In the case of this week’s Doctor Who, which takes the genre’s themes and wraps them around an historical context (17th century, during the reign of King James I), The Witchfinders leans its broomhandle toward disaster.
In another TARDIS mistake, the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her companions (Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh) land in the Lanchashire village of Bilehurst Cragg during a witch trial in the 1600s. After the Doctor tries to ‘save’ a witch from drowning, she’s called into question by the local witch hunter Becka Savage (Siobhan Finneran). The Doctor discovers there’s more wrong in the village than Christian superstition.
Alan Cumming as King James I
Perhaps it’s the younger audience that prevents The Witchfinders from attaining any sense of fear. Joy Wilkinson’s script tries so hard to fit within a specific horror bracket, especially as roots flail from the ground like Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, but only succeeds as a pale effort.
Fans of Doctor Who know full well that the show can be scary (we’re still having nightmares from The Empty Child), but this episode – for the most part – was a tedious, censored experience. The pandering to children is clearest in the appearance of King James I, vividly and camply played by Alan Cumming, who enters every scene like a pantomime villain.
The Witchfinders is among the worst of series 11, not even reaching into the characters like in previous episodes – aside from a brief and clumsily written speech from Yaz about her depression at school. But even worse, the village community is barely seen, barely heard from, and barely cared about. With a name like Bilehurst Cragg, it deserves at least a personality.
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On 25 Nov 18, 6:30 PM – 7:20 PM