Doctor Who – ‘Demons Of The Punjab’

Series Eleven, Episode Six


It’s the birthday celebration of Yasmin’s Nani Umbreen (Leena Dhingra). She is with the family telling them she was the first woman married in Pakistan. She gives her family various gifts, and to Yasmin she gives a broken watch. It has special significance for Umbreen as it was from the day she was married, but she doesn’t want to go into details.

Yasmin tells the Doctor she wants to go back to that time and place, to see her nani when she was young. The Doctor isn’t sure that it’s a good idea, but she decides to take the risk. The TARDIS team use the watch to set a course for the TARDIS to take them to the day and the place the watch was broken. That turns out to be India on the 17th of August, 1947 – the official date of the Partition Of India.

The TARDIS team meet up with young Umbreen (Amita Suman). Yasmin tells her she is a relative, but obviously she has to lie about how exactly they are related, and says she is a distant cousin.

There is a young man there, Prem (Shane Zaza), who Umbreen is to marry, and he is wearing the watch Yasmin was given. The problem is, Prem isn’t Yasmin’s grandfather.

Yasmin says she came here for answers, but it’s just raised more questions. The Doctor says she thought that might happen, and is regretting the whole thing. The TARDIS team are also randomly seeing sights of peculiar aliens.

Umbreen is from a Muslim family, while Prem is from a Hindu family. The two grew up together on neighbouring farms, their families worked together for generations. But things are going to be more difficult now. The partition of India creates a brand new country (at this point in history), Pakistan, and the house of Umbreen’s family is over the border.

The Doctor warns Yasmin to be very careful in what she says or does. She could end up erasing her own existence.

In the woods, the Doctor, Prem and Ryan find the body of Bhakti, a sadhu who was to bless Umbreen and Prem’s marriage. The aliens are standing over him, but they instantly disappear. There is some purple dust around Bhakti, but the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver doesn’t detect any poison in his system. Prem has seen the aliens and the purple dust before, when he was a soldier fighting in Singapore. He saw the aliens standing over his brother’s dead body.

Suddenly, the Doctor, Prem and Ryan are teleported onto a spaceship. The Doctor identifies it as belonging to the Thijarians, the deadliest assassins in the known universe. The Thijarian’s then appear, but the Doctor, Prem and Ryan escape.

Meanwhile, Umbreen is still determined to go ahead with the wedding, saying that she has seen war take the young and drought take the old, she can’t let setbacks stop her from living her life.

Yasmin talks to Graham. She says she thought she knew her nan’s story, but she had never heard about any of what is happening here. Graham says that perhaps she didn’t want to tell Yasmin everything that she’d been through, plus at this point in history Umbreen isn’t her nan yet, lots of things are going to happen to her before then.

With the purple dust overloading the sonic screwdriver, the Doctor decides to “go analogue” and use a makeshift chemistry set to analyse the dust. She finds that the
dust is made up of every known element there is. Then the Thijarians turn up, and take the Doctor away with them!

Teleported onto the spaceship, the Doctor wants to know what the Thijarians’ intentions are. They tell her they have turned over a new leaf! Their home planet was destroyed due to their reputation for being assassins, and all that is left of it is the purple dust. They have changed careers, from assassins to “witnesses”. They seek those who are about to die alone so they have someone there with them. They can predict who is going to die – and we find out the next person is Prem! – but they can’t intervene with that fate, they can’t save anyone.

The Doctor and the TARDIS team now carry that same burden, as they can’t intervene either. They’re already on thin ice just by being there, and a change as big as saving Prem’s life will almost certainly erase Yasmin from existence. If they can’t help Prem, they can try to make his last hours happy. The Doctor officiates Prem and Umbreen’s wedding. Prem’s watch falls and breaks soon after, but he says that this is fitting, as it will be his and Umbreen’s “moment in time”.

However, Prem’s brother Mannish (Hamza Jeetooa) disapproves of the wedding, and says so. The Doctor confronts him when they are alone, she has worked out that Mannish is the one who murdered the holy man in the woods. Mannish tells her he has summoned armed men on horseback.

When the others find out about what is coming, Prem tells Umbreen to collect as many possessions as she can and leave. He says he will face the men, and will meet her later.

When Prem goes up to them, he acknowledges with sadness at what it has come to. These men include Mannish, his own brother, and a soldier Prem fought alongside during the war. Prem is killed, and the Thijarian’s appear over him.

Back in the present day, Yasmin is talking to Nani Umbreen. Yasmin asks her if she is happy with how her life turned out. Umbreen says that yes she is, she’s glad that she moved to Sheffield, that she met Yasmin’s grandad and she started a family there. But she doesn’t want to tell Yasmin about the significance of the watch just yet. Yasmin says that she understands.

Well, this episode was a tearjerker! Yasmin sees her nani’s early adult life firsthand, and the tragedy of it obviously affects her quite a bit. The people they found there were just trying to get on with their lives, and ended up being caught up in the political and social turmoil that was going on.

It is a gut punch that Prem loses his life in such a needless way, and at the hands of people he had a close bond with no so long before.

Mannish’s actions are unforgivable, but he comes off more as a deeply flawed human who went down a bad path than a cartoonish villain. He is out of his depth just as much as the others are. Not that any of that excuses him.

They don’t go into it much, but there would be time paradox issues if they had stopped Prem’s death. Almost like the classic Grandfather paradox. In that, it’s if someone goes back in time to kill their own grandfather they’d cease to exist so wouldn’t be able to go back in time in the first place. With this, they have to live with the fact they allowed a man who wasn’t Yasmin’s grandfather to die, because if they didn’t then chances are Yasmin wouldn’t have existed and they wouldn’t have travelled here.

The Thijarians were another set of irrelevant aliens though. They were just a red herring, and they weren’t even necessary really. The story would have been fine just as a time travel/historical one.

The scenery looked very beautiful, the sunsets and the flowery fields. It was filmed in Spain rather than India though.

This was also the first episode of series 11 not to be written or co-written by Chris Chibnall. It was written by Vinay Patel.

‘Demons Of The Punjab’ was an interesting and poignant episode, and I found it very moving, especially the scene at the end with Yasmin and Umbreen.

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