So What Happened?
Whilst celebrating Nani Umbreen’s birthday, the old lady gives her granddaughter a broken watch, but refuses to elaborate on what the significance of it is. Wanting to know more about her gift, Yasmin begs The Doctor to take them back to her grandmother’s past, and after expressing some major reservations about messing with the timelines of family members, she eventually agrees to take Team TARDIS there, using the watch to land them in the Punjab on 14th August 1947; the day before the partition of India. Upon their arrival, Yaz soon learns that the watch once belonged to a Hindu man named Prem, who was set to marry her Muslim grandmother the day after. The Doctor spurs everybody on to get to the ceremony so that they aren’t affected by the violent events that they know are about to happen because of the partitioning of Pakistan from India.
As the ceremony is about to start, severe head pains accompany visions of aliens for Thirteen. Soon after, she, her friends and Prem discover that Bhakti, the sadhu who had agreed to marry the Hindu/Muslim couple, has apparently been murdered by the aliens. Prem fires his gun at the creatures, but misses as they teleport away, and it’s then he admits he saw them before, gathered around his older brother’s body on the battlefield during his Second World War military service. Firmly believing them to be the culprits for the murder, The Doctor finds her way onto the Thijarians’ ship, recollecting that they’re an infamous race of assassins. However, they inform her that, as result of the rest of their race dying when their planet was destroyed, they’ve now moved onto the nobler cause of commemorating those who die alone, and show Thirteen a video of Prem’s brother, Manish, killing the sadhu because he’s opposed to the interfaith marriage. They also reveal that they’re here to oversee Prem’s death as he’s due to be a casualty of partition.
On returning to the others, The Doctor reveals her findings to her companions, and urges them to leave in the TARDIS, but Yaz convinces them all to stay. As it transpires, Thirteen ends up conducting the wedding ceremony between Prem and Umbreen the next day, and the reason the watch was smashed is uncovered when the latter accidentally drops it after the former gave it to her, forever marking the moment of their union. Manish makes trouble at the ceremony, and after The Doctor confronts him about killing Bhakti, he also admits to inviting armed Hindu nationalists to disrupt the wedding reception. As Umbreen and her Mother escape with Thirteen and the others, Prem goes to reason with Manish, but is shot, leaving the Thijarians to complete their duty in overseeing his death. Back in the present day, Nani Umbreen comments on Yaz’s henna hand tattoo, and is about explain to her granddaughter the story behind the broken watch, but the younger woman tells her that she doesn’t need to know.
Monster of the Week
Marieke: Ooh look at those Thijarians looking all scary and menacing! And then it turns out that even though they once were scary and menacing, a race of assassins even, they are not anymore. Now they scan the Universe to find people dying on their own. Wars are obviously the right place to find those poor souls. Being judged by their cover, the Thijarians are logically seen as the killers, but they have abandoned their old practice for a noble cause. They collect the floating ghosty heads and probably have a party with all of them someday.
Eventually it turns out that mankind is yet again the biggest monster. Anger and hate is given a face in the form of Manish, who is an avid opposer of Muslims and Hindus living together. Therefore he cannot let his brother be with Umbreen and the only way to stop him is what the Thijarians predicted, Prem’s death. It is the third time humans are perceived as more evil than any alien encounter (I am counting time travelling Nazi dudebro as a human right-winger in this case), also because the aliens have not exactly been that scary or dangerous yet (Tim Shaw a possible exception). Because of the ‘villain problem’ this series seems to have, the Thijarians being good guys would have been a stronger plot point had there been a few good antagonists to begin with.
Danielle: Yeah, there does seem to be a bit of a theme with the bad guys not actually being the bad guys, and the finger ultimately being pointed inwardly at mankind instead. It’s far enough, I suppose. If we were getting an end of year report it’d currently be in D- territory. Why shouldn’t that be reflected in the television we watch? I actually really liked the fact that the Thijarians changed their ways when they witnessed their own race imploding. Grief is a powerful catalyst for change, and it definitely struck a chord with The Doctor.
Marieke: At first sight the Thijarians look scary. The teleporting makes it even worse. Until their motives are revealed obviously.
Danielle: I genuinely thought the fact Thijarians communicated by sending messages directly to your brain was terrifying, and plain rude, to be quite honest. By far the creepiest thing though was how callous Prem’s brother was in directly and indirectly taking the life of the sadhu and his own flesh and blood.
Marieke: Honestly, why they went back to a timeline of one of their own IS a mystery? Especially because the Doctor knows what a shitstorm it could cause. Leaving that aside, the Thijarians are still a mystery and worth looking into in another episode someday. For Yaz a big family mystery she didn’t even know existed has been resolved. I wonder if she will eventually talk to Nani about it, or if she will be content enough with witnessing it all first-hand.
