Television review: “Doctor Who – Demons of the Punjab” (Episode 6, Season 11)
Produced by: Chris Chibnall
Featuring: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill
Graham O’Brien: “I am never, ever, getting spit from an ox ever again no matter how much you need it!”
Ryan Sinclair: “The ox took a bit of a shine to you.”
This weeks episode “Demons of the Punjab” marks the voyage into the last half of the eleventh season of “Doctor Who” (1963 – present) which has seen, I believe, some very good episodes, not absolutely great ones but some decent ones that have highlighted the new Doctor as well as her friends as they all get to know each other, as well as letting the audience in on these new relationships. While, as I have stated before, this is the biggest change to the series since it was returned to air in 2005 there does seem to be some critics who want the series to return to some earlier incarnation, I am almost sure this is based around gender, although there has not been a loud outcry, I believe the gender bias has been coded.
The strength of not only this season but all of the entire series rests with one element, the person playing ‘The Doctor’, how well they do it, their originally and their general acceptance by the audience. After five episodes I believe that Jodie Whittaker was an excellent choice, I hope she stays on for a few years, as to me she grasps what the role is, how to play it and how to interact with all those around her. The other two elements are the regular companions that accompany ‘The Doctor’ as well as the producers that feed the stories through each week, who decide how the narrative of each episode operates and how they may feed into some overarching narrative.
What is different from previous seasons especially as the show moved from Christopher Eccleston to each subsequent actor these overarching narratives got more and more complex to the point that it was difficult to have a stand alone episode, but when they did occur they were all normally better than the episodes that contributed to season long narratives and plots. What is has been lacking with this new season were episodes with some real meaning as well as grit, something to really hold on to as well as maybe offering some kind of antagonist that lends the show some weight giving audiences a real taste of the past with an eye on the present.
With all that said this week’s episode tackles the very serious issue of the partition of India with the Doctor and her friends right in the middle while acknowledging one of the new travel mates Yasmin directly as well as her family and the stresses that were placed on people at the time, all the while battling some alien interlopers which once again are not as interesting as the main story itself. What I would have liked to have seen would have been the jettisoning of the aliens all together, they really added nothing to the plot, not only that they served little purpose at all, just muddying the plot as well as not mattering to the narrative either, they seem like a late addition indeed.
As far as I am aware this is the first episode to ever be set in the sub continent which is a huge shift in the telling of “Doctor Who” stories as well as acknowledging the changed face of Britain, questioning who are “Doctor Who” fans, the cultural significance of what a television show is in 2018, the importance of genre television in reflecting the attitudes and actions in terms of what is taking place in our current climate and why it is important to change not only show runners but entire casts to push boundaries as well as risking life long fans.
This weeks episode then is another monster of the week that really is entirely forgettable, which is a missed opportunity especially with the creatures that have been designed, they seem like leftovers of other costumes as well as their motives being not only forgettable but in the end not really of any consequence at all, what was important is the central story which is the beginning of two separate superpowers who never were comfortable with each other. It also speaks to the ending of the dominance of the English Empire, the inevitability of a decisions being made by a third party to not only end many relationships but start the world on a course that would have long lasting effects on people not born at the time. We also witness events on a family that have profound ramifications for Yasmin’s Grandmother who has kept a secret her entire life but as with all secrets it does end up being revealed but not in the way one might think, although this is “Doctor Who” so nothing is ever really normal.
It does make sense that in 2018 “Doctor Who” would be a politically charged show as what has become apparent over the past few years is that we as people have some serious differences of opinion and while this seems to divide people, creating fear and pushing this fear into out politics there is one thing that is missed by many, but is heard within this weeks episode, we have more in common that we have differences. With the partitioning this was no way to know the true ramifications, while this may have been based on religious differences this episode proves that people can be united above differences no matter how important. It also addresses the idea of change and how violent that can be when people feel they have been ignored or taken advantage of, which of course was how a large section of the India felt, it also speaks to sacrifice and what that can mean to all people, families and friends alike.
This episode could have gone a variety of ways but ends up possibly being the best of the season so far, mainly for me anyway it is because it is such an anti-Trump story that is made all the more poignant because of the closing moments, it is also vehemently anti-Brexit in case you missed it. As I have said genre shows are the best for reflecting society as it is and could this have been more in tune after the US mid term elections which not only illustrated how people feel about Trump but the place minorities as well as women hold in society with a record number of both elected to office. All this and not forgetting the caravan that is approaching the US border, which shows people want to live and seek refuge in the US which only deepens the kind of people that can make up a society which is exactly what Yasmin’s Grandmother brings to the UK as well the family that was the outcome of that – sometimes long term thinking is required not short term policies that hinder the growth of a society.
I watch “Doctor Who” on a 4K television and the step up in effects, especially the CGI is noticeable, especially this week with some CGI spiders of varying sizes all looking very good, not how some effects have looked previously which is a welcome relief as time and money has been invested to make them look as good as possible. This episode would not have been filmed in India so it was with great relief that this was covered up well with close up shots as well as some digital painting expertly done in the backgrounds.
All in all though I am very much enjoying these new episodes quite a bit, it is a big step up from last season, with stand alone episodes being a very good decision to get audiences used to some very big changes, I am looking forward to what is to come. My only hope is that this episode should be embraced by genre fans as it offers a message of hope as well as tolerance for all people, my only hope is that there will be enough confidence to jettison aliens when they are not necessary.
“Doctor Who – Demons of the Punjab”
Written: Vinay Patel
Directed: Jamie Childs
India, 1947. The Doctor and her friends arrive in the Punjab, as the country is being torn apart. While Yaz attempts to discover her grandmother’s hidden history, the Doctor discovers demons haunting the land. Who are they and what do they want?