Doctor Who 11×08 Review: The Witchfinders

I have mentioned here before that I love Doctor Who episodes that are set in the past. It brings historical characters we only know from books and it shapes them, makes them human, not just a name. But to be honest, I never expected to find James I so enjoyable. But that is inevitable if he is being played by Alan Cumming.

But let’s begin: our team arrives at Lancashire in the early 17th century. There, they witness how a Mrs Savage summons the village to witness the drowning of an old woman, accused of being a witch. As it happens, when the woman is dunked, she dies -and all the time I couldn’t stop thinking about that scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. They go after Becka Savage, and the Doctor introduces herself as Witchfinder General to run things, but King James I appears and what he reads in the physic paper is that the Doctor is the assistant, and that Graham must be the General -first time the Doctor experiences the downside of being a woman. James is obsessed with witches and Satan. He trusts nobody and wants to kill anyone suspicious. It says so much about him, a king whose mother killed his father and who didn’t have anyone to trust. But he is also the highlight of the episode thanks to Cumming’s acting: the way he moves, the way he delivers his lines, his gestures… It was a most welcome addition.

Meanwhile, we learn thanks to Willa, the dunked woman’s granddaughter, that Becka is her cousin, and that she has been bullying the town in general and Willa in particular with her obsessive witch hunt. When the girls go see where Willa’s gran is buried, this extremely alien-looking mud fills the corpse’s body and reanimates it, reanimating also the bodies of others, like a zombie mud army.

But the Doctor can’t solve things because, when she tries to explain what’s going on to Becka and King “Mummy Issues” James, they claim she is a witch and take her to be ducked -it’s a lucky thing that the Doctor can hold her breath and get rid of chains, thanks to Houdini. It is then we are told the truth: Becka has the mud inside her, and it turns her eventually into one of them. Them being the Morax, an army that was trapped in a tree prison until Becka chopped it because it ruined the view. With the prison open, the Morax are planning to take over the world. But the Doctor, being so smart, figures out their kryptonite -the tree itself. With burning logs from the tree, they put them back in their prison -that is, except for the possessed Becka, who is killed by the king, still obsessed with killing withes.

In the end, James I promises all record of this event will be erased, and it’s as if nothing had happened.

 

Why does the lassie speak of commerce?

-Please, go back to the episode and rejoice in the way Alan Cumming yells “witchcraft” the first time he sees the mud people (around minute 22).

-And of course, he was very interested in witches and Satan.

-I love how this team doesn’t bother dressing up accordingly to the time they are visiting -no surprise the king thinks they might be actors.

-“We all have our area of expertise.” “Even the wee lassie?”

-“A cunning ruse, using your innate aptitude for nosiness and gossip.”

-Poor Ryan, the Nubian Prince.

-“I lost my mum. And my nan.” “My father was murdered by my mother, who was then imprisoned and beheaded.” “OK, that’s worse.”

-“Not to kill her, but to fill her! Ooh! Check out my rhymes. Poetry under pressure.”

-“I can buy that this is the biggest ever witch-hunt in England, or I can buy it’s an alien mud invasion. But both on the same day? I can’t buy that!” “Why does the lassie speak of commerce?”

-I also want to highlight Siobhan Finneran’s performance as Becka. I only knew her from her work in Downton Abbey, and I really enjoyed her turn here.

-“Honestly, if I was still a bloke, I could get on with the job and not have to waste time defending myself!”

-“Oh, you bewitch us with your alluring form and your incessant jabber.”

-“Yes. Yes, we must confront those agents of Satan, even in the face of witchery…” “Oh, mate, seriously. Not witches. Bodies possessed by alien mud!”

-I need to watch a version of this episode that is made only of King James’s reaction faces.

-If you were wondering who said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,”, it was Arthur C. Clarke in his Clarke’s Laws.

-And of course, the Tarantino quote is from Pulp Fiction.

 

 

Categories: Doctor Who, Television | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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