One of the activities I enjoy most about New York Comic Con (NYCC) and SDCC is that fans have the opportunity to see the pilot episodes of new series before they air on network or streaming services. I was lucky enough to see several pilots, one of which was A Discovery of Witches. This show has the potential to be a great series.
A Discovery of Witches is based on the All Souls Trilogy of novels (A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, The Book of Life) by Deborah Harkness. The world of the series is one where witches, vampires, and demons are part of our world but humans do not know they exist.
The pilot episode begins with Dr. Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer), a history professor whose area of specialty is historical alchemy, visiting Oxford to do research. She unknowingly requests an obscure manuscript, Ashmole 782, which has been missing for centuries. Somehow, her request brings the book back into existence. Diana is a witch from a powerful line of witches; however, she refuses to use her power.
Diana’s retrieval of the book causes her to come to the attention of Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode), who is a handsome but ancient vampire who has been searching for the Ashmole 782 for centuries. He believes that it holds the key to the creation and destruction of vampires. The book is very important because there is an ancient enmity between vampires and witches.
The first episode sets up the opposing forces of the vampires and the witches. Diana and Matthew will be caught in the middle. They will be the supernatural Romeo and Juliet but, thankfully, they are not headstrong adolescents but mature powerful adults because the forces aligned against them are formidable.
The local witch’s council, which is headed by Peter Knox (Peter Teale), wants the Ashmole 782 because it holds the key to killing the vampires forever. Matthew wants it to save the vampires. During the episode, a young vampire, Marcus Whitmore (Edward Bluemel), tries to turn a human to save his life but is unable to do so because the power of vampires to create new vampires is declining.
This story could become cliché very quickly but fortunately for viewers, Diana is not the swooning type. She is a highly educated powerful woman who kowtows to no one. She holds her own in scenes with Matthew as well as with a local witch who is duplicitous and simple. This witch wants Diana to join the local coven. She pretends to be Diana’s friend while revealing Diana’s retrieval of the Ashmole manuscript to Peter Knox.
Fortunately for the audience, the producers have filmed the series in Europe with great visual effects, storytelling, and acting. This lends a wonderful air of verisimilitude that draws the audience completely into this fantastical world. The visual effects add to the atmosphere without being overpowering. The series has a smart, sophisticated feel to it.
A Discovery of Witches premiered in the UK on Sky One on September 14, 2018. It is set to premiere in the US on January 17, 2019, on Sundance Now and Shudder. Any fan who subscribes to either of those channels should plan to watch it. It promises to be a fun and magical journey.