The Witchfinders

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    Craig @craig

    The Witchfinders

    Another historical. Chibnall really seems to want to take Doctor Who back to its roots. Which is admirable as long as the stories are good.

    In 17th-century Lancashire, Team TARDIS get involved with a witch trial and the arrival of King James I (or, as he is known in Scotland, King James VI – yeah, him of the Bible and Mary Queen of Scots’ son, who was king of both England and Scotland).

    This is written by Joy Wilkinson who is an award-winning playwright and screenwriter. Her TV work includes writing for “Casualty”, “Holby City”, “Doctors” and the critically-acclaimed five-parter “Nick Nickleby”. She was one of Den Of Geek’s “50 Brilliant Screenwriters To Watch Out For” and her plays have been widely produced in the UK, US and Europe.

    It is directed by Sallie Aprahamian who is a former theatre director and has two decades of experience directing TV, including programmes such as “The Lakes”, “Teachers”, “Wolfblood” and “This Life” – and a feature film “Broken Lines” which co-starred Paul Bettany and Olivia Williams.

    And, of course, King James is played by Alan Cumming, who has been in, basically, everything and is a Scottish treasure.

    I wonder, will a female Doctor waving her magic wand around be mistaken for a witch?


    There is literally not a single second that I didn’t love.

    But Alan Cummings playing King James I as a not-really-that-repressed-at-all homosexual, while somehow managing to stay just the right side of scenery chewing, may be my most favourite thing ever.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    They got the hanging right! They got witches in England being hanged right!

    @pedant I agree that Alan Cummings’ James VI and I was one of the highlights. But there were so many highlights. The Doctor being ducked as a witch was one of those things that was just going to happen when she regenerated as female, the monsters were suitably monstrous, and the fact that it was not a genuine historical episode was signposted. 🙂

    Oh, and we were reminded that the Doctor spent some time learning escapology from Houdini (and can hold her breath much longer than a human). Basically, what’s not to love?

    I also thought that Whittaker really came into her own in this, and the ‘Bradley Walsh should be The Doctor’ types suitably chastised.

    JimTheFish @jimthefish
    Time Lord

    Alan Cumming was lots of fun in this and, um, that’s it really. Spent much of the episode being reminded of The Mark of the Rani, which, oddly enough, was the story that made me check out of the show back in the 80s.

    I think I’m done. At least for the time being….

    Miapatrick @miapatrick

    Lots of interesting. Once again this Doctor is much firmer – in theory at least – about not messing with timelines. I feel sure this will come up near the end of the series. However, it is such a great change, I feel we’ll need some explanation for why this sudden emphasis on it.

    People have talked of hesitation, passivity, ineffectualness of this Doctor. In this episode she started, for a moment, weak in a way. She watched a woman being killed, and failed to save her. Though she did dive in.

    So we start off with a female baddie, bolstered up with a very camp James I as a bit of a male (and almost certainly, historically, not straight) baddie. And we also come back to the fact that it’s people. There are reasons. Not justifications, or really excuses, but reasons, and it’s not, despite the beliefs of the man and woman involved, a big tangible entity of evil.

    A history episode that is quite sci-fi at the end. I feel people were expecting a slightly different focus here, and of course the episode did press its ‘pernicious, P.C. agenda’ of how, well, the witch trials were wrong. (I don’t personally see how all this pointing out the obvious (racism, bigotry, and killing women for ‘being witches’ are bad things) are overly P.C.)

    Graham has a moment where he has to assume the role of the Doctor, in a sense. Happily gives her the hat. Thirteen makes I think the first direct comment on her sex change since the opening episode with understandable frustration.

    ‘You need assistance’ (assistants are now called companions, but that felt delibrate.)

    ‘If people are good they have nothing to fear?’ ‘Are you a good person?’ We’re getting back to the definite arc, or at least, theme. Along with ‘there’s more power here than kings and queens. There’s us, working together’.

    And once again with have people filled with hate and fear hurting people, but thinking they’re doing the right thing.



    Also interesting that The Doctor engaged with James as the expert on witchcraft that he claimed to be, not as a fire-and-brimstone fundamentalist it would have been easy to go with. I think that exchange was Whittaker’s “Doctor” moment.

    Mind you, after the ducking,  I wouldn’t have minded a passing reference to the respiratory by-pass system that got Baker’s Doc out of trouble at least once.


    ardaraith @ardaraith

    I just had the biggest fan girl rant about the brilliant storytelling this season.  We can’t change the past, our hands are tied, but we can act in the present.  We need not fear the power of “kings or queens” when we act together.  There is no magic wand to wave.  It’s up to us, together, to act against racism, xenophobia, sexism, and blind hate.  It’s hard, and there is no guarantee, but in the end it’s the cure for that feeling of helplessness that seeps into our souls and fills us with dread.

    Also, don’t cut down the lone white thorn in the field.  We all know what lives in the hollow hill.

    Don’t pop the bubble wrap at crimbo.

    and please, please have a rethink about the tooth fairy.

    Arch @arch

    Solid episode. Thought they were originally over doing how camp king James was but he acted the part so well I was on board by the end.

    I much perfer my historical episodes with a big dose of sci fi and happily this didn’t disappoint. Found the dr far more doctory in this episode for lack of a better expression and this was really the first time her gender has played a significant role and disadvantaged her. I think they handled it well.

    The only real issue I have with this is the ending felt very rushed. Approaching the end I thought their is no way they can conclude this story in the time left. It went from monster reveal, straight to “we will save you king” , bam done.

    I liked how they fleshed our the king and Bec, I got a real sense of understanding of the situation and interactions, considering they crammed all this in to 45 minutes is impressive.

    Anonymous @

    This one didn’t do a lot for me one way or the other.  It did have one nice contrast in storytelling; the “We must work together to resist evil and anger and hatred and tyranny” that got said I think a couple of times struck me as telling vs. showing, which isn’t exactly the best approach.  (This series really likes to get in your face with those kinds of messages.  I agree with the message, but…)  On the other hand, those two mentions of “flat team structure” and the way Team TARDIS demonstrated such structure are a way of showing working together without tyranny.  So that was nice.

