A Much Improved Episode In A Tumultuous Season Of Quality
Anachronistic dialogue aside, Doctor Who’s sixth episode is a much improved slice of time travel sci-fi and finally gets the show back to the promising start it set itself up for early on. While the show still suffers from a lack of compelling antagonistic writing and there always seems to be two too many companions along for the ride, Demons Of The Punjab is a much improved episode, one that manages to prevent the show from collapsing in on itself after a couple of disappointing episodes prior.
Demons Of The Punjab begins with an introduction to Yaz’s family, and in particular her Nanny. After giving her favourite granddaughter a broken watch, we arrive in India 1947 with Team TARDIS on the cusp of the Partition Of India, separating India and Pakistan into two nations. It’s here where we’re introduced to a younger version of Yaz’s family living on a farm stalked by a strange alien race. As the episode progresses and The Doctor investigates, we learn more about this race of menacing assassins before a climactic and emotionally charged finale.
For the first time this season we see the pen handed to writer Vinay Patel and with it, a massive improvement in both characterisation and pacing. While there’s a continuing trend of one companion pushed to the background (Ryan this week), the actual dialogue is a bit better and the content of the episode helped along by a compelling narrative. The real star here though is Jodie Whittaker who’s finally given a decent script and a chance to truly shine as the charismatic, sporadic leader of Team TARDIS. Boy does she deliver in a big way this episode. From quirky one liners to a mix of fiery determination and compassion, her character is given the perfect platform to show she’s the right woman for the job and for that alone, Demons Of The Punjab is one of the most decisive episodes this season for The Doctor.
While the story is enjoyable and manages to bring another history lesson to life in a powerful way, the continued presence of a politically charged narrative does offset the balance of the show somewhat. From the Trump caricature and racism to equality for women, Chris Chibnall’s incessant need to pepper the show with clumsily handled social issues continues to dampen the sci-fi elements this season. While this week’s timely reminder about equality and the horrors of war are a nice inclusion, the close-up shots of poppies and deliberately placed speeches about war and xenophobia feel a little too heavy handed at times, offsetting the great work done narratively with the episode.
Perhaps it’s telling then that one of the best episodes this season is one not written by Chris Chibnall himself. While the plot is simple enough to avoid any convoluted narrative wobbles, it’s the overall pacing and sense of wonder the show introduces for the first time this season that makes it a step in the right direction. We said before the show aired that this season would make or break Doctor Who and despite consistent ratings for audiences, Doctor Who’s fan-base have been pushed from pillar to post every week with unpredictable episode quality and some disappointing characterisation. Thankfully, Demons Of The Punjab is a push in the right direction and hopefully a sign of better things to come in one of the most tumultuous seasons for The Doctor since his return back in 2005.