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A Discovery of Witches - Episode 1.1 - Review: There is more to Oxford than scholars

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US Fans had the Solstice gift they had been waiting for when the first two episodes of this series dropped on Christmas day giving them a sneak peek as to what was to come.

If Witches, Vampires, and Demons are your thing, make sure you check out this series brought to you by Bad Wolf productions. While it aired in the UK first Us fans have been waiting patiently for the start of this series which arrives next year. Interestingly the rights were first sold as a movie, but I feel the small screen may be its best outlet.

Based on the popular All Soul’s Trilogy books by Deborah Harkness. A Discovery of Witches (the first book in the series) takes us into a world where Witches, Vampires, and Daemons live among us in secret. (Daemons which in the 19th Century became Demons to most, though a lot of authors use the Archaic spelling). There are rules of course and these are watched over by an institution.
While this concept is not new the tale Deborah Harkness weaves keeps you turning the pages making it a New York Times bestseller. I was excited to see how it would transcend to the small screen as so many books to series have been successful over the last few years.

The first episode did not disappoint and there was enough of the first part of the book to keep you entertained while some subtle changes were made to adapt for television.

Firstly, the casting, instantly they have hit it spot on in my opinion. You easily relate them to the characters.
Teresa Palmer (I first noticed after her heartfelt performance in Nicholas Sparks book adaption of The Choice) plays Diana Bishop,
Diana Bishop is a history of science professor who comes to Oxford college for research and possible employment. She is studying Elias Ashmore who donated all his collections to Oxford Library. Diana is a witch and a direct descendant of the first Witch executed at the Salem Witch trails Bridget Bishop. Losing her parents because of their use of magic has left Diana hiding her gifts but all that is about to change when she accidentally discovers a mysterious manuscript during her research.

Matthew Goode (known for the Good Wife, Downton Abbey, The Crown and one of my fav films Imagine Me and You). Plays Matthew Clairmont a Vampire and a very powerful one at that also a professor. He is drawn to Diana.

Alex Kingston plays Sarah Bishop, Diana’s Aunt who we learn raised Diana along with her partner Emily Mather, played by Valerie Pettiford, after Diana’s parent’s death.

Other characters come into play but for the first episode we don’t really know much about them or who they are of yet and if you have not read the books I don’t want to give away too many spoilers.

Set in Oxford during the approaching Autumn Equinox, Mabon in Wicca. Diana is in Oxford for lecture and gets offered the chance of position. Prior to the lecture, we realize she isn’t ordinary as she magically gathers some papers she has dropped.
A friend and fellow witch Gillian (Louise Brealey, Sherlock), attempts to persuade her to come to her coven meeting but we learn Diana has left all this behind.
While doing research at the Bodleian Library (main research library of Oxford College) one of the Ashmore manuscripts keeps calling to her 782. It’s a book on Alchemy but the words seem to come alive. It appears to be a palimpsest, a manuscript which has been washed and something else written over. The words come alive as she touches it and disappears into her hands, touching it she burns her hand on the drawing on the page. Clearly frightened Diana hands back the book and goes running out of the library. Strangely we see once placed back it disappears.

Others whom we assume are supernatural being’s as well all seem to feel something around the time this happens.

This book we learn has been lost and soon Matthew Clairmont is looking for the person who found it overhearing a conversation between Diana and Gillian, Clairmont follows Diana and a brief encounter with her in the library the next day unnerves her. We learn he is a vampire, they seem to be able to sense each other in fact all the supernatural beings can sense each other when they're near. Diana soon finds he isn’t the only one whom she has sparked an interest in.

Speaking to her Aunt leads to no answers as her Aunt doesn’t agree with Diana hiding her gifts and tells her she needs to channel her magic. You get the feeling they have a tempestuous relationship.

Gillian reports the occurrence to her coven leader and soon a mystery man comes calling from the council with a rather ruthless witch in tow.

Meanwhile, Clairmont follows Diana almost in a protective way we learn the vampires are after the book so they can understand how they were created by witches we also learn they can’t seem to sire (turn a human to a vampire) anyone at the moment. Clairmont believes the answers lie in the manuscript pages.

The episode maps out the start of not only a hunt for the manuscript, but the fact Diana will have to face up to her magical connection and her own power.

The connection between Matthew and Diana is played very subtly but by the end of the episode, you can tell the raw feeling of need after he smells her top which is reminiscent to another vampire series.

During this first episode, you weren’t bombarded with information but enough to leave you wanting more as we are introduced into this supernatural world. The eerie feel to the episode and a violent death brought home is dark undertones. In contrast, Diana revealing to a friend in the pub about her parent’s death wasn’t some grand emotional speech but subtle and shocking at the same time. They were killed by villagers suspected of being witches. Of course, her friend thinks it’s because they were ignorant of the fact they were scientist’s which again in the past scientists were accused of witchcraft. Now we know why Diana tries to live a human life and not give into her magical side.

With only one episode there isn’t much to review of the series, but I am sure fans of the book will love it and with what I have seen in the first hour it's certainly cast its spell on this reviewer.

It begins with an absence of desire.
It begins with blood and fear.
It begins with a discovery of witches

What did you think of the first episode?

Please post in the comments below

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