    And I liked the “wet weekend with Houdini” bit.

    nerys @nerys

    I thought this was the weakest episode this season … which surprised me, given the subject matter. I’d have thought the script would be written to enable Jodie Whittaker to knock it out of the park, dramatically. But it seemed like every time there was menace creeping in, the script undercut it with light banter, and the moment was lost.

    However, reading the other comments in this thread, I must give it a rewatch because I feel like I missed something.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    Okay, I’ve now watched this again. Broadly, this series has had six episodes out of eight that I actively wanted to watch again – the two that I didn’t were The Ghost Monument and Anarchids in the UK.

    This was one of the ‘ooh, I want to rewatch now‘ episodes. It fits nicely into the developing ‘the most dangerous monster is ourselves’ theme. Becca manages to kill thirty six people, all because she was self-centred enough to chop down a ‘sacred’ tree that was ruining her view. I think a few people online have enquired why the Lady of the Manor would take an axe to the tree herself – possibly the implication the director or the writer wanted was that no one else would have had the sheer bloody minded hubris to chop the thing down.

    And, also, it would have ruined the entire plot if she’d had her minions do it. 🙂

    But having got herself infected by alien goop, she then naturally translates this into the world view she understands – Satan’s influence. The problem with both Becca and King James (VI and I) is that they correctly identify something evil, then proceed to externalise it. All will be well as long as they get rid of those nasty witches, those minions of Satan. The evil is not in them, oh no. It’s outside them and in the outsiders.

    It’s a bit like the Mitchell and Webb sketch: ‘Are we the baddies?’ Only instead of wearing skulls on their hats, Becca and James are torturing people, drowning them and hanging them. Yup, they’re the baddies. Becca has a moment of self-realisation before death – she is the real witch. But James survives to learn from this.

    The reason King James (whether VI or I) is played more sympathetically is probably that – as the script points out – it would have been pretty darn difficult for him not to have been as paranoid as all heck. He really did grow up effectively orphaned, surrounded by the most vicious court intrigue, bedevilled (as he must have seen it) by plotting, murderous courtiers.

    But I reckon there’s another reason for casting Alan Cumming and then the director letting him chew so much scenery it’s a wonder there’s any interior scenery left at all. I really don’t get the internet hate this episode is getting (or rather, I suspect I do) because this is a good, solid, old fashioned scary Who script. And if they hadn’t let Alan Cumming play James as so camp he could have provided tents for both the Scottish AND English armies, this episode would have been as dark and scary as Hell itself.

    And we’re wanting Who to scare kids behind the sofa and give them nightmares, not traumatise them for life. There’s always that fine line that Doctor Who has to tread – scary, but not traumatising. Scary enough that an eight year old should be watching with their parents/carers, but not so scary that those caregivers can’t comfort the child.

    But it’s a scary theme. Evil is externalised, good people are accused because their accusers don’t want to be next, ‘justice’ is a catch-22 situation whereby the innocent are drowned and the surviving ‘guilty’ hanged. Being good is no defence, ‘stand up to the bully’ is useless, because we’re in a world where the bully has the power to kill you.

    And the Doctor, who kids rely on to protect them through the story, is being downgraded, denigrated and ultimately nearly murdered herself. Not because she’s The Doctor, which is the normal reason for her getting into trouble. But because she’s a woman trying to take charge. Not only is she not allowed to do that, the conditions of the time allow people to ‘put her in her place’ (James VI and I), ‘shut her up’ (Becca spells out what the ducking stool is for), and finally threaten not just her life, but the lives of her friends (accusations of witchcraft).

    Is this sounding familiar at all? Anyone like to check out the Internet hate for the Whittaker Doctor – especially for this episode? Ooh, the evil social justice warriors, suggesting that a woman can possibly play the Doctor. Wouldn’t it have been better if Bradley Walsh had got the role?

    Sorry, almost-entirely-guys. In case you didn’t notice, the hat’s been passed to the woman.

    Thankfully, in the middle of these scary and serious themes, we have comedy King James, busily providing the light relief as he tries to simultaneously play secret witch hunter, hit on Ryan and protect his subjects, even as he fails to notice the big silver skull on his – well, probably on his pricker. 🙂

    Jodie Whittaker seems to have decided that the Whittaker Doctor is a gurner. Which is fine, truthfully, because Matt Smith seems to have decided very early on that the Smith Doctor couldn’t talk without waving his arms around wildly and by the end of his run they were making jokes about it. She also seems to have gone for a very ‘young’ feel – appropriate for a Doctor who’s at the beginning of a new cycle. If we see the Capaldi Doctor as the last of the male Doctors, then the Whittaker Doctor is a new beginning – and that probably accounts for the almost childlike way that the Whittaker Doctor expresses every emotion in her facial expression. It can be disconcerting – we’ve got used over the After Gap period to Doctors who are suffering from PTSD. This new, female body seems to be – really new. As if the angst of the Capaldi Doctor’s ‘Am I a Good Man’ was the final outpouring and working through of the guilt from the Time War, and the ‘now I can start again’ was symbolised by the new start of a female body.

    And a new style. S/He’s tried being a hero. He’s tried being a warrior. He’s questioned whether he’s a ‘good man’. Be a Doctor?

    Perhaps. But as we see in this episode, even a Doctor can’t always defeat evil by themselves. Sometimes standing up to the bully by ourselves just makes things worse. We need to wait (Yaz), to accept that we’re going to have to play to someone else’s prejudices (Graham), to just listen sympathetically (Ryan) and to let other people help us (the Doctor).

    Team TARDIS. A very flat structure, says Graham. They each have their own skills. Which we really see here, with all of them not just assisting – I don’t think the Doctor could have succeeded without Team TARDIS, and their willingness to each pull their weight.

    Of all the people the Doctor has learnt to be, ‘team-mate’ is probably the most difficult. S/He’s always been the Captain of the TARDIS. The Leader. The Time Lord, galloping in on his white horse. And now she’s a woman, and she’s going to go into places where people simply won’t accept that she can be any of those things.

    Which means, instead of always insisting that HE is the one who protects HIS companions, SHE may find that it’s HER companions who need to protect HER.

