The Doctor fails to learn from previous mistakes and delves into the family history of one of her friends. Yet again this proves to be a disastrous decision. The result is perhaps one of the most emotionally charged episodes in the programme’s long history.

This review contains spoilers and plot points so don’t read on if you haven’t seen ‘Demons of the Punjab’.

India, 1947. A time of great change in the country. This is not a period of history that I knew anything about. Fortunately, Vinay Patel‘s script filled me in with enough detail to put me firmly in the picture. Unlike other episodes this series that were more linear in their construction, ‘Demons of the Punjab‘ is deeply layered. It is a story about historical politics and religion, but also family and love. Throw in a brilliantly realised new alien species and we have some classic Doctor Who in the making.

The first thing to strike me about the episode was how fabulous it all looked. Jamie Childs returned to directing duties having overseen the opener ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth‘. Instead of the cityscape of Sheffield, we were treated to stunning countryside of northern India (or wherever it was actually filmed). The colours in particular were stunning and vibrant. A glorious blue in the sky combined with the earthy greens. Childs’ eye for the cinematic paid dividends once again.

Doctor Who - Series 11 - Episode 6 - Demons of the Punjab - The Doctor (JODIE WHITTAKER) - (C) BBC / BBC Studios - Photographer: Ben Blackall
Doctor Who – Series 11 – Episode 6 – Demons of the Punjab – The Doctor (JODIE WHITTAKER) – (C) BBC / BBC Studios – Photographer: Ben Blackall

Whittaker finds the Thirteenth Doctor

This past week has included some reflection on the first half of Series 11. In BlogtorWho’s mid-term report, I was eager to see Jodie Whittaker have a moment that epitomised her Doctor. For her to find the character of the Thirteenth Doctor. ‘Demons of the Punjab‘ didn’t provide a moment, it provided several. Firstly, in the alien environment and confronted with an intimidating new creature, she more than held her ground. There was a fire in her eyes. Not an aggressive tone but a forceful one. Confident and in charge. It helped having the Thijarian’s stood before her. They were an intimidating presence but the Doctor showed no fear which is a lot more meaningful than when presented with a cute creature that just wants to eat things, for example.

Several other moments of the Thirteenth Doctor stood out. This felt like a Thirteenth Doctor story and it was hard to imagine another incarnation being suitable, epitomised by the wedding ceremony. Unsurprisingly, she is not the focus in the frame. Quite rightly Prem and Umbreen dominate the visual but it is the words of the Doctor which resonate the most. But from a high point to possibly the lowest. It became quickly apparent that things were not going to work out well for Prem. The Doctor can’t do anything. Like a documentary cameraman she and her friends are simply witnesses. As the gunshot rings out behind her, the Doctor winces. The Time Lord has never been so vulnerable and helpless. Gone is the infallible god-like being and the drama is all the better for it.

Doctor Who - Series 11 - Episode 6 - Demons of the Punjab - Graham (BRADLEY WALSH), Yaz (MANDIP GILL) - (C) BBC / BBC Studios - Photographer: Ben Blackall
Doctor Who – Series 11 – Episode 6 – Demons of the Punjab – Graham (BRADLEY WALSH), Yaz (MANDIP GILL) – (C) BBC / BBC Studios – Photographer: Ben Blackall

Still too many in Team TARDIS?

Unfortunately with Yaz at the forefront, this was a week for Ryan to take a backseat. Whilst his contributions are still important they are limited, furthering the debate regarding too many in the TARDIS. Bradley Walsh as Graham has been outstanding so far this series. As with Ryan, he is nudged a little into the background but when required he is astonishing. The scene with Prem, discussing being good men, was hugely emotional. Similarly, his earlier conversation with Yaz. Although the whole situation is essentially Yaz’s fault, she doesn’t dominate the story. Mandip Gill is superb throughout, connecting with the viewer all her emotions. As a result of her acting skill the viewer is taken on the emotional rollercoaster that is ‘Demons of the Punjab‘.

Doctor Who: Demons of the Punjab – Thijarians (c) BBC

Don’t judge by appearances

The apparent ‘Demons of the Punjab‘ are revealed to be the Thijarians. These two creatures were brilliantly realised. Although still humanoid in construction, the masks were so different from T’zim Sha’s prosthetic which looked just that, as a prosthetic on an actor’s face. On this occasion the Thijarians looked properly alien with multiple eyes and tusks, plus impressive shoulder accessories and costume. The only disappointing elements of the story are the two scenes spent explaining the plot. Firstly, who the Thijarians are and then undoing that so they can explain what they really are. A species honouring the unknown dead seems rather appropriate for Remembrance Sunday. The lesson is not to judge by appearances.

Saying that I enjoyed ‘Demons of the Punjab‘ seems somewhat inappropriate. It was an episode that highlighted a period of history I knew nothing about. It is also an instalment of Doctor Who that sees the lead character in the rarest of situations – helpless and, you could argue, suffering a defeat. I had been confident that ‘Rosa‘ was going to be the standout of Series 11 but ‘Demons of the Punjab‘ may have just topped it.

3 COMMENTS

  1. An absolutely incredible episode. Great performances from everyone (Walsh in particular). Some of the best direction the show has ever had from Jamie Childs. A moving score from Segun Akinola and a great script from Vinay Patel.

    • Is that a plot error or writer’s choice? Granted it would have been touching but it also works that she didn’t remember.

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