Doctor Who XXXVII/11.8 – The Witchfinders

Some of Joy Wilkinson’s sources, as posted by the author on Twitter – @joyofse19

As mentioned in my last post, this week’s review was already promised to Doctor Who Reviews, and has been posted there. My look at The Witchfinders took longer to deliver than I’d hoped, thanks to my general business and the need to check some of the historical details. I could have gone further, but for pressure of time. I did take a look at Arthur Douglas’s The Fate of the Lancashire Witches, which is mentioned in the review. There’s a photograph in it of Pendle Hill above the village of Downham which might have influenced the look of the episode. Otherwise Tracy Borman’s Witches: James I and the English Witch Hunts (2013) is a good, readable, informed history aimed at a general readership without compromising its scholarship, and any biography of James VI and I should shed light on his interest in witchcraft. Details which I’d not come across at the time I completed the review were that James VI did establish standing commissions for the investigation of witchcraft in 1591, but disbanded them in 1597 as his scepticism over witchcraft increased. Perhaps the Witchcraft Act of 1604 and the subsequent references to witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth are reflections of how his English subjects saw King James based on the image they’d built up from his Scottish career, than on his priorities as an English ruler. There are several other lines of consideration to take; every Doctor Who story is a conversation with its audience and The Witchfinders offers much to talk about. For a more succinct take than I offered, and by someone who has a background in witchcraft studies, see Matt Barber’s review for SciFi Bulletin.

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