Demons of the Punjab Review

(102 comments)

In any previous season, this would have been a minor gem; in this context, it feels like a cool drink of water in the desert. After five episodes that repeatedly struggled at the task of being about things where the one that seemed to know what it was doing had its own deep problems, here we get an episode of admirable clarity and focus that deftly balances the broad historical and intimate personal scales. There’s nothing save for the agonizingly overdue engagement with India that makes the story extraordinary, but there’s also a refreshing lack of any significant flaws, and all in all this feels like the most developed idea of what Doctor Who should be in 2018 that we’ve had to date.

Let’s start with the politics. There are obvious fallings short; the clangingly bad line about the Doctor forwarding Prem’s complaints on to Mountbatten next time she sees him being the worst. And more broadly, there’s a milquetoast tendency throughout to place responsibility for the violence of partition on the masses instead of on the British empire, which finds itself blamed more for the carelessness of partition than for the exploitation that preceded it. None of this was sufficient to spoil my enjoyment; I suspect Jack will feel differently. Indeed, in some ways I hope that he does, because the show should be held to account for things like this. But as an American who learned a lot about partition from this episode, I’ll merely flag it as a concern and return to it in the podcast.

Instead, let’s turn to the story’s notion of what history is. Unlike with Rosa, what we have here is much more consistently a Whtitakerian “not one line” to history’s permanence. As with most of the Hartnell era (The Aztecs, ironically, excepted) this is not presented as a moral point so much as a pragmatic one. The TARDIS team is simply not put in a position to make changes to history. This isn’t a celebrity historical where the Doctor meets Mountbatten (which is part of why that line rankles so badly); it’s a story where she’s on a farm in a remote part of the border outside the Welshest forest in India. Changing history isn’t a concern in the first place. Even the inevitable death of Prem is largely taken out of the Doctor’s hands, positioned outside of morality by the fact that any other outcome would eliminate Yaz from history. The same sense of passivity that pervades Rosa is in play here, but it’s justified as something other than moral duty, and finds itself working, much as it did in 1964.

Indeed, this is in many ways the closest to a pure historical the new series has yet come. Rosa may have been low on sci-fi trappings, but the plot was still fundamentally science fiction: two time travellers fighting over history. There’s no way to rewrite it as a pure historical without losing the central plot. But there’s no real reason the Vajarian need to be here. The only key piece of plot they provide—the explanation of what actually happened—could easily have been accomplished through other means. Beyond that, they’re just there because apparently we’re not allowed to have Doctor Who without aliens any more; a feint to let the episode set up its later character drama.

Where the story differs from anything the 1960s would have done is the tone and nature of that character drama. It’s not just that the basic setup of having one of the companions learn about their family history was inaccessible to the era of fully random TARDIS landings. It’s that the 1960s, even when deep in the Lucarotti tradition of historicals, were still invested in treating the past as a genre to be visited. This is true even when the show visits British history, hence Miles and Wood’s blistering term “historical theme park Britain,” but it’s been acutely true in the handful of occasions when the show has tried to engage with non-western cultures. It’s worth noting that if we make a list of Doctor Who stories set in non-western historical eras we get Marco Polo and The Aztecs in 1964, The Abominable Snowmen in 1967, and then literally nothing whatsoever until this, which is also the first one to be written by a person of color. Widening the net to include depictions of non-western culture in general rapidly gets us The Talons of Weng-Chiang. I probably needn’t go on. The point is that even if doing a small and personal story about one family’s buried trauma were something 1960s Doctor Who would have considered, this specific story is simply unapproachable.

Are there problems? Yes. There’s an irksome sense that Manish only starts objecting to the wedding when the Doctor shows up, as opposed to this being a long-running family argument. The revelation that the Vajarians aren’t evil comes basically out of nowhere and lacks adequate setup. It forgets to really give Yaz a solid moment of her own in the climax. And it’s, to say the least, puzzling that the Doctor completely fails to notice a bullet hole when inspecting a corpse. But few Doctor Who stories are without a decent “Things That Don’t Make Sense” section, and these are minor sins by those standards. This is a mature and confident script that suggests the “so much for the showrunner’s scripts but the rest have a good chance of being interesting” view of the Chibnall era might yet work out. God we needed this.

  • Something of a questionable decision to have an alien that’s essentially the same thing as Moffat’s final episode. God forbid a famous criminal dies alone and the Tessalecta, the Valjarians, and the Testament all show up simultaneously. (More seriously, why is this becoming a recurrent trope of the decade in the same way that Von Dannikenism is in the 1970s? The other big recurring trope here, monsters that aren’t actually monsters, makes a fairly intuitive historical sense, but what’s up with witnessing and testimony? Find out in a future TARDIS Eruditorum no doubt.)
  • Although Jamie Childs’s direction, as with “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” is on the lackluster side (and we brought him back for two at the end of the run too? Why?) I love the mid-conversation teleport. That’s a properly good shot, simultaneously disorienting and smooth.
  • One thing I’m really hoping we get this season is just a proper iconic Doctor moment. Whittaker has been good throughout, but she’s yet to have a moment I’ve felt is great. In this she mirrors the bulk of the episodes; good, solid, functional, and stubbornly unspectacular. She’s clearly capable of great moments, mind you; this is purely a writing problem.
  • To check in with companions, Lawrence Miles’s episode one judgment is looking increasingly suspect as Graham, improbably, is increasingly emerging as the most solidly characterized of the bunch. Part of this is the consistency with which he’s given big moments, as with his last interaction with Prem, but it’s also just that Bradley Walsh knows what he’s doing and can sell a moment with a focus that his younger co-stars just don’t have. Yaz remains full of promise but let down by the writing, while Ryan splits the difference. All in all, though, this is a crowded series, which is exacerbating the degree to which nobody has had a properly brilliant moment.
  • On a related note, I’m really not sure I’ve ever doubted my ranking as much as I do this season. I’m pretty confident in #1 at the moment, but every other story has such egregious inadequacies that I really just don’t even know what it means to rank them. I haven’t rewatched large swaths of them, and so a lot of it is based on comparing a sense of initial novelty to the memory of previous novelties. How one compares this, or even the idea of making qualitative judgments across the season feels faintly absurd.
  • All of this makes it sound like I’m much more unhappy with the series than I actually am. It remains perfectly enjoyable, while still being spectacularly unsatisfying from the perspective of a long-term fan who has written way more about Doctor Who than anyone actually should.
  • But seriously, this was a rock solid episode. Hard to think of another season it’d be at the top of as an episode six. But if I look at Series 3 or Series 4—two perfectly satisfying seasons—they’ve only got one story in their first half I like better than this. Actually, Series 10 is a pretty close-run thing in terms of whether this would top its first six. That comparison ignores average quality, but it at least speaks well of this episode.
  • Anyway. Jack’s on the podcast on Thursday, and I’m tentatively really excited for Kerblam! So let’s see where we are in a week.

