Fans have waited a long time for Sky’s adaptation of A Discovery of Witches.
But of course, in the journey from the pages of Deborah Harkness’ original novel to the screen, certain parts of the story had to be changed, even as the central love story of vampire Matthew (Matthew Goode) and witch Diana (Teresa Palmer) remains largely intact.
“There’s one thing we’ve done where we’ve put some characters’ backstories in,” executive producer Jane Tranter told us on the series’ set earlier this year.
“We just said to Deborah Harkness, ‘Ok where were they, what were they doing, or could they have been doing?’ So we’ve made those changes, and we are saving the lives of a couple of characters, but I can’t say more than that!
“I don’t think anyone would be disappointed, for sure,” she concluded.
But what are the major changes in the series’ first episode? Let’s find out…
Matthew and Diana
While Matthew and Diana’s first meeting remains fairly faithful to how they meet in the novel, the TV series sees the witch crossing paths with the blood-sucking geneticist much earlier on (though she doesn’t spot him at the time), and we also follow Matthew alone in scenes prior to his official meeting with Diana.
In a lot of ways this makes sense – the books are from Diana’s perspective, meaning Matthew WOULDN’T appear until they met – and according to series star Matthew Goode, this shift from the first-person was one of the biggest challenges for the writers.
“I think it was very difficult for the writers, because the book is very much in the first person of Diana’s character,” he told RadioTimes.com.
“So it’s heavily her voice, and it’s difficult to bring in a lot of other characters.”
The pair’s second meeting in the boathouse does appear in the novel, though certain details (like Matthew sniffing Diana’s clothes) are altered, while a scene where Matthew searches Diana’s room is changed in the TV series to occur while she’s out; in the book, Matthew goes through Diana’s things while she’s sleeping, and she later wakes with the taste of cloves in her mouth.
Diana also gets a subtle change to her backstory, with her parents – who died while she was very young – said to have been murdered on the Ukrainian border in the TV series. In the book, they passed away in Africa.
Mysterious manuscript Ashmole 782 remains at the heart of the series – but some details of how Diana interacts with it have changed.
For example, the series shows Diana burning her hand on the book, its writings start to creep onto her skin, and she even has a vision of her deceased father after reading it.
None of these things happen in the novel, though she does hear some voices when she picks up the manuscript. The big blackout and magical disturbance that alerts supernatural forces to the discovery of Ashmole 782 is also a new addition for the TV series.
It’s also worth noting that Harkness’ novel opens with Diana in the Bodleian taking out Ashmole 782, while the TV series includes some more introductory scenes before this pivotal event.
In the novel, Gillian (played by Louise Brealey) is an American witch who isn’t really that close with Diana, but in the TV show she’s British and appears to be one of the historian’s close Oxford friends.
The A Discovery of Witches production team have also hinted that Gillian’s role will be expanded throughout the series, meaning that even the most dedicated fans will have a few surprises while watching the drama…
Vampire Marcus (Edward Bluemel) is given a new backstory in the TV series – trying and failing to save his dying friend after a hit-and-run – and a new motivation for joining Matthew and Miriam’s scientific investigation. In the book, he’s already working at Matthew’s lab when we first meet him.
Meanwhile, his episode one discussion about siring other vampires and the need for consent is a topic which is discussed much later in the novel.
Satu Järvinen (Malin Buska), a Finnish witch who clashes with Diana in the later stages of Harkness’ novel, is introduced to the story MUCH earlier in the TV series.
The first episode sees Peter Knox (Owen Teale) travel to Finland to recruit the witch, but their meeting at her home never takes place in the book.
And speaking to RadioTimes.com earlier this year, the cast and creatives were happy to explain this particular divergence from the source material.
“Satu has become more major,” Goode told us. “They’ve cleverly brought her in earlier than she was, much much earlier than she was in the books. So I think they’ve done a really good job.”
“Satu doesn’t appear until a certain point into the book and then she has a very intense relationship for a period of time with Diana,” executive producer Jane Tranter added.
“I can’t say what it is because it’s spoilers, but anyone whose read the book will know. But the first time you see her is when you see her with Diana, and yet clearly she had been doing a lot of stuff leading up to that point.
“And she has a very big part in episode six, her and Diana, it’s almost a two-hander between them, and we felt that actually an audience would enjoy it even more if we track Satu through so we saw what led her to that point.”
And one thing that IS exactly the same…
Of course, an awful lot of Harkness’ world is transposed exactly into the TV version of the story – and in one case it’s even word-for-word.
When Diana first opens the Ashmole 782 manuscript she jots down some details about its appearance, and the notes she makes are taken directly from the source material:
Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Ashmole 782.
At least three folios removed by straight edge or razor.
Sure, it’s a small point, but it’s a great callback to the original text.
This article was originally published in September 2018