As I mentioned, there were lots of reasons for me to get excited about this episode. In the end, I thought it was good, but not great. I kind of hoped for a lot more that I got from it, though I’m not exactly sure what it is I would have wanted that I didn’t get. There were certainly plenty of highlights. I’m probably just being cranky because it’s Monday. Let’s get into it, shall we?
First of all, I have to say that it’s about time that Doctor Who took on witches, since the Doctor is basically a witch. However, it was apparent that this episode could only have happened during this season. Though there are exceptions, primarily women were the ones accused of witchcraft, so it’s unsurprising that the first time we see the Doctor land in this time period as a woman, she’s immediately accused of witchcraft.
There was a lot of authenticity to this witch hunt as well. I didn’t realize how much I knew about this particular subject until a bunch of exposition about witch hunting came along and I realized I didn’t need any of it because I’d seen a lot of it before. So that was fun and nice to see the writer’s really focusing on historical accuracy (not that they don’t usually, but I guess I mean it was nice to see it happen within a familiar subject). And MAN. Witch trials are BULLSHIT. This episode was a really cool and welcome twist on the traditional witch hunt story. It did a good job of having the villain really earn her fate, between the arrogance of her chopping down a perfectly innocent tree for no good reason and sentencing so many “witches” to protect her secret.
These aliens were very cool, I loved the design and how they merged the CGI with the actors’ actual appearance. Is it me or is the TARDIS more in the background this season than usual. Maybe it’s more difficult to find angles to shoot the foursome in the console room (as opposed to the pair of the Doctor and one companion)? There doesn’t seem to be much “let’s get back to the TARDIS and figure this out” or “there’s something on board the TARDIS we can use to fix this!” I just felt like, once she’d identified the alien threat, the Doctor would have at least wanted to look them up in the TARDIS data banks.
The companions also felt like they didn’t have much to do in this episode. One thing I like about having a team (gang? fam?) aboard the TARDIS, is the opportunities it opens up to split the group in different combinations. I felt like it has really worked well in past weeks, but this week it felt like they were mostly lumped together and sent off to watch what was happening where the Doctor wasn’t, so as to keep her (and the audience) in the loop. I’d say the star companion this week was Graham. Not only did he totally pull off that witchfinder hat (which I’d hoped he’d keep, but I guess we can add to the Doctor’s ever-growing collection of ridiculous headwear), but he also did a fine job of balancing the sexism of the time (to keep their cover) with the feminism of the modern age. It was also nice to hear the virtues of their equal contributions in the group voiced by the old white man.
The standouts of this episode were the guest cast. Siobhan Finneran (who you may recognize as Downton’s Abbey’s O’Brien) was a delicious and totally believable villain. You never agreed with her, but you could see her side of things. And Alan Cumming was UH. MAY. ZING. No offense to Jodie, but he was the star of the episode. Delightful. Fully committed. Even his accent was more accurate than necessary. The period pronunciations, just slightly off from modern speech, were a gentle reminder of the time they were living in as much as anything else. I do wonder if Doctor Who will just keep going until they feature every British royal to ever hold the throne. But if everyone they get to play a king or queen is as flawless as Alan Cumming, I won’t mind if they do. He really elevated the episode, managed to play King James as amusing without making a joke out of him and his real moments of sincerity were heartfelt. I love him so much.
It sounds like I disliked this episode, I promise I didn’t. I think it just had some problems. It didn’t live up to its potential. The guest cast outshined the regulars. In short, it could have been better, but it was still good. Every season has to have a low episode and if this is the lowest it gets, I can live with that. It was still a good time. Next week looks like another scary one, so hopefully we get back to the usual high level of quality.