The Witchfinders

The Doctor, Ryan, Graham, and Yaz arrive in 17th century Lancashire and become embroiled in a witch trial, run by the local landowner.

As fear stalks the land, the arrival of King James I only serves to intensify the witch hunt. But is there something even more dangerous at work? Can the Doctor and friends keep the people of Bilehurst Cragg safe from all the forces that are massing in the land?

Guest starring Siobhan Finneran and Alan Cumming.

Written by Joy Wilkinson.

Directed by Sallie Aprahamian


Synopsis


The Thirteenth Doctor is attempting to take her friends to see the coronation of Elizabeth I. However, as Team TARDIS walks into a village, Graham is more convinced that the Doctor missed the mark again. Yaz wonders where they are, to which the Doctor is unsure; the TARDIS withheld the exact temporal location from. Noticing a party being held, the Doctor sees a tub full of apples and bobs for one. Yaz asks the boy at the tub if they’re celebrating Halloween; he says it’s not, only Sunday. The Doctor muses at the idea; “happy Sunday.” Graham notes by the Northern accent, they are close to home. Suddenly the villagers are called to attend a meeting of some sort. Graham suggests to the Doctor that they go investigate.

At the river, Becka Savage is condemning an old woman called Mother Twiston for witchcraft via a dunking. Team TARDIS arrives, disturbed at the sight. Ryan reminds them that the Doctor has always told them not to interfere with the past. After the old woman shares some parting words with her granddaughter across the river, Becka dunks her. The Doctor is outraged; she tosses her coat to Graham and jumps in the river to save the old woman. Though she manages to pull the woman to shore, the shock and lack of air were too much for her; she passes away.

The Doctor tells Becka that the old woman wasn’t a witch and she’s a murderer. Becka demands to know who the Doctor is, as Graham, Ryan, and Yaz join them. The Doctor, after forgetting she left the psychic paper in her coat, walks over to Graham and pulls it out of her coat pocket. It displays a title of authority: witchfinder general. The Doctor tells Becka that she is to leave Willa, the granddaughter, alone; this was done out of protection due to the paranoia of the villagers that Willa may be a witch due to being related to Mother Twiston.

Becka offers to take the Doctor and her companions to her manor, so they may discuss how to deal with witches. As they walk, the Doctor asks Becka why she has so much authority; Becka explains that she is the landowner, a title passed on to her by her deceased husband. Yaz asks why Becka hasn’t a carriage; Becka explains that she had the horses shot because they were possessed by the devil. The group finds the idea ridiculous. The Doctor tells Yaz to go back and talk with Willa to find out more about what’s been going on in Bilehurst Cragg. Unknown to them a masked figure is watching them from the trees.

In Becka’s manor, the Doctor wonders why the village is celebrating so much. Becka explains defeating the devil is a cause of celebration. The Doctor asks how the devil has manifested itself; to which Becka lists several natural things that have gone wrong. Ryan asks how witches fit into the scenario if everything is caused by “the devil”. Becka explains that witches are associated with him, so killing witches will defeat the devil. They’ve successfully killed 35 witches. The Doctor, Ryan, and Graham are disgusted with Becka, as she’s clearly been scapegoating women to explain the terrible conditions of the land. Becka explains King James’ new bible says “suffer not a witch to live”; the Doctor chips in that it’s from the Old Testament. She should read the New Testament – “Love thy neighbor.”

The Doctor says that King James would have something to say about her methods. At that moment, the masked man enters and removes his mask, revealing himself to be King James I; he travels incognito due to his numerous enemies. He has traveled to this village after hearing rumors of Becka’s heroic efforts to drive the devil out of her town. The Doctor brandishes the psychic paper again to pass herself as a witchfinder general; however, due to the king’s sexism, he instead reads it as witchfinder assistant, making him think Graham is in charge. The Doctor instead says she works to gain the trust of witches so they can be trapped, while Ryan states he does paperwork. Despite Team TARDIS’s attempts to dissuade the duo against more senseless murder, both agree that by the end of the day, they will have driven the devil out of the town, even if it means killing everyone in it.

In the meantime, Yaz finds Willa doing some kind of ceremony for her grandmother, whom she just buried recently. Before Yaz can approach to talk to her, she sees a tendril reach out of the ground and attempt to grab Willa. Yaz grabs the nearby shovel and smashes the tendril with everything she’s got, reducing it to shreds. Willa is scared and runs away.

In Becka’s manor, the Doctor goes snooping around with Graham and Ryan; she is annoyed with how women are ignored and “patronized to death” in this era. They find Becka’s room, which has a large ax in it, along with several hankies and an empty medicine bottle. Neither can come to the conclusion she’s missing on these facts. Yaz rejoins them, telling the Doctor about the tendril attack. The Doctor scans the mud that came from it with the sonic screwdriver, which tells her its just plain mud. She decides to go with Yaz to talk with Willa, assigning Graham and Ryan to keep King James occupied while she’s busy.