    A very thought provoking episode. It’s not just tentacles rising up from the mud. 🙂

    Mudlark @mudlark

    Many people here and elsewhere clearly found a great deal to like in this episode. I have just watched it a second time with that in mind, because my initial reaction was that it confirmed all the reasons why, in BG Who especially, I tended to prefer the futuristic episodes where anything goes, to those set in the past – with or without alien monsters. The linking themes or threads which have run through all the episodes of this series are clear enough here, and on one level I can appreciate how they have been used, but that is not enough to overcome my awareness of the historical errors and fudges.  No doubt I should be more tolerant in these matters in a show like this, but I can’t help the fact that it continues to irritate me to a greater or lesser extent.  Nit-picking ensues 😈

    The Tardis translation circuits or the implants referenced in the first episode can be invoked to explain any problems of communication between early 17th century speech and dialect and modern idiom; and although modern dress, and especially women wearing jeans or culottes would have appeared utterly bizarre and outrageous to people of that time, those of us bothered by such things could rationalise the general lack of comment by assuming that the holographic effect referred to in Time of the Doctor was in operation, except that a joke depended on the fact that the King did notice it.

    Alan Cumming camping it up to the nth as King James VI & I was fun, but it was a somewhat crude caricature of the historical person, even in the references to his traumatic upbringing.  True he believed in witches and was interested in the subject from a theological point of view, but he was also intelligent and well educated, and he tended to be cautious and sceptical when it came to the evidence in witchcraft trials. It is also a matter of record that he had a strong Scottish accent, although what that meant exactly in 17th century terms is anybody’s guess. An Edinburgh Morningside accent would work for me in this context 🙂

    The story of the real Pendle witch trials is fascinating, although the sociological and psychological complexities might be too much for a Doctor Who episode to tackle. It is however, a prime example of the fact that people accused of witchcraft were tried and sentenced in regular courts. This part of Lancashire was at the time regarded as something of a wild hinterland where superstition was rife, but even so I doubt whether any Lord or Lady of a Manor could have got away with drowning so many people in such an irregular fashion. Ducking, a humiliating punishment for women who were accused of malicious gossip or of being ‘scolds’, was in any case distinct from the superstition of ‘floating’ a suspected witch. The latter involved trussing the suspect and chucking them into a pond or river. If they floated, they were guilty; if they sank they were innocent and, since they were attached to a rope held by those on land, could be hauled back to safety – although some accidental drownings probably did occur.

    The monsters looked reasonably scary, even if the concept was not particularly original, but zombies have been overdone of late in my view. They were, however, a metaphor for the monster within and worked well from that point of view.

    There were a few occasions when the dialogue seemed a bit stilted to me, but I think that was probably to do with direction and editing. Visually, though, it continues to be often stunning.


    Mudlark @mudlark

    For anyone interested in the Pendle witches and who hasn’t already come across it, I can recommend the novel ‘Mist Over Pendle’ by Robert Neill.  It is quite a while since I last read it, but this has prompted me to consider re-reading it, perhaps over the Christmas holiday.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip


    Mist Over Pendle is a brilliant novel.

    I understand there have been quite a few local jokes over the episode. My favourite is the comment by Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership that there are NO mud aliens beneath the hill – followed by a number of replies along the lines of ‘Well, you would say that, wouldn’t you?’

    My second favourite was the laconic ‘Well, that explains Burnley.’ 🙂

    Yes, some things can blow suspension of belief out of the water. But I argued in a couple of posts at T’other place that the writer signposted the fictional nature of the story. Graham clearly says that he’s been on the Pendle Witches Tour, and that a village where thirty five people were murdered out of hand would have been mentioned. Then he adds that he’s never heard the name. He’s practically waving a big flag, especially if you know how famous the Pendle Witch Trials were with ‘only’ ten convictions.

    There’s something going on with the clothes. I think it’s been most noticeable in this one because Rosa was close enough to our time that Team TARDIS’s clothes might have passed. In Demons of the Punjab, Team TARDIS might have been seen as ‘weird Britishers’. But when you plonk them down in Jacobean England and they still haven’t changed their clothes, then it starts to feel like some kind of explanation has either been cut or is turning up later. They have never changed their clothes to fit in. Chibnall’s doing it on purpose.

    Becca explaining the significance of the ducking stool pretty well explained the odd aspect of the ‘witch trial by ordeal’. She’s not testing for witches, she’s shutting people up. That’s why she wants them drowned.

    As for James VI and I – I’ve mentioned above why I think the decision was to make him the comic relief. Personally, I mentally junked any real pretension to historical accuracy when James VI and I, Secret Witchfinder first appeared. I’m not sure he even visited Lancashire. 😀

    P.S A few people have noted that James spotted the weird clothes. It was established in Time of the Doctor that some people can ‘see through’ holograms, or that they can be wrongly set so that only some people see them. I wonder if, since Team TARDIS were heading for the coronation of Elizabeth I, they’d set the holograms for the wrong monarch?

    Alternatively, it could be something along the lines of the Shakespeare Code, where Shakespeare can’t be fooled by the Psychic Paper. James wouldn’t have been at that level of genius, but he certainly translates ‘Witchfinder General’ into ‘Witchfinder General’s Assistant’.



    Come on – you must surely understand that there is not a single dramatic representation of history that doesn’t take liberties to aid storytelling. It is simply not reasonable to apply documentary standards to drama (imagine how @jimthefish or I wince at almost every portrayal of a journalist ever, and neither of us do much of that anymore.) Yes, Yes, they need to guardian willing suspension, but they sure as hell can’t write for the benefit of history (or historical geography) nerds. You are apply standards that the show cannot possibly meet. And this season has been noticeably MORE diligent than many earlier ones.

    And every AG Doctor has been a gurner. Co-o-o-me on!

    And (to @bluesqueakpip also) I’m pretty damned sure that the number of times Doctor and/ or Rose/ Martha/ Donna/ Amy/ Clara/ Bill dressed for the period is massively outweighed by the times they didn’t. Why the fuck is this suddenly an issue now? Are people looking for things to whine about?

    Notime @notime

    This episode seemed like the same basic story as Rosa…..just told in a different setting.  I can’t tell if the writing is genius or lazy.


    Possible theme for the season in that most every episode has a threatening being and threatening ideal.    Except for the first episode…..maybe that one is supposed to stand alone for introductory reasons?

