Season three of A Discovery of Witches will be the series’ last—but that’s no bad thing, because it ensures the show ends on a definitive note, tracing the narrative arc of the original novels on which it is based, and not wandering off course away from the author’s vision of the characters and story told.
Based on the All Souls trilogy by author Deborah Harkness, the British show is centred on Diana, likeably played by Teresa Palmer (Ride Like A Girl). Diana’s a historian who discovers a book in Oxford University’s famed Bodleian Library. But this is no ordinary book—a spell has been cast over it, forcing Diana to venture back into the world of magic she has been trying to avoid.
A reluctant witch, Diana’s investigation of the bewitched book leads her on an adventure into a world of magical beings, including vampiric scientist Matthew Clairmont (played with devilish aplomb by Downton Abbey actor Matthew Goode). It’s soon apparent that witches and vampires do not get along, but Diana and Matthew team up nonetheless in a quest to unlock the mysteries of the magical book. With everyone from fellow witches, to vampires, and an array of fantastical creatures all after the mysterious tome, creating a whirlwind of chaos, danger, adventure, and excitement into Diana’s life.
With feet firmly planted in Young Adult fiction, A Discovery of Witches plays in the same fantasy, adventure and romance sandbox as the likes of The Vampire Diaries, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Legacies—but with its fantasy firmly grounded in a realistic world, one that feels lived-in, tactile and messy, rather than faintly sketched. A great deal of the show’s charm and charisma comes from the sparks generated between the lead actors, with Palmer and Goode lending Diana and Matthew believable charge to their relationship. Sure, we know witches and vampires have centuries of bad blood between them, and families who hate one another, but that never stopped Romeo and Juliet, right?
As the seasons progress, Diana and Matthew fall head over fangs for one another, as they battle daemons, vampires, witches, and an array of occult opponents, all vying to lay their hands, claws, and paws on Diana’s magic book. It’s a quest that leads the star-crossed protagonists not only through mystical worlds of sorcery and fantastical fantasy but, in season two, through time itself.
Skipping through time, the second season finds A Discovery of Witches in Elizabethan London. The trip to the late Sixteenth century is a neat trick, which sees Diana and Matthew meeting up with historical figures including John Dee, Kit Marlowe, Robert Cecil and even British royalty, in the guise of Queen Elizabeth I. These time-tripping adventures offer a highly entertaining mixture of costume drama, battle scenes, and magical history tour, which also serve to offer up precious plot points revealing the potential extent of Diana’s powers, and the truth behind how her parents really perished.
Add to the consistently gripping pace and plotting a top-notch cast of actors, and you have pretty compulsive viewing. Full of colourful characters, lush locations, potent intrigue, political infighting, magical realms, and good old-fashioned forbidden romance, A Discovery of Witches combines the Twilight movies’ mixture of young adult fantasy and romance with the dramatic narrative of TV’s His Dark Materials, to create a fast-paced, complex, romantic adventure, one that sticks admirably close to the trilogy of books on which it is based.
And, as Harry Potter imagined a world where magic exists just out of sight of our everyday reality, A Discovery of Witches brings that same conceit to its world within our world of witches, vampires, daemons, and dastardly deeds. As with all good fantasy, the story holds a distorted mirror up to our own reality, offering its magical minorities as metaphors for those our society regards as outsiders. Like all good fiction, it’s left up to the viewer to decide who represents what, leaving ample space for us to project our own stories and social anxieties onto whichever characters we choose—factual or fantastic, hero or historical, vampire or villain, witch or whatever.
I’ll avoid any major season three spoilers, but regular viewers will need to be prepared for one major casting change. Trystan Gravelle, who portrayed senior vampire Baldwin Montclair, is replaced by Peter McDonald (Gravelle apparently victim to “scheduling conflicts”).
That casting sleight-of-hand aside, season three is a pure delight, not least because, being based on the final book in the series, it’s the last. So, there’s barely time for padding, time-wasting scenes or irrelevant subplots, because this is it, folks. With that in mind, the producers turn up the stakes (pun included) to eleven, and go for broke, following the final book’s build up to an epic finale. Cue romance, revenge, passion, peril, trauma, tragedy, excitement, and everything else required to make a grand finale worthy of high fantasy soap opera. It’s pure, unapologetic melodrama, in which the secrets of the magical book Diana found way back in the series’ opening episode are revealed, and the young lovers seek justice on the witches and vampires that did them wrong.