Graham and Ryan converse with the king, who has his loyal protector Alfonso bring in witch hunting artifacts. Inside the king’s box of artifacts are several talismans and body parts (much to their disgust). He gifts Graham the hat of his previous witchfinder general, whom he shot for betrayal; he gives Ryan an amulet to protect against evil. When the king decides to go out witch hunting, Graham and Ryan attempt to talk him into taking more elaborate measures by making a list of suspicious people and talking to the townsfolk. However, King James is up for a witch hunt and leaves promptly. Both are annoyed.

Yaz leads the Doctor to Willa’s home, introducing her. However, Willa tells them that she’s getting as far away from Bilehurst Cragg as she can before the villagers kill her next. The Doctor tells Willa that she can help, earning an invitation inside. Inside the Twiston home are several bottles and herbs, which Willa explain are used to make medicine; she makes them tea. When Willa brings up the devil, the Doctor tells her that she doesn’t believe in it; Willa laughs that her granny told her that there more wonders to be found in nature without having to make anything up. The Doctor notes she would have loved to meet Mother Twiston; the woman was clearly wiser than most in this era.

Willa says she feels ill, to which the Doctor says is not true via a scan with the sonic; she’s in good health. Yaz explains that Willa feels ill because of the hatred and mistrust people have towards her, something she had to deal with for a year; however, she learned how to overcome the feeling and move forward. They ask about Becka, whom Willa reveals to be her cousin; she simply got lucky and married into a life of privilege. The Doctor explains that they need to find out more about the tendril in order to find out what happened; she takes a bottle to collect a sample.

In the forest, King James tells Ryan about his youth. His father had been murdered by his mother, who was beheaded as punishment; Ryan understands the pain, having lost his mother and grandmother. However, King James then goes on to explain three regents raised him, and all three died in odd ways. Since then many assassination attempts and kidnappings have occurred. Because of such, he’s never trusted another person in his whole life. However, he’s made it his life mission to drive the devil out of his country, believing God will protect him if he does divine work. At that moment, a scream is heard; everyone heads to find whoever screamed.

At Mother Twiston’s burial site, the Doctor examines a piece of the tendril, which is made of mud. However, as the Doctor examines the bit of mud in the bottle, it becomes active. Yaz and Willa tell the Doctor to look behind her. Mother Twiston has suddenly appears out of the grave, all muddy; Willa lets out a scream The Doctor realizes that there is something in the mud, sentient, and its filling dead bodies; she then thinks better of the idea, it wants bodies regardless if they’re dead. That’s why the tendril went after Willa. The Doctor wonders if the creature wants the piece of mud she collected, giving it away; she quickly pulls back, not wanting the sentient mud to fill her body. The creature absorbs the mud, gaining better posture and calm. The Doctor wonders if the creature is a single consciousness or one of many; Yaz tells the Doctor to look again. Suddenly, more corpses possessed by mud appear. The Doctor says its good to get quick answers. Willa thinks they’re witches, but the Doctor tells her they’re not. The King’s group arrives, making the same mistake. Becka declares Willa a witch despite the obvious fact the mud creatures are being hostile towards her. The Doctor brandishes her sonic screwdriver, but the king orders Alfonso to kill the witches. Despite the Doctor’s pleas to stay away, Mother Twiston unleashes a shockwave that kills Alfonso. The Doctor orders everyone to run.

A safe distance away, the Doctor tells her companions that they need to go back. The king is confused, as they just escaped the devil and she wants to go back into battle. The Doctor is annoyed, muttering to herself that witches or an alien mud invasion could be happening, but both at the same time is most unlikely. The Doctor tells Graham, Ryan, and Yaz to go back and find out more about the intent of the creatures. When the king again thinks this is witchcraft, the Doctor tells him that this threat fell from the heavens. She then remembers all the odd things in Becka’s room and asks her what she has seen; instead, Becka calls the Doctor a witch because of her magic wand and all these odd things have only happened after her arrival. The King is easily swayed, believing the threat is a fallen angel like Lucifer; the Doctor even said the threat fell from above. The Doctor is annoyed, because “If I was still a bloke, I wouldn’t have to deal with this and be half-way done by now.” The King asks Willa if she believes the Doctor is a witch, with Becka asking who Willa trusts to save her. Out of fear, Willa states it was odd her friends called her “the Doctor”. The King believes that the name comes from the necromancer Dr. Dee, telling his men to seize the Doctor so she can be tried.

Elsewhere in the forest, Yaz, Graham, and Ryan follow the mud creatures to Becka’s manor; the watch them take the ax Becka kept. After losing track of them in the woods, they hear the bell ringing; it means another witch has been found. They know that the Doctor would have put a stop to another senseless murder, but then come to the conclusion that she must have been showing off her sonic screwdriver or advanced knowledge and has been labeled a witch.

