Doctor Who’s eight episode of the season, the team travels to the time of witch trials and tries to protect the town from an alien threat.
Previously on Doctor Who, the team went undercover at a giant corporation to find a person who needed help. Instead they found the system itself was being used by a man who wanted to commit mass murder.
At the beginning of “The Witchfinders,” Team TARDIS finds themselves in England at a witch trial in the early seventeenth century. Before they realize the witch trials are going on, the team notices a celebration is happening in the village. Later, they realize a woman, Old Mother Twiston, is being accused of witchcraft. The Doctor intervenes by jumping into the water to save her from drowning, but is unable to save Mother Twiston. She accuses the woman who passed judgement, the aptly named Becka Savage, of murder. The Doctor uses her psychic paper, which tells the crowd they are witchfinders. Becka immediately backs down.
On the way to Becka’s home, they learn she is a widow and that she owns the manor in Bilehurst Cragg. They also learn she has sentenced over thirty people as witches and killed the all the horses. Yaz decides to go talk to Willa, the granddaughter of Mother Twiston, while the others go to Becka’s manor. The town has weekly witch trials and a celebration. Becka claims weird things are happening in the town which must be the work of Satan and the witches he employes. The Doctor starts to talk about fixing Bilehurst Cragg’s problems without killing people, but then King James I himself arrives.
The psychic paper shows the Doctor as a witchfinder assistant, instead of witchfinder general when shown to King James. He believes Graham is the boss, given the Doctor’s gender. He also flirts with a confused Ryan. King James passionately speaks to them about the witch trials and insists they go find Willa. His zeal to find witches is evident as he talks about killing all of the town if needed.
Yaz finds Willa praying over her grandmother’s grave, but a strange, muddy tendril comes from the ground and tries to attack the girl. Yaz attacks it, using the shovel Willa had been using to dig the grave. She tries to talk to Willa, but the girl runs away.
The Doctor searches Becka’s room in the manor with Ryan and Graham. They find an abundance of handkerchiefs, empty medicine containers, and an axe before Yaz appears. She tells them about Willa and the tendril attack. The Doctor tells Ryan and Graham to keep Becka and King James busy while she and Yaz look for Willa.
Ryan and Graham attempt to stop Becka, King James, and his protector Alfonso from leaving the manor. They ask King James about the tools he uses, but are unsuccessful in getting him to talk very long, or to make preparations for their witch hunt. While walking to the village, Graham attempts to slow Becka down by talking to her and asking about her beliefs.
Yaz and the Doctor talk to Willa and learn her grandmother was a healer, not a witch. Willa is also Becka’s cousin. She tells them more about her life and how the witch trials began. The Doctor concludes nothing is physically wrong with Willa. Yaz says Willa feels sick because of everything that has happened to her and the horror she faces. The Doctor tells Willa she can run away or help them save the town. She also proclaims they need to get a sample of the mud that attacked Willa.
Ryan chats with King James as they walk through the woods. He tells Ryan about his mother murdering his father and then being beheaded. His royal regents were all killed as well, and he has been attacked and betrayed many times in his life. He talks about God protecting him and wanting to serve God.
The Doctor is confused when the sonic says the wood appears normal. She gets a sample of the mud and it starts jumping around the jar. She wonders aloud about what it is and stares at the sample. Yaz and Willa stare behind her as Mother Twiston’s body rises from the grave. The Doctor tries to talk to the creature filling Mother Twiston’s body. She gives the sample back to the creature, but then more dead bodies reanimate. Willa screams, which brings the witch hunting group to the graveyard.
The Doctor tries to use her sonic to get a reading on the creatures, but King James tells Alfonso to attack the creatures. Alfonso does and is killed. The Doctor tells them all to run, so everybody runs towards the manor. Yaz realizes the creature are not following the group, so the companions go back to find out what the creatures are doing. The Doctor tries to work through what is going on in the village. She insinuates Becka has something to do with the creatures, and Becka accuses her of witchcraft. King James believes Becka, but Willa tries to defend the Doctor. Becka insists Willa is wrong and convinces her that the Doctor is not a friend.
While the rest of Team TARDIS looks for clues as to the location of the creatures, King James addresses a tied up Doctor. He questions her about her sonic, saying he wants to know more about witches. She tries to make a deal with him to get her sonic back. She talks to him about his crusade against people he claims as witches and then talks about his family issues. He is confused and distrustful of her and declares she must be tried.
The team follows the creatures through the woods and back to the manor. The creatures take the axe from Becka’s bedroom and leave the manor. The team hears the bell and realizes a dunking must be taking place. They quickly realize the Doctor must be the person in trouble and rush to save their friend.
Becka gets the Doctor ready to be dunked into the water. As the Doctor tries to question Becka about her ties to the creatures, Becka’s hand touches the dunking branch and the branch reacts strangely. Just before King James gives the order to dunk her, the Doctor sees mud leaking from Becka’s eye.
The team arrives and manages to talk King James into lifting the branch. They find the chains still wrapped around the branch, but the Doctor is gone. Moments later, she wades through the water, claiming she got good at holding her breath and escaping chains after spending time with Houdini.
The Doctor starts questioning Becka, but then sees the creatures approaching. Becka goes to stand by the Doctor, who believes the creatures are after Becka. When Becka tells them to stop and they do, the Doctor realizes the creatures do not want to hurt Becka. She gets the story out of Becka. There was a tree on her land that she started copping down, but a tendril attacked her and left a wound. She took medicine, but it did not help so she started having witch trials. Mother Twiston’s only crime was knowing about Becka’s ailment. The Doctor angrily says Becka was only trying to protect herself by harming innocent people.
Becka apologizes to King James and can no longer hold back the creature inside her body. It comes forth and introduces itself as a Morax. The alien race was imprisoned on Earth under Pendle Hill by Becka’s home. The Morax declares they will fill every person on Earth, starting with King James. The Morax then knocks the group out and kidnaps the King.
Willa tells them the tree Becka cut down was considered sacred. The Doctor shows them that the dunking branch was made from the tree, which is actually alien tech. The branch was part of the a lock to the hill, which is how Becka released the some of the Morax from their jail. The team breaks up the dunking branch and makes torches out the wood. Willa decides to join them and leads them to the hill.
The Morax release a big, muddy tendril from the tree to possess King James, but the team arrives just in time. While Ryan rescues King James, the Doctor threatens the Morax. Willa tries to get through to Becka, but is unsuccessful. The Doctor manages to restore the lock on the tree and all the mud creatures leave the dead bodies. The alien possessing Becka’s body does not, and King James takes one of the torches and lights her on fire, destroying the creature and Becka. The Doctor is angry and tells him to he must stop the witch hunts.
In the morning, the team walks back to the TARDIS. The Doctor and King James have words, but he says he will tell no one what happened. Willa declares she will find a new home and follow in the footsteps of her grandmother and heal people. King James asks Ryan to come back with him, and Ryan politely declines. The group says goodbye and King James is confused when he sees them entering the box. The Doctor tells him a quote about advanced science appearing like magic to people, and then enters the TARDIS. When it disappears, King James is confused and Willa amazed.
I have been waiting for another witch Doctor Who episode for a while, so this was a nice surprise. Alan Cumming as King James was fun. At first I thought he was a bit over the top, but the way the managed to show the layers of his character in such a short episode was great. I thought all the companions were great, as usual. The Doctor’s speeches to King James were interesting. I also liked how this episode highlighted the difficulties the Doctor now faces when time traveling because of sexism and socialitial gender roles.
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