A Discovery of Witches is what Outlander might look like if it was set in Oxford and had vampires. Based on Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy, Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer) came to the Bodleian Library to finish her research, not to start a war between the different species. “Ashmole 782” was one of many books she requested. She didn’t know it had another name, The Book of Life. That changes the moment Diana opens its pages. Suddenly, more creatures are interested in reading, and the library that was Diana’s sanctuary becomes the place where her life will never be the same.
Not unrelatedly, it’s also the place where she meets Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode), a vampire who every witch tells her not to trust, yet seems to be the only one not trying to use her for the book. He wants the book, sure, but is frank with her about that and it doesn’t take long before they grow close.
There are a lot of reasons to watch A Discovery of Witches, but the chemistry between Goode and Palmer is up there – their slow, deliberate movements make everything sexy. Unlike most shows that deal with supernatural beings, there is no delay in making them a couple and no romantic competition (Outlander can’t even say that). There are reasons they shouldn’t be together, but none of that wasted energy trying to deny the characters like each other or going back and forth every time someone tries to make them mistrust each other.
It helps that season one is only eight episodes long. Maybe you’re left wanting more, but you’re never disappointed. There’s also a new mythology to learn. Here, vampires don’t have a problem with sunlight, their senses are heightened, and they can live forever. They can also be killed, which is the one point — because the show avoids telling us how — that makes things confusing when the subject comes up.
Besides vampires, there are also daemons and witches. Daemons are the least like their popular image – no forked tails or pitchforks. In fact, while we get to know some pretty horrid vampires and witches, all of the daemons introduced so far have been good (which could just mean we haven’t met the bad ones yet, but it certainly pokes holes in daemon stereotypes). Nonetheless, prejudice is a big issue between species.
Diana is a witch, but until recently her powers had been erratic and unreliable. She was raised by witches, so she knows they exist. She hasn’t been kept in the dark, but controlling her magic is going to be tricky, especially since circumstances make it imperative that she learn fast.
The title, A Discovery of Witches, can be interpreted multiple ways. There’s The Book of Life, which was missing for centuries before Diana picked it up. There’s Diana’s discovery of her powers. There’s the search, by other species, for Diana, when they realize what she can do, and there’s the feared discovery of witches overall. Creatures are supposed to stay hidden and while on A Discovery of Witches that means getting to hang out in Venice and Wales (which stands in for various locations on the show), that doesn’t diminish the dangers.
Besides Diana and Matthew, the cast is filled with wonderful supporting characters who get to have lives outside of coming to their aide. Sometimes it’s just a line of dialogue, but those lines are enough – an opening for the show to explore their lives further at a later date.
Acorn TV’s DVD includes three featurettes. Two are mostly interviews that regurgitate the plot but the third, “TV Magic,” goes behind the scenes.
A Discovery of Witches is available now on DVD from Acorn TV and streaming on Sundance Now.