Released November 2011
It’s rather surprising that stories dealing with witch lore are so infrequent in Doctor Who’s vast library across different mediums, and ‘The Witch from the Well’ seeks to help fill in that suspicious void while continuing Mary Shelley’s apparent life of monstrous interludes. Author Rick Briggs contributes his first full-length script to Big Finish’s main range after debuting with the one-part ‘The Entropy Composition,’ and he manages to deftly include time paradox spanning several centuries while effectively evoking the best of the Vincent Price horror movie stylings.
Arriving in 2011, the Doctor and Mary quickly find themselves in the presence of a witch being released from a well on the lands of one Aleister Portillon. Two twins claiming to be Portillon’s children but quite obviously holding a darker secret scam the Doctor into taking them back to the seventeenth century where the witch originated with surprising ease, and the Doctor’s story accordingly switches to a time when the local witch pricker John Kincaid is exploring several supernatural deaths as the area’s wise woman Agnes Bates becomes increasingly suspicious.
The twins exist in both time zones simultaneously and steal the TARDIS with Mary still inside to return to 2011. Her portion is certainly the weaker of the two as Aleister and she spend the majority of their time running away from the witch and the twins. The pacing remains excellent during this portion of the story, but it ultimately amounts to very little in the grand scheme of things. Instead, it’s the Doctor who uncovers a hidden alien spaceship in the past and who is able to trap the younger versions of the twins on Earth. Intriguingly, these aliens have been persecuted for their own apparent magical powers and have become so warped in the process that they are now hunting and destroying anything remotely supernatural themselves, allowing a nice comparison to the delightfully villainous Kincaid who Simon Rouse plays so expertly . Although the Doctor’s actions do end up ridding the world of the evil twins, he also happens to seemingly bring upon Agnes one of the most disturbing and certainly protracted fates in recent Doctor Who memory.
This is a story that relies on technobabble perhaps just a little bit too much, the irrational technology that leads to ramblings about lokic webs, odic fields, and the Hecatrix Dimension never thoroughly explained. However, as with ‘The Silver Turk,’ ‘The Witch from the Well’ absolutely features an incredible guest cast that breathes incredible life into roles that so easily could have devolved into pantomime stereotypes. Aside from Rouse as Kincaid, Andrew Havill does well in providing similar distinct performances as distant descendants Aleister and Claude Portillon, and both Alix Wilton Regan and Kevin Trainor as the twins manage to surprise and entertain without becoming obnoxious.
Paul McGann is stellar as always, this time showing the Eighth Doctor’s anger extremely convincingly, and Julie Cox again reinforces the compassionate determinism that has already made Shelley such a strong companion. It may be a bit too convenient that she encounters a fan of Byron after her two previous adventures featured elements of Frankenstein so heavily, but it assuredly does not detract from the overall plot. The technobabble-laden fate of Agnes does, however, detract from the impact of her apparent death, but the Doctor’s eventual explanation of the intergalactic witch hunt adversely affecting human evolution reinforces the overall story with a muted severity. ‘The Witch from the Well’ may not end up being a classic of the horror genre, but it still has more than enough strong ideas and performances to ably carry its running length.