Increasingly WTF Ranking

  1. Demons of the Punjab
  2. The Tsuranga Conundrum
  3. Rosa
  4. Arachnids in the UK
  5. The Ghost Monument
  6. The Woman Who Fell to Earth

Comments

kevin merchant 4 weeks ago

Your rankings are almost (but not quite) the reverse order of the episode order

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Comment deleted 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Megara Justice Machine 4 weeks ago

Maybe I'm reading your sentence wrong (it's late), but this is not the first one written by a person of color is it? Wouldn't that be Malorie Blackman who wrote Rosa, or did you mean POC who wrote it all by themselves, as Chibnall had co-credit on Rosa?

Please forgive if my tired brain is miswired.

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JFrancis 4 weeks ago

I think that's, first non-Western-set historical written by a person of colour.

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MatthewB 4 weeks ago

Hey, Megara! :-D How've you been?

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FezofRassilon 4 weeks ago

It's odd how any stories with a focus on Yaz are more about her family than her. They're getting all the screentime and her character is suffering for it.

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Titus Brendronicus 4 weeks ago

Yeah, it's a bit odd. It fleshes out Yaz's world, for lack of a better term, but it doesn't seem she's being given a character trajectory.

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Haze 4 weeks ago

RTD successfully introduced to Doctor Who the concept that you could create a more rounded character by focusing on her family as well. (There is a little bit of presaging of this 1963-1989, but not very much; I think it's fair to say that this is one of RTD's really big new ideas for the show.) Chibnall in general likes to give us strongly traditional Doctor Who infused with RTD-esque ideas, but rarely seems to have quite the same handle on how to use those ideas well. So is this a symptom of this? Chibnall has happily ticked the "family" checkbox on his list of things to copy from RTD, but isn't actually making proper use of the idea in the way RTD generally did.

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Dan L 4 weeks ago

I don't think the problem is screentime - I think Yaz gets enough, it's just that she's an entirely reactive character so far. She's usually paired with the Doctor, and so spends most of her time competently obeying orders. When she is in a scene with Ryan or Graham, it's during the quieter character moments, and their ongoing drama takes the lead there. Yaz doesn't have to make any decisions, so we don't get to see what she would do if she did, leaving her strangely unknown despite actually getting quite a lot to do in most episodes.

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FezofRassilon 4 weeks ago

I feel I always leave negative comments on here, but this episode really brought me back into this season. The pacing is great, as is the character work for the supporting cast, the exposition is more deftly woven and Jodie's Doctor is the best we've ever seen her (as is Bradley Walsh) and I'd like to see Vinay Patel come back next year.

(One small quibble- once the aliens say they're going to observe the death and the Doctor isn't needed, they just leave immediately. What's up with that?)

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TomeDeaf 4 weeks ago

For the record, Patel has said he wants to come back and write a space-y story next time. :)

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Tom B 4 weeks ago

I'd be all for that. This was the best of the season so far, and I'd like to see how Patel handles another story.

Plus, the more writers we get in next season, the fewer that Chibnall has to write himself. He needs to be writing more like his Season 2 Torchwood than his Season 1 Torchwood, More Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, less Cyberwoman

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Titus Brendronicus 4 weeks ago

I really liked this episode, and felt that Prem was a great guest character in this episode. Though putting that aside, I found it interesting the way that Patel wrote this script.

When I first saw the title "Demons of the Punjab", part of me was wondering if we were getting a gothic horror story that was in some way going to try and "correct" Doctor Who's problematic past (looking at "Talons"). Then more details seemed to come out as the episode was promoted which made this episode out to be something more like "Father's Day" than "Talons" - and I think it's interesting to look at the contrasts between Patel's approach and Cornell's approach, seeing as the basic concept (companion asks Doctor to take them back in time to see a close relative) is identical.

I can only really speak to Cornell's writing in "Father's Day" and the televised "Human Nature/Family of Blood", and what I've picked up through osmosis by reading the back catalogue of Eruditorum criticism of Cornell's Wilderness Years writings, but the impression seems to be that Cornell is interested in celebrating an ordinary humanity. I think that Patel, by contrast, is interested in highlighting moments of forgotten violence - and the Vajarian become something of a thematic fit then for this episode, becoming visual demons haunting sites of forgotten violence, not only bearing witness to but commemorating the dead: to gesture towards WW1 iconography for a moment seeing as Armistice Day has so recently past, the Vajarian put faces to unknown soldiers.

I'm probably getting overly wanky here but yeah I enjoyed this episode and thought the Vajarian thematically fit - though the series is also clearly proving that it CAN easily do a pure-historical if it wants to, it's just hesitant to do so right now.

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TomeDeaf 4 weeks ago

Given the Thijarians' MO, I think there's a decent chance they'll be back to see Graham off when he dies (which is so going to happen. I become more convinced each week that his cancer has returned), or indeed when it's the Thirteenth Doctor's turn (a little like the Ood for Tennant). Do it, Chibnall.

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JFrancis 4 weeks ago

It really seems like forever since Doctor Who has come this close to a pure 'story from history' mode. With the aliens made pure witnesses and the TARDIS crew put pretty much in the same role, this story is the first once from this series where the 'Hartnell-like' label actually felt appropriate.

Not that the Hartnell era would have gone anywhere near a historical moment like this one. I found it interesting that Manish's villainy is explicitly framed as being the result of outside influence rather than an inherent grudge. That almost but not quite hedges against placing the blame on the masses rather than the empire.

I also think it's the first time in all the similar witness-alien stories that it's felt sincere. This isn't about exacting retroactive vengeance or undoing the horror, but about remembering the unremembered. That seems more worthwhile and makes me forgive the no-nonsense nature of the reveal.

If that sounds like I'm being down on it, I do not mean to be at all - it's easily the stand out for me this year and I found myself pretty forgiving of the direction. While it didn't push things that much, some of the early shots with the Vajarians were deliciously creepy in their juxtaposition against the perfectly ordinary surroundings.

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prandeamus 4 weeks ago

"I found it interesting that Manish's villainy is explicitly framed as being the result of outside influence rather than an inherent grudge. That almost but not quite hedges against placing the blame on the masses rather than the empire."

I agree, but it fell short of any sort of clarity. It's extremely difficult to do well. If a bunch of imperialist Brits showed up, the narrative focus could easily fall on them, and it would become distorted nonsense of the white man's burden. It could even be framed to imply that the "natives" were only "uppity" because the clever white man was exerting his imperialist power. Keeping the guest cast to be entirely from the Punjab makes it hard for the casual viewer to see it's not not just a local argument between two local groups.

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JFrancis 4 weeks ago

I do wonder if the sci-fi elements had been restricted to the TARDIS crew, if there had been more space given to the historical circumstances, whether more justice could have been done to the . . . let's say causal links of the situation because calling 'complexity' feels like weaselling.

I'm coming to the conclusion that it could, both with respect to Manish and with exploring the impact of the events on Yaz. Perhaps, if there were a sci-fi element, it should have been an object rather than a pair of living aliens?

