So, series 11 continues with the Vinay Patel story Demons of the Punjab. For me much more hit than miss with a lot to enjoy, though some elements might have been tweaked for a stronger story. What do I know! Ware the spoilers…
Dealing with the Demons of the Punjab
The red herring
There’s an in your face story of alien assassins killing people, transmat tech, mental projection and the Doctor improvising around the failings of the sonic. All very jolly until it peters out into a morality tale of not judging by appearances, good guy aliens and someone else being the demons…
An aside, but an important one. This was shown (in the UK), just after a programme about Remembrance and on Remembrance Sunday. War was mentioned, Prem was returned from World War II Singapore, and everywhere were fields of poppies. It was respectful and not patronising.
I’ve been to Singapore and visited a museum telling some of the story of the many failings of Britain as Japan invaded. It’s an experience that has stayed with me for over 25 years and for me added to the weight of the story.
The real story (I)
It’s Partition, there’s anti-British sentiment, strife within the family and a wedding. The heart of Vinay Patel’s story is telling how Partition tore into the heart of many families, ripping society apart and setting brother against brother, comrade against comrade.
Prem fought for Britain in World War II, saw his brother die and came home to find his younger brother Manish now almost a stranger with radical ideas. As Partition happens, Prem’s marriage and future life with Yaz’s grandmother Umbreen is threatened. It condenses the essence of civil war into a single event, the marriage, and gives a sense of the larger horrors of the time. Unlike Rosa, this story was able to show characters of the same race with very different views.
The two lovers, Prem (Shane Zaza) and Umbreen (Amita Suman) were very well written and performed superbly, and probably the best two parts in the whole story.
In a lot of ways this could just have been their story, skip the aliens and the time travellers and lets learn a little bit about Partition. Is this a problem with the episode? Perhaps…
The real story (II)
There’s a little bit of grandmother paradox with Yaz not breaking the chain of events causing her to be born, but really this is a very old school, First Doctor can’t change time at all story. Widely compared to Aztecs and Marco Polo, the time travellers were left impotent in the face of events, and focussed only on helping Prem and Umbreen get married, knowing how the future would unfold. It’s an emotional nightmare, and perhaps a bit underplayed.
Were the Doctor and chums needed? Would history have worked without them? Is this just Raiders of the Lost Ark as explained in The Big Bang Theory? I think it would have worked out and the wedding could have happened in a different way (Umbreen was keen to make her own traditions), and Umbreen could also have escaped even without encouragement. Maybe I’m wrong.
The TARDIS crew
A very mixed episode. Ryan had almost nothing to do others couldn’t have covered, Yaz despite being central to the setup seemed overwhelmed by events and Graham did his best to help people along, plugging a gap in the Doctor’s personality again. Which brings us to…
Very busy in the first half, not quite reaching the heights for the wedding and really low key by the end.
Previous Doctors would have railed about web of time, fixed points in history and so on. We got none of that but instead got silence. Just some watch the paradoxes and let’s let things happen (in the style of Rosa). Really? No arguments, tension amongst the group, Yaz in a dilemma of help Prem live but then she wouldn’t exist… A missed opportunity for me and again I come away just not sure Jodie Whittaker has been allowed to really find her interpretation of the Doctor.
How it could have been done different
I’d have left Ryan at home, split it into two episodes, had Graham captured as a Brit and at risk of being killed, plus had Yaz conflicted over Prem dying. Did we need the aliens at all? It took up airtime, but did allow viewers something familiar to watch in a sci-fi show. They were less of a token than the Rosa time traveller, but apart from looking like demons but not being demons, I don’t know.
Finally the Doctor as a seemingly British white woman must have had opportunity for some difficult interaction with the various local groups. The holy man and her could have argued, put the wedding in jeopardy then rescuing it, prompting Manish to kill him, though we’d have known it was him at once. The deadline of get married at Partition and before Prem dies could have been a stronger drive.
As I said earlier, what do I know, it would need careful choreographing and I’m very glad we get another small story that does involved saving the world / galaxy / universe/ web of time / existence. Maybe Demons of the Punjab could have been better, but it could definitely have been worse. Until next time!