Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Doctor Who 11x08 Recap: “The Witchfinders” (Whoo Hoo, Witchy Woman...) [Guest Poster: Stephanie Coats]

“The Witchfinders”
Original Airdate: November 25, 2018

Ain’t no party like an early 17th-century party because an early 17th-century party is actually a witch trial!

In the tiny village of Bilehurst Cragg, Mistress Becka Savage has gathered the villagers to drown another suspected witch. When they had landed, the Doctor had reminded the team that interfering in historical events was a big no-no. I don’t see why she bothered. As soon as the “witch” is dunked into the lake, the Doctor throws off her coat and jumps in after her.


Despite the Doctor’s heroics, the woman is dead. Becka is furious that the ceremony was interrupted and apprehends the Doctor until a flash of the psychic paper informs her that the Doctor and her team are Witchfinders. Instantly apologetic, Becka invites them back to her manor home. On the way, she tells them that she owns much of the land in Bilehurst and is dedicated to purging Satan from everything and everyone, including her horses.

After a bit of snooping around in the Mistress’ room, the Doctor attempts to reason with Becka but the woman is fiercely devoted to King James I, who in turn supports witch trials. Any further persuasion is interrupted by the appearance of King James himself, in all his foppish ridiculousness. He reads the psychic paper and demotes the Doctor to assistant witchfinder because she’s just a woman. She can’t possibly be in charge. Instead, Graham — the only white male available — is recognized as head witchfinder and given a hilarious hat to denote his position. Becka and the king agree that killing everyone in the village is a price worth paying if it means saving their souls from Satan.


While the others are meeting the king, Yaz has stayed behind to comfort the granddaughter of the supposed witch. Willa’s day goes from bad to worse when she’s attacked by seemingly sentient roots at her home. Yaz hurries back to tell the Doctor, and they return to Willa together — leaving Ryan and Graham to stall Becka and the King from destroying the entire village by nightfall. As you might suspect, Willa’s grandmother was nothing more than a healer who made medicines to help people. After learning that Becka is Willa’s cousin, the Doctor and Yaz encourage Willa to stand up to her and protect herself and her village.

But there are other problems besides Becka’s misplaced witch hunts. The roots that attacked Willa are made of alien mud, which reanimates Willa’s grandmother and several other bodies buried in the earth. King James comes running out of the forest and orders his bodyguard to shoot the mud zombies but is instead blasted with energy from the mud grandmother. Due to her intellect, sonic screwdriver, and love of talking, the Doctor is fingered as a witch. Poor Willa is pressured into agreeing with the accusation.

Alone with King James, the Doctor urges him to trust her and set aside his fear. Meanwhile, her team track the mud zombies to Becka’s house and see granny taking the ax from Becka’s bedside. The Doctor is tied to the same tree branch as every other witch in preparation for her drowning. When Becka touches the branch, it reacts to her. The Doctor begins putting pieces together. Mud runs from Becka’s eye. The Doctor is dropped into the water.


Even though the team begs the king to bring her up, he hesitates for a long time. It doesn’t matter. The Doctor is very good at holding her breath and learned how to escape from chains from Houdini so she was already free. She confronts Becka directly and the woman finally breaks down. After chopping down a tree spoiling her view, she was infected by the alien mud. In the hopes of ridding herself of the infection, she sought out and killed “witches,” but it’s made no difference. As everyone watches, she is overtaken by the infection and transforms into a Morax, an alien army that the Doctor deduces were imprisoned under the tree for war crimes.

The Morax escape with the King. To protect themselves, the Doctor has her team and Willa chop up the branch from Becka’s tree, which was used as a sort of lock on the Morax’s prison. When made into torches, the tree will be toxic to the Morax. The mob of five march toward the remainder of the tree, where they find the Morax preparing to release their own king and infect King James.

The Doctor is able to reactivate the prison, which draws all of the Morax back into it, except for Becka. Grabbing a torch, the King lights her on fire, destroying her completely. He boasts at having actually vanquished Satan. In the morning, Ryan rebuffs the King’s request to go with him to England and the Doctor and her team depart, giving King James and Willa a look at true magic as the TARDIS dematerializes.

Final Thoughts:

  • This episode did a great job of finding a balance between the season’s theme of people being the true villain and an actual monster of the week. Becka Savage was a villain all on her own because she killed innocent people, namely women, in an attempt to save herself. But the Morax were just as awful and wicked. 
  • Alan Cumming as King James I was so funny and so gay. He took one look at Ryan and was instantly flirting. We couldn’t have asked for a better guest star to portray a historical figure.
  • I’m glad this season has found a good way to address how the Doctor is treated differently as a woman than when she was a man without making that a focal point of every episode. 
  • The Doctor: “These are hard times for women. If we’re not being drowned, we’re being patronized to death.”
  • The Doctor: “Honestly, if I was still a bloke I could get on with the job and not waste time defending myself!”
  • When told that many women were accused of being witches because they talked too much, the Doctor replies, “Which is daft because talking’s brilliant!” I love her so much.
  • Throughout the episode, the Doctor was adamant that she doesn’t believe in Satan. Um, she literally met the devil as the Tenth Doctor. Just sayin’.


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