Blogtor Who takes a look at Vinay Patel, the writer of this week’s episode of Doctor Who, Demons of the Punjab.
First-time Doctor Who writer Vinay Patel is a vibrant and versatile emerging talent. Born in Sidcup in 1986, Patel studied at Exeter University before becoming a corporate film-maker, and then a film technician. It was during his time working at the Met Film School that he decided to embark upon a writing career, enrolling at the Central School of Speech and Drama.
Since graduating with an MA in writing in 2011, Patel has found continued success as both a playwright and a screenwriter. He has won multiple competitions, as well as being both nominated for and winning awards for his emotive and thought-provoking work. Read on to check out his career highlights on both stage and screen…
Vinay Patel: On Screen
Patel’s best-known work for television is the 2016 BBC drama Murdered By My Father. The harrowing one-off drama draws from real-life testimonies of so-called ‘honour’-based violence and forced marriage, its title more than hinting at the tragic outcome for Salma (Kiran Sonia Sawar), a British Asian teen who falls in love, and her widower father Shahzad (Adeel Akhtar), who has already promised his daughter in marriage to someone else.
As well as critical acclaim for Murdered By My Father – described as a ‘brave piece of television‘ – the drama also received awards recognition. It won the Royal Television Society Award for Best Single Drama in 2016 and was up for three BAFTAs the following year, including a Breakthrough Talent nomination for Patel and a Leading Actor win for Adeel Akhtar.
Nor were those the only accolades to come from BAFTA on the strength of Murdered By My Father; Patel was named one of the organisation’s Breakthrough Brits of 2016, a stunning achievement for his first full-length television commission.
Murdered By My Father, however, was not Patel’s first television drama credit. That came in 2015 with Is This Thing On?, a short original project made as part of BBC iPlayer’s second season of Original Drama Shorts.
Is This Thing On? starred Alfie Kingsnorth (Vanity Fair, Hollyoaks) as Jay, an increasingly isolated young horror fan who announces that he will end his life live on webcam. The powerful, affecting short, available to watch in its entirety on BBC iPlayer, examines the connections we make in the digital age.
Other screenwriting credits for Patel include the 2008 short film No, You’d Better Watch Out – which he also produced and directed – and an episode of last year’s series of ITV’s medical drama The Good Karma Hospital.
Vinay Patel: Early Stage Hits
While Patel has clearly proven his skill as a writer for screen, it was creating drama for the stage that initially caught his interest. His early stage career saw him write a number of pieces for the stage, including the shorts Reset and Slingshot, and the full-length Bump, a winner of the Write Now 4 Festival held by the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre in 2013.
A significant theatre break for Patel came soon after with his play True Brits. The monologue, told from the point of view of young British Asian Rahul, juxtaposes the elation of London during the 2012 Olympics with the racial paranoia in the city following the 7/7 bombings in 2005. True Brits made its debut at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe before transferring to the Bush Theatre, London, as well as enjoying a run at the city’s arts festival VAULT in 2015.
Described as ‘a graceful, satirical wit that strikes to the very heart of nationalism and identity‘, True Brits was not only well received, but also led to a place for Patel on the Bush/Kudos TV writing scheme – through which he wrote Is This Thing On? – as well as the opportunity from the BBC to write Murdered By My Father.
Patel soon followed up the one-man True Brits with a two-hander, Free Fall. The dark yet wryly funny play centres around two strangers – Roland and Andrea – who meet by chance at the Dartford Crossing. Free Fall premiered at the Pleasance Islington in 2014, and its success saw it nominated for three Off West End awards.
Vinay Patel: Theatre In 2018
As well as Patel’s forthcoming Doctor Who script, this year has also been a fruitful one for Patel’s stage work, with two productions running in theatres at the same time!
The first of these was Sticks and Stones, a razor-sharp satire examining the consequences of miscommunication in an uncertain world. Staged by Paines Plough in partnership with Theatr Clwyd as part of the company’s Roundabout season, Sticks and Stones made its debut at Theatr Clwyd before a run at Edinburgh’s Summerhall as part of the city’s Festival Fringe. In the autumn the play went on tour, taking in cities such as Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent and Lincoln.
The second of Patel’s plays this year – and the largest in scope of his plays so far – is the sweeping romantic epic An Adventure. Inspired by the experiences of Patel’s immigrant grandparents, the play tells the story of Jyoti and her suitor Rasik. Spanning seven decades and three continents, An Adventure follows the relationship between the pair from its early days in post-partition India, through to Mau Mau-era Kenya and onwards to the UK and the present day.
An Adventure premiered at London’s Bush Theatre in September this year, with cast members from the world of Doctor Who including Selva Rasalingam (Doctor Who: The Power of Three) and Nila Aalia (Torchwood: Out of Time).
The Good Immigrant
Along with his works for stage and television, Patel has also contributed to the non-fiction anthology The Good Immigrant. Published in 2016, the collection of essays focuses on what it means to be from a minority ethnic background in the UK today, confronting the concept that there is a ‘right’ type of immigrant:
“What’s it like to live in a country that doesn’t trust you and doesn’t want you unless you win an Olympic gold medal or a national baking competition?”
The Good Immigrant was compiled by Nikesh Shukla, a writer and social commentator passionate about improving the level of diversity in publishing. As well as Patel, Shukla brought together a wide range of fast-rising BAME voices for the book, including poet Chimene Suleyman, EastEnders actor Himesh Patel, comedian Nish Kumar, and rapper and actor Riz Ahmed.
Demons Of The Punjab
In addition to Patel’s impressive writing credentials he is a self-confessed fan of televised science fiction, saying of his Doctor Who writing debut:
“I grew up watching shows like Star Trek and Quantum Leap on the edge of my dad’s bed, and I loved how they managed to capture the imagination of a kid like me as well as acting as a moral compass. I never imagined that I’d get to write for Doctor Who – I was pretty thrilled.”
Demons of the Punjab is set in India in 1947 during the time of Partition – an era Patel has already visited in An Adventure – when Yaz meets her grandmother in an attempt to unravel the secrets of her family’s past. The exploration of humanity, relationships and characters at the heart of Patel’s work combined with his ability to place these in a wider historical, social and cultural context goes a long way towards reassuring that Demons of the Punjab – described by Patel as ‘educational, epic, emotional’ – is in safe hands.
Demons of the Punjab is yet another landmark project for Patel in a career which continues to go from strength to strength. With further projects already in development – including an episode for an upcoming BBC series as well as another stage play – Patel’s work is set to grace both theatre stages and television screens for some time to come.
Doctor Who continues this Sunday 11th November on BBC One and BBC America with Demons of the Punjab.
“What’s the point of having a mate with a time machine, if you can’t nip back and see your gran when she was younger?” 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?
Guest starring Shane Zaza, Amita Suman and Hamza Jeetooa. Written by Vinay Patel. Directed by Jamie Childs.