Doctor Who | Season 11 | Episode 8 : “The Witchfinders“
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For a complete summary, go to Recap.
[Read time: 5-7 min]
“Together we shall save the souls of my people from Satan. Even if it means killing them all.” Becka Savage
Instead of arriving at Elizabeth I’s coronation, the TARDIS arrives in a village called Bilehurst Cragg in 1612. When they walk to the village it looks like the villagers are having a festival. The mood quickly turns tense when the villagers are summoned. The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her companions follow. A mysterious man wearing a mask watches from a distance. The Doctor tells them not to interfere in whatever is taking place. A young woman named Willa Twiston (Tilly Steele) is crying, Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill) asks her what is wrong, but she does not respond. They get to a riverbank and see an elderly woman (Tricia Kelly) chained to a big tree branch [a dunking stool]. A woman named Becka Savage (Siobhan Finneran) is presiding. She accuses the old woman [who is Willa’s grandmother] of witchcraft. Mother Twiston denies it. Becka orders her dunked. Becka: “If she dies, she’s innocent, and if she lives, she’s a witch and we’ll hang her.” When they dunk her, the Doctor decides to interfere, she jumps in the river to rescue the old woman. Unfortunately, she is too late. Becka decides to dunk Willa next but the Doctor pulls out her psychic paper and says she is the Witchfinder General and her companions are her assistants. She orders Becka not to hold any other witch trials. The masked man watches from a distance.
Becka Savage is the widow of the land owner in the village, so she’s in charge. While they are walking to her house, the Doctor sends Yaz to question Willa. When they arrive at Becka’s house, the Doctor tries to end the witch trials. The masked man walks in, it is King James I (Alan Cumming). He is gung-ho in continuing the trials. The Doctor shows him her psychic paper, but he reads it as Witchfinder Assistant. His sexism doesn’t allow him to even imagine a woman could be in charge. He assumes Graham O’Brien (Bradley Walsh) is the Witchfinder General. The Doctor plays along with him. Yaz finds Willa saying a prayer over her grandmother’s grave. A mud tendril tries to attack Willa.
“There’s enough wonder in nature without making things up.” Willa Twiston
The Doctor is complaining about the treatment women are receiving in this time period. The Doctor: “Becka wasn’t kidding. These are hard times for women. If we aren’t being drowned, we’re being patronized to death.” They go into Becka’s room to investigate. They find a pile of clean handkerchiefs, an empty medicine bottle and an axe under her bed. Yaz runs in and tells them about the mud tendril that tried to grab Willa. The Doctor tells Graham and Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole) to stay with King James and Becka and try to keep them from doing any other witch trials while she and Yaz find Willa.
King James is smitten with Ryan, and to delay him, Ryan asks about all the items he has for witch hunting in his kit. King James is proud of its contents, it has torture devices and even some body parts. The King gives Graham the hat his first Witchfinder General wore. It has a hole in it because King James had him shot for betrayal. King James and Becka are raring to go to kill all the witches. The Doctor and Yaz find out that Becka and Willa are cousins, Mother Twiston was Becka’s grandmother too. When she married up, she became distant from her family. Becka still thought they were safe when the witch trials began, but soon family and friends began turning on each other. The Doctor asks Becka what has her ill, Yaz quickly figures it out, it’s dread and fear. She experienced it in school when one of her classmates had the other students turn on her. She tells Willa she will feel better when she stands up for herself. The Doctor asks Willa to join them in finding out what is going on. She is afraid to standup to Becka and the King. Ryan asks King James why he doesn’t trust anyone. King James: “My father died when I was a baby.” Ryan: “I feel ya. I lost me mum and me nan.” King James: “My father was murdered by my mother who was then imprisoned and beheaded.” Ryan: “Okay, that’s worse.”
