RogerBW's Blog

Doctor Who 2/11.06: Demons of the Punjab 13 November 2018

What a difference a new writer makes! Yes, this episode's not perfect, but it mostly gives the cast something to do, it uses the setting for more than mere background prettiness, and it has an alien menace that's resolved by talking rather than fighting.

All right, the Hindu Nationalists are still Bad People like all the racists in Rosa, but the one we meet does at least have some complexity to him, some sense of internal conflict. Everyone's unhappy about the haste with which the partition lines were drawn up by the departing British, but they admit that their own people are causing trouble too. Vinay Patel, who wrote this episode, is a playwright mostly known for Murdered By My Father, which tackled the hard job of making the perpetrator of an "honour" killing into a relatable character; and the script mostly avoids falling into easy resolutions.

This show still has to satisfy a primary audience of children, and it's never going to be a masterpiece of subtlety, but at least this time it goes just a little bit beyond the level of things being exactly what they seem that's what we've been getting in the Chibnall scripts. When a Chibnall alien turns up with shoulder spikes and a generally menacing appearance, it's a Bad Guy. In the hands of Vinay Patel, these aliens are something more interesting.

And there's a minor theme of the memories and lasting shadows of war, appropriate for an episode broadcast on 11 November.

On the weaker side, Ryan still comes off as a character without much impact; he ends up sharing most of his scenes with Graham, and Bradley Walsh simply has vastly more screen presence than Tosin Cole, so Ryan turns into Graham's echo chamber. Presumably these scripts were written before the actors were cast, but if I had control of the show I'd split up these characters and let Ryan do something in his own right.

It's heavy-handed at times, but this episode manages to carry the viewer with it, something that for me at least the last couple haven't managed. Three more non-Chibnall episodes before the Chibnall finale; let's hope they keep up to this standard.

  1. Posted by Dr Bob at 05:03pm on 13 November 2018

    My problem with this one came near the end, when it was another example of the Doctor & co standing around doing nothing because 'timey wimey prime directive' causes angst and inaction.

    A much stronger ending would have been for the Doc/Yaz to say to the aliens "Hello - actual time travelling family member here. She should be standing vigil with the dying man, not you." Then some agreement that Yaz and aliens do it together.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 05:09pm on 13 November 2018

    Fair point. And they could have teleported her out afterwards, as they'd already shown the ability to do to other people.

    Still enjoyed it a lot more than the last few.

  3. Posted by DaveD at 03:00pm on 14 November 2018

    I suspect that we're seeing a lot of Ryan & Graham together as a journey to Ryan accepting Graham as "Granddad." Given what a deal it was at the front end of the season, I can see how Chibnall would want to tie it up at the end, and have the experiences giving the younger man reason to mature personally and bond with the older.

    There's also an extra echo of the original series there in that sense, since we'll have one character calling another "Grandfather," just as it was at the beginning (even if it's humans this time).

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 03:07pm on 14 November 2018

    Makes sense; but for me, with the difference in – I don't know, "screen presence" is part of it, but I fear "acting skill" may be too – Ryan just vanishes into Graham's shadow.

  5. Posted by Michael Cule at 08:45pm on 18 November 2018

    The number of companions is too high.

    DOCTOR WHO isn't an ensemble piece the way BUFFY was. The Doctor is always at the center and the companions rotate around him/her. The Doctor consumes screen time and the companions must take what's left to depict their lives.

    And so far they have done very little in the way of story arc. Something was implied in the first two episodes... But has been forgotten since. A story that continues throughout the season would, I think, give more space for the companions.

    It's not a bad episode. I might have had the brother discover who killed the holy man himself.

    (And don't people who get shot with ex-British Army rifles tend to have large and obvious holes in them?)

  6. Posted by RogerBW at 08:57pm on 18 November 2018

    Three companions has worked before; it was the usual mix in the early days. (I feel that it worked less well in what I call the "TARDIS Kiddies" era of Adric/Nyssa/Tegan, but some people disagree. They are of course wrong.)

    Sometimes this worked well; sometimes it's clear that the writer didn't really know what to do with a particular character and just hangs them out to get captured by the villain.

    How this was done traditionally was a script writing/editing process to make sure that all the companions had things to do, and in turn a format that gave them all time to do those things. If you have to fit each whole story into a 50-minute TV hour…

    (At which point I pause, and think that this doesn't mean stories are half the length of the ones in the old days. If means that, unless the scriptie is particularly talented and can combine things, twice the proportional time may be spent on the setup and resolution, leaving rather less than half of the screen time free for doing something interesting, including any individual-companion stuff.)

    But if you have to fit that in, then yes, you need to do the ensemble-piece thing, or give them each episodes where the focus is on them (or perhaps them-and-the-Doctor; I don't think that's ever been tried).

    I agree that the first two episodes were better than what's come since, but this one was a significant improvement for me.

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