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Doctor Who - The Witchfinders & It Takes You Away - Review: "Illusions"

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Episode: 11.08 "The Witchfinders"
Directed by: Sallie Aprahamian
Written by: Joy Wilkinson
Air date: 25 November 2018

Quick recap at the beginning. The Doctor and her friends travel to the past to see the coronation of Elizabeth I but instead find themselves witnessing a witch trial in 1612 Lancashire, located next to Pendle Hill. Initially trying not to get involved the Doctor can't help but try to save an old woman drowning in a lake. She's not able to protect her but she introduces herself as General Witchfinder in order to stop any future trials and find out what's happening in the land owned by a magistrate Becka Savage. Before she manages to take any important action King James arrives to Lancashire only to make things worse. He dismisses the Doctor's authority and takes over the witch hunt. Meanwhile Yasmin encounters a tendril made of mud which is attacking people in the woods and the Doctor realizes that aliens are behind all the strange events nearby, not a witch. The bodies of the recent victims of the trials are reanimated by the aliens looking for Becka and their latest appearance leads landowner to accuse the Doctor of being a witch herself. The Doctor tries to reason with King James but is forced to save herself from drowning during her trial, only to later finally learn the truth about the aliens called Morax. They take over Becka's body and capture King James in order to use his body as a vessel for their own King, trapped in a prison under a tree chopped down on Pendle Hill. The Doctor and her friends, along with Becka's cousin Willa, are able to stop the aliens and fix the systems maintaining their prison, forcing all the Morax criminals out of their host bodies, with the exception of their queen in Becka's body who is killed by King James. Team TARDIS leaves the past after King James promises to erase all records of the events from history.

Starting with some overall thoughts, I really enjoyed this one. I wasn't sure how the show is going to address the Doctor being a female now but I think they did a wonderful job in this episode. It was definitely driven by the story and the Doctor kept her focus on how to help people and fix the situation, despite constant obstacles in her way. The best part of the hour for me might be her interactions with King James, wonderfully portrayed by guest star, Alan Cumming. Their conversation after the Doctor is captured was a chance for both of the actors to shine and it showed just how powerful the Doctor's words can be, even under these circumstances. It's clear that she made an impression on the King, though he's not ready to admit it right away. Another thing worth to mention, I'm glad that Team TARDIS immediately realized when things went wrong and fought to save the Doctor. What I liked even more was when she proved that she was never in a real danger and saved herself. I think this might be the first episode in a while when I thought the Doctor had a greater role in the events, and I absolutely loved that. I think we're finally getting to see more of Thirteen and I'm hoping for even better moments for her in the next two episodes. King James turned out to be quite an interesting character. He's introduced as someone deeply determined to get rid of the devil's associates, the witches, which initially makes him an adversary to Team TARDIS who quickly realize there are no witches around and innocent people are losing their lives for nothing. There's also King James' attitude towards the women and the Doctor in particular, when he dismisses the possibility of her being the General Witchfinder due to her gender. He does have his moments, though. He's certainly interested in Ryan which leads to an interesting exchange between the two, with the King sharing his life's story and proving there's more to him than meets the eye. Even his interactions with the Doctor evolve during the episode, at the end he finds himself caring about her opinion and offering his help in keeping the events hidden from the history books.

As for the companions, let's start with Ryan. His character still doesn't feel as developed as the other two and once again his role in the hour seemed mainly as a comedic relief. I do love such characters but I would also like to see different aspects of his personality explored in more details. I feel like we have all the characters share some comedic moments but it's more balanced with everything else they do, not as heavily felt as in Ryan's case. We've seen glimpses of what a great addition he could be to the team (when he helped to deliver a baby or met with Rosa Parks) but for now his presence could be easily missed sometimes. Yasmin, on the other hand, takes an action whenever she thinks something could be wrong, as she did in this hour when she reached out to Willa and discovered a mysterious force in the woods. She follows her instincts, showing empathy to granddaughter of the latest victim and using her detective skills to figure out the alien mystery hiding in the mud. And then there's Graham, who still gets the best lines and thinks on his feet whenever situation takes a sudden turn. In this episode he plays the role of the Witchfinder General, after King James takes it away from the Doctor, and focuses his efforts on stalling the angry fanatics. Together with Ryan they make for a good team, hopefully their relationship has grown to be much stronger than back in the premiere, doing their best to find logic in the others' behaviors and fight for what's right. I also have to mention the hat. I think in this episode especially I felt like the TARDIS crew should have dressed differently not to seem out of place when compared to everyone else in the town. I did like the little moment when Graham gives his Witchfinder hat to the Doctor though. "It's a very flat team structure" was nicely done indeed.

