Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 8 Review: The Witchfinders

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Wow. Okay. So that all happened. Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 8 manages to address multiple levels of societal and historical misogyny, imply a royal penchant for "exotic" looking young men, AND bring zombies into play.

THEN they reveal a hitherto unknown alien threat with less than ten minutes left in the episode. Huh.

Related: Get Britbox via Prime Video Channels for the biggest streaming collection of TV from BBC and ITV...ever.

It's a rollicking adventure to be sure and Alan Cumming's turn as King James is nothing short of fab-u-lous but there is a LOT going on.

Close Up on Becka - Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 8

Let's start with the witch trials themselves. Becka Savage's choice to execute 36 women for being witches in order to save herself from what she thought was a Satanic infection is pretty insane on the face of things.

We'll never know if she had a thing for self-righteous, hypocritical moralizing before the infection or before she became the village's de facto witch-finder but you'd think if she was raised with Willa by Old Mother Twiston there might've been some smidgen of humanity ingrained naturally.

Together we shall save the souls of my people from Satan. Even if it means killing them all.


Then again, the crazy might be natural too.

With the constant discomfort of her infection heightening her anxieties and being ostracized by her family for "marrying up" and probably by her fellow landowners for coming from the village to begin with, it not hard to see how she would've turned to a ludicrously simplistic solution to her problems like witch-hunting.

Savage: As King James has written in his new Bible,'Thou shall not suffer a witch to live.'
The Doctor: In the Old Testament. There's a twist in the sequel. 'Love thy neighbor.'

In the end, The Doctor saw Becka as a victim. Perhaps of circumstance. Possibly of her own ego. Probably of the Morax. And definitely of King James' own simplistic worldview and royal impulsiveness.

Related: 13 Characters Who Deserved a Better End Than They Got

It's the same disapproving response we saw on Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 1 when Karl shoved Tim Shaw off the crane but a response that was absent when Ryan zapped Krasko into potentially prehistoric history on Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 3.

Is summary execution only a problem when it happens in front of her?

Close Up on The Doctor - Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 8

The episode's levity is pretty much completely carried by Cumming's King James. Between his smitten response to Ryan and him repeatedly referring to The Doctor as "lassie," he is simultaneously comically and tragically hilarious.

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.

Like the other royals we've met in The Doctor's travels, he doesn't actually show any real growth as a character. Despite the things he sees, he's pretty much the same man we meet at the beginning when he watches the T.A.R.D.I.S. phase out of sight.

Kudos to the show for using real history to back up the story. The book on Savage's bedside table, Daemonologie, is the dissertation the real James VI and I (not 7) wrote and while his mommy issues may not be a matter of record, he was known to be tremendously paranoid.

Close Up on James - Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 8

Maybe The Doctor manages to twinge his doubt a bit since the Companions are able to get him to raise the ducking stool before Savage would like. 

But he immediately reverts back to his pre-programmed assumptions when the stool comes up empty.

King James: She truly is a powerful witch.
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.

(I should take some time to discuss The Doctor's habit of name-dropping this season eventually. It's a little distracting, isn't it?)

His casual misogyny is, as mentioned, painfully on point. It's also the first time The Doctor has been held back from the mission because she's a woman now.

Becka wasn't kidding. These are hard times for women. If we aren't being drowned, we're being patronized to death.

The Doctor

Not by accident, this adventure is driven by the female characters. Although Graham gets all the respect and Ryan and Alphonse get all the objectification, it's Old Mother Twiston's murder by ducking (pre-meditated, if you're keeping track) that kicks it all off.

Sonic Primed and Ready - Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 8

The primary villain initially is Becka Savage and then she transforms into Queen Morax. Her entire Morax entourage is outwardly female, being the dead accused witches.

Willa's our dynamic hero, growing from a fearful victim into a brave torch-bearer with hopes of a future as a healer.

Hooded and Hiding - Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 8

Yaz is the Companion who strikes out on her own to find Willa and then saves her from the mud tendril.

And, of course, our own lil lassie, The Doctor, is the brains that solves the dilemma of the whole muddy Morax muddle.

And why today? Because this is my problem. I can buy that this is the biggest ever witchhunt in England. Or, I can buy that it is an alien mud invasion. But both on the same day? I can't buy that!

The Doctor

A thought occurs to me here that this episode could've run without any men at all. Wouldn't have been as funny but all the essential elements of the plot (except for needing King James' body to host the Morax king) were handled by women.

Not in a Party Mood - Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 8

Finally, there's the Morax reveal. This was the most problematic bit for me.

It's not even a good deus ex machina since it actually introduced a wholly new problem that needed solving in ten minutes rather than really solving anything from the plot twists in the first 80% of the show.

I could show you everything if you stop being afraid of what you don't understand.

The Doctor

I also question whether The Doctor would really be so accepting of the Morax prison being set up on Earth with a lock that can age out after a mere billion years. Or be chopped down by a 17th-century nouveau noblewoman.

And the idea of just "erasing" the village doesn't seem like a surefire way of preventing someone else from unlocking the prison. Having been through Lancashire, I'm rather surprised the hill wasn't mined for something in the 19th century.

Bobbin's for Doctors - Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 8

There's always background details to pay attention to when you watch Doctor Who online. Did you catch any hints as to how this season is gearing up for its finale?

Related: 17 Finales that Really KILLED

This episode once again bangs the family theme drum a couple of times. Becka and Willa (and their grandma) are the most obvious reference. And the Doctor once again tries to call the team "fam" when she emerges from her ducking.

This might be a bit of a reach but in a possible connection to the "Timeless Child" teaser, Savage's infection from initial contact to transformation took nine months (based on 36 witch trials held weekly). Hmmm?

King James: I wish to know all the secrets of existence.
The Doctor: Don't we all? But true knowledge has to be earned.

What theories do you have for how this Doctor wraps up her first series?

Do we get to keep all our Companions?

Will we see a classic adversary? Or even one of our new ones?

The Witchfinders Review

Editor Rating: 4.0 / 5.0
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Rating: 3.2 / 5.0 (18 Votes)

Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

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Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 8 Quotes

King James: And these are your underlings?
Graham: It's a very flat team structure. We all have our area of expertise.

Savage: As King James has written in his new Bible,'Thou shall not suffer a witch to live.'
The Doctor: In the Old Testament. There's a twist in the sequel. 'Love thy neighbor.'