchester brothers and fitted right in.

In the little village of Bilehurst, the Doctor and her companions arrive to witness a ducking. The Doctor intervenes directly by diving into the water and trying to save the old woman from drowning. She is unsuccessful but marches up to the local Lady of the Manor claiming to be the new Witchfinder. She walks right into the prejudices about women and this is a theme we’ve never really encountered before. In her new female body, the Doctor is thwarted due to prejudice and disbelief that a woman can be in charge of anything. She has to work under the radar using Graham as ‘the Doctor’.

As it turns out, this is not a simple case of jealous neighbours. There have been several witch trials and deaths and the problem is a lot bigger than killing a cow or causing the crops to fail.

This was a great episode of ‘Doctor Who’ and there is enough historical knowledge to make it interesting. The novel also adds a final chapter about Willa, the granddaughter of the woman who was drowned. It takes us well away from the original and would be nice to know if this was part of the proposed script as it links back to previous Doctors.

There’s some good comedy moments at the expense of Ryan, Graham and this time James the sixth of England and Scotland. It is helped in no part by the memory of Alan Cumming in beard stroking finest.

Initially appearing to be horror based with a definite nod to Vincent Price’s ‘Witchfinder General’, it then becomes rather more extra-terrestrial towards the end. It’s not my favourite and the new ending just feels like too much justification for abandoning Willa at the end. This would have been a four episode Fifth Doctor story with no swimming or getting the outfit muddy. I would have liked an explanation as to why this was selected as a novelisation from the 2018 season as I feel the other choices are more exciting.

Sue Davies

May 2021

(pub: BBC Books, Penguin. 192 page paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78594-502-1)

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