A few words about the guest characters and our alien of the week as well. I enjoyed the introduction of Willa Twiston, she didn't seem like a one dimensional character but we explored a bit more about her background and future plans. Her family relationship with Becka took me by surprise but I didn't blame her for the hesitation in helping the Doctor. I think it actually might have made her character a bit more realistic under the circumstances. She did show up for the final battle and survived the day to build a better tomorrow for herself and the people she wanted to help. Good performance by the guest star Tilly Steele. Becka, on the other hand, I'm not sure how the audience was meant to feel about her struggles but I can't say I felt sympathy for her at all. She executed dozens of people just to try and save herself. Even her own family was killed because the grandmother knew about her secret and wasn't able to help. Speaking of the secret, in the episode we are introduced to a race called the Morax, or at least Morax war criminals trapped on Earth for their crimes. They didn't really leave a lasting impression on me. I do find myself missing some familar foes this season, so hopefully this will become a possibility in the next one. For now we get a glimpse of Morax but are left with even more questions, like what did they do to be imprisoned? Or who and why decided that Pendle Hill would become a prison for them? Might be something to explore in the future, I'm open to the idea. With only two episodes left this year, I'm excited to see where the story goes from here.

Episode: 11.09 "It Takes You Away"
Directed by: Jamie Childs
Written by: Ed Hime
Air date: 2 December 2018

The Doctor, Graham, Yaz and Ryan arrive in present day Norway and find a cabin in a middle of nowhere. In the cabin they meet a blind teen named Hanne who explains that her father was taken away by a monster hunting near their house every day. The group quickly discovers a strange object inside the cabin, a mirror which doesn't show people's reflections. The Doctor realizes the mirror is a portal and together with Yaz and Graham she goes through the portal to look for Hanne's dad, even though she suspects him to be dead. Ryan stays behind with Hanne and realizes that there's no monster but the strange noises they've been hearing are coming from a recording, probably left by Hanne's father. It turns out the portal leads to Antizone, a buffer space between universes that can never interact with each other. In the mirror universe the group finds not only Hanne's father but also someone who looks like her deceased mother and Graham's wife, Grace. The Doctor understands that they're in a conscious universe called Solitract and the people they're seeing are actually a trap designed to keep them in. One by one everyone is realizing the truth and is forced to reject the copies of their loved ones. Hanne also shows up in Solitract, after escaping from Ryan and entering the portal but she can sense the lie of this reality and together with her father, Yasmin, Graham and eventually the Doctor, she manages to find a way out to Antizone, to Ryan, and later back home to the real world. Everyone is accepting their losses and Ryan offers his support to Graham before Team TARDIS leaves Norway to start their new adventure.

Another great episode. In fact I think this could have been one of my favorites if it wasn't for a small, frog-size detail. This scenario, this clever and unique idea would have been a perfect opportunity to bring back one of the Doctor's companions, if only for a short, memorable moment. It could have been anyone really but it would mean the world to see someone that the Doctor has lost trying to ask her to stay. I was both surprised and impressed by this conscious universe plot. At the beginning of the hour I expected a monster of the week story but then it evolved into a much more emotional experience and I loved seeing character development for Team TARDIS. The episode felt especially important for Graham and Ryan but I think that each of the main characters truly had a chance to shine this time. First, let's start with the Doctor. The wonderful, smart and big-hearted alien who explores the infinity of the universe but cares the most about all the people she's meeting during her adventures. I definitely appreciated the Doctor making a reference to her family, it's not a topic she's really discussed as Thirteen so every little detail counts. Here we had a short mention of her many grandmothers and the bedtime stories she used to hear when she wasn't able to fall asleep. Of course those would be impossible stories about two universes that simply couldn't work together. Once the threat the group faced became clear the Doctor had a fantastic scene where she convinces everyone to realize the people they love aren't real. I especially enjoyed when she started asking Solitract to let others leave and offered her own company in exchange. "...I've lived longer, seen more, loved more and lost more." It was quite a speech and one of my favorite moments with Thirteen so far.

The Doctor's speech isn't the only memorable part of the entire "Escaping Solitract" sequence. In fact it's Yasmin's words which revealed a way out of the universe. It was only a brief moment but I loved the way Yaz stood up for Graham and told everyone exactly what kind of person Grace really was. "The real Grace was a beautiful, smiling superstar." She was also incredibly brave and from what we've seen in the season premiere she certainly was someone who would be "leading the charge through that mirror." That's precisely what made her reappearance in this episode all the more heartbreaking. No one took it harder than Graham, though. The love of his life, the one he spent his entire life looking for, suddenly stood right beside him once more and he couldn't let her go. After the initial confusion and disbelief he was trying so hard to convince himself she's real that when the Doctor told him the truth he wasn't able to reject her presence. "Doc, I know what you're asking me to do, I just... I just can't do it." Graham has been a heart of the group for a while, so seeing him in pain was such a sad and tragic view. Bradley Walsh did a wonderful job in portraying the internal conflict of his character, making me appreciate him even more. I was really glad to see that the one thing that finally managed to break Graham out of his denial was Ryan. Of course he would always come to his rescue, no matter what. And the fact that his beloved Grace wouldn't was the ultimate proof she wasn't really her. It didn't make this goodbye easier but the experience led to a long awaited moment when Ryan finally embraced Graham as his grandfather. It was such a beautiful ending for this episode, making this one of the most memorable stories of the season for sure.