    The Woman who fell to Earth:  Thim Shaw and ???

    The Ghost Monument:  A planet called Desolation and a contestants who compete to the death, presumably for entertainment reasons.

    Rosa:  White Supremacist from the future and racism in the South. (Actually the most terrifying threat of the season since it still exists….)

    Arachnids in the UK:  Mutant spiders and Trumpism.

    The Tsuranga Conundrum:  a creature hungry for energy and ????

    Demons of the Punjab: alien assassins (perceived) and creating borders to separate people.

    Kerblam!:  the sabatour and technology that contributes to social isolation

    The Witchfinders:  prisoners in the tree and witch phobia



    ichabod @ichabod

    Enjoyed it, might watch again because the ending was so rushed that I can’t sort it out clearly in my head.

    I did wonder, though, if the Morax thing would say “imprisoned in the hill or war crimes”.  What, no denial, no self-justification?  Odd.  And I wondered why the Doctor didn’t have some reaction to the high-handedness some deep space Nuremburg court stuffing its convicts away on Earth.  That seems a bit war-crimey in itself, to me.


    syzygy @thane16

    I have to say, as a historically lazy woman that one thing that made me go: “woo!” was the FEEL of it. Just like when I was 7: mud, or corridors, madness, or jokes about my “pricky” de-vice (said salaciously).

    Loved it. Also, Cummings was brilliant to me: tormented, frightened, a little learned and the Doc had  massive-grunt. More of that please. And I really want to see it again. I was looking for that ‘feeling’ or urge.

    I know very little of this historical period, but I thought the dress, the manners, the general poverty and quite obvious misery was pretty appropriate to that period…..and probably for a thousand years before (well, almost).

    But. To the pub for a mention of a film I have just seen…


    tardigrade @tardigrade

    For some reason, this episode pushed a number of wrong buttons for me, so I struggled with this one.

    I was annoyed that the crew were intending to attend the coronation of Elizabeth I, and turned up in whatever they were wearing. They’re scarcely dressed for the period. Showing up a century late. in odd clothing at a witch trial would also be ill-advised, but they didn’t know that’s where they would find themselves.

    I continue to be annoyed that the crew keeps splitting up, without having a means of keeping in contact. For people of Yaz and Ryan’s age, not having a mobile phone to keep in contact would be like missing an arm. The Doctor could apparently easily keep them in contact by jazzing up their phones, but for some reason has chosen not to. Of course, pulling this phones out in the environment of this particular episode could get them burned at the stake.

    I was annoyed at the psychic paper, which continues to seem just an easy out for the writers, to give the Doctor instant authority. Though I’ll admit that I quite liked the little twist- that the most impressive credentials that the king could bring himself to imagine for the Doctor was as Witchfinder’s Assistant.

    I was mildly annoyed at the camp portrayal of King James, though admittedly, I don’t have any historical knowledge to know how he might have realistically behaved (and would give some leeway in that anyway).

    I found the claim that Lady of the manor would grab an axe and cut down the tree herself implausible. Surely that’s hardly something she would do herself.

    And, as noted by others, body-snatching zombie creatures aren’t the most original, and the resolution was rushed. Given the strength of earlier historicals in the series, and the interesting prospect of the Doctor being treated as a witch, I found this one something of a disappointment. I’ve said enough- I don’t want to simply post a list of negatives, and I know many enjoyed this one.


    I also thought that Whittaker really came into her own in this, and the ‘Bradley Walsh should be The Doctor’ types suitably chastised.

    I’m struggling enough with Bradley Walsh playing Graham. I really can’t begin to imagine him as the Doctor.


    I thought this was the weakest episode this season… I must give it a rewatch because I feel like I missed something.

    Agreed, but don’t think I could rewatch- too many niggles in this one for me.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip


    I would class it as ‘people wanting something to moan about,’ and I suspect that in some cases, it definitely is. One poster on T’Other Place was, for example, insisting that it was an example of ‘lazy writing’ even when I’d pointed out that the decision to NOT dress Team TARDIS in period costume had to get past the Director, the Costume Designer, the Producers – and probably every member of the crew.

    But I think it was also that this episode is the first one where the decision to keep Team TARDIS in modern clothes throughout has really been noticeable. Previous TARDIS crews (and Doctors) have dressed for the period if they know in advance they’re going to Georgian London, or Victorian England – and this lot knew they were off to see Elizabeth I’s coronation. It’s not like the Tennant Doctor trying to look alien so he’d flush out the Zygons. And I don’t think it would have broken the budget to order four more costumes from Angels.

    Given that most actors love dressing up and getting paid for it, I don’t think the actors would have objected that much. You’d need to pick a costume for the Doctor that could survive a dip in that semi-frozen pond (those poor actors! Apparently it was snowing!), but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

    They never have yet changed out of modern dress. So far, we haven’t had an explanation. Is that because Chibnall wants us to speculate, or has a line been cut?

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip


    The Doctor could apparently easily keep them in contact by jazzing up their phones, but for some reason has chosen not to.

    That’s because mobile phones are a plot killer. From the days of Star Trek onwards, when practically the first thing every writer would do was have Kirk’s communicator damaged or stolen. Killer of Plots – you don’t want Yaz, for example, to whip out her mobile at a tense moment and ask the Doctor to come rescue her or can everyone come over to the forest when you need them to be discovering the axe. 🙂

    In-story, I’d suggest that the Doctor’s experience with lending Elvis a mobile and discovering that he’d lent it to Frank Sinatra has rather put her off letting the things outside the TARDIS. We already know this Doctor is a bit more cautious about interfering with the past than she’s been for many a century.

    I was annoyed at the psychic paper, which continues to seem just an easy out for the writers,

    That is exactly what it is, because AG Who has only one or two episodes. In BG Who you could afford to spend an episode with the Doctor slowly establishing his authority – in AG Who you can’t, and the Psychic Paper handles the situation with aplomb.

    It’s also a versatile plot-device, because it’s well established that it doesn’t always work. It overloads when the Doctor tries a ‘lie too big’, some people can spot that it’s a fake, and now it seems that some people can partially see through it. That is, King James of the double numbers knew something was wrong with a woman being Witchfinder General, but couldn’t quite see through the psychic lie. So he translated it into Witchfinder’s Assistant.

