The Witchfinders

Spoilers: This post contains spoilers for The Witchfinders. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it and come back!

james i

Anyone else missing the party vibe all of a sudden?

Graham O’Brien

Synopsis

In 17th Century Lancashire, the Doctor, Yaz, Ryan and Graham become embroiled in a witch trial and the arrival of King James I.
Review

At this stage of the series, it’s almost no surprise to see another good historical story from this production team, however, it is a surprise to finally get a decent alien invasion storyline this year. Alan Cumming also looks like he had a great time playing James I, and he is perhaps the highlight of this story, and despite the darker subject matter of witch hunting, this does feel a lot more of a romp than previous entries this series.

In the Old Testament. There’s a plot twist in the sequel – “Love thy neighbour”. Which is why we’ve come. To help you fix your problems without killing anyone. That’s what King James would want.

Thirteenth Doctor

becka savage

We have had quite a few historical stories this series, with The Witchfinders following in the tracks of Rosa and Demons of the Punjab, but here we see the TARDIS crew in 17th Century Lancashire. The big difference here is that the Doctor does interfere much more than previously, where a softly-softly approach had been favoured. Whilst witch hunts are an established part of English history, what we see here has a much more fantastical background and is based in the fictional village of Bilehurst Cragg, which allows a bit more creative freedom for Joy Wilkinson. The story benefits from great casting, especially Alan Cumming playing King James I (VI) and Siobhan Finneran as Becka Savage. Savage does appear to be the expected human baddy that we have become accustomed to over the past few weeks, so the twist that she has been infected by the Morax is a nice surprise. That being said, both Savage and James are beyond redemption, as Savage has had 36 people killed under the pretence of them being witches, and James kills the Morax possessing Savage in the end. His reaction when the TARDIS dematerialises is also fantastic.

Do you know why the ducking stool was invented, Doctor? To silence foolish women who talk too much.

Yeah, I did know that. Which is daft, cos talking’s brilliant.

Lady Savage and the Thirteenth Doctor

If I had to pick a flaw in an episode I largely enjoyed, it would be that the companions do not have a lot to do in this story. Yaz almost fades into the background in the story again, and it’s a shame to not get more insight into Yaz’s story about being bullied at school, as this would be some nice character development for her, as this does seem to be at the core of her decision to become a police officer. It is interesting that this is the first time that the Doctor has been underestimated and Graham being assumed to be the leader, as this was something that I was concerned about becoming a recurring theme following this regeneration. I do enjoy his protest that they are all equal, but of course this doesn’t fit in with the beliefs of the time period. Graham does have slightly more to do than the others when he becomes Witchfinder General, and I like the fact that he reinstates the Doctor’s ‘position’ meanwhile Ryan just seems to act as a love interest for James I. This does lead to one of my favourite conversations in the episode between him and James I, and the history graduate inside me had a moment when James mentioned that Mary, Queen of Scots was involved in the plot to kill Lord Darnley, his father.

morax

The Morax are potentially one of the best villainous aliens that we’ve come across this series, although this has been quite slim pickings so far. The Morax look fantastic, even if the majority of them could be boiled down to being zombies. The Queen of the Morax looks genuinely intimidating and the episode is really effective at scaring us. For the second week in a row, I’ve genuinely felt that the Doctor and her friends were in genuine danger, and it’s nice to have this uncertainty and peril return. I like the sudden revelation of their involvement in the story and in particular, the idea of the alien technology keeping the alien army under Pendle Hill imprisoned. I feel that these aliens packed a seriously genuine threat as a world invading force – they are much more menacing and believable than the Pting, for example!

I’ve got so many questions right now – like did you drink that or absorb it? Are you all one big muddy mass or separate entities, only taking the one body?

Thirteenth Doctor

I feel like I say this every week, but Jodie Whittaker puts in another great performance here, and we get to see more of her darker, angry side here. The scene where she first encounters the Morax possessing Old Mother Twiston shows her perfectly capture the Doctor’s enthusiasm at coming across something completely new to her, and the questions she asks are delivered at such speed almost like a stream of consciousness. In this story, she gets more moral grandstanding speeches, which she also delivers really nicely, as she exposes the hypocrisy of Becka Savage and James I, as well as attacking the idea of mob mentality here. She’s yet to put in a sub-par performance as the Doctor and I can’t wait to see more.