The Doctor’s hands are bound and tied up in the center of town. The King approaches, asking how her “magic wand” works. The Doctor asks him what he wants, and he says that he wants to know the secrets of existence from an agent of the devil. Annoyed, the Doctor tells him that she’s not a witch or an agent of the devil, but will tell him secrets of existence in exchange for her wand. The King is not fooled by her words, but she tells that she knows the truth about his mother. She left him when he was barely a year old and was used as a scapegoat to resolve the murder of his father. Now he has to live with never knowing what she knew or how she felt. The Doctor tells him that if he wants to know the secrets of existence, he must first understand the human heart.

At the river, the Doctor removes her jacket before sitting on the dunking branch; she notices Becka’s hand cause a reaction upon touching it. The Doctor realizes Becka is connected in some way beyond the usual superstitious paranoia. Smiling, the Doctor tells her that she can’t keep up her ruse anymore, as mud trickles down Becka’s eyes. Graham, Ryan, and Yaz arrive, yelling for the people to let the Doctor go. However, they pay no mind to them, instead, demanding Becka dump the Doctor. King James says that if the Doctor is innocent, death will prove it. After a few moments, the King orders the branch lifted. However, the Doctor is not on it. Instead, she emerges from the water a few feet away. King James thinks it means the Doctor is a powerful witch. However, the Doctor says that’s not the case; she’s just good at holding her breath and learned how to escape from chains from Houdini.

As Becka attempts to yell lies to condemn Team TARDIS, the Doctor tells her to stand by her as right now something worse than her delusions is threatening her. The mud creatures have arrived with Becka’s ax. Becka yells for them to stop, making the Doctor wonder how she’s connected as the mud creatures obeyed her. Yaz tells Willa to explained what Bilehurst means, which is “sacred tree hill”. As Becka withes in pain, she explains that she cut down the tree because it blocked her view. However, a tendril stabbed her leg; believing to be witchcraft seeking vengeance, Becka asked her grandmother for medicine. Believing witches to be in the village, she killed woman after woman in the hopes of divine protection. When it became ineffective, she asked Mother Twiston to cut off her leg, but she refused to; Becka used the witch trials as an excuse to kill her to keep her secret.

Becka begins leaking mud and vomiting it. The mud creatures surround her as the alien takes over. The king thinks the devil is possessing them, but the Doctor tells him that’s not it. When asked what they are, the possessed Becka tells them that they are the Morax; they were imprisoned on this planet for wars crimes. But thanks to Becka’s blunder, they have been freed; they will take over and fill the Earth full of pointless war and rage. They now want King James as a vessel. When Team TARDIS defends him, the Morax release a blast of energy that knocks everyone out.

Everyone awakes later to find the Morax have taken King James. The Doctor explains that Morax were reduced to their basic DNA for storage and the security system needs to be rebooted. Yaz criticizes the lock for being a tree, to which the Doctor explains is what it ended up looking like after billions of years. She scans it with the sonic, revealing the branch is actually a biometric system; it can still work, but they need to place part of it back in the spot it was chopped from. Right now they need to break off the branches and light them on fire. The branches are like Semtex to the Morax, which they can use to repel them. Graham gives the Doctor his hat, making her Moraxfinder General.

Night at the stump that was once the lock holding the Morax back. Despite the Morax having been VERY vocal about their identity, the King demands to know who the demonic creatures are. The Queen Morax/Becka calls for her husband to emerge from the prison and take the King’s body. However, the Doctor’s team arrive and fend them off with the lit branches. Willa attempts to get Becka to fight back against the Queen, but the Queen tells her that Becka ceased to be. The Doctor plunges her lit branch into the stump and sonics it, causing the system to reboot and suck the Morax out of the bodies of the deceased. The Queen declares that she will not leave. The King tells her that she will and stabs her with a torch. Becka dissolves along with the queen. The Doctor gives the king an angry glare as he defends his actions as Becka having confessed to being a witch. She coldly tells him that there had better not be any more witch hunts, giving him back his hat.

The next day, Team TARDIS walks back to the TARDIS to leave; they are followed by the king and Willa. Ryan tells the king that the Doctor won’t talk to him because he senseless killed another living being. When the king asks what the TARDIS is, the Doctor snidely tells him its another wonder of the universe that he will never be able to explain. The king asks Ryan to be his new protector, but Ryan turns down the job, giving back the talisman. Willa tells the Doctor and Yaz that she will continue being a healer, or rather a doctor. As he still owes his life to the Doctor, the king promises to erase the name Bilehurst from the records and keep all the happened a secret. Graham jokes that the king better behave, or they will come back and punish him for it. With her usual cheekiness, the Doctor tells the king about Clarke’s Law and that she’s about to prove it to him. After Ryan, Yaz and Graham board the TARDIS, the Doctor shuts the door behind the four of them. The TARDIS then leaves, leaving the king confused and Willa smiling.