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Aylwin 4 weeks ago

The problem is that in so far as Britain can be blamed for contributing to the Partition and the associated slaughter and expulsions, the reasons lie largely in the "divide and rule" policies of the preceding decades, when the goal was to keep control of India. In the immediate run-up to independence, the British authorities strove to prevent partition, but were thwarted by the Muslim League's refusal to relent on the goal of a separate Muslim state, the swing of the bulk of the Muslim electorate behind the League and its partition policy, the refusal of Congress to make the kind of concessions to power-sharing that might have convinced the League to compromise, and the eruption of bloody communal violence from April 1946. Even the accusation of "cutting and running" by conceding a hasty partition after the failure to secure an agreement for united independence is quite debatable, given that the likely alternative appeared to be trying to hold down both sides in an impending civil war by naked force of arms indefinitely, and probably failing.

"But all this other stuff happened earlier" is something you can put in dialogue, but is hard to dramatise (and the "divide and rule" policy might not be that easy to dramatise in any case, even at an earlier period, certainly within the confines of a Doctor Who episode). So I think you can do a story about British villainy in India or you can do a story about Partition, but you probably can't do both at once, at least in a way that's both effective and reasonably accurate.

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prandeamus 4 weeks ago

So a bunch of assassins from the dawn of time abruptly decide to become disinterested observers. And the Doctor just believes them on their own say-so?

We can only speculate what would have happened if the pointless aliens had been removed and replaced with more real people. More breathing space for character development and fewer CGIs however pretty they were.

With all it's faults this was the best episode of the season for me so far. It distresses me that the bar is still low, and worries me that the show improves when Chibnall is absent.

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Sarah42 4 weeks ago

"With all its faults this was the best episode of the season for me so far. It distresses me that the bar is still low, and worries me that the show improves when Chibnall is absent."

Agreed entirely. I've thought S11's writing has been mostly terrible, however pretty it looks, but this episode startled me by being something I appreciated and even approached respecting. I could hope for Chibnall to be absent from writing more often.

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Paul F Cockburn 3 weeks, 6 days ago

“Abruptly decide to become disinterested observers”... Well, them seeing their planet completely destroyed struck me as sufficient reason for a change of heart. And least they didn’t go all 2009 Star Trek and focus on revenge...

I must admit I also have a preference for episodes where Chibnall’s name is absent, but to suggest that means he was “absent” from the writing process entirely strikes me as stupid. (Sorry, but it is.) Chibnall is the showrunner; he will have commissioned all the scripts not given to himself, he will have advised Patel during the writing process and may well have rewritten much of it (especially re: the regular cast)—but just not enough to warrant a co-script credit.

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Paul F Cockburn 3 weeks, 6 days ago

“Abruptly decide to become disinterested observers”... Well, them seeing their planet completely destroyed struck me as sufficient reason for a change of heart. And least they didn’t go all 2009 Star Trek and focus on revenge...

I must admit I also have a preference for episodes where Chibnall’s name is not to be seen, but to suggest that means he was “absent” from the writing process entirely strikes me as stupid. (Sorry, but it is.) Chibnall is the showrunner; he will have commissioned all the scripts not given to himself, he will have advised Patel during the writing process and may well have rewritten much of it (especially re: the regular cast)—but just not enough to warrant a co-script credit.

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prandeamus 3 weeks, 5 days ago

Well, I wasn't shooting for stupid even if I hit it.

You are quite right, of course Chibnall must have some oversight on all scripts even when he has no explicit credit; that's what showrunners do.

Let's try again

"There is an inverse correlation between Chibnall's credited involvement in a script and my enjoyment of it, within acceptable rhetorical parameters"

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Mica 4 weeks ago

I've also been thinking about what this season's emphasis on witnessing and testimony might mean, and frankly I'm reaching negative conclusions. I think it's the perfect fit for the social media era's affective economy, and I don't mean that in a good way.

In short, I feel like Jodie Whittaker's basically playing the Slacktivist Doctor, who just observes injustices and tragedies (like an internet user watching a political video on Facebook), adds a few outraged or sentimental comments, makes exaggerated sad or angry faces, and then ultimately does nothing.

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mx_mond 4 weeks ago

I am by no means an expert in cultural studies focused on memory and adjacent topics, but I do think being a witness is meant to carry a heavier connotation than the time travel equivalent of changing your profile picture on Facebook. I’d say it has to do with, for example, reminding people of how complicated the past was, resisiting simplifying narratives and the repurposing of the past to suit someone’s political agenda. And also more nebulous things, such as honoring the victims, bearing the load of memory of what happened, taking care that we learn from the past and not forget it.

I think there are a lot of arguments to be made about the insufficiency of the ethical stance the show has decided to adopt this year, but I didn’t actually have a problem with this aspect of the story.

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Mica 4 weeks ago

Point taken, but IMO, this series is not doing a good job of "reminding people of how complicated the past was" or "resisting simplifying narratives."

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Lambda 4 weeks ago

I'm heading towards describing this series as "not very good at sci-fi". All the more sci-fi stories have been, well, not very much really, (they're also precisely the ones solely written by Chibnall, so there's plenty of room for alternative patterns, but this one is fitting best at the moment,) and now with both of the historical stories, I'm finding the historical parts are fine to very good, but wouldn't they be better without the sci-fi elements?

Less so here than with the very deep problems they have in Rosa, this is easily the best story we've had so far this year. But still, the sci-fi parts have another species that only did one thing, and now only does one other thing, (a step ahead of the species which only does one thing period, but still not admirable,) and the story fails to address their accidental interference, they are actually going around alarming people, they concealed the murder of the holy man for a while by seeming responsible for it themselves, and if they're going to do this a million times, history is not going to get by untouched. And I do also find uncomfortable, with no benefit, the basic idea of the TARDIS team deliberately going to meet someone with the plan of pretending to be totally different people because they can't announce themselves as time travellers.

The best moment in this story IMO is the reveal that this is taking place right on the new India-Pakistan border. Suddenly, a border, out of nothing. Something I'm unlikely to experience in my own life, and doesn't usually appear in stories either, but was reality for so many people. A genuinely valuable moment. Which could have happened in any original historical drama.

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Simon Blake 4 weeks ago

"the Welshest forest in India"

I'm not going to stick my neck out and say it WAS, but that forest (and the outside shots in general) didn't look at all Welsh to me - way more South African. I assume that the crew went on a jolly to SA and got several episodes in the can on the one trip.

"The same sense of passivity that pervades Rosa is in play here"

The same sense of passivity pervades pretty much the entire series so far. Doctor Who, if it was about anything, used to be about the Doctor and crew turning up somewhere and FIXING things. They generally made a difference. This season, so far, they've made almost no difference at all, week in, week out. It's beginning to grate.

"The revelation that the Vajarians aren’t evil comes basically out of nowhere"

I disagree. I pick up on the odd phrase "we will stand over your corpses". It's an odd sort of a warning, and noticeably carefully NOT a threat. Or possibly I'm just getting used to Chibby Who's tendency to make "monsters" benign and evil mainly coming from those who present as straight white men.

For the second week in a row, though, my primary pleasure was technical - this episode SOUNDED incredible. Seriously, if you can, rewatch it with surround sound and a good subwoofer - the Valjarian's first appearance is, with a good sound system, absolutely terrifying. That, combined with the terrific rendition of the closing theme, made the sound design the thing about this episode that stood out for me. Who has NEVER sounded this good.