Verdict: The Witchfinders demonstrate that this series’ biggest strength is the historical episodes again, with great performances from the two main guest stars, Alan Cuming and Siobhan Finneran. It would have been nice for the companions to have more to do though. 8/10
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Alan Cumming (King James I), Siobhan Finneran (Becka Savage), Tilly Steele (Willa Twiston), Tricia Kelly (Old Mother Twiston), Arthur Kay (Smithy), Stavros Demetraki (Stavros)
Writer: Joy Wilkinson (1st story written)
Director: Sallie Aprahamian (2nd story directed)
Behind the Scenes

  • The Doctor quotes Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced form of technology is indistinguishable from magic.
  • The TARDIS team are supposed to be travelling to the coronation of Elizabeth I at the start of the episode. Elizabeth I appeared in The Day of the Doctor, where she married the 10th incarnation of the Doctor, and would later (or earlier from a viewer’s perspective) have him banished from her kingdom. Perhaps the TARDIS is trying to keep the Doctor safe by not taking the team to this point in time.
  • Whilst Bilehurst Cragg is fictional, there was a witch trial in 1612 relating to Pendle Hill.
  • This is only the third story to be written and directed by women. The other two are Enlightenment and The Mark of the Rani.

Best Moment

The conversation between the Doctor and James I, where she strips away at James’ perceived heroism and delivers an impassioned speech. Usually this would result in a change of heart by the monarch, so it’s a nice twist to see James call for the guards to take the Doctor to be tried.
Best Quote

You can’t go hurting people just because you’re scared to face up to the darkness inside you. You have to be better than that.

How do you know these things?

I know because we’re all the same. We want certainty. Security. To believe that people are evil or heroic, but that’s not how people are. You want to know the secrets of existence? Start with the mysteries of the heart.

Thirteenth Doctor and James I

james and ryan

Kerblam!

Warning:  This post contains spoilers for Kerblam! If you haven’t seen it yet, come back after watching!

kerblam man

Remember: if you want it, Kerblam it!

Kerblam! Man

Synopsis

A mysterious message in a package draws the Doctor and her friends to investigate the warehouse moon orbiting Kandoka and the home of the galaxy’s largest retailer, Kerblam.

Review

It still continues to amaze me how some writers can just get Doctor Who.  Recently we’ve had fantastic debut episodes from both Jamie Mathieson (Mummy on the Orient Express) and Sarah Dollard (Face the Raven), and Pete McTighe’s first episode for the show feels like a traditional episode of Doctor Who, with a strong mystery at its core and some expert misdirection.  It also says something for the production that a digitally created world and a delivery warehouse can look as visually stimulating and engaging as some of the series’ most beautiful location settings, and the director, Jennifer Perrott, deserves a lot of credit for this.

Yas kerblam

I’ll start this week by talking about the story, as I feel it was particularly good this week.  The story succeeds in some great misdirection in the mystery surrounding the Kerblam! warehouse and the message received by the Doctor at the start of the episode.  Initially, with the power outages and the sinister-looking robots, it seems as though it is technology being the sinister force behind the disappearances, then the focus switches onto Callum Dixon’s Jarva Slade, who seems like an archetype of an evil boss.  When the real bad guy is revealed to be Charlie, a seemingly amiable maintenance man, and the corporate machine is revealed to be benign, the rug pull moment really works.  Along with the revelation that the message to the Doctor has come from the operating system, this episode really works well.  If I was to draw a parallel between another story from Doctor Who’s past, it would be Planet of the Ood, with the idea of the Union and the treatment of workers, here addressing the almost constant worry about technology advancing to the point of being able to take over human jobs.  Kerblam! as a company is a fairly thinly veiled satire of online delivery companies like Amazon, but the virtue signalling that may have annoyed some viewers here is not as blatant as in previous weeks.  We also have the most references back to the show’s past, like the fez and the mention of Agatha Christie, but these don’t feel as shoehorned in as they have done in some previous episodes.  If I were to find a flaw in the story, I would say that the fates of some of the characters are a bit predictable – as soon as we hear about Dan’s daughter, or that Charlie has feelings for Kira, the audience can tell that at least two out of three of them are doomed.  All in all though, this is probably one of the strongest stories we’ve had so far this series.

Now.  Ever hidden in a panelled alcove?

No.

You haven’t lived.

