The TARDIS lands in 17th century Lancashire in the town of Bilehurst Cragg and local landowner Becka Savage is orchestrating a witch trial. The Doctor and her friends find themselves in a dark world as fear stalks the land, and tension is risen as King James I arrives to put an end to all ‘witches’. But something more dangerous is at work, and only the Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz can put an end to the evil.
This is our third historical this year and unlike the previous two, ‘The Witchfinders’ takes a more fun approach, but it still has some really gritty moments. I really enjoyed this episode, and there were many scenes of tension that had my heart pounding.
I wouldn’t go as far as ‘best episode of series 11’ as I’ve seen many people call it, I do have an issue with this story, but it was still enjoyable.
Joy Wilkinson delivers a script that shines when it looks into the horror of the witch trials and how they affected the population, but it also gives us something that really entertains.
I love the poetic-ness in the dialogue (even the Doctor’s accidental one when under pressure, that was funny), it really added a layer to the portrayal of the history ‘The Witchfinders’ was going for. I also really liked how Joy Wilkinson raised the issue the new Doctor has, which is the fact that she is a woman in 17th Century England, so she has no voice of authority, she is constantly being patronised by King James and is put on trial – which is where the real highlights of the episode were, particularly the moment where the Doctor was accused, my heart was beating so hard it nearly exploded from chest.
The only place I find a fault in the script was the monsters (I’ll go into more detail about them later), at first they seem like pretty good villains, but how they were defeated was too simple, too easy, making them come across as really pathetic. But apart from that, the writing here is pretty strong.
As I said earlier, my favourite moment was when the Doctor was being accused of witch craft and was being treated horribly because of her gender, and those scenes are even better due to the fact that Jodie Whittaker delivers an outstanding performance.
My Jodie Whittaker moment here was the face-off between her and King James just before the Doctor was about to be drowned, it’s a beautiful and tense scene with a gorgeous speech (“the secrets of existence” bit) nailed terrifically by Jodie.
The Doctor’s friends are great to watch as well. Once again, I love how human Yasmin Khan is, like the moment when the Doctor is about to begin her investigation but Yaz would rather comfort a young girl who lost her granny It’s a beautiful character beat that Mandip Gill performs really well (and the same goes for her other scenes).
Tosin Cole and Bradley Walsh are wonderful as ever, I love the chemistry Ryan has with King James (which led up to a nice little ending between the two), and I really like how Graham runs with the idea of being the leader of the group when approached by the King.
The guest stars are also really good, I adore Alan Cumming as King James, he gets his character absolutely right, his voice and physicality – it’s a really good performance, and Alan works well against Jodie’s Doctor.
Siobhan Finneran is amazing as Becka Savage, when Siobhan was announced as one of the guest stars in the new series I nearly screamed with excitement, and I am glad to say that I was not disappointed. Becka is a strong, conflicting character, and Siobhan’s incredible performance gives some lovely layers to the role.
Tilly Steele is good as the grieving Willa Twiston who is a lovely character suffering from a tragedy as a result of the witch trials, and every other supporting role is good.
‘The Witchfinders’ was directed by Sallie Aprahamian – whose previous directing credit for series 11 was ‘Arachnids in the UK’ – and here she brings a dark and gloomy feel to the 17th Century Lancashire setting.
The locations were fantastically shot, giving us a creepy atmosphere, especially when the monsters arrived – and Segun Akinola’s music does well at serving the creepiness. And the costumes were a sight of beauty for my eyes, I am a massive fan of historical costumes and they looked perfect for all the characters.
Going back to the monsters though, they looked great at first, but once we have the reveal of the leader of the monsters, then they fall flat and become cheesy, and the voice design is not great, neither is the FX for the big monster.
I honestly think this episode would’ve been a whole lot better without the monsters – either that or they’re given a massive rework in the writing and the design. But apart from that I actually quite enjoyed this episode. A lot.
‘DOCTOR WHO: The Witch-Finders’ result = 8/10