In Doctor Who, S11E08, when the Doctor is challenged in 1600s Britain she whips out her psychic paper, which says that she's an official Witchfinder General. Thus, Mistress Savage bows to her authority.

However, the only Witchfinder General (self-proclaimed) in Britain seems to have been Matthew Hopkins. Anyone who had heard of this office would have known who held it, and that he wasn't a woman. In addition, the Doctor and her companions are clearly dressed in rather odd clothing, such that they seem like foreigners or actors (as King James mentioned).

King James, also, while he can't accept that the Doctor could be the Witchfinder General, believes that Graham is, although he should know even better, given his personal interest in the subject and the role of his writings in inspiring Hopkins.

Obviously, the psychic paper would have looked very official, but it doesn't override evidence.

Why was her identity so readily accepted?

1 Answer 1


Aside from the purposes of plot, the psychic paper presents itself as irrefutable identification. As far back as its first use when it displayed as a ticket (plus one) for one of the most exclusive parties in the galaxy, there's never been any need to validate it, run it under a black light, check the QR code or any of the manifold processes used to proved that any bit of paper is what it claims to be.

Not only does it present itself as whatever the viewer expects a person of authority to carry (occasionally with a verbal cue from The Doctor), it gives the viewer a general feeling of legitimacy that washes away any need to check its veracity.

So in the case of this use, assuming that in this world there isn't more than one Witchfinder General, the paper psychically assured Mistress Savage that it was the truth. Likely her own brain provided the mental gymnastics required to make that happen - the assumption that the King appointed more than one General, etc.

In short (too late, I know), the psychic paper DOES override evidence. Combined with The Doctor's ability to convince people that she's in charge, it all gives her the chance to get on with the helping of people. Though the "If I were a bloke" line was not only hilarious, it pointed out one thing that a number of fans suspected, that being a woman now would cause more "But hang on..." moments that when she was a he.

  • Yes. And the King knows, beyond any doubt, that the Witchfinder General can't be a woman. The thought that it can be doesn't even cross his mind. So what he sees is what's most convincing to him.
    – Mr Lister
    Nov 26, 2018 at 18:06
  • Ok, but Graham didn't have the paper, and King James of all people was convinced he was the Witchfinder General, even though (for some reason) he seems to think it's a title he hands out ("my last Witchfinder General").
    – Adamant
    Nov 26, 2018 at 18:09
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    Sort of interesting, isn't it, that the woman has no problem believing there could be a female Witchfinder General, and the man can't? Nov 26, 2018 at 18:51
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    @VBartilucci It's not a man vs woman thing. It's just that King James knows what's going on in the world, he's a professional witchhunter (see also his Wikipedia page) while Becka is just a simple village woman who had no training, but was forced into all of this by her being possessed by an evil spirit (or whatever). How could she know that the Witchhunter General was not a woman?
    – Mr Lister
    Nov 26, 2018 at 21:02

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