    I don’t have any historical knowledge to know how he might have realistically behaved

    I doubt he was as camp as Alan Cumming, because very few people can be as entertainingly camp as Alan Cumming in full flow. But there are certainly records showing that it was completely obvious to everyone that he was homosexual (we’d probably say bisexual today). Given that Alan Cumming has to establish this in less than fifty minutes of screen time, translating it into modern ‘camp’ was a pretty good acting decision.

    I think I’ve said upscreen why the Lady of the Manor might have taken an axe to the tree herself – it was ‘sacred’ and no-one else would dare. It was also her act of defiance against the grandmother who’d brought her up (there are faint hints of that resentment). Plotwise – she has to, because it’s the Inciting Incident. If somebody else had chopped the tree down, someone else would have got infected (and Becca wouldn’t) and the entire plot would have been seen flying off into the distance as it blew apart.

    I agree that the ending was rushed. Look, if we want new writers to come into Doctor Who, people with new stories to tell, we have to allow for them to make errors of timing or set up on their first scripts. I understand that Russell T. Davies had to do massive script edits on almost every episode of AG Series 1 – because at that point, all his writers were effectively new writers. Steven Moffat had a much easier job, because by then he had a core of writers who’d written RTD episodes.

    But Chibnall has (bravely) decided he’s going to expand the pool, bring new voices in, try new things. We are going to get things like ‘Drat! I’ve spent 42 minutes setting up the alien menace and now only have 8 minutes for the Doctor to find out who they are and send them back under Pendle Hill!’

    We can live with that. It’s happened in a number of other episodes, in both the RTD and Moffat eras.

    This episode seems to be a ‘Marmite’ episode. Online, there seems to be a clear division between people who really enjoyed it and people who thought it was awful.

    Arbutus @arbutus

    I loved, loved, loved this. Looked gorgeous, great performances from the guest actors, excellent use of each member of Team TARDIS, and a growing sense of this Doctor. I felt that most of the historical inaccuracies were covered by the stated fact that the events were out of the ordinary and were wiped from the historical record.

    There’s a bit of a return to BG-style Who in the fact that the Doctor feels in no way “super human”– she can’t talk, sonic, or psychic-paper her way out of everything. I loved her interactions with the King and with Becca, they felt very Doctor-ish to me. I also enjoyed the moment where the Companions realize who must be on trial. (Oh, can I claim that pun as intentional? 🙂 )

    I agree with those who felt the ending was rushed, I could have used a few more minutes. But I happily accepted that for the excellent pace at which the rest of the story played out. I admit I do find it a bit strange that they would arrive for Elizabeth I’s coronation in modern clothes, so I hope that @bluesqueakpip is right and there is a reason for that.

    I really think this series is winning on the historical episodes, they’ve all been excellent. I’m looking forward to watching this one again.

    Arbutus @arbutus

    @miapatrick   I didn’t see the Doctor as ineffectual, more as torn. It’s interesting to see the Doctor actually trying to live up to the “don’t change history” rule, as opposed to just blowing it off most of the time. As I recall, she acted immediately Graham told her about his witch tour and the fact that this town wasn’t mentioned. In other words, as soon as she realized that she was free to act, she did. It’s nice to see the moral conundrum of time travel taken seriously, which I think it has to be if we’re going to see this number of historical settings, which personally I love.

    And from what I’m seeing here, I’m really glad I’m not reading comments anywhere else! I don’t mind reading criticism here, even when I disagree, because it is rarely of the “I don’t like the ideological slant” variety. Thanks for that!

    Mudlark @mudlark

    @pedant @bluesqueakpip

    It isn’t at all that I want or expect that a work of fiction, whether in a novel or drama, should adhere to facts at a documentary level; I do know the difference. It would, though, help me to suspend disbelief if there were, to adapt a quotation from W.S.Gilbert, enough  ‘… corroborative detail … to give verisimilitude to … [the] narrative’.  The portrayal of Thomas Cromwell in ‘Wolf Hall’, for example, is somewhat at odds with the sleek, narrow-eyed and ruthlessly ambitious fixer depicted in his portrait by Holbein which is probably nearer the truth, but it is convincing because, in the novel and the TV adaptation, the narrative is embedded in a background which is thoroughly researched and evokes the essential facts and the ‘atmosphere’ of the period in question and brings it all to vivid life.

    In this episode care had been taken that the house and its furnishings were of the right period, even if the exterior of the house showed the effects of four centuries of weathering. So unless, as Pip suggests, there is some as yet unrevealed point in the fact that the Doctor and her crew don’t bother to show up appropriately dressed, why don’t they? Even if they had dressed appropriately for the coronation of Elizabeth I, they wouldn’t have looked much out of place 60 or so years later in rural Lancashire.  I know that this discrepancy is nothing new, but it is something that has always bothered me.  Equally, it wouldn’t have harmed the narrative to have provided a little more factual underpinning.

    I have no problem at all with the character of Becca, which was complex and nuanced. Here is someone who profoundly believes in witches and satanic possession and who, one level, thinks she may be able to exorcise what she knows is attempting to possess her by projecting it onto the villagers, and on another barely acknowledge level is, as you say, Pip, frantically trying to silence people who might expose her. I just found it hard to accept that her extremely irregular actions would have escaped official notice for so long, even in darkest Lancashire.

    I have found plenty of things to like about this year’s series, but perhaps there is simply an underlying lack of engagement on my part, as compared with much of AG Who, which results in this kind of detail having the power cut the cord which suspends my disbelief. Perhaps, also, I have been paying too much attention to all the talk there has been of a return to the original concept of the show as educational. My loss.


    And every AG Doctor has been a gurner. Co-o-o-me on!

    Are you by any chance conflating my post with someone else’s earlier comment? Because I don’t recall a mention of the Whittaker’s Doctor ‘gurning’ in anything I have written. In any case, Tennant could out-gurn Whittaker any day of the week 🙂



    nerys @nerys

    Better on second viewing … yet I still feel like this episode was a missed opportunity. I guess, considering the subject matter, I was hoping for something along the lines of “Midnight” in which the menace to the passengers, and the direct threat to the Doctor, felt very real. This felt too comic book-y for my tastes.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip


    I just found it hard to accept that her extremely irregular actions would have escaped official notice for so long, even in darkest Lancashire.

