This show is set in Oxford. Since Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, one of the most beautiful cities in England it’s kind of required to have lots and lots of aerial shots and showing off all the pretty university buildings. Only this is accompanied by overly ominous music and melodramatic voice overs
The first few minutes of the show and already the urge to snark is rising… It just feels like it’s going to… take itself overly seriously
Our main character is Professor Diana Bishop, she’s an American researcher who has a position at Yale who is back in Oxford in the hope she will be offered a professorship. By the way everyone gushes, she is very very very good at her job as a historian.
She is also a witch -but never uses her magic because her parents were killed by witch hunters in the Ukraine (as she explains on an almost date with a guy who is also a librarian and she kinda needs to work on her flirty banter) so she’s decided it’s far better to never practice magic and have it leak out accidentally ruffling papers and throwing priceless ancient books around. She also wants nothing to do with the local witches despite being friends with Gillian, local witch, and the local coven leader offering her a place
She is, perhaps, not the best at making decisions.
She has to do some research on Alchemy to get her paper done by October so she can get this much coveted role so she goes researching in the Bodleian where she requests a book. This book is a Special Book and it only appears when she asks for it. When she touches it we get a full on poltergeist experience with flickering lights and writing moving and running down her hands and it even burning her. Duly freaked out she sends the book back - and it vanishes.
She calls her aunt, who raised her, for advice but then hangs up all sulky because her aunt suggested maybe she use magic. Diana is outraged - how could she suggest a magical witch use magic to deal with the magic weirdness caused by the magic book?! The very idea!!!!
The magical weirdness is also felt by all the vampires in Oxford, especially Matthew (a professor of biochemistry) who sidelines in ominous voice overs. He think she has found The Magical Special Book which contains secrets about “creatures” (supernatural beings), especially vampires. And he’d really really like to find that so that a) the witches don’t find it and use it to squish vampires (since vampires and witches are not best buds at all) but mainly b) so he can fix vampires. It seems recent attempts to create new vampires have been failing -as we see with young vampire Marcus trying to raise his friend who gets in a terrible car accident. This doesn’t work and the man dies.
Also Marcus’s non-consensual public attempt to turn someone is totally not allowed as well. Matthew and his assistant Miriam are testing blood and trying to find a cure. He thinks the book will help so approaches Diana and honestly explains his worries and predicament.
Hah, no. He starts following her around being all spooky and vampiric and creepy making not-quite threatening statements and warning her that other supernaturals will have felt the woo-woo and be looking for her. He’s also trying to grasp that despite being rather powerful, she’s also utterly ignorant of her power
While she seems duly freaked out by the sudden attention from a super creepy vampire who has taken to following her everywhere including during her late-night-all-alone rowing sessions. On one he sniffs her dropped jumper (as one does) and then has to carefully coach her how to leave his presence, slowly, carefully without running so he doesn’t kill and eat her
Please don’t let these two develop a romance.
Stalker vampire isn’t the only one who feels the woo-woo of the lost book. Gillian also feels it and tells her coven leader who in turn contacts Knox. Knox is a powerful and clearly highly revered witch who comes to Oxford after going to Finland to recruit Satu - a witch he lures a human witch hunter to so she can trap him in a ring of fire then make the earth swallow him. It’s impressive but I kind of feel it’s somewhat wasteful. I mean, humans are kind of squishy - you don’t need this level of melodramatic spell to kill someone. Efficiency, Satu! Efficiency!
So Knox arrives to speak to Diana with all the local witches cowering before him. He manages to look even more evil and ominous than Matthew - he wants the book
I’m… trying to like this. I really am.
I mean it is very atmospheric which is… good. I mean it makes great use of Oxford which is, of course, an extremely beautiful city. And great use of the Bodlean. Buuuuut I also think that the writers are going all out for the ominous and are forcing it a bit much. It’s like - yes, it’s ominous and scary, We Get It
And I’m not thrilled by our two main characters. We have Diana, the witch who refuses to use magic because waaaah. Because her parents died? She’s throwing magic around without any control at all - she thinks this is a better way to hide from witch hunters? This makes zero sense. None. Oh and creepy magical stuff happens and she decides to not speak to a single witch for advice or any kind of help. Weird magic stuff is happening. I shall do nothing about it. This is my plan.
And then we have Matthew. He needs to gain the trust of this weird witchy woman. So he shall stalk her like an ominous stalking man and follow her in the dark and disappear when she’s not looking and then make ominous threats in the Dark Spooky Voice. Does she trust me yet? Does she?
I feel there is excessive exposition, especially for the first episode. Some of this could have been drawn out over other episodes. And some wasn’t really necessary at all - like, ok we’ve just been shown with Marcus that vampires are having trouble creating more - so why do Matthew and Mirriam need to lengthily explain it as well? And why overtly link to the book - the book is missing and is expressly about the creation of creatures. Just knowing that and that Matthew is looking for it should allow us to connect the dots: just like we don’t really need Diana to remark that Matthew’s out in sunlight for us to grasp that vampires are not limited by daylight. And why have Gillian say outright “they hate us as much as we hate them”? I mean, can’t we guess by the general wariness? And who even says that? I mean “they hate us we need to be afraid and careful around their dastardliness” yes, say that. But “we hate them”? Who just ADMITS to a broad hatred against a swath of other people?