Doctor Who: “Demons of the Punjab”

*** MILD SPOILERS AHEAD***

I found the sixth episode of the new season of Doctor Who, “Demons of the Punjab,” to be a return in quality to the stronger episodes that began the season. If I have any real criticism, it’s only that “Demons of the Punjab” is nearly identical in structure to “Rosa” just three episodes ago — an adventure that takes place in relatively recent history that hinges on the Doctor and her companions being forced to allow something bad to happen in order for history to be preserved, in this case Yaz’s very existence. But both episodes work well, so it’s less of a complaint, I suppose, than an observation. This one has a great script and a good (and timely) message about the dangers of nationalism. As a historical, it’s more than just a good adventure, it also taught me a lot about the 1947 partition of India, which I knew very little about. The use of Yaz’s grandfather’s watch as a kind of touchstone for the events is very effective, and the vocal version of the theme song that plays over the end credits is haunting and beautiful.

Speaking of Yaz, we get to know her a little better here by delving into her heritage and her relationship with her grandmother. So far, I have found her to be the least developed of the three companions, and putting her center stage went a long way toward helping fix that. I still don’t have as clear a picture of her as I do of Graham and Ryan, but she doesn’t feel superfluous either. I continue to wish the writers would make more use of Yaz’s police skills, though, and let her play the detective more.

Graham remains my favorite character of the season. I love his line about how he’s willing to sing at Umbreen and Prem’s wedding and knows all the old classics, although to the bride and groom the songs would simply be contemporary hits. I’m also enjoying those moments when the Doctor mentions she used to be male, often to the confusion of those around her. On the other hand, I keep wondering what happened to Ryan’s dyspraxia, which no longer seems to be affecting his physical coordination. The frequent dropping of plot points and character details is one of the things that really bugged me about the Steven Moffat era of Doctor Who, and I really hope we’re not going to get more of the same under Chris Chibnall.

We’re six episodes in, and I find I still need more from the Doctor. I need her to interact more with the other characters on a personal level, rather than just on a plot level. Jodie Whittaker is very charismatic and an excellent actress, but the scripts aren’t letting her be the Doctor so much as “play” the Doctor, having her go through the motions without revealing anything of herself. Aside from some good dialogue in the season’s first episode, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” she barely talks about herself or her background. With only four episodes left in the season, I’m hoping this will change soon.

And now for some Doctor Who neepery! When the Doctor tells Yaz it’s dangerous to go back in time and meet your family members, she might have been remembering the events of the season one episode “Father’s Day,” in which the Ninth Doctor brings Rose back in time to see her deceased father. There, Rose is unable to resist saving his life, inadvertently releasing the Reapers in the process. The TARDIS’s telepathic circuits make an appearance again, first introduced in the season 8 episode “Listen.” Then, the 12th Doctor plugs Clara into the circuit to investigate a nightmare she once had, while here the Doctor plugs Yaz’s grandfather’s watch into the circuit to take them to the proper time and place in history to meet him. Lastly, there’s a bit of a thematic throwback to the 2017 Christmas special “Twice Upon a Time.” The Doctor assumes the Thijarians have malicious intent when in fact they are simply observers, not unlike the Testimony and their glass avatars.

I don’t want to judge it by the trailer alone, but I have to admit that the next episode, in which the Doctor and her companions visit the equivalent of Space Amazon.com, does not look very promising.

One response to “Doctor Who: “Demons of the Punjab””

  1. R. Francis Smith says:

    My daughters are from India (but certainly do not remember it) and so this episode was special in that regard.

    Of course, my daughters also have brown skin in America and Rosa was special in that regard — the difference being they already knew about Rosa Parks whereas they also knew little about the partitioning. (Their mom and I tried giving them a primer beforehand, but like we know much ourselves…)

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