The Thirteenth Doctor, Ryan and Yaz

The supporting cast to the Doctor and her team also deserve credit for making this one of the best episodes so far this series.  When I heard that Lee Mack had been cast in this series of Doctor Who, it did make me feel a bit uneasy, but he was one of the highlights of the episode and I wish that we had spent more time with him before his untimely demise.  Julie Hesmondhalgh as Judy Maddox, head of people, also gives a great performance and adds real heart to the episode.  The performances of Claudia Jessie and Leo Flanagan as Kira Arlo and Charlie Duffy is strong too and it really plays with the audience’s emotions and expectations of this as a story when she is taken away and killed by the evil bubble wrap.  I’ll never pop bubble wrap in the same way again.  The Kerblam! Robots are extremely creepy, and although they are revealed not to be the ultimate bad guys by the conclusion, their design helps the misdirection at the start of the episode.

tardis team kerblam

As for the Doctor and the TARDIS team, this is the first episode where we really feel like there is a genuine threat to their safety, which benefits the story.  We see a bit more of the Doctor’s harder side when she confronts Judy and Slade about the missing people, and I love her enthusiasm (as well as Ryan, Graham and Yas’s confusion) when the Kerblam Man delivers the fez.  The little jump for joy she does when she sees him is just perfect.  The TARDIS team again get split up, and it’s nice to see Yaz and Ryan working together this week.  It seems that the writers have finally decided to remember Ryan’s dyspraxia this week, which has flown under the radar for the last couple of episodes, with his coordination issues actually having the potential to affect how useful he is to the Doctor.  Bradley Walsh is fantastic again as Graham, who offers great comedic moments, like his reaction to being told that he is on the maintenance team is great.  On the other side of the emotional spectrum, when Yaz talks about how Dan saved her life and asks the Doctor if they can take his necklace back to his daughter is another great moment for her.

Verdict:  A strong writing debut for Pete McTighe, Kerblam! is a great story, which feels like a more traditional Doctor Who adventure.  The guest cast are great, and I’d love to see Pete McTighe come back next series.  8/10

Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Julie Hesmondhalgh (Judy Maddox), Lee Mack (Dan Cooper), Callum Dixon (Jarva Slade), Claudia Jessie (Kira Arlo), Leo Flanagan (Charlie Duffy), Matthew Gravelle (Voice of Kerblam)

Writer: Pete McTighe (1st story)

Director: Jennifer Perrott (2nd story)

Behind the Scenes

  • The Thirteenth Doctor uses Venusian Aikido again, previously seen in The Ghost Monument.
  • This is the first episode of Doctor Who to feature an exclamation mark in the title.
  • On top of the obvious fez reference, we also get a call back to The Unicorn and the Wasp with the Doctor alluding to having met Agatha Christie.
  • The opening scene was previewed on Children in Need on Friday 16th November, with an extended version being uploaded to YouTube later that same day.

Best Moment

The moment that the Doctor and the team realise that Charlie was behind the mystery all along.

Best Quote

How would you like a warning for insubordination?

I’d love one, I could add it to my collection!

Jarva Slade and the Thirteenth Doctor

13 fez

Demons of the Punjab

This post contains spoilers for episode 6 of series 11 of Doctor Who. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it and come back.

No Yaz! We can’t have a universe without Yaz!

Thirteenth Doctor

doctor wedding

Synopsis

The Doctor and her friends arrive in the Punjab, India in 1947, during the Partition. Yaz attempts to discover her grandmother’s history, whilst the Doctor encounters sinister demons haunting the land. Who are they and what do they want?
Review

demons

This series of Doctor Who has been fantastic at casting a light on some areas of history that aren’t commonly taught in the British education system. A few weeks ago in Rosa, we had a story surrounding an incident that kick-started a campaign for civil rights in America, and in Demons of the Punjab, we see the start of the partition of India. Despite studying history to degree level, this is an area of history that I was only vaguely familiar with when it came to watching this episode. The new era of the show is harking back to its educational roots, as originally envisaged by Sydney Newman, making this more like William Hartnell or Patrick Troughton episodes. Additionally, we finally get more Yaz, which is something that I feel has been lacking from the series so far, with the focus more on Ryan and Graham, and the direction and music are again fantastic – with this series, it feels like that’s a given! Unfortunately, as with the series prior to this episode, it does suffer with a problem with lack of a proper alien menace, and the creatures featured here are really rather forgettable again.