“If only I was still a bloke, I could just get on with the job without having to constantly defend myself.” The Doctor
The Doctor, Yaz, and Willa are back at her grandmother’s grave; the Doctor is taking samples. The mud moves in her container, the Doctor says the mud is alive. While she is looking at the mud, Willa’s grandmother and some other women killed for witchcraft appear. The are covered in mud and act like zombies. The Doctor tells Willa that isn’t her grandmother, the mud has reanimated her and the other women. The creatures want to fill the living women with the mud. To make matters worse, King James with his men, Becka, along with Graham and Ryan appear. King James tells his man to shoot them, but the mud-zombies kill him. The Doctor suggests the living humans get out of there and they do. The Doctor sends her companions to follow the mud-zombies. Alone with Willa, Becka and King James, she tries to ask some questions. To deflect the Doctor’s questions, Becka accuses the Doctor of being a witch, saying she used her ‘wand’ to summon the creatures. King James is quick to agree with her and both he and Becka pressure Willa to turn on the Doctor. He orders the Doctor arrested.
They have the Doctor chained up in the village. The King comes to ‘Satan’s Agent’ to talk to her. King James: “I wish to know all the secrets of existence.” The Doctor: “Don’t we all? But true knowledge has to be earned.” She tells him why the darkness keeps coming back to him. The Doctor tells him he can’t keep hurting people to cover it up. King James: “Who are you? How do you know these things?” The Doctor: “I know because we’re all the same. We want certainty, security. To believe that people are evil or heroic but that’s not how people are. You want to know the secrets of existence? Start with the mysteries of the heart.” She asks him to let her go so that she can save the people from these creatures. The King thinks about it but orders her dunking instead.
The companions follow the mud-zombies back to Becka’s house. The creatures go into her room and grab the axe that was under her bed. They determine that the creatures are looking for Becka. The Doctor is chained to the dunking stool. She asks Becka why she is pointing fingers at others. What is she hiding? Becka: “Do you know why the ducking stool was invented, Doctor? To silence foolish women who talk too much.” The Doctor: “Yeah, I did know that, which is daft because talking’s brilliant.” Becka threatens to go after her friends when she’s dead. Though he hesitates when he exchanges looks with the Doctor, he gives the order for her dunking. The Doctor sees some black liquid leave Becka’s eye. She knows what is going on.
“She truly is a powerful witch!” King James I
The Doctor is dunked just before the companions show up. They beg the King to bring her up now. The King consents but when the dunking stool comes back up, she is gone. Everyone wonders where the Doctor is, the Doctor walks up dripping wet. The King thinks she escaped using witchcraft. The Doctor: “No, sire. I am no witch. I’m just good at holding my breath and getting out of chains thanks to a very wet weekend with Houdini.” The mud-zombies show up for Becka. They head for her, but she tells them to stop. The Doctor realizes they aren’t there to kill her, but to join her. The Doctor asks Becka what happened. It all started because Becka tried to cut down a tree that was blocking her view. A mud tendril infected her. She tried everything to combat the infection. She eventually had to tell her grandmother what was happening. That is why she killed her on the dunking stool, to keep her quiet. Becka thinks Satan has infested her. She begs the King for his forgiveness and then she becomes one of the creatures [except she still has her red hair]. She says she is the Queen of the Morax and orders them to, “Kneel before the Morax, feeble humans!” She orders the Doctor to hand King James to them, so that they can fill him with their King. They plan to fill the rest of humanity with themselves. The Doctor refuses but she hits them with some type of force knocking everyone out.
After they wake up the Doctor explains what has happened. The tree Becka cut down is an ancient alien technology, an old and advanced bio-mech security system. The Morax were royals with soldiers. They were brutal rulers who were tried for war crimes. Pendle Hill is the prison for the alien army. Graham doesn’t think it could have been much of a prison if Becka could have broken the lock with an axe. The Doctor points out the prison is billions of years old. When Becka broke the lock, it allowed the Morax Queen to infect her. The Doctor can fix the security system and put the Morax back into their prison. She has cut some of the tree up to use as torches to combat the Morax. The Doctor thinks it is Semtex to the Morax. Willa shows up to join them. They tell her she doesn’t have to come but she tells them she knows the trail up the hill. Willa grabs a torch and says, “There’s more powerful people here than kings and queens. There’s us. Together.”
The Morax has King James tied up to fill him with their King. A huge tendril appears out of the tree trunk. The Doctor’s companions use their torches to rescue King James and hold the Morax at bay while the Doctor reactivates their prison, sending the Morax back to their ancient prison, which releases the human bodies. For good measure, King James picks up a torch to burn up the Morax Queen.
The King will erase all evidence of this alien invasion from the records. The King asks Ryan to come back to London with him to be his ‘protector’. Ryan gently turns him down. Willa is leaving the village, but she will continue her grandmother’s work as a healer and become a doctor herself. She and the King watch as the TARDIS disappears. Willa is thrilled but King James is confused, he wonders where it went.
[Read time: 1-3 minutes]
The TARDIS lands in a village that is engaging in witch trials. The woman conducting them is Becka Savage, the village’s land owner. The Doctor tells her companions not to interfere, but she immediately does when she sees an elderly woman dunked in the water. The Doctor is unable to save her. Using her psychic paper, the Doctor convinces Becka that she is the Witchfinder General. Becka believes her, but another visitor to the village reads Witchfinder Assistant. This chauvinist is King James I. He wants to continue the witch trials and kill all the witches in the village. The elderly woman’s granddaughter, Willa is attacked by a mud tendril, but Yaz helps her escape. The Doctor finds out the mud is alive, and soon Willa’s grandmother and some of the other woman killed as witches appear. The mud has reanimated these women’s dead bodies. To cover her tracks, Becka accuses the Doctor of being a witch, calling her sonic screwdriver a wand. The King believes her and orders the Doctor to be dunked. The companions have followed the mud-zombies to Becka’s bedroom, they are looking for her. The Doctor is dunked but she escapes from her chains. The mud-zombies appear but instead of trying to kill Becka, they join her. She explains that a mud tendril struck her, and she became ill. She believed it was Satan trying to possess her. She started the witch trials to save herself. She killed Willa’s grandmother, who was her grandmother too, to keep her quiet about what was happening to her. She changes in front of everyone into the Queen of the Morax. They were some alien royals and their soldiers who were convicted of war crimes billions of years ago and imprisoned on Pendle Hill outside the village. The Morax kidnap the King, planning on filling him with their King and taking over the world. The Doctor stops them by fixing the bio-mech security system that had contained them. The Morax are imprisoned again.
This is the first episode that dealt with the problems the Doctor would have in the past being a woman. In the other episodes when they went in the past, being a white woman was enough to give her a pass. In this village, they are all white, so that gives her no privilege, and women in this time period were at the mercy of men and society. The King read Witchfinder Assistant because he could not imagine a woman having a position of authority. The Doctor still gets the job done, but she must jump through more hoops than she ever did as a man because of her gender. The guest cast, especially Siobhan Finneran and Alan Cumming were excellent. Ms. Finneran gave depth to her villain. Mr. Cumming was quite funny as the King but added gravitas to his serious scenes with Jodie Whittaker. Speaking of Ms. Whittaker, this was one of her best performances as the Doctor. She expressed the frustration and anger the Doctor would feel being put in this situation. She showed the Doctor’s strong determination to protect people and right wrongs. My only problem with the episode is the end when the Morax showed up. They needed more time to develop the Morax and show the Doctor confronting the Morax Queen more. This needed to be a two-part episode. The second part dealing with the Doctor and her companions defeating the Morax and putting them back in prison. They only spent about 10 minutes on it. Becka turning into the Morax Queen and telling them to kneel before the Morax would have been a great cliffhanger. I hope next season they will do a few two-parters.
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