C+Q - The Witchfinders (2018)

Now here's an episode I don't have to describe as fine or meh or good enough. I straight-forwardly like this episode of Doctor Who. Of course you need to do the 'Dr Who gets mistaken for a witch' episode now that Dr Who is a woman, and this is the best possible version of it. Finally: a villain! The Morax are great monsters. Great name, great design, great voices, great concept. I love making Pendle Hill into a secret alien prison that gets unlocked when the tree on it is cut down, an origin story that fits really well with the episode's overall aesthetic and lends itself to the Morax maybe returning one day. And the mud tentacles animated to look like stop motion! Incredibly strong, incredibly memorable, and the best part is there's nothing sympathetic about the Morax at all! Subverting the villain role to be sympathetic only works if there are villains who are played straight, and the Morax are just what Series 11 needed to balance out the spiders and Ptings and frog universes.

It is kinda weird that the episode makes 'will Dr Who jump in to save the witch?' a big suspense moment, but it's even weirder that the moment works. After Rosa and Demons of the Punjab, we now have a Doctor who might not jump in to save the day, and that's kinda worrying. Series 12 really needs to reinstate the Doctor's heroism. I mean, yeah, she did eventually jump in to save the witch, but it shouldn't have been a question, or at the very least "I never interfere"/"Let's interfere!" should've been played as a gag rather than a serious beat. I don't like doubting whether or not Dr Who will do the right thing. Still, that's a minor moment and it doesn't bother me too much, it's just weird. This episode makes good use of the slightly longer run time, with the late reveal of the Morax giving it a nice second wind. And the TARDIS team working together with their 'flat team structure' is lovely.

But what takes this decent bit of boxset filler and turns it into vital viewing is Alan Cumming, the best guest star of Series 11 by a significant margin. King James is a hoot. He elevates every scene he's in and I'd love an excuse for him to return at some point. What makes him so fun is that he's a historical celebrity the show isn't in love with. Rather than being given huge mythological signficiance like Charles Dickens or William Shakespeare, King James is allowed to be an arch comic relief character who even gets to be a bit of a villain. Having Alan Cumming here makes The Witchfinders feel like a much bigger adventure because the episode isn't all about meeting King James. It's a story about the Morax that's already underway when King James invites himself into it.

The Witchfinders is great. It mainly exists so the first female Doctor can be mistaken for a witch, and it's a brilliant vehicle for that moment.

Next: It Takes You Away