The Witchfinders

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    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip


    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,

    Probably best not to start your critique of historical accuracy with a stonking great goof. We know how many people of either sex were persecuted for witchcraft, because they were mostly persecuted through courts or through officially appointed investigators – who kept records. As @miapatrick says, they were overwhelmingly women. The records in England show about 80% women, with most of the men persecuted being related to the women.

    In fact, the differences in court procedures almost certainly explain the difference in the number of witches killed in England and Scotland. As @mudlark has pointed out at some length, it simply wasn’t possible for one crazed landowner to kill thirty five villagers in early Seventeenth Century England – because those villagers were entitled to a trial in the County Court for any case involving a possible death penalty. A jury trial.

    Unless you think local magistrates and County Courts in the late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth century were proto-feminists who cooked the books to promote a particular agenda of persecution while simultaneously persecuting women, I’m afraid your argument simply doesn’t stand up. There have been books and documentaries where the number of witches persecuted appears to have been hugely exaggerated, but most of the books I know are from a particular period (the 1990’s) – and rather than being by contemporary feminists as a group, they were by feminist neo-pagans. They didn’t make up the ‘nine million’ figure, either – they simply quoted an Eighteenth Century pamphleteer. HE was the one who made up the figure, and the discourse he was promoting was the then-contemporary Enlightenment.

    For example, the gangs of youth, roaming the countryside looking for some poor person to dunk

    You seem to be confusing the early Seventeenth Century reign of James VI and I (which is when the episode is set – James turning up in person is a bit of a clue) with the later English Civil War. The English Civil War was during the reign of his idiot son, Charles I. It was the breakdown of order during the Civil War that made such activities possible, because ‘swimming’ witches was illegal in England. It did happen, but if a magistrate or constable found out in time, they could and did stop it in favour of a proper trial.

    Or were you using hyperbole?

    janetteB @janetteb

    I really enjoyed the episode rather more than the discussion here. Please don’t let the nastiness of the internets seep into our lovely forum. Not everybody is going to like Chibnell or his style just as many people did not like RTD’s style or Moffat’s style. (For instance there are several episodes in the second series of AG Who that I have still not watched and quite a few I will never rewatch. I dislike the Doctor’s Wife, and cannot watch “Kill the Moon.” There are no episodes in this series that I have disliked, several I have really enjoyed but none I have really loved.)

    Just because some criticism is fueled by prejudice does not mean all criticism is.  There is so much bile out there that reasoned discussion is getting more difficult, comments are misconstrued as we all become increasingly anxious and sensitive about what other people are saying and why and at times this leads to misinterpretation.

    Now to serious matters. This was one of my favourite episodes of this series. It had humour and a nasty villain and humans acting badly, all the elements that make for a good story. The Doctor had some good lines which were well delivered and it was nice to see an acknowledgement of the gender change. Loved James I/IV and the Demonology.

    When I was doing hons Drama our tutor, a former Oxford or Cambridge academic told us to go to the library and look at it. We all looked at each other, eyes rolling. He had clearly forgotten that he was in an Australian University with a thirty year old library. I used this as an example in a presentation I did recently on the benefits of the internet for historical research.

    I found some the historical inaccuracies jarring, in particular the king of England just walking in without his thousand plus retinue. HOwever I imaging the script writer including that detail. The production team would have been carried out on stretchers after seeing that. “1,000 costumed extras. This isn’t Game of Thrones.” I was happy to overlook that though because James was so delightful. (I am far more forgiving of Dr Who than I am of other historical films and Tv series. I understand @mudlark‘s objections. My knowledge of this period of British history is sketchy but when one is really familiar with the history and passionate about it then the inaccuracies are jarring. There have been films and TV series I have not watched for instance because of historical inaccuracies.

    Re the Costumes. There is a general tendency these days to dress main characters in glaringly inaccurate costumes because produces think that makes them “more relatable”. (The recent BBC production of War and Peace for example.) I think however it is more about establishing the characters and this being their first season it is considered more important to keep the look. In the past the Doctor has almost never dressed to the period and it would look rather odd for the companions to dress up and not the Doctor. David Tennent in Day of the Doctor for instance is wooing Elizabeth in his standard 21C suit, which did not look especially odd to us but would certainly have done so to her, considering the flamboyant style of male fashion at that time.

    I thought that the story had a folklorish feel to it. The arrival of the king and the chopping down of the tree contributed to that feel especially as the later was depicted almost as a shadow puppet scene. That really added to my enjoyment of the episode.





    syzygy @thane16


    I’m not sure.

    But I actually think three “f” over 19 words isn’t sufficient for alliteration?

    Paragraphing is your friend, Paul, especially during persuasive writing: which it was.

