Even though this is the first episode this season that didn’t feature new showrunner Chris Chibnall credited as a writer, there’s no much differentiation to the previous five episodes in terms of “bigger picture” Doctor Who flavor. This episode, penned by Vinay Patel, leans heavily on the “standalone” format and focuses almost exclusively on highlighting the characters and the message of the show – which is all well and good, but for what has long been one of the most sci-fi-heavy shows in existence, some viewers may feel that it’s drifting more into “soap opera” territory these days.
WARNING: Spoilers for this episode of ‘Doctor Who’ lie ahead, obviously. If you haven’t seen the episode and don’t wish for any of its content to be spoiled for you, the time to turn back is NOW!
RECAP: Much like this season’s fourth episode, “Arachnids in the UK,” the action centers around Yaz and her family. After a visit with her grandmother, Yaz decides that she wants to go back to the day that she married her grandfather, just to see what was going on. Oddly, the Doctor agrees, even though she often warns against “crossing your own time stream,” for lack of a better term. So, off the group goes back to 1947 – except that Yaz’s grandmother has surreptitiously decided to get married on Partition Day, the day that British-controlled India was separated into India and Pakistan, and wouldn’t you know it, they live smack-dab on the new border.
The episode is definitely a needed history lesson about one of the largest and most bloodiest divisionally-led violent moments in human history, with an estimated 14 million displaced as a result of the religious-centric redistricting, and up to 2 million dead as a result of the subsequent riots and violence. It’s hard-hitting historic reality – but this is Doctor Who, after all, so we do need a bit of sci-fi thrown in for good measure. This comes courtesy of the newly-introduced Thijarian race, who have long been known to the universe (at least, that’s what the Doctor tells us) as cold-blooded galactic assassins. Have they come to kill Yaz’s grandfather, whom Yaz does not recognize? Or is there a different plan in motion altogether?
- While I appreciate the Doctor clearly taking the time to spend more “home time” with her companions, what we’re getting this season feels like the opposite of what Doctor Who normally does: we’re getting the “down time” stories shown to us, with the characters only remarking off-handedly about all the more sci-fi-intensive adventures they’ve already been on. I want to see killer space turtles on my TV, dammit!
- The Doctor agrees awfully easily to casually traipse into Yaz’s personal past, yes? There have been several instances in the past where the Doctor has outright refused to go mucking about in someone’s personal family past, so this quick agreement to bounce on into Yaz’s generational divide seems to be purely motivated by the need to move the plot along.
- Yaz’s family just can’t catch a break, can they? First, “Arachnids in the UK” put them in a bind and made them largely the center of the killer-spider action, and now “Demons of the Punjab” shows them essentially as historically cursed. My biggest complaint, though: the lack of actual character development for Yaz herself. She’s a police officer, for cryin’ out loud – let her do something action-y instead of stand around and watch the drama unfold around her!
- These Thijarians – scary looking, and I love the character detail, but they end up being “not scary” at all. In and of itself, that’s fine, but it’s a somewhat disappointing move for the creative team to have made, seeing as how we were just introduced to The Testimony, another group of “we’re here to observe and record” aliens, in the first episode of the season. Plus, that’s the whole reason that the Doctor and company came to 1947 to begin with – to observe and record! How many lookie-loos do we need around these parts?
CLOSING THOUGHTS: Is a show that focuses so heavily on character building that the science fiction aspects are almost sometimes completely eliminated a side effect of having three times the amount of “normal” companions? I have only watched a handful of episodes from the First Doctor’s era, but even those, with his trio of traveling friends, still were able to go pretty heavy on the fantastical elements. I’m not saying that I’m not enjoying the new season, mind you – but the show has a decidedly different “vibe” so far, and it’s up to each individual viewer to determine if this is a good thing or a bad thing for them personally.
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor
Bradley Walsh as Graham
Mandip Gill as Yaz
Tosin Cole as Ryan
New episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ air on Sunday nights on BBC America.