TV Review: Doctor Who: Demons Of The Punjab

Another great historical episode!  It seems to be a real strength this series.

On being given an old broken watch by her grandmother Umbreen, Yasmin asks the Doctor to take her back to 1950s Lahore to find out the story behind it.  The TARDIS instead drops them in 1947 rural India during the Partition, where Yasmin finds that Umbreen is about to marry Prem, a man who’s not her grandfather.  They encounter a group of aliens, the Thijarians, whom the Doctor initially believes to be a race of assassins, but it soon transpires that the ‘demons’ have given up assassinating following the destruction of their planet and are now travelling the universe in order to provide witness to lonely deaths, seeing as they couldn’t do it for their own people.  The actual villain in the episode is Prem’s brother Manish, who has become prejudiced against Muslims and leads a group of similarly prejudiced Hindus to drive out Umbreen and her Muslim mother, resulting in Prem being killed soon after marrying Umbreen.

Characterisation-wise it’s a really strong episode for Yasmin.  Apart from a few wilful moments near the start, I really appreciated that she listened to the Doctor about not interfering in her own history (in contrast to Rose’s irritatingly stupid actions in Father’s Day back in 2005).  Ryan and Graham were really playing the support role this week, which has tended to be the case this series – I wouldn’t say that Chibnall’s Doctor Who has yet disproved the long-running viewpoint that three companions makes for too crowded a TARDIS.  At least we’re not having people getting captured or taken ill for the course of the story, like we did in the Davison years.  Graham is always gold – Bradley Walsh’s performance is just lovely, and the writers are doing really well with his dialogue – but Ryan felt like a real spare part during this episode.

Similarly to Rosa, the episode was really thought-inspiring and made no bones about a difficult period of history, although the controversial role played by the British in the Partition could have been dwelt on more.

We’re now more than halfway through the series – there are five episodes to go – and after thirteen years of getting used to the tight and complex series arcs of the RTD and Moffat eras, I’m feeling a bit strangely adrift given that there doesn’t seem to be any series-spanning story going on at all.  It’ll be very interesting to see if this continues, and if the final episode could just be – gasp! – a normal, regular episode, with no multiverse-threatening doomsday shenanigans.  That would be a hell of a departure for 21st century Doctor Who.

The trailer for next week was a bit confusing, so I don’t really know what’s going on in that story, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy it when it arrives.

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