    Nice to read your opinion.



    The blatancy of the anti-sexism in this episode is irritating and could be done more subtly in a way that doesn’t annoy people and the overuse of  the idea that Christianity is stupid in this episode is ridiculous because you wouldn’t get this crap in demons of the Punjab because only then would it be considered racist by mainstream media.

    Anonymous @

    @rosasucksandsodoess11 – I get where you’re coming from, but if you could avoid emotional language like “crap” and “ridiculous” it would be easier to keep the discussion rational.  This might help:



    FFS. Don’t engage. Just report. A clue in the damned handle.

    syzygy @thane16


    It’s hard I know, I was doing it too. As @pedant said “ignore” because there’s absolutely no point. They aren’t listening, they’re clueless, they don’t tag people and they don’t respond rationally. These types never do.

    Cheers, Puro.

    Dentarthurdent @dentarthurdent

    My impressions of The Witchfinders –

    Strange that the villagers don’t notice how weirdly these strangers are dressed. OR that Ryan and Yaz are, err, black. I’d guess that in rural 17th-century Lancashire, black people would have occasioned some remark at least (if not an accusation of being a demon or ‘witch’s familiar’. I doubt the villagers would ever have seen a black person before). I think this is the first S11 episode where dress is a significant issue. Or does the Tardis translation field include a perception filter?
    I’m not questioning Team Tardis’ (ugh!) decision/motivation to not dress appropriately, I’m questioning the villagers’ total disregard of the strangers’ alien appearance. This is especially strange in a context where witchcraft is suspected and hence people would be acutely aware of any unusual occurrence. It grates with me – ‘howcome these people haven’t noticed?’ But then the villagers (other than Willa) were a bunch of nondescript sheep who just reacted as required by the plot.

    “Thirty-five witches we have tried” – in fact the Pendle witch trials of 1612 only involved 12 victims (two of them male). And these were formal judicial trials, and the victims were charged with murder by use of witchcraft, not just ‘being a witch’ or crop failure or suchlike. This would be a major black mark in history.

    And I see Mudlark previously in this forum highlighted the difference between ducking (a non-fatal and sometimes merely symbolic punishment for gossips and scolds) and ‘floating’ an accused witch in which case those who sank (and were thereby deemed innocent) were supposed to be hauled back to the surface and emphatically not allowed to drown. Presumably Becca (the nasty paranoid witch-killer woman) had distorted the procedure into a “no-win” for the accused. The real historical James would never have allowed a blatant miscarriage of justice like that.

    But Graham addresses this later when he says this place – Bilehurst Crag – is not known in history. And it’s further covered at the end when James says that the village will be abandoned and the events will never be spoken of again. So, a classical cover-up. OK, that fixes it, for me.

    The psychic paper is certainly *very* effective to convince nasty witch-killer woman that the Doctor is Witchfinder General – although I think there was no such official position, it was the self-proclaimed title of a real evil bastard, Matthew Hopkins, thirty years later.

    Alan Cumming is having waaaay too much fun as King James, all through this episode. As camp as row of frilly pink tents, to borrow a phrase. But James is the first person to actually notice that Doc, Graham and Ryan look – unusual. “Are you actors?”

    But the first sign of anything alien/supernatural is when a tree root starts groping towards Willa. Finally, scifi arrives. And there’s quite an effective zombie sequence.

    Why does the Doctor keep babbling away in such a way that nobody would take her seriously? How many episodes will it take before she gets a clue that talking flat-out in strange (modern) jargon is not going to impress the natives? Hey, James is not as oblivious as everyone else in this episode, “You bewitch us with your alluring form and your incessant jabber, but I knew you were unnatural from the very start.”

    But the Doctor appeals to James as an expert in witchcraft – which he apparently was. That was a good tactic, James was superstitious but not unintelligent, and reputedly was often “sceptical of the evidence presented in witch trials, even to the extent of personally exposing discrepancies in the testimonies presented against some accused witches.” (Wikipedia)

    Becka, on the other hand, with her vicious paranoid obsession, is seriously getting on my tits (modern jargon). Somebody should do a public service and off her. Can’t help but be satisfied when she gets possessed by the mud. She looks to have been a thoroughly nasty piece of work even before the tree infected her. (I must admit I have a horror of fanatics who are convinced that they are right, however much it costs everybody else). But I can’t really see her cutting down the tree by herself – that’s hard work!

    The tree people aren’t very convincing monsters, though. Even though Morax-Becka does the usual fiendish-monster-trick and tells the Doctor the whole cunning plan, the Doctor’s defeat and reimprisonment of the Moraxes was a little hard to credit.

    So, not a bad episode. Not as many loose ends as I expected.

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