This blog contains spoilers for Doctor Who, Season 11, The Witchfinders. But you know you want to read it anyway…
I am loving the new Doctor Who. Not only is it great to have a new Lead Actor and Head Writer come in and revitalise the series – the latest season of Doctor Who has been more fun and more accessible than ever before, and yet it still manages to make me think. The Doctor has shone a light on the power of big corporations, the plight of Rosa Parks, the partition of India, but last week’s episode was perhaps the most thought-provoking of all.
Set against the backdrop of 17th century Lancashire, the Doctor and her friends find themselves involved in the local village’s witch trials, led by James I and a lady called Becka Savage who claim they are driving out Satan. Of course, this is Doctor Who, and so the real reason behind the spooky goings-on in the village comes down to a warrior alien race that had been imprisoned in the mud below and is now trying to escape by inhabiting the bodies of the women falsely killed as witches (it sounds terrible when you see it written down, but I promise it was really good TV).
But the strangest thing about the whole episode was that the village had a party every Sunday before a witch trial took place. It had become a ritual, a celebration even, with dancing and apple-bobbing before the main event. The villagers were still scared there may be witches amongst them, some of them seemed unsure when they were in front of a woman being drowned in a lake, but they had all got swept up in the witch trials nonetheless. Well, we all love a good witch hunt, don’t we?
There’s something comforting in pinning all of our problems onto one person. Something in the world is not right, and it almost makes it easier if you can point to a Trump or a May and say, “That’s it. They’re the problem. Get them!” Because naming the problem gives you your solution – all you need to do is kill the witch. If we could only get rid of Theresa May, Brexit would be a breeze. If we could somehow convince Donald Trump to crawl back to Trump Towers and stay there, there’d be no more racism or misogyny or climate change or systems that empower the rich and put pressure on the poor. You know, because we didn’t have any of that stuff before.
And that’s the problem with going on a witch hunt – it distracts us from what the real problem is. In Doctor Who, Becka Savage knows deep down what’s happening in the village but goes on a witch hunt anyway because she can’t deal with reality. She and James I see the alien mud zombies with their own eyes (again, it’s cooler than it sounds) and the Doctor explains what the true problem is but they can’t help but keep yelling, “Witch!” It’s easier to cope if all the world’s problems boil down to one person, but even if that person personifies everything you want to change, getting rid of that person won’t lead to actual change – we’ll just find another witch to put on trial.
As the Doctor says herself, “We’re all the same. We all want certainty, security, to believe that people are evil or heroic but that’s not how people are.” And while I’m not a fan of many politicians at the moment, I think we need to stop pointing our finger at the people and start digging beneath to get at the problem. We need to stop waiting for people in power to quit as if that’s going to solve anything, and do what we can with the power we have to change our circumstances and those of the people around us. We need to engage with policies and proof, rather than personalities and PR. You can pin your problems on our modern-day witches all you like, but the rubbish truth of it all is that we live under a broken system – one that is held up by far more broken people than just Theresa May or Donald Trump.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti