Bear Witness to This Week's Spoiler-Filled Doctor Who Open Thread

The Doctor welcomes herself to 1947 in “Demons of the Punjab”. Anything for a capelike flutter to that coat, really.
The Doctor welcomes herself to 1947 in “Demons of the Punjab”. Anything for a capelike flutter to that coat, really.
Photo: BBC

This week, Doctor Who ventured into the past for another historical event: the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. While it might have had themes similar to this season’s powerful “Rosa”, it took a slightly different approach getting there.

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Illustration for article titled Bear Witness to This Weeks Spoiler-Filled iDoctor Who/i Open Thread

Mainly because—and it is indeed about bloody time—“Demons of the Punjab” told its historical story while also finally gave some much needed focus to Yaz, who’s definitely taken a backseat to the rest of team TARDIS this season. And it was absolutely worth it: “Demons” would’ve been a heady mix of educational storytelling and tragedy even without Yaz’s personal connection to the story being told, but with it there, we were offered a much more powerful version of Doctor Who’s usual approach to stories about the perils of time travelling across your own personal history.

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There’s some parallels to the last time Doctor Who really tried to tell a story like this—specifically with Rose and her father in “Father’s Day”. But while that story found drama in the futility of Rose trying to change her family’s past (and more traditional monster foes, unlike the aliens in this episode), “Demons” finds it in putting that past on a pedestal as a lesson to be learned. Not just from an educational perspective—something that, as we’ve discussed before, was part of Doctor Who’s earliest remit—but as unforgotten reminder, and the way remembrance brings generations of people together on scales grand and small, just as it does Yaz and her grandmother.

That in of itself is a very Doctor Who idea, even if it’s one being presented without the show’s usual level of corridor-running, monster-y romps. Which is kind of exciting, honestly—and has a lot more potential to offer than simply aping tropes the show has offered twists on time and time again.

We’ll have more to say about about “Demons of the Punjab” in our regular recap tomorrow, but for now—let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

James is a News Editor at io9. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!

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DISCUSSION

So much to unpack - from the fact that “bearing witness” applied to the wedding, the deaths, history itself unfolding and family history in particular, even though this was an “Edith Keeler must die” sort of time-travel trope.

I liked that the Doctor understood the value of not messing around with history and it would have been nice to have this ep be a predestination paradox - that is to say, the Doctor always married Prem and Yaz’s Nan, Yaz was always supposed to be there, and that’s why she’s her grandmother’s favorite grandchild - but the episode never makes this explicit, especially seeing as there was no wink at the end that Yaz’s grandma knew all along her granddaughter was going to be there (which would be something Moffat would have reveled in, for instance.) Though I wonder if she would’ve gone all “everybody lives” if one of her companions wouldn’t have been directly affected by saving Prem.

I like that Thirteen is constantly open to learning and apologizing. When faced with the Demons (can’t remember their actual names) she acted protective but was clearly operating under outdated prejudices, and she actually apologizes to them for it. And for that matter, I liked that the aliens in this episode were not hostile, or rather were but are not anymore and serve like a reverse-Teselecta, witnessing the death of those who die alone in order to honor them. It speaks to the concept of change and growth that Doctor Who should definitely keep adding to.

Random thoughts:

- Bradley Walsh again serves as the emotional/wise core of this show. His talk with Prem, knowing he was going to die and he couldn’t really change that...

- I wonder how many Brits of all ages are googling “partition of India”. I tried to find it on Google Trends but the page wasn’t working for me. Very interesting and timely to discuss borders, though.

- These episodes have real issues with endings, don’t they? We don’t know what happened to the brother, and it still felt like the episode just... sputtered at the end.