Danielle: Perhaps the biggest mystery to me is why Nani Umbreen hasn’t figured out that her own granddaughter has grown into the crazy lady who turned up at her first wedding. I know it was a long time ago, but still…
Scene of the Week
Marieke: The wedding would be an obvious choice, but for me Prem’s heartbreak when he is held at gunpoint by his brother’s friends on horseback was of more importance. We knew it was coming. We knew Umbreen would marry someone else. We knew it was going to be his brother. Team TARDIS knew, and because it was a fixed point in time (and Yaz’s birth depended on it!) they could only walk away. They could even do less than in ‘Rosa’. This time they just had to let it all happen.
Danielle: I got goosebumps when the watch fell to the floor, breaking and stopping just moments after Prem and Umbreen sealed their union, and mere minutes before his impending death. It was such a powerful representation of how things can change in the blink of eye; how joy can turn into grief and sadness. I also liked the scene at the end when Yasmin sat down with her Nani, and allowed her to hold onto that memory of her first love without forcing her to divulge what happened with her first love. Some memories shouldn’t be forced to be shared.
Marieke: It seems this new Doctor incarnation has found her strength in historical episodes. After ‘Rosa’, which had a rather familiar topic, ‘Demons of the Punjab’ dealt with a lesser known historical event. I, personally, did not have any knowledge about the partition and welcomed this tiny educational moment. Going into your own timeline is the most dangerous thing ever, but the team is forgiven if it gives episodes like these in return. The personal became political in as much as it ripped a family apart. The Thijarians are an interesting new race; too interesting to never return. Besides the poignant storyline, this episode also looked good. After the clean and cliché sci-fi white from the previous episode, the Indian countryside provided a breath of fresh air. It was nice to see Yaz’s story, (or her family’s rather), take centre stage again.
Neevertheless, this episode still doesn’t deal with the villain problem adequately. This series seems to want to hammer it in that people are indeed very evil, and it is about time to show some proper dangerous alien lifeforms. It is not time to yearn for Daleks and Cybermen yet. However I would welcome an episode about the backstory of the assassin Thijarians, and see if they were as deadly as they are scary-looking….
The other point this series is struggling with, is balancing the storylines of Team TARDIS. Because they all need their attention, it seems it takes time away from truly giving The Doctor a core sense of who she is in this incarnation. There are plenty of Doctor elements, but she has not been fleshed out enough to play second or even third fiddle. I have no doubts about Whittaker’s capabilities, but The Doctor is still in need of some grounding. Even so, ‘Demons of the Punjab’ provided another strong episode after last week’s filler (just realising the irony the monster was filling himself with energy in the filler episode…) and gave us and the team a heartbreaking insight into Yaz’s family history. Let’s hope next time neither the team of the villain will just walk away, it is about time for a proper confrontation with the accompanying Doctor’s speech.
Danielle: Inconsistencies regarding this week’s aliens aside, ‘Demons of the Punjab’ packed a gut-wrenching, emotional punch that put it on a par with with Series 11’s other outstanding episode, ‘Rosa’. Unlike Marieke, I actually knew a fair deal about Partition as 1947 was also the same year that my own Mother and Grandmother were propelled from India to live in the UK in the aftermath of Independence. Knowing about events from history books is one thing, but it’s another thing entirely to see such a heart-breakingly personal take on an incredibly violent period in Indian history, even if it was a fictionalised imagining of all too real happenings where family members turned on one another. The pathos of Prem’s story was expertly pitched, and as I mentioned before, I love how the bittersweet memories were perfectly encapsulated in the broken timepiece.
I also think this outing cleverly raised questions about the pervasiveness of indoctrination, and how it can undo even the strongest of family ties. It’s interesting that Manish, the one brother who managed to avoid fighting in World War II because of his age, was the same sibling who ended up resorting to conflict. Almost as if he was yet to experience the horrendous and true face of violence and suffering that turned Prem, the Thijarians and, on a more general level, The Doctor, towards their more pacifist leanings. Often ignorance and naivety can be dangerous, and can only be rectified through all too painful experience.
I’d have to agree with Marieke that we’re not really getting to know Thirteen in the way we perhaps should be doing at this stage. I understand, and even applaud the urge to peel back the layers on her new friends, but Whittaker’s Doctor is currently acting like little more than a tour guide. I’m hoping that we learn more about her as we delve into the unravelling of the ‘Timeless Child’ mystery.
Our Fezzy Score:
So what did you think of ‘Demons of the Punjab’? Let us know in the comments…