The Doctor and her friends arrive in the Punjab, India in 1947, during the Partition. Yaz attempts to discover her grandmother’s history, whilst the Doctor encounters sinister demons haunting the land. Who are they and what do they want?
This series of Doctor Who has been fantastic at casting a light on some areas of history that aren’t commonly taught in the British education system. A few weeks ago in Rosa, we had a story surrounding an incident that kick-started a campaign for civil rights in America, and in Demons of the Punjab, we see the start of the partition of India. Despite studying history to degree level, this is an area of history that I was only vaguely familiar with when it came to watching this episode. The new era of the show is harking back to its educational roots, as originally envisaged by Sydney Newman, making this more like William Hartnell or Patrick Troughton episodes. Additionally, we finally get more Yaz, which is something that I feel has been lacking from the series so far, with the focus more on Ryan and Graham, and the direction and music are again fantastic – with this series, it feels like that’s a given! Unfortunately, as with the series prior to this episode, it does suffer with a problem with lack of a proper alien menace, and the creatures featured here are really rather forgettable again.
As they are the biggest issue that I have with the episode, I’ll start with the Thijarians. Their design looks fantastic and they are initially quite spooky, but once they are revealed to be witnesses rather than the assassins they are initially thought to be, it makes them feel like another case of wasted potential. That being said, I did quite like the idea of the Thijarians becoming witnesses to the deaths of the lonely, and aliens who have developed compassion is really unusual in this programme. Here again, the true enemy are humans, with Prem’s brother Manish being the bigger threat than the aliens, which would be okay once or twice in the series, but it feels like this has been a bit too repetitive, however, humans are equally capable of horrible acts as any Dalek, Cyberman or Weeping Angel, and this is an episode that embraces this again. Manish’s reaction when offered food at the wedding almost sets him up as a character who cannot possibly be redeemed, which makes it all the more tragic that we know that the TARDIS crew will not step in to intervene in the final standoff between Prem and Manish.
Coming on to more positive subject matter, we finally get to see more of Yaz, who I have been a fan of since the beginning and been wanting to see more of her. I feel that she was a more rounded character than Graham and Ryan from her arrival in the series, but it is still nice to understand more about her background and family here. Some past stories have almost forgotten about her, with her only notable contribution to The Tsuranga Conundrum being drop kicking the Pting down a corridor. The focus on Yaz makes a nice change and we get a good conversation between Yaz and Graham whilst the Doctor, Ryan and Prem are off investigating in the forest. As I’ve stated previously, I feel that this TARDIS team are quite well established, and it’s interesting seeing the different dynamics when they are split into different sub-teams and the relationships between Ryan, Graham and Yaz as they travel with the Doctor.
This the best thing ever! Never did this when I was a man.
Doctor. You and your jokes!
Yeah. That’s right. My references to body and gender regeneration are all in jest. Such a comedian.Thirteenth Doctor and Yasmin Khan
This, similarly to Rosa, is another historical episode that relies on non-interference in the established events, as any change in the timeline could wipe Yaz from the timeline and ties it up really nicely. It makes absolute sense as to why the older Umreen wouldn’t want to talk about her marriage to Prem, and ties into the underlying themes about grief that have been present in the series so far, with the death of Grace weighing heavily on both Graham and Ryan. It is perhaps fitting that this episode was broadcast on Remembrance Sunday as it serves as a great illustration of peace and love in general. Episodes in this series are seriously playing with my emotions, as the climax of this one again impacted me deeply, probably thanks to the bookending of the episode with scenes of Yaz talking to her grandmother. Additionally, the shot revealing the ghostly heads of the dead was really moving.
It feels like I say this every week, but Jodie Whittaker continues to shine as the Doctor. She really commands the screen with her presence like all of her predecessors. Her performance in the wedding scene is fantastic and I really like her confrontation with the Thijarians before we know that their natures have changed from assassins to witnesses. The Doctor is still full of the same joy and wonder, and has the same steel as the Doctors who have come before and Whittaker just personifies the character so well.
Verdict: A personal and moving story focusing on an area of history I knew little about previously, Demons of the Punjab is another great historical episode in this series. There are still no really memorable aliens, but I don’t feel that impacts the story too much here. 7/10
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor),Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Leena Dhingra (Nani Umbreen), Amita Suman (Umbreen), Shane Zaza (Prem), Hamza Jeetooa (Manish), Shaheen Khan (Hasna), Shobna Gulati (Najia), Ravin J Ganatra (Hakim), Bhavnisha Parmar (Sonya), Emma Fielding (Voice of Kisar), Nathalie Curzner (Performance of Kisar)
Writer: Vinay Patel
Director: Jamie Childs
Behind the Scenes
- This is the first time since Father’s Day that we have gone back along a companion’s timeline. It was attempted in Listen by the Twelfth Doctor with Clara, however, it was unsuccessful.
- This episode was filmed in the Province of Granada, Spain.
There are some lovely moments in this episode, but I’m going to do something a bit different this week and talk about my favourite shot. At the end of the episode, there is a shot of the time rotor from the top, which is such a rarely seen angle and the first time we’ve seen this new console from this perspective. It is beautiful.
Love…in all its forms is the most powerful weapon we have. Because love is a form of hope, and like hope, love abides in the face of everything.Thirteenth Doctor