As we approach the end of Series 11 and with just 3 episodes to go and still no sign of any big bad for the series finale, I have had very mixed feelings about this series which started off strong but has struggled when the writing of Chris Chibnall, Show Runner, has failed to deliver on the traditional sci-fi adventures of the Doctor and companions but has done brilliantly when focused on dramatic use of real historical events such as Episode 3 ‘Rosa’ and Episode 6 ‘The Demons of the Punjab’. This week sees the third use of time travel to visit historical events, this time the 17th century period of the Witchfinders where thousands of women were often tortured and killed just for the suspicion or claim that they were practising Witchcraft.
It is interesting to me that this episode returns to featuring Witches in England, something Doctor Who has seen in the past considering just how evident it is that Chibnall has made it a point to not use any of Doctor Who villains of the past were to be used in Series 11, hell there has yet to be any use of the term ‘Companion’ as yet as Team TARDIS is now the new term for the Doctor and her friends. But then this is yet another example of the “real history” story one week followed by a sci-fi focused story the next, so heading into this episode I was very much expecting it to tell the real historical events of this time period in order to educate the audience about this dark time in England’s history.
However, this time there is a real attempt to not only tell the actual events of the day but also to try and keep the tone far lighter than the dramatic lessons of Rosa and The Demons of the Punjab, which did throw me a little. For example the show opens with Team TARDIS already out and about in the 17th century setting, taking in all the sights and sounds like they were at a country fair when they are suddenly witness to a witch trial and once again, despite the Doctor forbidding everyone from changing history, steps in to try and save the victim, which is becoming quite the recurring theme with the 13th Doctor, that every episode the rules of non interference in timelines are announced and quickly thrown aside.
My real issue comes as it has with previous episodes, in the performance of the guest stars and in particular, that of Alan Cumming in the role of King James the 1st, who wrote the King James Bible and inspires many to seek out the evils of Satan and those who may be in league with him, witches. When you have the dark and rather serious tone of the impact of the Witch trials but then you have the almost pantomime portrayal of King James who has a troubled past but also is more convinced than anyone that the devil is amongst the people of England spreading their evil. It is so over the top at time it does borderline on the cringe side of acting and so, trying to work out if King James is just a victim of oh his past or just plain simply crackers is a huge distraction for what is actually good about this episode.
The good stuff is that once again, a new alien threat is revealed, one that the Doctor has never come across again which I am hoping is actually a hint at a possible big reveal for or on the final episode of this series. This is what I would have liked to see this series focus more on instead this episode becomes one of two stories and neither really gel together because the episode is unable to make it’s mind up about what it is trying to be, light hearted or dark story telling. As a result so much is lost to the imbalance of it including once again, the sheer size of Team TARDIS becoming a problem as again Yas is partnered with the Doctor for most of the episode whilst Graham and Ryan have so little to do that I do keep returning to the feeling that this series would just benefit from having the Doctor with Yas travelling in the TARDIS.
But the main strength of this episode, which has been the back bone of the series is the performance of Jodie as the Doctor and yet again when the story focuses on what she is doing and her interactions with characters is must watch telly. With so much noise in having to give time to the whole of Team TARDIS I just want to see more of the Doctor especially when her change in gender means she must deal with the sexism and misogyny of men throughout time which does change things up like out of sheer frustration of not being taken seriously the Doctor actually says “If I was still a block I wouldn’t have to deal with this”.
Overall this is just another average story in what has become an ok but not amazing series for the 13th Doctor and friends. The writing is still an issue even if you make allowances for the fact is is a completely new writing team and show runner for the new Doctor but we are now at episode 9 next week which means just two left to raise the bar which the opening 3 episodes really did. At this point the cinematography of location shoots are gone, guest actor performances are more cartoonish in the sci-fi focused stories and the size of Team TARDIS is an issue for story telling that I am hoping for the next series the team is reduced.
I now look to the next two episodes to see if the magic from the start of series 11 can return to end on a bang, whilst some of the changes this series are a credit to the new team behind the show, far too many problems remain consistent that need addressing going forward. The lack of a series story arc is troubling me greatly but the introduction of aliens that the Doctor does not appear to know could lead to something very special.
But right now its very much a mixed bag for me, which is a shame because I really like the 13th Doctor and Jodie, I just wish the star of this show was the focus of the show and stories.