    Except that they hadn’t, because the King himself had turned up. 🙂

    I do get what you’re saying, because I’ve had times when a lack of accuracy has ruined a book or programme for me – but in this case, I think we were given enough signals that this wasn’t meant to be one of the historically accurate episodes. For me, the absurd death rate was one of those signals – thirty five dead in one village on the say-so of a local landowner who wasn’t even a magistrate? No way.

    At the very least one of the villagers would have fled to relatives or friends, possibly making a complaint to the magistrate in that area. Even witches were entitled to a trial, after all.

    Anonymous @

    You know, if Team TARDIS has holo-clothes somehow, shouldn’t we see them like the antlers in The Husbands of River Song?  Or, at least, if the TARDIS or something has given them holo-projections so their modern garb looks period, is the holo-generator an AI too, and can tell not to make the hat disappear?

    Or, who in the world imprisons war criminals in a prison that deteriorates faster than they do?  Okay, sure, somebody’s relative got the contract, and cut corners.  And why didn’t anyone check up on the prison and prisoners?  Killed in the Time War or something.

    I’m hoping all this and the other unexplained things (why has the TARDIS been acting so different since the end of Twice Upon a Time anyway?) will get explained at some point.  I’d rather Chibnall and company aren’t depending on the likes of us to come up with the reasons.  I don’t want to feel like a superior storyteller to them, I want them to thrill and enthrall me.

    But I suspect this whole series is meant to be felt, not thought about, except maybe Kerblam!  I think we’re supposed to approach every episode emotionally instead of rationally.  That’s what I’m trying to do.  I’ll smile at the Morax (“Kneel before the Morax, feeble human!”  Haha), grin at King James, and shake my head at Becka, because that’s how I can get some enjoyment.

    But don’t worry, I’ll still come here and read and even comment.  I’ll just try not to connect the thoughtful discussion here with the feelings from the episodes. 🙂

    tardigrade @tardigrade


    Yes- It’s clearly a deliberate choice to keep the Doctor in particular in much the same costume throughout the season, not the choice of the individual writers. I can only hazard the reasons- perhaps to try to firmly establish an “iconic” look? Maybe they’re concerned that JW doesn’t come across as Doctor-y in period dress. At some point the illogic of it is detrimental though.

    The lack of communications can also be a problem the writers need to work around. If a means of communication were introduced, the communication could be as unreliable as necessary for plot purposes. Star Trek had no shame about introducing interference from chronoton radiation, or whatever else the writer of the week decided, to avoid any sticky situation being exited with a quick “Beam me up”.

    The psychic paper works on me too. When I look at it, I see the words “Plot Device” printed in bold lettering. I find it a bit clunky.



    Are you by any chance conflating

    No I just tagged @bluesqueakpip in the wrong place.

    But you are still treating it as a historical drama rather than an episode of Doctor Who.

    It is much more common than not that the Tardis crew go out in their regular clothes. It’s the norm for Who, such that when Donna dressed up for Agatha Christie, Clara for Robin Hood, or Bill for the Thames Fair it was noticeable. Generally the always-in-the-background perception filter can be safely assumed, unless there is someone astute enough to see through it, as they might see through the psychic paper. Rose had a Union Jack mini skirt on in the Blitz, Amy had her micro-skirt in Churchill’s London (both of which would likely have got them arrest for prostitution in 1940s London), and Martha had her leather jacket-and-jeans in Shakespeare’s London.

    And literally nobody gave a fuck.

    So why is it suddenly an issue when Chibnall is doing what has usually been done?

    LionHeart564 @lionheart564


    Yes, TARDIS Crew didn’t dress up for the time period most of time in AG DW and never in the few BG DW episodes I have watched. I don’t know why people start complaining about it now.
    As for the episode itself I don’t anymore constructive to add besides I felt it was rushed in the beginning and the end but mostly good ,and Kine James is a joy to watch.

    blenkinsopthebrave @blenkinsopthebrave

    Finally got to see it, and it was great! Honestly, I do not get the complaints. Do I have to spell out what the issues were about?  Really?

    And the complaint about modern dress. Come on! In BG Who they had the luxury of 4 or 5 episodes to allow their version of Team Tardis to change into period-specific clothing, but now it all happens in one episode. For crying out loud, is that too difficult to take on board?

    Summary: an episode that perfectly captured the essence of BG Who.

    Critique: the aliens were a bit rubbish, and probably unnecessary.


    tardigrade @tardigrade


    It is much more common than not that the Tardis crew go out in their regular clothes… And literally nobody gave a fuck.

    One fuck was given here. Particularly for some of the more egregious examples like Roses’s miniskirts. It’s not a sudden issue for me, just a repeated niggle that came up again here, as it was particularly obvious.

    Miapatrick @miapatrick

    regarding the clothes, I can think of a reason for the crew not to be in costume. This is a time period where clothes still very much denoted status. I can’t remember if laws still specifically decreed what clothes you were allowed to wear according to your class, but if they didn’t, they had until fairly recently. This group of people turning up in their strange clothes would be incredibly hard to place, and that would be very unusual. It meant people wouldn’t know how to read them, other than ‘not from around here’ or really understand anything about them until they started saying who they were.

    At the same time, people would potentially under react to how strangely they were dressed because this, like most communities at a distance from London, would be rather isolated. Maybe people have started dressing in this odd way elsewhere. And people have a tendency, especially in Who (because it is rather convenient, and we need to leave space for the story) to blank out what they can’t understand or rationalise.