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Liam 4 weeks ago

It was filmed in Spain, I believe.

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Harlequin 4 weeks ago

"Doctor Who, if it was about anything, used to be about the Doctor and crew turning up somewhere and FIXING things."

Not so much in the First Doctor's era, and the Fifth Doctor (with his three companions) was also often quite passive.

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Simon Blake 3 weeks, 6 days ago

So... just the Second Doctor, the Third Doctor, the Fourth Doctor, the Sixth Doctor, the Seventh Doctor, the Eighth Doctor, the War Doctor, the Ninth Doctor, the Tenth Doctor, the Eleventh Doctor and the Twelfth Doctor then.

Good point.

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FezofRassilon 4 weeks ago

A quick note on episode titles: so far we've had three titles that are vaguely misleading. The Woman who Fell to Earth is Grace not the Doctor, the Demons of the Punjab are personal demons and as someone pointed out in that episode's comments, the Arachnid in the UK is the Trump stand-in and his business empire.

Here's hoping Kerblam! refers to blowing up space Amazon.

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Aylwin 4 weeks ago

The Mountbatten remark made me wince a bit, but I don't think it's ever unreasonable to place responsibility for mass murder on the people who perpetrate it, especially when, as in the case of Partition, their actions are essentially voluntary and self-organising. The historical background that contributes to people wanting to murder their neighbours does not absolve them of blame for murdering their neighbours.

While the aliens were very redundant, the idea of "witnessing" as a worthwhile undertaking perhaps does something to offset the problem of the Doctor's effective inability to make a serious difference in this sort of historical setting, and to make the case for it being worth using the series to draw attention to such events. Though that point would probably work better if this season had not repeatedly rendered the Doctor rather ineffectual even in other contexts. (Also, further to a conversation from some weeks ago, it's nice to have some markedly inhuman-looking not-really-monsters speaking for themselves, though their being reformed monsters blunts that a bit.)

On the wider cultural currency of witnessing ... social atomisation and the fear of dying alone (spatially and/or emotionally)? Anxiety about the bleak futility of existence in a society which is now predominantly irreligious, and in which posterity-based notions of transcending mortality (via children, and/or by leaving some sort of physical, social or cultural mark on the world) are also curtailed by the impending collapse of everything?

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Aylwin 4 weeks ago

Just to elaborate a bit on the latter point, if you disbelieve or seriously doubt the existence of a "hereafter", whether in the form of continued post-death existence or in that of something left behind that will go on in the living world, enjoying your life and/or making life better in the here and now for others, whose future is as constrained as your own, is all that remains. And for many people those things may be enough, but others do not have them, or feel that they have them, or, having them, do not feel that they are enough. And when you reach the point where those things of the present are in the past and there is little left in the future but death, it must get harder.

So the idea of being noticed and recognised and remembered offers some solace, and the fantasy of this being done by someone or something not subject to the oncoming foundering of the human world is all the more appealing. While it has less to offer than the prospect of a future life or of a future legacy in life, it is comfort of a kind.

Also on this, cf. Mad Max: Fury Road - "Witness me!"

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Chris 4 weeks ago

While I liked the design of the monsters (called Thijarians in my subtitles, if that's of any interest), part of me feels that for this particular story they should have appeared more like the Grim Reaper, as a subtle Doctor Who-ish explanation of why we have that image. It makes sense that they'd be seen by many people, so stories would get around.

Maybe the Reaper is too strong a western image to bring into this episode, but it could potentially work as the stand in for British violence that Elizabeth noted is missing.

I just want more skeletons I guess.

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the muddling monk 4 weeks ago

Yeah I'm intrigued as to where "Vajarians" came from in the first place as most of the reviews I've seen have called them that (aside from the Telegraph, which plumped for Thujarian) when according to the subtitles, my ears, and the TARDIS Wiki they're Thijarians.

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the muddling monk 4 weeks ago

Also at the risk of being both crude and pedantic I wonder what Dr. Freud would make of "Whtitakerian".

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Cat Mara 4 weeks ago

> Yeah I'm intrigued as to where "Vajarians" came from in the first place

Maybe from someone who speaks with a British accent with th-fronting?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Th-fronting

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Chris C 4 weeks ago

I sympathise completely with the struggle to rank the episodes. Woman, Monument, and Tsuranga are just sitting in a nebulous tier somewhere, I can't decide which redeeming aspects outweigh which irritations or indeed how much I enjoyed/hated any of them at all.

But Demons is head and shoulders above all of the others. The direction, editing and acting from the guests were largely mediocre, but it's so refreshing for Doctor Who to feel like it's properly functioning again after 5 weeks (not only that, but to successfully be doing something new and important with itself!) that most quibbles are eclipsed.

The mere act of allowing the main characters to be forced into an emotionally complex and harrowing situation, unsurprisingly, elevates them a lot. Their fundamental powerlessness means the episode has to be considerate and melancholy, rather than warping to fit around heroism. It manages to more-or-less get the payoff of a pure historical despite not being one, and the sci-fi element is unshowily used to complement the historical storyline (rather than fuck it up and drain away emphasis, like Rosa's). It effectively creates an atmosphere of suspense and dread that kept my attention for the entire back half. And it's the antithesis of a trite celebrity historical, making a point of depicting people who were forgotten by history.

Just from the project it sets out on, it makes virtually all other NuWho historicals seem infantile, even if it's slack in several aspects of craft. And it makes the first five episodes even more frustrating, if this is what we could have been getting instead.

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Simon Blake 4 weeks ago

"it makes virtually all other NuWho historicals seem infantile"

Two points:
1. it's a kids' show. Infantile isn't necessarily a bad thing in a show meant primarily to be wholesome family entertainment.
2. I'm going to advance the argument that NuWho could not have just dived straight in in 2005 with heavy, issues-raising episodes like this, or we'd might have never seen more of David Tennant past the word "Barcelona". At this point NuWho has *earned* the ability to go to these places. You might argue with some justification that they earned it a while back and could have started sooner, though.

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Tom B 4 weeks ago

I'd say they did start sooner, with Vincent and the Doctor.

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TomeDeaf 4 weeks ago

As commented on the Patreon review --

Ooh, I'd disagree that we didn't really need the aliens. The Thijarians (that's how the Beeb subtitled them, btw) add almost as much as the Krafayis in Vincent and the Doctor, the difference here being that 2 historicals in such close succession like this feels like they're *training* the audience not to need the SF bits. I wouldn't be surprised if they did commit to a pure historical for Series 12. But until then - I'm with Jack [as he said on Twitter], the "unacknowledged dead" angle the aliens brought to it made me cry, and I can't see how you'd get that astonishing shot of Prem's head joining countless others without them.

As a whole, this was terribly effective (and affecting) television.

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TomeDeaf 4 weeks ago

Let's also not forget that this was meant to be Episode 9, and then they explicitly chose to move it up to Episode 6 in the running order so that it would go out on Remembrance Day. BBC1, on the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, went from the bloody Queen in Westminster Abbey to discussions of how Britain fucked up India, portrayal of Indians fighting on the British side during WWII, and explicit calling out of an ancient and fucked-up murderous society that, in the real world, we can only hope will head more in a "bearing witness" direction. It's not The Happiness Patrol, but ... damn.