Speaking of Ryan, he also had quite an hour. He started the episode making not the best impression on Hanne when he suggested that her father might have just abandoned his daughter, instead of being taken by a monster like she suspects. The Doctor and Yasmin showed a lot of empathy and kindness towards the teen which put him on the bottom of her list of people that she would like to stay with. He understood his mistake and tried his best to do better, even if he's not doing so well at the beginning. Eventually his interactions with Hanne got better when he offered her the truth after everyone else left her in a lie. The truth meant a lot to this girl so it's clear that she changed her mind about Ryan later in the episode. The sad and unexpected reveal actually proved that Ryan wasn't all that wrong about Hanne's father, Erik. He did trick his daughter into believing there's a monster outside their house, just to keep her there while he travels to another universe to see his dead wife. Ultimately he does love and care about his little girl, she even mentions that he hasn't been well since her mother's death, showing his actions in more understanding light, but still, it's hard to feel for his character too much when we know what's been happening to his terrified daughter all this time. Luckily Ryan did show up for her in the Antizone, keeping her safe from the monsters and guiding her in this new scary environment. He's also there for Graham in the end, showing a nice development for his character after these recent events. Really glad to see it, hopefully that's only a beginning of his growth and there are great things ahead in Ryan's future.

A few more words about the Antizone. I was definitely interested in this idea, the space between two worlds, a buffer created to prevent a world-ending catastrophy. The entire design and atmosphere of the place were scary enough to truly feel the danger of the situation and not be sure if everyone makes out of this one alive. The flesh-eating moths weren't very consistent in their pattern of hunting but the concept of these unstoppable creatures waiting for you in the dark certainly worked for me. As for Ribbons, his appearance was rather brief for a lasting impression but being introduced as alien of the Seven Stomachs didn't exactly made me interested in keeping his company for long. Overall, the episode was scary, emotional, character-driven and memorable for me. Can't wait to see the finale.

Whovian notes and questions:
1. Do you think that Doctor and her friends should try to wear a disguise or at least change clothes to better fit in the period of time and the place they're visiting?
2. What has been your favorite moment of Thirteen so far? How do you feel about the new Doctor overall?
3. Would you like all the companions to stay with the Doctor for another season? Maybe only one of them or a complete change would be better?
4. Great to see Doctor Who visiting another country, this time Norway. We didn't explore a lot about the history and the culture of the people living there, but I still like the fact that we're not only staying in UK, US or alien planet this year. How about you? Where would you like to go next?
5. Did you like the idea of the frog with Grace's voice representing a sentient universe? If not, what or who would you like to see take its place? Personally I would love to see one of the previous companions, any of them would work perfectly. I think it would make a bigger impact. I found myself rather distracted by the frog in what could be otherwise a beautiful and emotional moment.

1. King James: "Who are you? How do you know these things?"
The Doctor: "I know because we're all the same. We want certainty, security. To believe that people are evil or heroic but that's not how people are. You want to know the secrets of existence? Start with the mysteries of the heart."

2. King James: "My father died when I was a baby."
Ryan: "I feel ya. I lost me mum and me nan."
King James: "My father was murdered by my mother who was then imprisoned and beheaded."
Ryan: "Okay, that's worse."

3. King James: "And these are your underlings?"
Graham: "It's a very flat team structure. We all have our area of expertise."

4. The Doctor: "Becka wasn't kidding. These are hard times for women. If we aren't being drowned, we're being patronized to death."

5. Graham: "Or else, we will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger."
King James: "Ezekiel?"
Graham: "Tarantino."

6. The Doctor: "Solitract! It's a theory, a myth, a bedtime story my Gran used to tell me."
Yaz: "You had a grandmother?"
The Doctor: "I had seven but Granny Five, my favorite, used to tell me about the Solitract."

7. Graham: "Not hungry are you? Because these days, I always carry a cheese and pickle sarnie. Y'know, just for emergencies."

8. Ryan: "Woah. Why are we not in the mirror?"
Graham: "I don't know."
Ryan: "We'd know if we were vampires, right?"

9. The Doctor: "Both of you. Stay clear of the mirror. It's already tried to lure in Graham."
Ryan: "Yeah."
Graham: "Hey. I wasn't lured. It's not like I gave it my credit card details."

What did you think about "The Witchfinders" & "It Takes You Away"? Any favorite scenes, quotes or theories? Feel free to let us know in the comments. As always, thanks for reading!

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