Once again I’m forced to conclude an episode of Doctor Who might have been quite good if it weren’t so constrained to be a single long episode. This time it’s The Witchfinders.
There’s a lot I don’t think works, and I’ll direct you to the excellent and forensic review by Simon Danes on the Doctor Who Companion: REVIEWED: THE WITCHFINDERS.
I’ll try and explain how I think it could have been more compelling…
Finding the Witches
So, we accept a King wandering around with a small entourage, nobody mentioning why the TARDIS crew are so incongruously dressed and the rubbish zombies / vanilla aliens. Let’s find the makings of a good story.
I like to think an earlier era would have allowed time for Yaz to get to know the locals, really befriend Willa (the sadly underused Tilly Steele) and got some actual evidence about the presence of Satan in the community and a view on what Becka is using for evidence to promote her witch trials. We might have had some sympathy for her character but instead she is the villain of the piece, first selfish (cutting down the tree) and then scared before becoming evil. It’s a nice arc, Siobhann Finneran was good in the part, just more could have come from it. We needed more from the villagers, perhaps an overheard conversation, sone betrayal, some character. They weren’t even one-dimensional!
As to King James I, let’s be clear, Alan Cumming is wonderful in this and almost saves the episode. His interest in Ryan was enough to add texture without Ryan needing to respond other than he did. This episode set Graham up to be important, then pulled the rug from under him leaving him floundering. The idea of the good guys having to be bad guys is strong, but descended into farce.
As to the Doctor, I felt Jodie only came to life when challenging Becka and James while being tied up. She had little authority once the psychic paper made her an assistant. The episode pointed out implications of the Doctor’s gender without dwelling, and the captivity scene was dramatic enough even if the Houdini escape is rather a Doctor Who trope. Her influence on James was nearly convincing, but I needed more than we got. We had some conversation, moral appeal then a ducking. Why was he supposed to be reluctant? What exactly had the Doctor done to impress? It all failed to convince this cynic.
Sadly this episode reduced the Doctor and new chums to four people wandering around in a magic box (not shown except at the end) and is there no budget for TARDIS interior or extras? Is this really what a Time Lord becomes after so many lives? Was Capaldi’s ennui at yet another life hinting at a deeper depression within the Doctor? Why will she not interact with her own people?
All these questions and more will no doubt not be answered in future episodes!
What do you think? Am I too bleak? Have I missed something? Let me know in the comments!