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JFrancis 4 weeks ago

Crumbs. I was wondering how intentional that was all the way through since -- well, it felt a heck of a lot more pointed than I would have ever expected.

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TomeDeaf 4 weeks ago

I've seen it suggested that the story should've included a Sikh presence, which is fair, though I think the defence of "it's impossible to cram everything about Partition into 50 minutes" is equally fair. And it's worth bearing in mind that Mandip Gill is of Sikh descent/extraction (Mandip is, at least, a Sikh name), so one could argue that all three faiths were in some way "represented" in the story. A nice plethora of real-life details a white author probably would not have got right, too - bheti, nani, sadhu, mahr, etc. I suspect Patel had some input to the writing of the Khan family in "Arachnids", explaining why South Asian viewers were so delighted that the correct plural form of "pakora" was used (which apparently almost never happens). I mean, we know he gave Chibnall the title, so it doesn't seem implausible he contributed to other aspects.

Apropos of nothing, there's a clever bit of wordplay in that Prem is Hindi for "love", so when the Doctor says "love abides", she's arguably describing the Thijarian memorial project as much as she is articulating a worldview.

Last point - one of the leading historians of the Partition of India is actually called Yazmin Khan!

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Lambda 4 weeks ago

India and Pakistan together contain almost a billion Hindus, over 350 million Muslims, and only about 20 million Sikhs, which is more comparable to the numbers of Christians and Buddhists, so I don't think you can see them as a major omission. Although there is a greater proportion of them in the Punjab, since that's where Sikhism comes from.

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TomeDeaf 4 weeks ago

That the story is set in the Punjab was precisely the grounds for the complaint, I think (77% of all Sikhs in India are in the Punjab). I doubt the point would've been raised if this were a story set in Kerala or Tamil Nadu - there it would have been Christianity instead.

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ScarvesandCelery 4 weeks ago

"And it’s, to say the least, puzzling that the Doctor completely fails to notice a bullet hole when inspecting a corpse."

My personal headcanon to explain this is that the Vajarians healed the wound as part of paying their repspects. Obviously nothing in the episode to confirm this, so it still counts as a plot hole, but as a rule these types of plot holes really don't bother me if there's a simple and reasonably logical headcanon I can come up with to explain them.

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Jack 4 weeks ago

This is where the show not being interesting enough to re-watch bites me on the butt...because I completely missed that everyone present didn't realize the holy man was shot to death. That's not so much a plot hole as a detail that someone at the script editing stage should have noticed.

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David Ainsworth 4 weeks ago

I think that's right, as there was a substance on the man's body which the Doctor noted and which we were meant to think was the cause of death. Presumably that substance did away with the wound, although one would expect a lot of corpses to turn up on battlefields with no cause of death if this were a standard thing.

So it's a patch, but it's a patch that causes a larger problem than it solves.

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Tom B 4 weeks ago

Persumably then the Vajarians also fixed the bullet hole in the holy man's clothing as well.

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Kaan Vural 3 weeks, 6 days ago

It's no sillier than the Doctor's clothes regenerating with him, really.

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Simon Blake 3 weeks, 6 days ago

"the Doctor's clothes regenerating with him"

Do you even watch the show? At all?

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TomeDeaf 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Erm...this is exactly what happened when Hartnell turned into Troughton...

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Paul F Cockburn 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Er, Troughton revealed much of his costume from under Hartnell’s cloak, in the first episode of “The Power of the Daleks”.

Meantime, between the cold start reprise of the regeneration and the first scene proper of “Castrovalva”, the Doctor somehow changes his footwear...

Regeneration energy can clearly do some weird things. 😀

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Simon Blake 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Re: Hartnell/Troughton, the show didn't really know what it was doing at that point. Troughton/Pertwee happened offscreen. Since then, (continuity errors like Davison's footwear aside) it's been explicitly shown that the Doctor's clothing absolutely does not regenerate. To the point that the most recent regeneration actually explicitly, even *loudly* pointed out that the new Doctor spent the whole of the first story in the previous incarnation's clothes, and there was a whole scene with dialogue dedicated to the business of sorting out a new look.

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TomeDeaf 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Sure, but that doesn't really warrant an unnecessarily dismissive/gate-keeping-y response to a long-term commenter on this blog implying that they haven't seen the show/don't know what they're talking about when the very thing they stated *was in the sodding show*. Ironically, Whittaker wasn't in Capaldi's clothes anyway - she was in a scaled-down version of them, several sizes smaller. So someone could perfectly happily headcanon that regeneration still has something of an impact on clothing size, at least, just as it will quite happily add gel to your hair (Tennant) or do your roots blonde for you (Whittaker). Basically, there is no one "explicit" rule about this, however you'd like to slice it, and certainly not one that requires a tedious "r u even a fan tho" kind of response.

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Jack 4 weeks ago

Better than all of the Chibnall written ones is a low bar to clear, but, man, this one would have been brilliant had it been a stealth pure historical.

Think about it: The Doctor takes Yaz back in time to see her grandmother. She's marrying someone else. Yaz instantly assumes that something's been screwed up in time, drawing on the experience with Rosa. People are dying as a big historical event approaches. But as the story unfolds, the Doctor comes to realize the simple true: this is history. And it has to happen this way.

Sure, it's "The City On The Edge Of Forever" and in Who context "Father's Day"-don't save someone to keep the proper flow of history going-but then you don't have the virtually inexplicable aliens, who go from menacing horror to "no, we're cool and nice guys who just memorialize people, honest" and that can be replaced with some nice character moments.

And maybe then you can find a way for the Doctor to actually DO something on the plot level.

As for the episode we got-was I the only one who was waiting, at the end scene, for Yaz's grandmother to ask "by the way, how is the Doctor doing?" or some other sign that she remembered Yaz being there?

Re-watch count: 0 for 6, but this one came close.

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prandeamus 4 weeks ago

"As for the episode we got-was I the only one who was waiting, at the end scene, for Yaz's grandmother to ask "by the way, how is the Doctor doing?" or some other sign that she remembered Yaz being there?"

I thought something similar.

But Yaz is her fave grand-daughter, if you want a little headcanon to patch over the omission.

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Tom B 4 weeks ago

You could take grandmother's willingness to tell Yaz about the watch as a way to check to see if Yaz had time traveled back to those events yet.

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Ozyman.Jones 3 weeks, 4 days ago

It's finally happened... I find myself in complete agreement with Jack on something (maybe you'll make a Socialist outta me yet)

But nothing this season has so far warranted a rewatch. It's perfectly disposable modern television.

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Aylwin 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Different Jack.

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Ozyman.Jones 3 weeks, 2 days ago

Ahhh... so it is. My apologies. Thanks for the correction.

But, still in agreement with the re-watchability count.

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Jack 3 weeks, 2 days ago

Maybe I should make my name here "Not That Jack" then...

