As we near the end of this series of Doctor Who, I have been hoping for the story quality to rise and help eradicate the bitterness I hold towards it thus far. Kerblam! was a solid, entertaining ride which definitely worked towards achieving this for me, and thankfully, The Witchfinders also helped out… It wasn’t perfect by any stretch, and there were some flaws, but again, it was a fairly solid and entertaining adventure, which is a step in the right direction at the very least.
Let’s go through the positives first: I was a big fan of this episode being the first one where The Doctor’s change of gender becomes a key part of the story, it was an interesting dynamic and I feel it has been done at the right moment. Had it been done earlier in the series it would only have been fuel to the fire amongst the sceptics, but after many episodes that essentially ignore this huge change, it was refreshing to see a story where being a woman does lead to some issues that The Doctor would never have faced if she was still a male. It didn’t feel forced, it served a purpose and it most definitely added to the story. The inevitability of The Doctor being trialled as a witch was predictable, but it was done in a clever way and it led to some brilliant moments. It also did something that I have wanting for a long time, it gave The Doctor a bit of individuality, there are so many interesting places the show can go (especially with historic episodes) now that The Doctor is a female, whether it be fighting against archaic, sexist attitudes or just not being taken as seriously, seeing her overcome these obstacles is something that, for now, is unique to her. For one of the first times this series, I didn’t feel like Jodie Whittaker was being forced to imitate her predecessors, I really hope we get to see more this going forward in her tenure.
I loved Alan Cumming as King James, and for me, he has been by far, the strongest guest star that the show has had this series. His performance was exaggerated, but not to the point of ridiculousness, I just found him to be a delight every time he was on screen and he is up there with the best of the historical figures we’ve seen on Doctor Who. He wasn’t starved of screentime, and he had some truly poignant moments.
The rest of the TARDIS team were, okay? I guess. They were just there for the most part, and they all had a decent amount to do. Honestly, I think I’m now at the point where I’m not going to like them any more than I already do. I don’t hate them at all, but I still don’t really feel any form of connection with them as an audience member, they’re completely passable as companions, but there’s just not much more to them, in my opinion. I’m still strongly in the mindset that there is just too much to juggle with such a short runtime. Each episode is already leaving itself at a massive disadvantage because every writer immediately inherits four characters that all need to serve some kind of a purpose, rather than the common two. I wouldn’t like to write with three companions, so I do have sympathy for those that do!
My main gripe with this episode was the pacing, it was okay, but then the final act was horribly rushed. We got the main villain reveal with around 8 minutes left of the episode and then the episode went into overdrive to try and resolve everything. It really took me out of the episode and I do feel that this is the kind of story that would have been a 2-parter in the RTD or Moffat eras of Doctor Who. There was probably a lot more they could have done with this story but the villains were, sadly, promptly defeated in a very confusing manner. It cheapened the overall impact for me and I was so disappointed, because the villains had excellent potential, but it feels like the writer just lost track of time and had to desperately bring the episode to a conclusion.
One quick mention as well, the villains looked awesome, but whoever allowed them to have that awful, modulated voice should be fired. I found myself laughing at how bad it was, again, that felt like a rushed job.
Overall, I found this to be a solid episode which I would happily watch again, it was a great shame about the pacing issues and how rushed it all felt at the end, it did diminish the overall quality and I do still feel that this was a story that should have been done over two parts. As I’ve said before, I’m very much accepting now of what Doctor Who is going to be like going forward, I may not be enjoying it as much as I have previous eras, but I’m now just going to judge them in the context of the era they are in. If I keep constantly comparing them to what has come before, I’m only going to enjoy it less. But if I just sit back, relax, watch it week by week and take it for what it is, I’m probably going to have a better time with it.
I give The Witchfinders a 7/10.