A Discovery of Witches: 1.01
There's nothing quite like a good supernatural TV drama and A Discovery of Witches, the new Sky One drama, looks like it could be a very good one indeed. Based on a trilogy of books by Deborah Harkness, this series features a secret conflict between witches and vampires amid the gothic spires, colleges and libraries of Oxford.
There's a rich sense of history and supernatural culture established from the very start, as Matthew Goode's centuries-old vampire Matthew Clairmont stands broodingly on the bridge, staring out over the city, recounting to the audience how witches, vampires and demons have lived in plain sight. t's not a new premise for sure; everything from Buffy The Vampire Slayer to Being Human has built on the idea that supernatural elements hide in plain sight and there are shades of both shows here, though not having read the books on which they are based, are can't comment on whether they influenced Harkness's work. In fact, the very British feel of Being Human feels apparent here, though the intellect and grandeur of the Oxford setting is a far cry from the Barry-based setting of that other big British supernatural drama.
The first episode is filled with intriguing characterisation and world building; it's a slow but thoroughly engaging start to the series as Teresa Palmer's Diana Bishop, an esteemed academic who is unable to control her powers of witchcraft, returns to Oxford to complete her studies into alchemy. Diana's studies put her in contact with an ancient book, the Ashmole 782, a manuscript that vampires and witches have been hunting for centuries and can hold the key to how vampires were created in the first place. There was some great imagery in the words of the book rippling across the pages and up Diana's arms, a tease perhaps for more darker things to come.
In her encounters with Matthew, there is already an element of tension that will evidently lead to some form of star-crossed lovers romance. Vampires and witches are established as mortal enemies, so any connection feels dangerous, and indeed the moment he gets her scent at the end suggests there are powers at play that neither of them might be able to control.
There are some other interesting players at play in what is an impressively assembled cast. Louise Brearley's Gillian Chamberlain is quickly established as an old friend to Diana and a fellow witch, but her desperation to gain the same academic standing as Diana (and perhaps her powers as a witch) suggest that she will go to whatever means she feels is necessary and could become an enemy. Alex Kingston makes a brief but memorable impression as Diana's aunt who raised her; her demands that Diana embrace the magic she is so afraid of speaks to someone who is an overbearing influence in her life. And then there is Owen Teale's Peter Knox, a mysterious figure who recruits dangerous witch Satu Järvinen (Malin Buska) from Finland and brings her to Oxford in search of the book.
Interestingly, it seems as if its the witches and not the vampires that will be the bigger threat in the series; we witness Matthew's fellow vampire Timur (Malin Buska) attempt to desperate save his friend from a horrific car accident by siring him, only for the ritual to fail. It seems the Ashmole 782 may hold the clues to why this apparently keeps failing (the suggestion is that Timur's attempt is not the first time this has happened).
Truth be told, not a huge amount happens in this first episode and I am sure for many, the slower pace may put them off. However, the world building and mystery feels more than enough to sustain the audience. Oxford looks gorgeous - old, gothic and rich in history - and feels like the perfect setting for this drama to unfold. While Matthew Goode plays the role of Matthew a little too understated and mysterious to really hook the audience yet, he does add a certain amount of gravitas as the mysterious vampire. Teresa Palmer is thoroughly engaging however; she is earnest, endearing and has humility, which is a good thing for a character so vastly more intelligent than most of the audience watching.
The first episode of A Discovery of Witches was a strong entry in what could be an exciting supernatural drama packed full of mystery and intrigue. I have no idea where this is going, but after one episode I'm eager to find out.