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kevin merchant 3 weeks, 2 days ago

Try some rewatches... they are actually surprisingly rewatchable. I think it's just that this series is just such a jolt for long time viewers that the first reaction is "eeeewww!"

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David Ainsworth 4 weeks ago

So I thought that both the "moral" of the story and the Doctor's big damn hero speech were overt and obvious in this story, but nobody seems to be mentioning or engaging with it here.

The stopped watch represents (obviously) a halted moment of time. For the brief period where these two characters were married, they were happy. And even after husband is shot dead (by his own brother, or by his army brother? The ambiguity seems deliberate), the wife remains the first woman married in Pakistan, and the choice resonates along time to Yaz's "present."

And the Doctor did nothing? With the holy man dead, the marriage (which we know did happen) could not have happened without the Doctor there. Her speech about love and hope is clearly the "message" of this series, and more characteristic of this Doctor than her version of the "protected" speech which she also delivers here.

It's quite fair to excoriate the show for putting forward a trite "meet hate with love" message while showing the forces of hate as being unconquered (though I'll note that if the Doctor's stories are about fighting evil, she cannot ever vanquish it without her stories ending), but not even acknowledging the message in the first place seems suspect. Especially when the particulars of the Doctor's historical intervention here adhere entirely to the love portion of the plot, and where Prem sacrifices himself not just for love of his mother and wife, but for love of his brother and his army brother, and where that sacrifice is not in vain. He tries and fails to save his killers, while saving the others. That is surely a more Doctorish "solution" to the situation than setting cunning traps to kill the attackers, or deploying fixed machine-gun emplacements around the farm to mow down attacker after attacker until being overwhelmed by sheer numbers.

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ScarvesandCelery 4 weeks ago

Agreed. There's something about the whole "The Doctor is ineffectual this season/ doesn't do anything" discourse that just feels off to me (not so much that I think people are being too harsh to her because she's the first female Doctor, at least not in communities like this one, more that it just doesn't reflect how I've found her character). Aside from anything else, she's felt far more involved in the resolutions (such as they are) than the ninth Doctor, who basically didn't save the day on his own in any of his stories - it was usually saved by a supporting character he inspired to heroism. Whittaker's definitely trading off of that as one of the more collaborative Doctors, but I'm rather fond of the Doctors who inspire heroism in ordinary people through the example they set. Plus, like nine, she's still gotten her share of hero moments - I can't say I agree with El's assessment that she has yet to have a great moment when she absolutely crackled when goading Krazko to strangle her, or shone when getting her first "I'm the Doctor" moment, or even in her first "This planet is protected" scene in this week's episode. I feel the discussion of Whittaker's Doctor has been reductive in the same way "Davison was bland" or "Capaldi was a great Doctor with bad writing" is a reductive discussion their doctors.

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mx_mond 3 weeks, 6 days ago

The series really seems to be going for a Last Jedi-type of message (“we win not by fighting what we hate, but by saving what we love”) and it finally cohered for me in Demons of the Punjab. But I think for many viewers this might be hamstrung by the structure of certain episodes which seem left unresolved (The Ghost Monument and Arachnids in the UK; one could also add The Woman Who Fell to Earth and Rosa as ones where the threat is ultimately resolved by other characters, but I actually have no issue with that). This can shift the emphasis to the “not fighting what we hate” part and create the impression of the Doctor being unwilling or unable to fight evil.

I think that also contributes to the impression many people have of the Doctor not having had a proper “big moment” yet – they seem to expect an anti-war speech like in The Zygon Inversion or an “I am the Doctor” boast; moments where the spotlight shines on the Doctor alone. Personally, I’m not much of a fan of those moments (I thought Capaldi over-acted in his big monologues), and I really like the more low-key ones like her konfrontation with Krasko.

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ScarvesandCelery 3 weeks, 6 days ago

"one could also add The Woman Who Fell to Earth and Rosa as ones where the threat is ultimately resolved by other characters"

Agreed with most of your comment (I liked Capaldi's monologues myself), but I feel like the Doctor at least resolved the plot in "The Woman Who Fell to Earth"

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mx_mond 3 weeks, 5 days ago

You’re absolutely right – my intention was to say that I could see people make that argument re: TWWFtE, although personally I’m completely with you in that the Doctor had the situation completely under control and resolved and it’s just that a spanner was thrown into the works in the form of Karl. Re-reading my comment, I see that instead I expressed that in a way that says that I agree with that framing and am just not bothered by it.

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steven 4 weeks ago

I thought this was a pretty moving episode, in places, but it was hamstrung by the dialogue. Badly. I've felt pretty out of sync with the wider reception because of it - to the point where I'd peg this as the least successful of the entire season.

I'm not too sure what it is, but the dialogue all came off as really flat to me, to a degree you rarely see on TV. There was no rhythm - which could be down to the script as written, the direction, or the performances. Or a combination thereof. I genuinely found it painful.

I'm enjoying the series though. If there's a hot take for the era so far it's that people are gonna peg the villains as the era's big flaw. With Moff it was (fairly or unfairly) the complexity of his plotting, and unless they've got something big in the big for finale I think that reputation could end up sticking. The narratives about Moffat's tenure proved hard for him to shift, no matter what he did, so I could really see that take bedding in.

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steven 4 weeks ago

*something big in the bag, i meant

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Rodolfo Piskorski 4 weeks ago

Poorly written, poorly scripted, bad dialogue, manipulative, and shallow. The doctor is coming across as more and more stupid.

The worst of the season.

1. Woman / Rosa
2. Ghost
3. Tsuranga
4. Arachnids / Demons

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Chicanery 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Do you have any substantive criticisms? Calling something bad or poorly written doesn’t really mean anything if you can’t explain why it’s bad or poorly written.

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Rodolfo Piskorski 3 weeks, 6 days ago

I could, but I don't feel emotionally stable enough. I am angry at myself for disliking DW.

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TomeDeaf 3 weeks, 6 days ago

You should never feel angry with yourself about something like that. It's perfectly OK to dislike a given ep of Doctor Who and still be a jolly good egg, no Kill the Moon pun intended.

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Camestros Felapton 4 weeks ago

This episode looked really good and continued a feature of this season of great cinematography. I wasn't sold on it on first viewing and the younger brother was poorly developed.

I think it is notable we've had numerous funeral service scenes in the season so far.

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homunculette 4 weeks ago

Most of what I think has been said by other people already -- I agree with the general positivity and I think David Ainsworth above mostly has it right, although the fact that this moment is underplayed still means Jodie hasn't gotten her hero moment.

My biggest problem with the episode that hasn't been mentioned yet is the way Sheffield is figured. Umbreen randomly puts her finger on the map... and happens to land on an industrial center in the country that has been imperially occupying hers for hundreds of years? It effaces the fact that Indian/Pakistani migration to Britain is largely the direct result of British imperialism. Also was not a fan of Umbreen talking about how great Sheffield was at the end -- I have nothing against Sheffield obviously but it seemed like a lot of English parochialism to me, implicitly saying that England is much more accepting and untroubled than turbulent India and Pakistan.

Still, I did quite like it.