demons 2

As they are the biggest issue that I have with the episode, I’ll start with the Thijarians. Their design looks fantastic and they are initially quite spooky, but once they are revealed to be witnesses rather than the assassins they are initially thought to be, it makes them feel like another case of wasted potential. That being said, I did quite like the idea of the Thijarians becoming witnesses to the deaths of the lonely, and aliens who have developed compassion is really unusual in this programme. Here again, the true enemy are humans, with Prem’s brother Manish being the bigger threat than the aliens, which would be okay once or twice in the series, but it feels like this has been a bit too repetitive, however, humans are equally capable of horrible acts as any Dalek, Cyberman or Weeping Angel, and this is an episode that embraces this again. Manish’s reaction when offered food at the wedding almost sets him up as a character who cannot possibly be redeemed, which makes it all the more tragic that we know that the TARDIS crew will not step in to intervene in the final standoff between Prem and Manish.

graham and yaz

Coming on to more positive subject matter, we finally get to see more of Yaz, who I have been a fan of since the beginning and been wanting to see more of her. I feel that she was a more rounded character than Graham and Ryan from her arrival in the series, but it is still nice to understand more about her background and family here. Some past stories have almost forgotten about her, with her only notable contribution to The Tsuranga Conundrum being drop kicking the Pting down a corridor. The focus on Yaz makes a nice change and we get a good conversation between Yaz and Graham whilst the Doctor, Ryan and Prem are off investigating in the forest. As I’ve stated previously, I feel that this TARDIS team are quite well established, and it’s interesting seeing the different dynamics when they are split into different sub-teams and the relationships between Ryan, Graham and Yaz as they travel with the Doctor.

This the best thing ever! Never did this when I was a man.

Doctor. You and your jokes!

Yeah. That’s right. My references to body and gender regeneration are all in jest. Such a comedian.

Thirteenth Doctor and Yasmin Khan

This, similarly to Rosa, is another historical episode that relies on non-interference in the established events, as any change in the timeline could wipe Yaz from the timeline and ties it up really nicely. It makes absolute sense as to why the older Umreen wouldn’t want to talk about her marriage to Prem, and ties into the underlying themes about grief that have been present in the series so far, with the death of Grace weighing heavily on both Graham and Ryan. It is perhaps fitting that this episode was broadcast on Remembrance Sunday as it serves as a great illustration of peace and love in general. Episodes in this series are seriously playing with my emotions, as the climax of this one again impacted me deeply, probably thanks to the bookending of the episode with scenes of Yaz talking to her grandmother. Additionally, the shot revealing the ghostly heads of the dead was really moving.

It feels like I say this every week, but Jodie Whittaker continues to shine as the Doctor. She really commands the screen with her presence like all of her predecessors. Her performance in the wedding scene is fantastic and I really like her confrontation with the Thijarians before we know that their natures have changed from assassins to witnesses. The Doctor is still full of the same joy and wonder, and has the same steel as the Doctors who have come before and Whittaker just personifies the character so well.

Verdict: A personal and moving story focusing on an area of history I knew little about previously, Demons of the Punjab is another great historical episode in this series. There are still no really memorable aliens, but I don’t feel that impacts the story too much here. 7/10
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor),Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Leena Dhingra (Nani Umbreen), Amita Suman (Umbreen), Shane Zaza (Prem), Hamza Jeetooa (Manish), Shaheen Khan (Hasna), Shobna Gulati (Najia), Ravin J Ganatra (Hakim), Bhavnisha Parmar (Sonya), Emma Fielding (Voice of Kisar), Nathalie Curzner (Performance of Kisar)
Writer: Vinay Patel (First Story)
Director: Jamie Childs (Second story as director)
Behind the Scenes

  • This is the first time since Father’s Day that we have gone back along a companion’s timeline. It was attempted in Listen by the Twelfth Doctor with Clara, however, it was unsuccessful.
  • This episode was filmed in the Province of Granada, Spain.

Best Moment

There are some lovely moments in this episode, but I’m going to do something a bit different this week and talk about my favourite shot. At the end of the episode, there is a shot of the time rotor from the top, which is such a rarely seen angle and the first time we’ve seen this new console from this perspective. It is beautiful.
Best Quote

Love…in all its forms is the most powerful weapon we have. Because love is a form of hope, and like hope, love abides in the face of everything.

Thirteenth Doctor

The Tsuranga Conundrum

This review contains spoilers for The Tsuranga Conundrum. If you haven’t seen it yet, come back after watching it!

Threat to life: Ultimate.

