Episode 6: Demons of the Punjab
The Doctor and her companions make a house call! It’s Yaz’s grandmother’s birthday and Yaz has invited everyone over to celebrate. While at the party, her grandmother pulls Yaz aside and gives her a very special gift. It’s an old, broken watch belonging to her grandfather. Grandmother promises to one day tell Yaz the history of her and her grandfather, but she is not ready for it yet.
After the party, Yaz begs the Doctor to take them on a little time travel adventure to visit her grandmother’s past. Yaz is desperate to know her family’s history. The Doctor says yes, but makes her promise they can only stay for 1 hour and not get too involved. The TARDIS drops the Doctor and companions off in 1947 Punjab. The Doctor suddenly realizes that this is exactly when the partition is occurring in India. It’s a tumultuous and angry time in India’s history as the new country of Pakistan takes shape. Yaz’s family is right in the center of it all with her grandmother’s family on the new Pakistan side of the border, and her beloved fiancee Prem’s family on the India side.
Yaz is surprised to learn the Prem is actually her grandmother’s fiance, as she remembers her grandfather to be a different man of the Muslim faith, not a Hindu from a small farming town. As she tries to make sense of the situation, she learns that Prem and his brother Manish are at odds with one another. Prem fought in the war and saw his older brother die in the battlefields, while Manish stayed home and became radicalized against Muslims. They didn’t recognize each other after Prem got home and the divide only grows as Prem’s wedding to Yaz’s Muslim grandmother nears.
The Hindu priest that was to officiate the wedding was sadly killed on the road to their farm. The Doctor and Prem see two demonic figures standing over the Priest’s body and give chase. They discover the alien’s hive and the Doctor discovers they are an assassin race of alien called the Vajarians. She does some more digging while Prem and Yaz’s grandmother push for the wedding to happen that evening.
Yaz is impressed by her grandmother’s and Prem’s insistence to go through with the wedding, even though all the odds are against them. Her grandmother is a ferocious and convicted woman, determined to show the world it’s wrong. As the hour of the wedding approaches, Yaz finally accepts that her grandmother’s history may not be the one she always thought comes to admire Prem for how he loves her grandmother.
The Doctor confronts the Vajarians and discovers that they have given up their assassin way of life. They show the Doctor the destruction of their home world, and their people and tell her that they are deep in mourning. They have dedicated their lives to mourn the dead who die forgotten or alone. They are not demons who hunt down the innocent, but guardian angels sent to mourn the unmourned and in this way they hope to honor their own forgotten dead. The Vajarians inform the Doctor that Prem’s time is near and she should go to him.
The Doctor returns just in time to officiate Prem and Yaz’s grandmother’s wedding. The ceremony is a beautiful mix of both customs. Prem gives Grandmother a gift…. it’s his watch, the very one that Yaz inherited all those years later. As Yaz suddenly understands her Grandmother’s history, a call goes out into the night. Manish has called rioters to the wedding. He so opposes his brother’s wedding that he threatens to kill them both for their perceived sins. Prem tells Yaz and her family to run, he will stand up to Manish and give them enough time to escape. The two newly weds say a tearful, heartbroken goodbye and his bride and her family flee into the night.
Prem and Manish finally confront each other. Prem stands his ground until the bitter end, even when the rioter’s rifle is aimed right at his chest. He dies for his beliefs and his love, leaving Yaz’s grandmother to mourn his loss alone. Yaz’s family flee far away to the city and Yaz learns that her grandmother will travel to Sheffield to start a new life. Realizing now that this was her story all along, Yaz falls even more in love with her grandmother and all her pain and conviction. Back in present day, Yaz thanks her grandmother for the beautiful gift of the watch and promises to cherish it. She asks her grandmother to one day tell her history, whenever she is ready.
This has been my favorite episode this season. I would definitely recommend this episode to someone who hasn’t seen any of this season so far. You get the feeling of a classic Who episode with bits of history, action, aliens, and the Doctor at the head of it all. I feel like this is the first episode we’ve really seen the Doctor in her element. She gets to experience Yaz’s family culture, history, and help save the day and do her thing at the same time. While this episode isn’t perfect, it definitely is one worth checking out.
