Doctor Who series 11 episode 5 – Demons in the Punjab review

Mike GristDoctor Who, Reviews, TV Leave a Comment

I’ve seen some reviewers charging that Chris Chibnall’s Doctor Who is too fluffy and doesn’t engage with weighty issues. When I read that, I can’t help but scoff. What on Earth are they talking about? Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor Who is absolutely a Social Justice Warrior of the very best, foremost class. Thus far she has taken on the very real issues of:

  • Racism and Jim Crow in the Rosa Parks era – as well as in the far future
  • The evils and stupidity of guns
  • The terrible cost of fascist dictatorships (destroying whole worlds)
  • The very fact that she is a woman in a role that has always belonged to a man
  • The evils of massive, irresponsible corporations dumping poison and refusing responsibility
  • The evils of a Trump-like tycoon operating by whim and fiat
  • The evils of the death penalty

Image from the BBC

I don’t know what these complaining Who fans thought the earlier episodes of Who were about that was so deep. A lot of whizzing around dealing with aliens that were utterly inhuman. This is another complaint we’re getting – where are the aliens?

I for one am loving the new push of humans. We are humans. Sci-fi should matter. Humans, or aliens with human-like traits, have to be front and foremost. Remember the original creed of Doctor Who – to teach through time travel. Not just to have slap-bang adventures. To teach meaningful things.

Last night’s episode, Demons in the Punjab, absolutely fulfilled that role. Diving into the issue of the 1947 Partition of India/Pakistan, when millions died as the two countries were split along lines drawn on a map by the English. When Graham says “What?” to all of the above, I was in the same boat.

All those details above – I learned them from the episode. That’s real stuff, providing people today with real context for ongoing issues. What happened here, and why did millions die? Because extremist, newfound nationalists wanted them to. They belong on this side of the line. I belong on this side. That’s all there is to it.

Nobody needs to explicity say that this is the same recidivist nationalism striking the world now, with Brexit, Trump and elsewhere. We ‘demonize’ the other and it ultimately leads to massacre. That’s a regular occurence in the US these days, with politically/religiously-motivated slaughters.

So the story – it’s Yaz’s grandmother’s marriage back in 1947 – but it’s not what we expected. Extremism raises its ugly head and sows division. Aliens are involved, but it’s not the involvement we expected. Instead of assassins come to obstruct history, like in Rosa Parks, here we get aliens come to witness the lonely deaths.

That is such a beautiful idea. A whole race dedicated to providing a kind of succor to the lost. Commemorating them. That’s a religion I could get behind. I loved the Doctor saying it was much like her faith. Whatever religion the Doctor is, I want a piece of it. Let’s found a church and go repeat her wise sayings.

How can anyone say these are not real issues? This stuff is essential, learn-from-history-or-be-destined-to-repeat-it education. There’s even a line directly to that point in the episode – “I didn’t fight in WW1 just to come back to this!”

And the hope. I love Chibnall’s vision. Zooming back to see all those floating heads. It’s tragic they were lost. It’s beautiful they will be remembered.

Finally – can I just say a few words about how muscular Whittaker’s Doctor is? She’s not a pansy, triggered liberal. She has her beliefs and will fight for them. She is always saying things like – “Get behind me!” or “This place is now under my protection!”

So fantastic. It sends chills through me. I love that she is a protector.

And, as ever, after the Doctor ends and we roll straight into Strictly Come Dancing – I get another massive SJW punch as the Armistice is commemorated with a floor full of women in RAF uniforms. Tears in my eyes, again. God, I love the BBC!!

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