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Doctor Who, 'Demons of the Punjab:' Our moment in time

Contributed by
Nov 11, 2018

I think about what "Demons of the Punjab" or “Rosa” would have been like in the hands of Steven Moffat or Russell T. Davies. The answer is likely that with Davies, they would have been more than a bit cringeworthy and overwrought, and with Moffat they just wouldn’t have happened at all. And they most certainly wouldn’t have been penned by writers who were part of the cultures being portrayed. Co-writer of “Rosa,” Malorie Blackman, and this episode’s writer, Vinay Patel, are the first ever people of color to write for the show in its entire 55-year history. 

It's almost like the best people to tell a story are the people whose personal histories are the story. What a wild concept. 

As it has the whole season, the focus in this episode is on family — both of origin and chosen, and what it means to choose your family in a world that refuses to allow you any choice. In this case, Yaz's nani, Umbreen, serves as both. Gifting her "favorite granddaughter" with a broken watch that must never be fixed, Nani Umbreen sets the wheels in motion for Yaz (Mandip Gill) who has to know the truth about her inspiration. The Doctor, who is "too nice" and learned absolutely nothing from "Father's Day" among hundreds and hundreds of years of the same poor decision, takes Yaz to 1947, specifically August 17, 1947 — the Partition of India. Yaz's nani is Muslim set to marry Prem, who is Hindu and decidedly not Yaz's grandfather. 

In addition to the obvious, aliens — viewed as demons — are hanging about. Ultimately, like most of the presumed villains this season, they're decent sorts, ensuring no one dies alone, that every death has a witness. Unfortunately, at this moment, one of those deaths is Prem (Shane Zaza), Nani Umbreen's (Amita Suman) first husband, and the man who made her "the first woman married in Pakistan." Ultimately, he is killed thanks to his brother, vehemently against this union. That broken watch is all that remains of their marriage, broken as they took their vows, forever theirs, forever their moment in time. 

As with "Rosa," the Doctor and her friends do not interfere (except when they kind of do). History must take its course exactly as intended, of the whole universe would change. Because, as she notes, "We can't have a universe with no Yaz."  

Fear of the other, and family. The themes for the season are set in motion and they're being set hard and firm. In one way or another, we will find out why. Perhaps at the hands of the Stenza? We don't know yet. But something is about to blow. And the next episode is called "Kerblam!" 

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