Doctor Who: Demons Of The Punjab (S11E06) Review

*SPOILERS*

Shirt Watch: Red

Previously, on “Doctor Who”: they not only recovered the TARDIS but also tangled with the Death-Eye Turtle Army (the alternate Season 11 that we’re not being shown sounds amazing). We now return to Yaz’ Gran’s birthday party already in progress…

When Yaz receives a gift of an old, broken watch from her grandmother Umbreen who tells her it is a priceless family heirloom which must be cared for but never repaired, she pesters the Doctor into taking her back in time to see her Gran when she was young. Reluctantly, the Doctor does so but no sooner have the gang arrived than they discover Yaz’ grandmother is about to marry a man who is not Yaz’ grandfather and ‘demons’ stalk the forest.

Six weeks into this new era of the show and once again, we have yet another episode focussed on showcasing historical injustices rather than having its hero dispensing some justice of her own. Six episodes in and not a single ‘baddie’ defeated. Sent home, sent back further in time, left to starve or suffocate to death ‘humanely’ or well fed, yes, but defeated/ destroyed? Not so much.

The Doctor takes very little convincing to let a companion potter around in their own timeline, indicating she’s rather softened on the idea since “Father’s Day”. Perhaps all the nonsense with ‘the impossible girl’ has made her blasé. Speaking of ‘the impossible girl’, remember ‘the timeless child’? Pepperidge Farm remembers and I hope to Rassilon Chibnall does too.

Ultimately, it’s a potent episode, complete with some of the best production values, cinematography and direction of the series so far. The location work, shot in Granada, Spain, looks authentically sub-continental and the incidental music by Segun Akinola is superbly evocative.

Less successful in bringing Vinay Patel’s poignant script to life is the guest cast, particularly Shane Zaza as Prem, Umbreen’s would-be husband who, as a central figure to the entire story, is often too stiff and wooden in his delivery and awkward in his timing to draw you fully into his story. He’s not helped, though, by a script which has slightly too much to accomplish in the runtime afforded so it vacillates between exploring the wider religious and political issues and fleshing out the human drama and ends up leaving neither particularly well served.

Like “Rosa”, this is a glancing blow against the complexities and realities of the history of the time but will hopefully serve as a jumping off point for people to learn more about the era. To take the episode at face value would be to believe that the partition was responsible for creating the religious and political schisms which divided nations and families alike rather than exacerbating existing internecine conflicts instead of solving them. Also, like “Rosa”, the science fiction element of the episode was ultimately intrusive and a waste of time when the historical and personal aspects of the story are left crying out for further development.

Once again we have a ‘big bad’ who are nothing of the sort. Instead of being galactically-feared assassins who are inexplicably and intriguingly involving themselves in low-level murder in 1940s India, the Thijarian Hive have reformed after discovering their own world was destroyed by an unseen force (did anyone see any Thijarian teeth in T’zim-Sha’s face?) and now attend the deaths of those whose passing is unwitnessed (except, presumably, by the individuals who take those lives). I guess they probably have a lot of crossover work with The Testimony? It’s yet another fake out alien threat which disappears from the episode once their timewasting is done.

Commendably educational, if superficial, “Demons Of The Punjab” would have been much stronger if there’d been a better pay-off to the heavy character development for Yaz with her Nani explaining that she’s her ‘favourite’ granddaughter because she remembers her being at her wedding and throughout her life has known that whatever adversity she faced that she would be okay because she would eventually have a granddaughter called Yaz. It would also explain why she would be reluctant to tell Yaz the story ‘until she was older’ to make sure she didn’t accidentally cock-up her own timeline. Of course, that would leave us with a story where the companion’s gran was more careful with the timeline that the universe’s most well-travelled Time Lord.

All-in-all a decent episode, though, and a marked improvement on the past couple of weeks. I still could have done without the execution in cold blood of a main character in a Sunday early evening kids show. The end was heavily implied and actually showing it – even if it was cut away from – was crass and unnecessary.

The Thijarian Hive seem to encapsulate the ethos of this new era of Doctor Who: there are no evils except the sins of our ancestors or ourselves and they can only be witnessed, not fought against. Next week is obviously setting up to have a pop at late-stage capitalism at the expense of futuristic Amazon surrogate Kerblam! I guess that means we’ll see whether the Doctor can actually deliver some righteous justice or if the series is slipping past its prime.

7/10 

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