Ship’s Computer

Pting reaction

Synopsis

Injured and stranded in the wilds of a far-flung galaxy, the Doctor, Yaz, Graham and Ryan must band together with a group of strangers to survive against one of the universe’s most deadly – and unusual – creatures.

Review

We’ve reached the midpoint of Series 11 everyone! So far we’ve encountered the Stenza, found the TARDIS, met Rosa Parks and felt sympathy for a giant arachnid. This week we have a good old fashioned base under siege story, with the Doctor and team stuck on the Tsuranga medical ship trying to survive the fearsome P’Ting. With a much more established Team TARDIS, we also get much more focus on the guest cast which makes a change from previous weeks, and I feel that the team were all well utilised. This is also the most the series has focussed on the Doctor, and Jodie Whittaker is great again.

pting

The biggest issue with this story is the Pting though, which has been a problem with this series generally. This series has generally suffered from a villain problem with no really fearsome antagonists, and we’re not getting a return of any of the ‘classic’ enemies like the Daleks, Cybermen or the Weeping Angels. I didn’t totally hate the Pting, I thought that the design was good and I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the creature’s cute outward appearance with the fact that it was eating everything and was basically a tiny juggernaut. The way that the story and direction played with your expectations as well helped but when the alien finally appeared, I felt it took something away from the story. I liked that it was a creature that by its very nature was unknown, due to it being able to eat everything it was impossible to study. All in all, I liked the idea of the Pting but I feel once it was revealed it lost any real sense of threat. I’m sure it appealed to younger members of the audience though, and I’ve seen a lot of calls on social media for a Pting toy to be released.

The story utilises its guest cast really well here, and the story does use Team TARDIS well in doing this. With a more established team around the Doctor, this allows us time to get to know characters like Eve, Durkas and Yoss, allowing us to become invested in them and care about what happens to them. The best exchange here is between Yoss and Ryan, which obviously deeply affects Ryan, seeing a lot of parallels not only with himself but with his father, which leads us to learn what happened to Ryan’s mother and the difficulties in his relationship with his father. Ryan is definitely growing on me as a character and I still like the fact that things aren’t miraculously fixed with him and Graham quite yet, but I anticipate that it will be by the end of the series. I find the character of Astos interesting, despite his relatively short time in the episode. It is very rare for the Doctor to admit that someone knows more than he or she does and it does add a unique relationship between the two of them, but I can see why he was killed off. We need characters who feel like fish out of water in a base under siege story and Astos is more experienced and seems much more level-headed than the newly qualified Mabli. The relationship between Durkas and Eve is really strong, even though towards the end you can tell how the story will end for Eve, and again I am impressed by the guest stars that have been in this series. Unfortunately, Yaz doesn’t have much to do again but it looks as though she will be the focus again next week.

brother and sister

The advantages of having more established companions here is that it allows the Doctor to really shine and interact with more people outside of this core group. Whittaker seems really comfortable reeling off technobabble and this really helps when she is explaining things like the anti-matter engine, which in lesser hands could have really felt like it kills the pace. This new Doctor also has the enthusiasm when she learns new things or experiences something, like the anti-matter engine. Some of the sci-fi ideas we see here almost feel plausible for future developments, such as self-driving ships and the craft being essentially powered by a smaller version of the Hadron Collider, which also helps the story and we can share in the Doctor’s enthusiasm for them. The Doctor’s reaction when she finally works out the true motives of the Pting is so nicely played, and I love the fact that “Get a shift on!” is becoming a catchphrase for this Doctor!

I love it! Conceptually…and actually!

Thirteenth Doctor

Verdict: A good base under siege story, slightly let down by the lack of threat packed by the Pting. That said, the Pting is very cute! 3/10

Behind the Scenes

  • The Pting was created and named by writer Tim Price.
  • The sonic screwdriver is seen to repair itself, as previously seen in A Christmas Carol.
  • There is a brief shot of a couple of old foes before showing the Pting. These include Silurians, Cybermen and the Zygons.

Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Brett Goldstein (Astos), Lois Chimimba (Mabli), Suzanne Packer (Eve Cicero), Ben Bailey-Smith (Durkas Cicero), David Shields (Ronan), Jack Shalloo (Yoss Inkl)
Writer: Chris Chibnall (Tenth story)
Director: Jennifer Perrott (First story)

Best Moment

The meeting to discuss the threat, and the Doctor’s reaction when there are no questions at the end.

Best Quote

You’re probably wondering why I called you all here. Sorry – bit Poirot.

Thirteenth Doctor