I had a very strange experience watching Doctor Who this week. “The Witchfinders” sees the Doctor and her companions travel to Pendle Hill. My association with Pendle Hill is that it is the name of the school handbook at my alma mater. The school was founded by Quakers, and the book is named after the site where George Fox had a vision to establish the denomination. Needless to say, we were never told about the incident that made the location infamous.
Forty years earlier, Pendle Hill was used for witch trials. The Doctor is not too keen on the witch-hunts and, of course, is accused of being a witch as soon as she starts to unravel the nefarious scheme.
Amid the chaos, King James (played by Alan Cumming) arrives to investigate the truth. I have eagerly been waiting for this episode since the announcement of his casting. As much as I dislike the X-Men movies, Nightcrawler has always been my favorite member of the team, and his performance remains one of the best aspects of the franchise.
Cumming plays another character whose religious views are in conflict with his own existence, and the episode does not shy away from the king’s preference for men. Cumming’s charisma is perfectly executed when his character uses every opportunity to turn any conversation into flirting with Ryan.
I really hope Cumming returns, especially if he is paired with John Barroman’s Captain Jack and the two keep getting distracted from the mission at hand. I know that the Gunpowder Plot has already been used as a game, but it could make a great setting for an episode—especially with the internet’s fascination with Guy Fawkes.
Never the one to waste an opportunity, Graham completely steals the episode when leaving King James by quoting Samuel L. Jackson’s fictious verse from Pulp Fiction to the man who commissioned one of the most famous translations of the Bible.
While the aliens this week (the Morax) were new, there were a few nods to classic Doctor Who adventures. The Doctor once again uses the escape techniques taught to her by Harry Houdini, first mentioned in “Planet of the Spiders.” She also states that while the trials are terrible, they are not always able to change events in human history and faced a similar conflict when confronting human sacrifice in “The Aztecs.”
“The Witchfinders” was a story about narrow-mindedness and exclusivity being used to push conformity. Those who make it through leave and never look back.
Then again, maybe it was not all that different from my college experience.