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Jesse 4 weeks ago

I am almost entirely in agreement with Elizabeth about this one, except that I'll go a step farther and say outright that it would have been a better episode if the only alien in it was the Doctor. The "quick, we need to shoehorn some monsters into this!" attitude is all the more grating in a story that turns, after all, on people behaving monstrously.

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Leslie.L 4 weeks ago

I concer.

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Tom B 4 weeks ago

"Series 10 is a pretty close-run thing in terms of whether this would top its first six."

I'd quibble with that, as the sixth one in Series 10 was Extremis, which followed Oxygen. I wouldn't take points off of Extremis for the two episodes it led into, and think most of the stories would have a problem positively comparing to it (though Moffat did it later that year with the final two parter and the Christmas story, not to mention the previous Christmas story and Heaven Sent). That said, Demons of the Punjab was a good story and those two stories certainly wouldn't be embarrassed to be in the company of this one.

I'd agree with the Series 3 and Series 4 comment. Latter RTD seemed to be loading the higher quality episodes into the back half. You could actually say that about Series 5 as well, except The Eleventh Hour is one of the best introductions of a new Doctor and a new companion we've ever had.

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Cat Mara 4 weeks ago

I felt the SF and historical elements just didn't mesh in this one. I loved the alien design but they felt like a distraction in what to me was a more important story of a family torn apart by the partition of their country. Maybe being from a former-British-colony-that-also-ended-up-partitioned myself that part of the plot had special resonance for me.

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Tom B 3 weeks, 6 days ago

I think the sf elements were in to be able to say "Look! It's real Doctor Who! We've even got aliens in it!" and use the aliens as a mcguffin while they tried to slip the historical story that they actually wanted to have by the audience. It would have been nice if the producers (it might not be just Chibnall making the decision) had been willing to push things enough to do a pure historical without the sf trappings.

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Dan 3 weeks, 6 days ago

You're an American as you say but you're far from the only ones who learned about partition in this episode, just as I'm sure a lot of Americans learned a lot about the bus boycott, and even more if they followed it up afterwards. (One of the things I learned was that the US military attempted to enforce segregation for their troops in British cities in WWII, and the British cities weren't having it. I've been in one of the pubs where this began. At the same time black GIs got a taste of a land where things were different.) Partition isn't known about that much in Britain either, as you may know.

I didn't think the episode particularly *didn't* blame the British, at all. My feeling was it totally went there, in a number of ways (e.g. WWII connection) and in a number of lines (radio broadcast, dissatisfaction with the process, English not too popular round here).

Wasn't the main focus, didn't go into tremendous detail, like Rosa definitely offered the scope for further research.

I reckon *loads* of people have gone and looked things up after both historicals.



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Mark Pompeo 3 weeks, 6 days ago

FINALLY this season rose above "perfectly fine" territory and delivered something really good and definitely worthy of a rewatch!

Were any other American fans struck by the parallels between Manesh and the other partition supporters and the turn towards fascism occurring among U.S. conservatives? Prem's line about perfectly ordinary people doing and supporting horrible things landed hard.

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TomeDeaf 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Not an American, but I thought that Manish reading pamphlets and listening to angry men on the radio was rather reminiscent of someone watching Alex Jones videos on YouTube.

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Mark Pompeo 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Yeah spot on! Exactly the type of parallel I'm talking about. Ordinary people fed a steady diet of angry, distrustful rhetoric that drives them to abandon decency and be completely oblivious that they've abandoned decency.

As an aside, it was really nice knowing I could leave that comment on this blog without worrying about any of those angry Republicans seeing the comment and lashing out at me. This blog is clearly not the kind of place such ppl would visit...ever lol.

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Riggio 3 weeks, 6 days ago

I only got a chance to see the episode last night, and I'm not running my own blog with regular Doctor Who reviews anymore. So I'm pretty much writing just to dialogue with Elizabeth, and contribute a little bit to some of the thought processes that are flowing toward the eventual Whittaker-era TARDIS Eruditorum.

The real tension of this story is the Chibnall era revisiting the "Not one line" principle from The Aztecs, following how that was elaborated back in Paul Cornell (and RTD)'s "Father's Day." The Doctor and friends change history all the time. The history they can't change is history that directly impacts their own life. Barbara couldn't change the development of Aztec culture, because it would cause a huge change in her own planet's history. Rose couldn't save her father's life because it would create a huge paradox in her own personal history. Yaz couldn't save Prem because it would literally prevent her actual grandparents from meeting, so she and none of her family would exist. The Doctor and Clara's relationship ended up causing huge temporal instabilities because they kept interfering in each other's histories. (The only intervention that wasn't destructive was Clara's influence on using the Doomsday weapon in The Day of the Doctor, only because it had already happened without the Doctor remembering it.)

So the history that can't change is the history of your own causes. Where the Doctor can interfere is where there's wiggle room: places and times where she and her companions have never been before, where she's an active participant in the history already, or in unwitnessed incidents.

So there were actually two things preventing the Doctor and crew from saving Prem. The fact that Partition is a massive event in Earth's history doesn't have much to do with that; the Doctor saves small groups of good people from massive historical cataclysms all the time, like the family from The Fires of Pompeii. Yaz's existence required ending Umbreen's marriage to Prem, and his murder was how it happened. Plus, the aliens were already witnessing it, so locking the event in time. So an interesting idea to follow up (and if I ever get to write for Doctor Who, I will), is that some group of witnessing aliens becomes enemies of the Doctor, because they keep locking deaths in history that she's trying to prevent.

As for the bullet hole issue, I'm down to say that the Doctor was primarily scanning the purple stuff that the aliens left on him, and she was distracted from the bullet wound.

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Riggio 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Also, because nobody's mentioned these parts of Indian history, I will, since I know it.

I found it pretty clear in the story that Manish had been radicalized by radio broadcasts and pamphlets from the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), the militant Hindu nationalist organization that started in the 1920s, whose successor organization is the Bharatiya Janata Party. Most of Manish's radicalization would probably have happened while Prem and their older brother were fighting the Japanese as part of the British Colonial Army in southeast Asia.

Watching the episode, I could see that the militants on horseback who kill Prem and steal Umbreen's family farm were implied to be RSS. Most of the Hindu mobs and gangs who massacred Muslim and Sikh famlies and communities during Partition were RSS. Vinay Patel would probably have known this.

It's why I find the episode very brave. A more reactionary approach the story could have taken would have been for Umbreen to have had family who rejected the marriage on nationalist grounds. There were plenty of Muslim militias in Pakistan and Bangladesh massacring Hindu and Sikh families during Partition too, after all. But given the anti-Muslim racism powering so much of Britain's own nationalist politics today, it would have been terrible to go in this direction. Instead, Patel took the more courageous path of highlighting the violence of Hindutva extremism during Partition, especially as the BJP is such a powerful influence in Indian politics today (and British politics as Brexit desperation leads to pandering to the nationalists who are strong in contemporary India, such as Prime Minister and former RSS youth wing member Narendra Modi).

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Riggio 3 weeks, 6 days ago

And here are my rankings so far, just to be contrarian.

