Doctor Who Recap: Demons Of The Punjab Is A Moving And Much-Needed History Lesson
Just as many Canadians were remembering their grandparents and great-grandparents this Remembrance Day weekend, Doctor Who delved into the family history of one of the Doctor’s companions by taking Yaz and the rest of Team TARDIS back to 1947: the year Pakistan was partitioned from India by the British. Arriving in the Punjab (one of three provinces divided by the newly imposed border), the team sets out to find Yaz’s grandmother, Umbreen, and uncover the story behind her mysterious past and the broken watch she gave to Yaz—without revealing the story behind its significance.
Of course, the trip is even more complicated that it sounds. Putting aside the fact that Yaz could erase her entire timeline if she meddles too much in her young grandmother’s life, there’s the political situation, division in Umbreen’s fiance’s Hindu family, and… oh yeah! Demons. Actually, they’re Vajarians—intergalactic assassins who, we find out, have changed their ways after experiencing tragedy in their own homeland. The Vajarians now dedicate themselves to bearing witness to all those who die alone… including the millions who will die as a result of the partition.
After making peace with the Doctor, the Vajarians show her what has happened and what will happen. Umbreen’s betrothed has an angry little brother, furious that his Hindu sibling is about to marry into a Muslim family. He is behind the death at the beginning of the episode: of a holy man on his way to perform the wedding ceremony. He is, or will be, responsible for the death of his brother, too. The mystery from the very beginning has been about Umbreen’s fiance, Prem—he’s not the grandfather Yaz knew as a child. How is it possible that her grandmother had a secret first marriage?
At the wedding celebration, Prem gives Umbreen a watch as a symbol of their union (the same watch Umbreen gives Yaz decades later, leading her to look into her Nan’s past) and Umbreen tries to build a bridge between herself and the angry brother, Manish. It doesn’t work. Manish has rallied some like-minded locals who believe that Umbreen’s family should leave their home on the Indian side of the border and head to Pakistan as displaced persons. They also believe that the marriage between Umbreen and Prem is an abomination. Prem is murdered when he goes to confront his brother but Umbreen and her mother make it out of India to safety, first in Lahore and then in Sheffield.
5 questions we have about this week’s episode of Doctor Who:
1. The timing of this episode, so close to Remembrance Day, was perfect. Intentional? We’re guessing yes.
2. Einstein, Audrey Hepburn, Frank Sinatra, Elvis… this new Doctor is a bit of a name-dropper, right?
3. At the end of the episode, back in the present day, Nani Umbreen finally seems willing to share the story of the broken watch with Yaz, but Yaz turns her down. Did anyone else wish that Yaz would have let her share her story in that moment?
4. When Doctor Who gets it right, these explorations of human history are so illuminating. Which historical period or event would you want to see the Doctor and her companions travel to?
5. In our estimation, this was the best episode of Who we’ve seen this season. What do you think?