“Doctor Who: The Witchfinders” Was Extra AF and Unapologetic

Synopsis 11×08: The Doctor’s female form becomes an issue during a mass witch hunt, directed by none other than King James himself.

Remember all those months ago, when a small but obnoxious group of fanboys were flipping out over a female Doctor? “But how will anyone respect the Doctor if she’s a woman?” they asked, letting their misogyny leap out! Well, now we know. This is the type of episode I’ve been waiting for. One where the Doctor’s gender isn’t commented upon; but instead, her female form becomes a plot point. Imagine if Tennant’s Doctor got caught up in a witch-hunt? Or Matt Smith or Peter Capaldi? Like 13 says, if she were “still a bloke, [she] could get on with the job and not have to waste time defending [herself].” It’s a perfect story for a female doctor. And I, for one, loved it.

 

The episode begins with an attempt to reach Elizabeth 1’s coronation. (Guess it’s safe for the Doctor to be near the Queen, now that she’s changed faces again). Instead, they wind up in Pendle Hill in Lincolnshire during the biggest witch-hunt in English History. Or so it seems. The place they’ve stumbled upon, Bilehurst Cragg, isn’t known in modern-times. Which means something wiped out the whole village.

 

Enter Becka Savage, played by the indomitable Siobhan Finneran (Downton Abbey). Becka has killed 36 people, including her own granny. Becka lays down the law of the land and has taken to heart the verse “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” from the King James Bible. Her enthusiasm for witch-hunting is only matched by a surprise appearance by King James himself, played by Alan Cumming who is clearly having the time of his life.

The King immediately begins by knocking the Doctor down a peg, because she’s a woman. His character is wildly condescending and markedly attracted to Ryan. Any other actor in this role might have been unbearable. But Alan Cummings bring a camp to the role that makes it not only palatable but hilarious enjoyable.

Becka’s cousin, Willa Twiston, is attacked by a muddy branch while burying her gran. Soon, all the bodies of the accused witches are brought to life by the mud. Unsurprisingly, Becka and the King keep insisting that witches are afoot, while the Doctor keeps her team in order as they search for the real answers.

In the process, Becka accuses the Doctor of being a witch herself. This prospect of the Doctor suffering as a woman, just as accused women suffered all those centuries ago, could have lasted the rest of the episode. Instead, the Doctor escapes the witch trials and figures out the secret: Becka is the true villain.

Humanity rears its ugly hatred yet again! In true keeping with this season’s theme, it’s people who are the real monsters. Becka has been murdering her own townspeople and kin, all to save herself. King James has been promoting this kind of femicide, all in the name of God. Both suffer as their Satan is actually a Morax army held captive by a tree Becka tore down for her own petty ends.

The Morax kidnap King James in an attempt to “fill” him with their King. But the King is saved by none other than a female-heavy team of Witchhunters, led by you-know-who. King James even gets in on the action by killing the Queen Morax/Becka Savage.

All-in-all, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable episode. I’ve rewatched a few times now and it’s yet to disappoint. Could we have a spin-off of just King James and Friends having adventures and teaching him the value of women? When’s that audio drama coming out?? Til then, I’ll just wait for next week.


Doctor Who airs on BBC America at 8pm ET on Sunday nights.