Doctor Who season 11, episode 8 recap: The Witchfinders


Alan Cumming was in this week’s episode of Doctor Who–enough said.

Doctor Who faced off with an interesting alien entity this week–a mud alien. The TARDIS has been misleading and landing in all sorts of places throughout the season. And once again, it has taken the Doctor, Yaz, Graham, and Ryan to a location they did not intend–17th century Lancashire.

They were meant to go to Elizabeth I’s coronation but somehow they’ve landed smack dab in the middle of witch trials which involve ducking the accused into the lake. If the person dies, it means they were not a witch, and if they survive, it means they are and they will be hanged. Either way, the person winds up dead, so it’s not exactly the best case scenario for innocent people.

Leading the trials is a scary woman named Mistress Savage who made the ducking stool from a tree on Pendle Hill. Side note: Pendle Hill is an actual site where witch trials were held in the 17th century. Up until that point, Savage had already killed 35 “witches” and even killed off the horses because she believed them to be Satan’s creatures.

In classic Doctor Who nature, the Doctor intervened and tried to save the grandma that was on trial but failed to do so. Left with no other options, she showed her badge to Savage which apparently stated that the Doctor was the Witchfinder General.

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Her reign doesn’t last very long because King James I (Alan Cumming!) shows up. Another side note–James I wrote a book about witchcraft and claimed to be an expert on the subject matter in real life.

In the episode, he was very eager to help Savage out in eliminating anyone associated with witchcraft. Almost immediately, he disregards the Doctor and strips her title of Witchfinder General because she is a woman.

Meanwhile, the grandma’s body was being buried by her granddaughter until a tendril rose from the ground and tried to hurt her.

Luckily, Yaz was nearby keeping an eye out and saved her just in time. The Doctor, Graham, and Ryan were busy looking around Savage’s room to see if they could anything that would help them.

They found an ax, hankies, and a bottle of medicine–suspicious, right? While Graham and Ryan distracted the King and Savage, the Doctor and Yaz went to visit Willa, the granddaughter. It turns out that her grandmother was a healer and related to Savage. Talk about savage (ha!).

Curious about what the mud was, the Doctor obtained a sample only to learn that it was of alien nature. Even creepier? The corpses came back to life.

It came as no surprise that the Doctor eventually gets labeled as a witch because of her sonic screwdriver. I mean, come on, that’s probably the most alarming thing to a village full of suspicious individuals. The King and Savage suspected her of being a witch after seeing all the corpses. But the Doctor was onto something–there is some connection between the alien mud and the witch trials.

Credit: BBC America

Accusing the Doctor of being a witch, they tie her up to the ducking stool. However, the King wants to know everything he thinks the Doctor knows about witchcraft. Instead, she turns the tables on him Doctor Who style and starts talking about his mommy problems. While the Doctor was about to be ducked, she took notice of Savage’s reaction to touching the wood of the stool.

Not only did some weird spark occur, but Savage started crying tears of mud. Despite the group’s attempts to convince the King to let the Doctor go, no one listened and she was kept under the water. But not so fast Savage and King, this is the Doctor you’re dealing with. Thanks to her time spent with Houdini, the Doctor knows how to get out of a bind.

The alien mud start continues to get weirder as the corpses show up and seem to have an allegiance to Savage. It turns out that she was cutting down the magical tree during which one of the tendrils came out and poked her. This brought the alien entity inside of Savage, and she began to grapple with being some sort of witch.

The reason she wanted the grandma gone was that she knew about Savage, and refused to cut her leg to remove the evil when Savage asked. After the big reveal, Savage essentially let the alien take over completely and she transformed into the queen of the Morax.

The team came together to defeat the aliens by using the fire from the burning stool. It somehow affected the walking corpses and was the only way to defeat them and the Queen. The Doctor was able to bring back the prison and put all the corpses back into it. However, the King took it upon himself to murder the Queen, which pissed off the Doctor to no end.

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Doctor Who has been doing a marvelous job bringing in social issues into each episode, and in “The Witchfinders”, the Doctor stands up to the King. Regardless of the time period, she puts her foot down about any sexist comment that is made and does so until the very end. In fact, she manages to get the King to apologize and promise that he won’t speak of the TARDIS or anything else that happened during their time there. Essentially, he would make it so the town/village never existed.

How great was Alan Cumming? We need more cameos from him–please and thank you.

Doctor Who airs every Sunday on BBC America at 8 PM EST!