“I’m Not Really A Big Believer Of Satan”
When it was revealed Doctor Who would be tackling The Witch Trials in this week’s episode, we were intrigued to see if Doctor Who could continue its good work with these historical stories. After watching The Witchfinders it’s fair to say it fails. Massively. Subtle as a brick to the face, this week’s episode almost surpasses The Tsuranga Conundrum as the worst episode of the series, delivering a poorly written, clunky narrative, hindered by a blisteringly quick pace and questionable acting.
Within minutes, the TARDIS materialises in the 17th Century to Lancashire, within the heart of The Witch Trials. The Doctor urges her companions not to mess with the fabric of time before ignoring her own advice and jumping in to try and save a suspected witch from being drowned. From here, The Doctor and her companions learn of a mysterious force lurking in the shadows as the threat of Satan hangs heavily over the inhabitants of the town. After meeting the hilariously camp King James (easily the highlight of the episode), the group work together to figure out just what’s happening and more importantly, how to save the town.
All of this skips forward at an exhausting pace until the final ten minutes or so that somehow throw the tone and drama out the window for an incredulous climax that just doesn’t quite work as intended. The poor make-up and general motivation of the revealed alien entity only further reinforces the lack of a compelling antagonist this year. 8 episodes in and this is a real issue that’s hindered large parts of this season.
To be fair to The Witchfinders, the score and general editing of the show is impressive again and you really get the feel that Doctor Who is far more cinematic than it ever was before. The Doctor has some pretty good lines this week too, including one about rhyming that’s a welcome inclusion and another that’s likely to be remembered for the wrong reasons.
It’s at this point we can unfortunately proclaim the undercurrent of politically driven narrative continues this week. In the form of sexism and female empowerment. It’s something a lot of Doctor Who and casual fans alike were waiting for and it’s finally tackled this week, clumsily handled and heavy handed throughout the episode. Numerous anecdotes to The Doctor’s gender overpower the narrative and spoil what’s otherwise a relatively enjoyable episode.
This late in the game it’s hard to see where Doctor Who goes from here and how it’s likely to improve in the future. 11 seasons into the show since its reboot has seen three of the worst episodes presented to us in a matter of months. The social agenda, the large chunks of expository dialogue and episodes that sporadically jump between decent and outright terrible makes this season one of the most inconsistent in recent memory. While the 8th season had its fair share of problems, Season 11 falls flat with its writing in a big way. Still, if there’s one redeeming feature it comes from King James who’s easily the stand out character here.
With the rumours of Chris Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker leaving the show over creative differences with the BBC, in the worst possible way this could be a blessing in disguise if the quality of this season is anything to go on. I want a female Doctor to succeed. I want the show to do as well as it has done in the past and defiantly prove the doubters wrong but the quality just hasn’t been there this year. Doctor Who has lost the spark it once had and unless things improve, it could spell the end to The Doctor we’ve come to know and love.