By JD Phillips
In which the 13th Doctor finally faces the challenges of time traveling as a woman, “Witchfinders” was a decent if not exceptional episode.
Considering the fact that the last two historical episodes were some of the best episodes the series has done for years, I came into this week’s episode with high expectations. Unfortunately, the episode itself isn’t nearly as good as the two before it, but it still offers plenty of thrills on its own.
The biggest one is, of course, the Doctor realizing how limited she is time traveling as a woman compared to traveling as a man for over a thousand years. The show is continuing its trend of history itself as a monster in its own right. This time it’s the Doctor herself who is in history’s crosshairs. The show has had its titular character storm in and take charge of whatever situation he comes into so much that it is rather thrilling to see her nearly murdered for being a witch.
Its focus on mob mentality reminded me of the Davies era episode “Midnight” which is one of my all-time favorite episodes. It’s always great to see the Doctor face new challenges and I hope we get to see more of that in the future.
That being said, the setting itself was pretty standard “Doctor Who” fare. It has a rather cliched witch trial storyline that almost every time travel show does (at least it isn’t in Salem this time) and had a decent low budget alien but none of it really reinvented the wheel.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The show has had a lot of trouble with its sci-fi elements this year and it’s nice that the show is finding its groove again with its low cost but high concept alien baddies. While the episode’s mud monsters won’t make it on any lists of favorite villains from the series, they proved scary in their own right, even if they weren’t incredibly memorable.
The only thing about the story itself that amazed was Alan Cummings portrayal of King James. Cummings is pretty dependable to give an interesting performance and he did not disappoint. His performance was equal parts flamboyant fop, evil tyrant, and pitiable victim. He managed to change between them with just a flick of the eyes and a small showing of vulnerability or sadistic glee.
This episode also was another strong showing for the companions. Team Tardis is still running like a dependable locomotive of chemistry. Ryan had great interactions with King James, Yaz got to show off her analytical mind, and Graham got the best hat ever.
“Witchfinders” may have not redefined the show as the other historicals have this season but it proved a dependable example of the season’s new formula.
Also, can I just talk about how badass it is that Graham quoted a Tarantino line at King James? That’s just awesome.