Doctor Who: Series 11 (or 36 depending on how you count) : Episode 6: Demons Of The Punjab by Vinay Patel

With the spotlight on Yaz this time, the Doctor takes her and her friends to 1947 India. It does make me wonder when it comes to Graham’s turn that we won’t be going for a bus ride.

This is also the first episode without Chris Chibnall in the writers’ credits. From here there be spoilers unless you would prefer comments before synopsis.

Although it looks like this an opening in the current, Yaz is remembering her Nani Umbreen’s birthday party where she received a broken watch. Yaz would also like to meet her grandmother when she was young as she talked so much about it. The Doctor is reluctant to do so because any changes there could wipe Yaz from existence but uses the telepathic circuits of the TARDIS to take them to the right time and place. That does raise an interesting question as to why doesn’t the Doctor do this more often for places she visits regularly.

It is 17th August 1947 and Yaz discovers what her grandmother says is the truth is only as far as she has told it. She’s not even marrying the man whom she finally married but a Hindu called Prem. The day is also significant in that this is the day when Pakistan divides from India, so the Muslims can live there and the Hindis in the latter. A lot of people objected to this and, as the Doctor describes, a lot of people died.

Into this mix are the Thagarian Assassins who apparently are there to kill people but have different motivations. These seem awfully close to the ‘Babylon 5’ soul hunters although I’m not entirely sure just what they are stealing. These so-called demons have their own agenda to do and, if anything, are there to bring an SF element into a story that doesn’t actually need it. The fact that there is time travel and a desire to find out what damaged the watch should be enough.

The rest you can watch for yourself as there is too much spoiler. The point in time is obviously a nexus which even the Doctor can’t interfere with. Their trust in the Doctor is explicit and none of them change or even strongly object.

If anything, this isn’t a story about the Doctor, Yaz or even her friends as they take a step back and, literally, just make noises than action. It is an adventure about the events that happened in India and they are just witnesses. At least the Thagarians are shown not to be precisely what they appear to be. Even if the Doctor has only heard of them before, you would have thought she might have known more about their history.

This doesn’t mean this isn’t a powerful story and, in many respects, ‘Demons Of The Punjab’ is a variation of the ‘Rosa’ plot, only instead of division by colour, it is now by religion and the nexus point for that to happen. I’m a little surprised that it was done in the same season as ‘Rosa’, let alone so close to it. Whether it will attract Hindis or Muslims to watch this story only viewing figures will tell in the coming week.

If showrunner Chris Chibnall has anything to learn from both these stories then it is there isn’t a need to bring heavy SF into stories that don’t need it to make a point. It is enough to see that sometimes time travellers can only monitor events than do something about them.

© GF Willmetts

11 November 2018

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