Once again for this series of Doctor Who, Blogtor Who is looking at all the nods and references to adventures which have gone before. This time its the turn of The Witchfinders So even if you are not already a Mastermind expert on all things in the Whoniverse you can appreciate the little detail as well. Perhaps you are a very knowledgeable Whovian already but did you spot them all?
Witches are to be found everywhere
The Witchfinders is far from the Doctor’s first encounter with witches, whether real or imagined. The Carrionites are the most obvious example. As featured in 2007’s The Shakespeare Code, the Carrionites were an alien species from the dawn of time when the nature of reality was more fluid. Developing a science based on words, not numbers, and having the stereotypical appearance and powers of witches. They inspired Shakespeare’s depiction of witches in his later play Macbeth. Though, ironically, in the real world Macbeth was written to curry favour with the witch obsessed new king, James I.
Other witches to be found in the show are more ambiguous. Olive Hawthorne in Third Doctor serial The Daemons styles herself as a ‘white witch’ and defies the ‘demonic’ Master. But it’s in considerable doubt whether she has any actual powers. In K9 & Company, the first attempt to give Sarah Jane her own spin-off, Sarah Jane and K9 battle a coven of witches who worship Hecate. The group conduct human sacrifices in goat headed masks. But, despite some odd and disturbing bumps in the night, they don’t appear to have genuine supernatural abilities.
Ma Tyler in Four Doctor story Image of the Fendahl has none of Hawthrorne’s affectations. But she does play the role of the wise old local woman, who knows secrets natural and supernatural. And her psychic powers, though relatively minor, are definitely real.
Not all witches are real
The Witchfinders sees 36 innocent women dying when they weren’t involved in witchcraft at all. They’re not the only ones. Other cases are of women being mistaken for witches by the ignorant and superstitious. In The Woman Who Lived Lady Me tells the Twelfth Doctor how her long life and knowledge created suspicion. Ultimately she was convicted of witchcraft by the mobs James I had whipped up. While the ‘Witch in the Well’ from Hide turned out to actually be the time traveller Hila Tacorien, trapped in a pocket universe.
Finally, various media have had a few near misses on Wilkinson’s title. There was the novel The Witch Hunters, featuring the First Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara in Salem. While the Witch Hunt comic strip saw Clara condemned as a witch during the same period as in The Witchfinders.
The Dead walk… as vessels for alien life
The Morax scheme to use humanity as replacement bodies, starting with the corpses, is like one we’ve seen before. When the Doctor Who revival was a mere three episodes old, The Unquiet Dead introduced the Gelth. The Gelth were creatures who had lost their physical form due to the Time War and were keen to use Earth’s dead as an escape from their existence as gas creatures. However, there turned out to be billions of them and they were perfectly willing to wipe out the human race. After all, they had to make enough corpses to go around.
Fast forward to The Witchfinders and the Morax have lost their physical form after a war and been reduced to an existence as creatures made out of earth, dirt and mud. Like the Gelth hey also begin by taking over the corpses of the dead. But soon plot to wipe out billions of humans to obtain fresh hosts.
One difference is the Doctor’s reaction. The Christopher Eccleston incarnation is actually quite okay with the Gelth’s possession of the dead – comparing it to recycling and organ donation. It’s only when the full extent of the Gelth plan is revealed he desperately tries to undo his mistake. But in The Witchfinders, Whittaker’s Time Lord has learned her lesson and immediately set herself against the plan as “not cool.”
The Many Escapes of the Amazing Who-Dini
The Doctor credits her ability to get out of the chains of the ducking stool to “a wet weekend with Harry Houdini.” Houdini was the famed escapologist of the early 20th century, particularly famous for escaping from chains while tied up in a water tank. We know that the Doctor first encountered Houdini to receive training sometime in her first or second incarnation. Because it’s in her third, while trying to wriggle free from the webbing of the giant spiders of Metebilis III that the Doctor first mentions having studied with him. Forced by their captors to tie up Sarah Jane, the Fourth Doctor uses a Turk’s Head knot. He later explains both that he learned the Turk’s Head from Houdini and that it’s designed to look like a fiendishly difficult, complex knot, but to actually be easily undone by the person tied up.
As covered in Blogtor Who’s feature this week, this Doctor has met many of the Kings and Queens of England down the years. Including among them was Charles II, the grandson of Alan Cumming’s James I. He wasn’t very pleased in The Impossible Astronaut to find the Eleventh Doctor posing for a nude portrait by the Lady Matilda. Though he only stuck him in the Tower of London, rather than trying to burn him alive.
The adventure continues…
Doctor Who continues this Sunday at 6.30pm GMT on BBC One and at 8pm EST on BBC America with It Takes You Away by Ed Hime. For further broadcast times in your region, check local listings. Series 11 stars Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien) and Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair).
It Takes You Away guest stars Kevin Eldon (Ribbons) and Eleanor Wallwork (Hanne) and is directed by Jamie Childs.
On the edge of a Norwegian fjord, in the present day, The Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz discover a boarded-up cottage and a girl named Hanne in need of their help. What has happened here? What monster lurks in the woods around the cottage – and beyond?