A Discovery of Witches: 1.03

Vivid, gothic and absorbing, even when there is little happening on screen; Baz Greenland continues his reviews of the sumptuous ‘A Discovery of Witches’

We’re three episodes into A Discovery of Witches and yet, despite the discovery of the ancient Ashmole 782 manuscript in the opening episode, not a lot has actually happened. However, despite the lack of momentum, the amazing world building, mythology and characterisation has made this series an utterly absorbing experience.

This week certainly broadened the scope of tbis world. The congregation, a ruling coalition of demons, witches and vampires, exists in a secret  building hidden from the world in the waters off Venice, full of gothic libraries segregated by supernatural type. With Satu Järvinen, an ally of Peter Knox searching for answers about the death of Diana Bishop’s mother, the Venice and Oxford storylines finally started to converge. Gerbert D’Aurillac, the ruling vampire in Venice also sent his daughter Juliet off to Oxford to deal with Matthew, whose cavorting with witch Diana is as much an affront to the vampire population as it is the witches.

Talking of Matthew, we continued to learn more about his mysterious past as Diana accompanied him to his home in rural Oxfordshire. He’s French for starters, and has lived for a number of centuries, though his beliefs differ from the rest of his people. Perhaps that is what draws Diana too him; there was real chemistry between Matthew Goode’s vampire and Teresa Palmer’s latent witch. The scene where she pushed about his tastes – and what she would taste like – offered some real tension and for a moment I believed he would drink her blood. I’m not convinced that won’t happen yet but a brief kiss was the only real physical connection between them yet.

Where perhaps there was real progress was the rising conflict between Diana and the rest of her people. Peter Knox was a real thorn in her side, demanding the book and then ambushing her with the rest of the vampire population in the Boudelain Library. Her attempts to retrieve Ashmole 782 failed this time, but her magical abilities soon came to the fore, creating a spectacular wind magic to cast Knox and his witches back before Matthew rushed into the rescue with a promise to keep her safe in his French family home. Leading Diana into the heart of a vampire clan is sure to add some real drama next week.

We also got out first look at demon characters this week as we were introduced to a young couple Sophie and Nathaniel expecting their first child. It seems (perhaps because of their ensuing madness) that the demon population has been segregated from each other and even resorting to secret internet chat rooms has failed. The mystery of the silver statue might hold some key to the oncoming conflict though, adding another layer to the rich and unravelling world of A Discovery of Witches. The use of Imagine Dragons’ Demons to introduce these characters was a bit on the nose though for such a subtle show though.

The care and attention being put into the show is astounding and every setting feels rich and sumptuous. We are only glimpsed the old, university halls and cobbled streets of Oxford rather than the wider city (a brief trip to the covered market aside), but it really adds to the ancient, gothic tone of the show. The same goes for Venice which is equally grand and gothic. There are a number of characters whose purpose still feels unclear; the demons felt tacked on, but then so did the vampires in Venice in episode two and yet their motivations started to converge with the main plot this week. I still feel that Alex Kingston and Valarie Pettiford feel a little wasted as Diana’s US-based aunts, whose purpose so far has been to offer hints and exposition. Both are great actresses and it would be great to see them become more involved in the central story.

Though I am not familiar with the books on which A Discovery of Witches is based, the passion of the adaptation seems clear. These characters feel vivid and purposeful and the unravelling mystery keeps the audience engaged even when nothing much happens. And arguably few TV shows look as gorgeous as this one.


Updated: Sep 29, 2018

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