We finally get a Yaz centered episode!! I’ve been asking for this since episode one. After the midway point of the season I still felt like I couldn’t tell you much at all about Yaz’s character. She has had the weakest character writing by far in this season. I have heard several people comment on the fact that even though we have two female leads in the show, the men in the episodes still get the stronger writing and the more interesting story plots. It’s hard to tell if the writers are unsure of how to write for a female doctor and her companions, or they are playing softball and taking the easy way out by making it more of an even playing field. Maybe trying their best not to aggravate their original fan base. I was so excited to have a gregarious, adventurous, badass female doctor, and while we’ve seen small bits and pieces I have still been slightly let down. And while I was thrilled to have a Yaz centered story line, I still feel like she took a major back seat in the main action of the story. She did advocate for the trip, and insist they stay and watch events unfold, but she took no part in the discovery of the Vajarian aliens or her family’s story with Prem and Manish fighting over their beliefs.
I 100% love the bones of this story. The premise is great, the characters are interesting, the historical ties are wonderful, and I enjoyed the aliens for the most part. This is the first episode that wasn’t written or co-written by showrunner Chris Chibnall and I really love what writer Vinay Patel did with this episode. While the bones and structure of the episode are solid, I found the finished product a little rough around the edges. Some parts of the story seemed rushed or forced. I would have loved to explore the tensions between Prem and Manish and where Manish got his more radical ideals. They mentioned it, but it seemed like a band-aid over a knife wound really. I also found Yaz’s reluctance at accepting her grandmother’s relationship with a man of a different religion a little uncomfortable. I understand that she expected to see a different story play out, but her reluctance seemed so out of place, especially coming off of the Rosa episode. Also, as much as I loved the ‘villains’ of this episode, the story would have played out exactly the same with or without the aliens and the Doctor’s story.
The Vajarian assassins were some of my favorite villains of the season. I say villains, but really, they’re far from villains. I loved the classic Who take on “the bad guys are not who you expect” story lines. I’m a sucker for characters with tragic backstory and the Vajarians definitely came loaded. The Vajarian’s new mission was really interesting to me. I can’t remember the last time I came across a character like this in Doctor Who. The deep loss of their people and home planet fundamentally changed their entire being. The idea that a dying race could band together and mourn their loss by remembering the lost dead of our world was beautiful. The image of these aliens paying tribute to our dead as penance for their loss really, really stuck with me. And while their story didn’t actually affect the main plot very much, it was a deeply emotional story that I will remember long after the season is over.
This is one of the calmer episodes for the Doctor so far. She doesn’t run around breathlessly in hyper-speed much at all this episode. I loved watching her sit around with Yaz’s grandmother the night before her wedding, participating in henna painting and enjoying the human company. I feel like that’s been missing in the previous episodes. Even in Arachnids in the UK, The Doctor barely stopped in for tea before she was out the door hunting down adventure again. My favorite moments with the Doctor are the quiet, introspective ones. We learn so much about the Doctor in quiet moments. And while the big, heroic, action scenes are fun and memorable, the Doctor we come to know and love is built in the small in between moments. I look forward to seeing where the story goes from here. With only four more episodes left, I feel like the writers have a lot of ground to cover. Especially if the season finale is going to be a ‘villain of the week’ mash up… and we still have no clues on the Timeless Child info from episode 2! I have been listening to the Run: A Doctor Who Fancast podcast and found this week’s episode particularly interesting. I felt a bit at odds with their reviews at first. I was not in love with a lot of the episodes they were over the moon about. But they make a lot of good points that changed my mind about some things. It seems though, that this week finally breaks them. Hosts Travis and Tybee finally let out all their frustrations with the season and the writing. I feel like they’re at the point I was in episode 2…disappointed but incredibly hopeful for the last few episodes.
Aside from my little nitpicks at this episode, I think that this is one of the more solid and memorable episodes of the past few years. I am looking forward to getting to know these characters more over the next few episodes. My guess is that we’ll get an action packed season ending that will set up and exiting new season for us next year. I think that writer Viney Patel deserves a raise and a promotion for the beautiful work on this episode. Next week’s episode Kerblam! looks like another ‘killer mannequins come to life’ but this time in retail heaven outer space. I’ve got my skeptical side eye already aimed, but I’m really hoping for another solid episode.