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New Who 11.6 Demons of the Punjab

Gosh, that was powerful. I mean, I would totally defer to anyone from an Indian or Pakistani background about the details of it, and whether it did justice to the time and the people depicted. But it had me absolutely gripped and entranced, and often close to tears. It was a really good example of how history in microcosm, told here through just two families, can feel so much more immediate than Great Men and Great Events.

Really interesting, too, to see how that was incorporated into the format of Doctor Who. Rosa gave us fairly traditional pseudo-history, in which the Doctor and her friends had to fight to protect history from being derailed by an alien threat, but the aliens in this episode turned out to be no threat at all - only witnesses. The story could actually have unfolded entirely unchanged without them being there at all, which makes this the closest to a pure historical story we have had for a very long time.

For all that I love pure historicals, though, I wouldn't have wanted them not to be there. Within the genre as we've become used to it today they played beautifully on the audience's expectations, drawing us into the story with the mystery of who they were and how they were going to affect Yaz's family, before the twist discovery of their actual role as merely being there to honour the unremembered dead destabilised our expectations. The result was that the truth that the most frightening thing in the story would actually come from human beings' treatment of each other - the real demons of the title - stood out all the more starkly.

Their powerful speech about the unwitnessed deaths of their ancestors and their mission to honour life as it passes, followed by news reports of violence breaking out over a prominent shot of poppies growing, also made me feel pretty certain someone on the production team had been well aware that this episode would air on this centenary Remembrance Sunday, and made sure that it would resonate powerfully with the other programmes being aired today - like the coverage of the ceremony in Westminster Abbey that was broadcast right before it.

One final, minor note. Obviously this was Yaz's story above all, and I definitely felt I had come to know her and her family much better by the end of it. (Though I would love to know when we were supposed to understand the final scene between her and her grandmother as happening - on a quick trip back to her home time? Or after all her travels with the Doctor are over?) But for some reason for me this was also the episode where I finally felt I had really clicked with Ryan. I've found him a bit difficult to grasp so far, probably mainly because the life experience of a young black man is pretty far away from mine, but maybe also because he is quite quiet and laconic anyway. But there was something about the way he took this setting and story in his stride, so respectful of everyone around him and ready to do whatever was needed to help people and ease tensions, that just finally made me get him and really feel warm towards him. So, glad to meet you properly Ryan. Here's to all of Team TARDIS' further adventures.


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