1. Arachnids in the UK
2. Demons of the Punjab
3. Rosa
4. Tsuranga Conundrum
5. The Woman Who Fell to Earth
6. The Ghost Monument

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Aylwin 3 weeks, 5 days ago

And of course Patel is presumably (given his name) from a Hindu background himself, so focusing on the offences of "his side" rather than the other would seem the more proper, non-inflammatory way of going about things in any case.

Incidentally, this comment reminded me of something that seemed weird - Prem talked about fighting in Siam (Thailand). Why? As far as I know, British forces never entered the country during the war. Why not say Burma?

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homunculette 3 weeks, 6 days ago

for the record, I've been missing your Doctor Who posts! Glad to see you somewhat active over here.

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FezofRassilon 3 weeks, 5 days ago

I think you've hit the nail on the head here. Moffat's idea of time travel is very schrodigner's cat: it can be anything until it's witnessed, and then it has to unfold that way. (With wriggle room, of course, e.g. The teselecta) To go one further, it's very fitting that Moffat's very timey-wimey era ends by introducing Testimony- an initiative designed to comprehensively map out all of history. And once the timeline is set, what was once broken and messed about with (the whole universe blew up, remember) is fixed, and passed onto the next showrunner to invent their own laws of time travel. But all of it was witnessed, so no one can say it didn't happen.

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Nindokag 3 weeks, 6 days ago

I'm so torn on this one. I was very hyped for this episode. I love the premise very much, and I desperately want to see Doctor Who do a lot more non-western-centric history in general, non-celebrity-focused history in general, and South Asian history in particular. The partition of India is a huge event that I know embarrassingly little about; I want to learn more

But the execution was a let down. The dialog was really clunky. Almost every line was badly on-the-nose and/or a TV cliche.

As many people have said, the aliens were shoehorned in, and it would have been better without them. Sadly, I'd go one step further: the Doctor and companions were shoehorned in too. It would have been a better story without them, too.

I'm getting the weirdest feeling from this season that the Doctor and companions are in fact extraneous to most of the stories. Especially in the historicals, but even in the present and future stories, it often feels like they're just there to observe, and can't affect the plot in any way.

Instead of the doctor crashing into a genre and deforming its narrative logic with his/her own, in the Chibnall era so far the Doctor seems to crash into a genre and bounce off of it, powerless to change outcomes. The villains accomplish their plans and walk away, and all the protagonists can do is offer commentary and mitigate harm here and there. History is nothing but a series of tragedies we can only observe, never prevent.

:-/

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TomeDeaf 3 weeks, 5 days ago

"The villains accomplish their plans and walk away" - that's just not true, is it? Only Ilin, Robertson and Manish really get away with it - maybe a higher proportion than in previous seasons, but by no means all or even most of the season's villains.

The Doctor & co stop T'zim-Sha killing Karl; blow up the Remnants instead of getting suffocated by them; stop Krasko from changing Rosa Parks' history and send him back into the past; and fill the Pting up with the energy of an exploding bomb and eject it into space, stopping it eating the entire Tsuranga ship.

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Nindokag 3 weeks, 5 days ago

Hi TomeDeaf,
Well, everything you said is correct, I can't argue with that. Let me amend my statement...

Krasko was banished to the past, yes, but he's not the villain I was thinking of. The climax of "Rosa" was "we have to not help her" -- it was explicitly about letting the bad guys (i.e. the upholders of Jim Crow) arrest Rosa and not lifting a finger, because history has to go a certain way. Just like how the climax of Demons of the Punjab is about how they can't save Prem.

I'll grant you that the Pting and Tim Shaw were soundly beaten. Both of those episodes end with *funerals* for people who died in the course of beating them. Saving Karl from Tim Shaw doesn't feel like a victory when we lose Grace in exchange.

So maybe what I should have said instead of "the villains win" is "every story (except Ghost Monument) has had a tragic ending about the doctor's inability to save somebody"

It's reminding me of what Elizabeth wrote about the stretch of defeats in Hartnell's season 3. It's not necessarily a bad thing to have a total downer of a season once in a while. But wow is it ever different from the whimsical campiness that I usually enjoy about DW.

Anyway I'm sounding very negative so let me add that I did like a lot of things about Demons of the Punjab. The family drama! The plot twist! The celebration of a Hindu-Muslim wedding even as the border is drawn through their village. The symbolism of the watch stopped forever at the one moment they were happily married. The climactic confrontation between Prem and his brother. That especially was very affecting.

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TomeDeaf 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Ah gotcha, I'm with you now. Yes, I'd agree with that.

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Areanimator 3 weeks, 6 days ago

"God forbid a famous criminal dies alone and the Tessalecta, the Valjarians, and the Testament all show up simultaneously."

I noticed the repeated instances of alien cultures devoted solely to "witnessing" too. It's interesting that "witnessing" in all these cases means "recording", plucking a person's mind or body out of their context and preserving them like insects in amber (or pickles in a jar). There's a thread that could be followed here about the internet age and its obsession with preserving individual moments, say, in a person's Facebook timeline, or the project to develop AI holographic replicas of Holocaust survivors to be placed in museums in order to read testimony in response to visitor questions. There's also the related obsession with "fidelity" - filling in the frames and colorizing old war footage, for example, to make it seem more "real", or the VR "experiences" where you're supposed to walk a mile in the shoes of a refugee. As if we couldn't understand anyone's perspective unless we literally are placed inside it. As if we had to replicate in excruciating detail a moment in history in order to connect with it.

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Roderick T. Long 3 weeks, 1 day ago

The last scene in the aliens' ship really reminded me of the Soul Hunters on Babylon 5.

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Chiles 3 weeks, 5 days ago

i'm inordinately pleased you kept 'Vajarians' for this post. not that i dislike 'Thijarians' for any particular reason but, for obv reasons, 'Vajarians' is better.

i realize that contributes nothing to the discussion but still.

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David 3 weeks, 5 days ago

Fine episode, but such a blatant example of why three companions is too many. If there were ever a story that deserved Yas and the Doctor head to head for extended periods, interacting, talking, disagreeing! Think of how much better that would this already good episode.

The companions haven't really disagreed with the Doctor this series, which has left it with a lack of any real conflict. Even Grace's death went by with a "well, what can ya do." This lack of internal conflict makes everything feel predictable and drab. But how are the companions ever going to develop enough of a relationship with the Doctor to be able to call her out, when they don't get any screen time? And when everyone is so dang pleasant that most of their interactions boil down to "Ryan nods emphatically."

Maybe "nice doctor" was a bad idea, storytelling-wise.

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Daibhid C 3 weeks, 2 days ago

I'd say the main purpose of the aliens was to keep the Doctor, as well as the audience, confused about what kind of story she was in. If the holy man who was going to perform the wedding is killed and there aren't aliens around who -- by Doctor Who logic -- most likely killed him for alien reasons, then I don't really see how you get "Could it have been the angry guy who wants to stop the wedding?" to stretch for an entire episode.

It occurs to me that I'm honestly not sure if the Mountbatten line was intended as "I namedrop famous people I know all the time, and he's one of them" or a somewhat sarcastic "I'm just a random white person who didn't actually cause this". Neither's great.

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