    Miapatrick @miapatrick

    That said, they were off to attend a coronation, rather than intending to get stuck into a witch trials/aliens plot. But dramatically, for the plot, the lack of costume makes sense. And potentially, since the Doctor is trying really hard at the moment not to get involved in history, the unplaceableness still could make sense.

    syzygy @thane16

    @miapatrick: good points. And valid as it explains why the villagers wouldn’t have questioned the ‘dress code’ – what with them all summoned to the lake for a prompt ducking. Also, dress code: not a priority considering the dead horses, 35 people ducked and dead, etc

    @kevinwho I think that the prisoners had been particularly bad -the fact they’d been imprisoned for millions/billions means something was truly awful 🙂  Perhaps the gaolers had died? Certainly, in Tennant’s episode with Martha  -where the Doctor had to become human, he imprisoned the entire alien ‘family’ who had murdered and taken over many villager’s bodies for considerable eternity -which could be an eternity encompassing only Tennant’s Doctor! 😉


    The psychic paper works on me too. When I look at it, I see the words “Plot Device” printed in bold lettering. I find it a bit clunky.

    ..Roses’s miniskirts…

    I think Amy was “the legs” which didn’t bother me, particularly. Bill Potts had high -cut tight jeans whilst Donna had quite the bust as did Rose’s mother. 🙂  As for the psychic paper, I like it but thought it was an old device? And a wonderfully good one here considering how in The Witchfinder, Becka Savage read it “as Witchfinder General” and the King, “witchfinder: assistant”  (or something to that effect) which naturally highlights the comedy and romp of the season and the issue of King James not seeing “woman” as anything but ‘witchy’ considering his own experiences.

    @pedant I think it was a Union Jack t-shirt in that episode with Eccleston?

    @blenkinsopthebrave That makes sense -they had a virtual eon to  choose the correct attire. But perhaps not changing is suggestive of “who you see is who you get.” Or “our clothes shouldn’t always define us.”

    G’night Team Tardis 🙂


    syzygy @thane16

    And literally nobody gave a fuck…So why is it suddenly an issue when Chibnall is doing what has usually been done?

    @pedant I think asking that question leads to more alcohol -or chocolate consumption.  🙂

    They are finding anything to pick on because they might not necessarily a) want him or JW to succeed b) or, it’s pretty good, so finding anything makes them feel righteous or, c) they may’ve complained about these things before, but 3 or 5 years ago, they may’ve have discussed this with people in a different manner -around the watercooler type thing.  Some of the nitpicks are understandable, I guess, and certain posters aren’t complaining exactly but admitting they’re nitpickers because they understand that particular portion of history in tremendous detail.

    Others, though, are determined to be unhappy and still others create accounts just so they can complain and hope others jump on the bandwagon (safety in numbers and in cowardice).

    Puro Urgently- Rambling- On.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    Good point. I think the answer is that he may have made it an issue with the line about Team TARDIS meaning to turn up at the coronation of Elizabeth I. Because the line really wasn’t necessary, and points up that the team should be in period costume.

    I suppose it could be an accidental leftover from the original script, put in to explain why Team TARDIS is fetchingly attired in a selection of Tudor bonnets and ruffs. But that still implies a deliberate decision to instead keep Team TARDIS in modern costume, and it does beg the question of why they didn’t ADR the line to make it, say, Elizabeth II’s coronation. Given the speed of TV production an unchanged line could be one of those slight goofs that slip through somehow, but it does feel like – at some point – there was a conscious decision to NOT go period.

    Re: gurning. Yup, that was me. I did say it was okay – the Smith Doctor could have powered entire substations with his windmilling arms and the Tennant Doctor wasn’t exactly Doctor Stoneface, either. It’s more a note: it seems to be part of her characterisation and she seems to be using it in an almost childlike way. This seems to be a very young Doctor, in contrast to Smith’s ‘old man in a young body’.

    syzygy @thane16


    Sorry abt that: I meant the older seasons many decades ago, where they had an eon to change attire. 🙂

    And yes, I don’t fully understand the complaints. It was a good ol’fashioned romp made a lot smarter as a woman managed to “keep talking because she’s in favour of it because it solves problems.”

    I was excited by -what I call – “gabby doc” because it’s seems to be written  seamlessly -mostly -and it adds to the team/fam idea whereby there’s little mystery to the Doctor. She needs ‘the team’ to actually do things that genuinely help her and aren’t just faffing-around-jobs-just-to-keep-them-happy before they get exploded by a square-ness gun.  😉 It’s been the case from Ep 1 where we get the “flat leadership structure:” more wonderful hints about how the world can improve or listen without the gabbiness as over-clunky or speechy – to me, at any rate.

    Puro (the red wine kept  me awake!).

    syzygy @thane16


    I mentioned above the concept of “not changing” as a metaphor for “look beyond our clothes -we’re more than that.”

    That’s possibly a tad corny though.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip


    The psychic paper works on me too. When I look at it, I see the words “Plot Device” printed in bold lettering. I find it a bit clunky.

    That’s because it IS a plot device. It’s just as much a plot device as the Star Trek transporter, which was created to save the writers having to take the Away Team down to each new planet by shuttle. Like the Star Trek transporter, it’s a plot device to speed up the action, so we don’t have to waste time on the mechanics. If we still had four episodes per story, we could spend time on the mechanics of the Doctor getting people to trust him – but we don’t.

    In story, we can presume that the Doctor’s found it somewhere and realised how useful it was, or alternatively invented it because he was sick to death of arriving on a spaceship or a planet and being threatened with instant execution.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip


    Yup, ‘we’re more than our clothes’ might be the message. I’m firmly in the ‘there’s a reason for not changing the costumes’ camp – I just don’t know what the reason is.

    But then, isn’t that what we’re all here for? The only problem with ‘hologram costumes which didn’t work on King James (VI and I)’ is that it’s a bit too tame for our strapline. 😀


    @thane16 @bluesqueakpip

    Union Jack t-shirt

    Yes, quite right – but still massively out of style, especially with jeans.

    Because the line really wasn’t necessary, and points up that the team should be in period costume.

    I suppose it could be an accidental leftover from the original script,

    It was consistent with every other episode this season (and much BG Who) that they were on there way elsewhere when Old Sexy had other ideas. There is nothing to suggest they were going as guest of Liz One. And given how close the coronation was to one of the busiest ports in the world – less than a mile up Strand, or a very short barge ride – even a couple of Moors (as I guess they were still called then) and a striking blonde would have been fairly unremarkable and their garb no more than a curiosity.

    No holograms needed. Just awareness of geography.

    BTW (@all)

    A couple of tweets from the Ashmolean:

    (@craig – do you have any idea why tweets are no longer embedding?)

