Doctor Who: Demons of the Punjab

Yaz: "I always cry at weddings."

After weeks of somewhat aimless offerings, this week we have a story and it was powerful.

Clearly, the writer of this episode (Vinay Patel) has experience with short form storytelling or had a story he wanted to tell. The Partition is a scary piece of history, which I have to admit I had never heard of before. (Leave it to American education to leave out this nasty conflict of hate, religious intolerance and abuse of power.) The episode was self-contained and had a distinct voice and message for the viewer: that hate is pointless or more specifically, love is the whole point and that different points of view can become not just volatile but deadly. That there is no point to this kind of violence, because all it does is hurt others.

We spent the first half of the episode expecting this to be about an alien monster. When it turned out the assassins of Thijarian were a changed species due to their planet being destroyed, it turned into a very different story. The closest thing to this ending I can think of is Pertwee’s alternate universe story, Inferno, where the Doctor has to abandon an entire universe because there was no other choice. I would say this was not as dark as Inferno, but the fact that the Doctor could not change Prem’s fate was sad in a way we have not seen in a while. This death was also tragic, poetic, powerful, and yet still hopeful.

The power of this episode stemmed mainly from the theme, about how the past is hard and usually painful and that learning about the past of a loved one is realizing that you'll never know everything about them. The stories we tell are often truncated or kept secret because of some old pain. Here it was a circle, that Yaz's grandmother gave her a broken watch, which was an incredibly important symbol of her past. It then took the entire episode to truly understand the pain and joy associated with that watch. It was a lovely way to show growth for Yaz, for her to understand her grandmother as a person, without the need to explain that revelation. That she could simply be there for her Nan, and not force her to relive that story, was wonderful.

Yet, despite all well written plots and serious themes, for me this episode stood out because the Doctor is finally coming into focus. Not only is she growing on me, more every episode, but in this one she finally felt like a particular individual person instead of an amalgam of previous Doctors. Her personality has been forming over the last four episodes, but I finally feel like I understand this Doctor, and it is pretty clear what is defining her personality. It was the request made by the Twelfth Doctor: "Never be cruel, never be cowardly, and never, ever eat pears! Remember, hate is always foolish, but love is always wise. Always try to be nice, but never fail to be kind." Followed by, "Laugh hard, run fast, be kind." This Doctor embodies that sentiment. She is never cruel, never cowardly, loves to laugh, always tries to be nice but never fails to be kind. That's just lovely.

Bits:

The Doctor had the welders mask again from first episode.

The sonic keeps malfunctioning, which is both fun and a little nod to the over use of the device.

We keep seeing the friendship between our characters, and The Doctor's companions volunteering to help without question. We also keep hearing about adventures between episodes that I really wish we could've seen.

The makeup on the aliens this week was great. In fact, all the alien effects this season have been top notch.

Quotes:

The Doctor: "It's a risk."
Graham: "Oh, right. None of our other trips have ever been risky."
The Doctor: "I have apologized for the Death Eye Turtle Army, profusely!"

Ryan: "If I had to guess, I think we're going demon hunting."
The Doctor: "Gold star for Ryan. Wait. Was I awarding points? Ahh, I forgot about the points."

Ryan: "Do you think they're here?"
The Doctor: "Not getting any life signals. Maybe they're out. Shopping. Catching a movie. Bowling! Some races like bowling. I'm talking to cover up my latent worry."

The Doctor: "I need oil, water, tree bark, a saucepan, nine containers, an old newspaper, a touch of ox spit, a chicken poo, and a biscuit."
Ryan: "Bagsy, not chicken poo!"
Graham: "And why a biscuit?"
The Doctor: "I love biscuits!"
(Biscuits do seem like this Doctor's food of choice).

Umbreen: "You're a Doctor, right? That's respectable. You could marry us."
Umbreen's mother: "Don't be ridiculous!"
The Doctor: "I suppose I could."
Yaz: "Doctor!"
The Doctor: "I haven't officiated at a wedding since Einstein's. His parents didn't approve, either. Nondenominational, though."

Graham: "I am never, ever, getting spit from an ox ever again, no matter how much you need it."

Ryan: "The ox took a bit of a shine to you."

The Doctor: "They're not assassins. They honor those who die alone."
Graham: "Aliens with compassion."
Yaz: "Umbreen loses her husband on the day she marries. Of course she never wants to talk about it."

The Doctor: "Love, in all its forms, is the most powerful weapon we have. Because love is a form of hope, and like hope, love abides in the face of everything."

Three out of four gold stars, or possibly points.

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

2 comments:

Billie Doux said...

I had heard of the Partition but had been unaware of how unbelievably many deaths it had caused. What a horror. And I was definitely affected by this episode. I even cried during the scene where the Prem hologram ascended to the ceiling of the spaceship -- I thought it was pretty powerful.

Graham's warmth and wisdom again made an impression on me. For some reason, I'm really connecting with him and how his experiences with the Doctor are assuaging his grief for his wife.

Darren Smith said...

It's amazing how easily people of different religious beliefs can live together for centuries without trying to massacre each other until someone comes along to tell them that it's wrong they should separate and hate.A similar thing happened after the first world war when the Ottoman empire collapsed Christian Jews Muslim all lived together until religious nationalists decided these people who'd been neighbours had to hate each other instead...Anyone wonder why Nanni didn't remember Yaz and the Doctor being at her wedding