“Demons of the Punjab” Review

This is a powerful, moving return to form – Doctor Who doing something unusual and impressive. You’re not going to stop me griping about one thing, though. Unnecessary aliens.

There seem to have been a fair few trolls complaining about Doctor who going all SJW (that’s Social Justice Warrior, which, for some reason, is a term of insult). These are people who are too ignorant to realise that the Doctor has always been an “SJW” or that the Daleks are Nazis or that Malcolm Hulke (The War Games, The Silurians, etc.) was a communist. Anyway, to my mind, this episode is a clear revision to those old Hartnell historicals, teaching us about the past and alternating with the serials intended to teach us about science. The term ‘pure historical’ refers to those stories that contain no sci-fi element beyond the alien Doctor and her time-travel machine, and there hasn’t been one since 1982. So if the ‘political correctness’ that these keyboard jockeys are wailing about is the pervasive alien agenda pushed by the sci-fi elite who run the BBC these days, then I stand with you.

Here’s the thing. In Rosa the time-travel element was a key plot device that drove the story to its devastating climax. So that’s ok, we’ll let that one pass. But in this episode, the silly-looking assassin/non-assassin aliens could have been neatly excised from this story with no effect on the outcome whatever. Yes, I appreciate the effort to weave in the theme of remembrance on Armistice Day, but in the clumsy execution the means distracts from the message.

Without the aliens, this was a powerful, dramatic story about the human consequences of partition and the British Imperialist legacy. Under new management, this show has developed a kind of confidence in the places it can go to tell the stories it feels it can tell that isn’t quite matched by it’s ability to shed its sci-fi trappings when it needs to. Yes, it’s a return to form, to the standards of The Ghost Monument and Rosa but…it’s nearly something even better.

Ah well. Let’s get to the specifics.

Segun Akinola knocks the ball out of the park here. His music has variously been good and interesting or suited to the story it is underscoring, but rarely at the same time. Here, it is exciting and effective at once, and if the vocal version of the Doctor Who theme isn’t on the series ’11’ soundtrack album I shall be writing a very stiffly worded letter of complaint to Silva Screen.

Bradley Walsh’s Graham just gets better each week. “Look at us. Look at the things we’re doing with the Doc.” He’s really grown out of his own risk-averse nature (“like none of our other trips have been risky”) and inherited Grace’s fearlessness. It’s turned out to be quite a great spirit of adventure.

Amita Suman gives a rather wonderfully impassioned young Umbreen.

I know I’ve said I’d rather they just ignored the Doctor’s change of gender, but the expression on the Doctor’s face when Umbreen says “Women with me and mum” is really rather wonderful. And even “never did this when I was a man” is so thoughtlessly throwaway, it’s lovely.

And Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor definitely looks better with a flower behind her ear than any of her predecessors.

Next week: the first episode by Pete McTighe, who wrote for Cara Fi, the series Sarah Dollard (Face the RavenThin Ice) wrote for S4C. I’m looking forward to this one, too.

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

Leave a Reply