    Craig @craig

    @pedant With YouTube you just have to post the link – with Tweets you need to get the embed code, I’m afraid. Like so:

    Anonymous @


    I think that the prisoners had been particularly bad -the fact they’d been imprisoned for millions/billions means something was truly awful 🙂 Perhaps the gaolers had died?

    Sure, that makes sense.  I just got irritated at one more unexplained element.  Which ties into –

    They are finding anything to pick on because…

    The rest of your sentence makes sense too.  I will say that some of them may be doing the same thing I do: when an episode doesn’t work for me, I start wondering why.  Then my brain starts finding reasons – dialog, dress, disintegrating jails/gaols etc.

    No big deal, at least in my case.  The episode didn’t turn me off/away like the other historicals this season ended up doing.  It didn’t really do anything for me one way or the other, just passed some time.

    Mudlark @mudlark


    So why is it suddenly an issue when Chibnall is doing what has usually been done?

    Not suddenly at all as far as I am concerned. As I stated in my post above, it is something I have always wondered about, even if in the overall scheme of things it is a relatively minor stumbling block – and I emphasise, minor.

    Evidently I came across as a lot more critical of the episode than I intended to be, though I was simply trying to put my finger on  reasons why I found myself a bit less engaged than with those preceding it this year, and why from the beginning I have tended to be less happy with episodes set in the past, though I have loved others such as Thin Ice. It has nothing at all to do with Chibnall or Whittaker as the Doctor.

    Mudlark, in a slightly grumpy mood.

    Arch @arch

    This episode seems to have disappointed a lot of people including some within my own circle of friends. As I nentioned I really like the episode, but perhaps I approach who in a different way.

    I consider myself a fan, been watching since the start of the reboot and I enjoy most episodes, some more than others but I always find something to like. I completely suspend my disbelief when I watch who and much like video games forgive plot devices etc so long as they enable good story telling. Stuff like psychic paper and period appropriate costumes to me are not sticking points. They allow the writers to bypass needless exposition and move the story on. That being said some writers choose to use these things as part of the story which is why their uses seems to be inconsistent. WHO has a lot of these devices too.

    If WHO was a series of books written by one author I’d expect a lot more in relation to consistency and plausible explanations. But since it’s on TV broadcast in loosely connected stories written by a diverse range of people I just sit back and enjoy the ride.

    winston @winston

    @arch   You and I could watch Who together as I also “just sit back and enjoy the ride”. When the music starts I am sucked into whatever story they are telling me and like you I always find something I like. I am rarely bothered by inconsistencies because I never notice them until after the show is over or until I read it here. Sometimes I even re-watch just to check out things others have mentioned only to get sucked in again and totally miss them.

    @thane16   When the Doctor and friends wear period clothes they blend in and become part of the crowd and that seems to work for some adventures and even be needed for some like when the Doctor and Martha hid away in the school. When they show up in their in regular clothes it immediately tells others that they are not local. It says we are alien.we are not from around here. It adds to the strangeness of the Doctor and inspires fear and awe in the locals. That helps the Doctor take control while they are still staring at the strange clothes on the strange aliens.

    I also think that in AG at least that the Doctor never changes into period clothes even when the companions do, but I might be wrong.



    swordwhale @swordwhale

    Still loving this series….

    Had to look up “gurning”… totally enjoy Jodi Whitaker’s enthusiastic childlike sense of wonder high energy Doctor. Yep.

    I was wondering about the not-period-clothing thing too (I’ve spent some time IN period clothing in the Society For Creative Anachronisms and the Longship Company, including marching into odd places like McDonalds and ordering with many a thee and thou and milady). I’m gonna go with the “psychic holoskin” thingie…

    Where was that Venusian taichikungfu thing this week???

    or the Vulcan Neck Pinch

    Ever since Alan Cumming played my favorite X-Man (one of my cats is named Nightcrawler) I have adored him. He did not disappoint.

    I’m seeing the “rubbish monsters” as a nifty reversion to classic BG Who, scary but fun for kids, monstery enough if we shut up and enjoy the ride… and with the knowledge that the real monsters are within…

    NurseWhat @paul

    I was a little disappointed at the lack of historical accuracy in this episode. In reality, there were as many men were persecuted for witchcraft as women, though I think there were, or are, a few high-profile cases where women were clearly victimised more frequently than their male counterparts. The tendency to portray ‘witches’ as having been exclusively female victims of patriarchy and misogyny only reflects a certain contemporary feminist discourse. I know that this is not a value explicated in this show, but I think I might be right in thinking it is a pretty dominant subtextual element of the story. I don’t think this episode captured the real hysteria that religious fundamentalism inspired in people during this period of persecution and intolerance. (I know, sounds like the 1950’s). For example, the gangs of youth, roaming the countryside looking for some poor person to dunk… the grassroots element of the hysteria. Like a number of episodes in this series, there is a deliberate attempt to promulgate a social/political agenda which is weakening both the storyline and the general character development of the new doctor. I know that in the past the Doctor often preached a little gospel of anti-violence and spouted, at times, some rather simplistic values of that nature. But by rephrasing this show into a vehicle whose function is to proselytise a deliberately pro-feminist hyperbole is counterproductive. Good art never attempts to cynically manipulate the beliefs of the viewer. It presents a story and leaves the interpretation for the audience or viewer to define or develop. Dr Who has always been successful because viewers come back to it again and again as they mull over, reimagine and reinterpret the implications of the storyline. The writers of this series are oversimplifying the stories and underestimating the intelligence of the audience. I guess they are sexing it up and dumbing it down for BBC America. Nonetheless, there are great elements to this series and this new Doctor. I just hope the writers wake up and realise that by patronising their audience, they will lose a great deal of the viewing public. The writing needs to get tighter and less preachy. Then we can simply, and sincerely settle down and enjoy what this first female Doctor can bring to the franchise. (Now that is alliteration for you).

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 8 months ago by  NurseWhat. Reason: Really crappy syntax
    Miapatrick @miapatrick

    @paul in Europe between 75-85% of the people persecuted for witchcraft were women.

    In Early Stuart drama, Witches are overwhelmingly portrayed as women.

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