Viewers of the original The Worst Witch series which ran from 1998 until 2001 on ITV are now the right age to be nostalgic for it. So, the BBC (with German broadcaster ZDF) have decided to reboot it for a new generation. CBBC have been hyping this up for quite some time, they first mentioned it on air on Halloween last year using the phrase “your brothers and sisters will remember it”. Has it lived up to these expectations?
Based on The Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy, the series follows Mildred Hubble, a new student at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. Mildred is useless and considered ‘The Worst Witch’ (hence the name of the show). This will be the third adaptation of The Worst Witch after the 1986 film starring Tim Curry and the 1998 series on ITV. Technically the fifth adaptation if you include The New Worst Witch and Weirdsister College.
The first episode, which is 60 minutes instead of the usual 30, follows Mildred, someone who has no magic in her family, bump into Maud Spellbody (Meibh Campbell) who she quickly befriends who takes her to Miss Cackle’s Academy and must take a test. Miss Cackle’s sister, Agatha also turns up. Saying any more would spoil it.
Bella Ramsey (known for Lyanna Mormont in Game of Thrones) does a great job as Mildred. However, the standout peformance is from Raquel Cassidy as Miss Hardbroom, the deputy headmistress. She knows when to be stern, but knows that she isn’t the main head and must listen to Miss Cackle.
The plot is decent, it is definitely more of a drama and much less comedy than I thought there would be based on the trailer. One of my main problems is that surely Mildred would have more questions about magic? She finds out about it and accepts it without asking many questions. Also, why would she care if she failed the test? She had only just met Maud and she had only just found out about magic, so it wouldn’t be a big part of her life yet. Miss Cackle and Agatha’s fight at the end is also a highlight and hopefully more of these happen during the series.
One social media, I have seen various people compare it to Harry Potter. Some even go as far to say it is a ‘ripoff’ of Harry Potter. Despite the fact that The Worst Witch came out 23 years before! Whilst at first glance it does seem similar to JK Rowling’s Wizarding World, when you get into it and look at the story, it is actually quite different. The author of The Worst Witch, Jill Murphy, even said herself that she finds it ‘irritating’ when people compare her books to Harry Potter.
It’s easy to see who CBBC are aiming this at. Whilst aiming it at CBBC’s target audience, they know they can aim it at older audiences who grew up with the books and original TV show. For example, yesterday, Clare Higgins (Miss Cackle) was on BBC Breakfast and today, Kacey Ainsworth (Miss Gullet) was on Lorraine. There have also been articles from the Radio Times, Metro, The Guardian and more promoting it in the last few days.
Overall, this was a great first episode. Despite some flaws, it definitely has enough great story in it to make people want to watch the rest of the series. I can’t yet say if it’s as good as the 1998 series, seeing as it’s only the first episode, but it definitely has the potential.
The Worst Witch airs every Wednesday at 16:30pm on CBBC.