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Recap / Doctor Who S37 E6 "Demons of the Punjab"

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"We honour the lost, as we cannot honour our own."

The one where demons honour the dead.

This episode first aired on November 11, 2018. Written by Vinay Patel.

At her grandmother's birthday party, Yaz's gran, Umbreen, gives her an old, broken wristwatch, with a demand that it never be repaired. Curious about her grandmother's Mysterious Past, Yaz asks the Doctor to go back in time and meet her grandmother. The Doctor is concerned that Yaz could cause a paradox, but agrees, having the TARDIS home in on the watch in its past. This lands them in the Punjabi countryside, where the Doctor gets a psychic flash of mysterious armoured figures, and the team is offered a lift by a young Hindu man driving an oxcart. A passing holy man turns down a lift, and one of the armoured figures watches him walking as the cart leaves.

It turns out the cart driver, Prem, is getting married to Umbreen the next day. Yaz is thrown off by this, since he's not her grandfather, as her late grandfather was Muslim, not Hindu. Worse still, the date is August 17, 1947, the day of The Partition of India, something Prem's younger brother, Manish, heartily supports. Then the Doctor, her companions, and Prem discover the mysterious armoured figures with the body of the holy man in the woods. He was going to marry Prem and Umbreen, one of the only people willing to. And Prem has seen the demons before...

Graham and Yaz head back to the farm to report the death, while the Doctor, Ryan, and Prem locate the base of the alien "demons". Graham and Yaz talk about the difficulty of the situation. The Doctor deduces that the "demons" are Thijarians, the finest race of assassins in the universe, but can't figure out who they're going to kill next. She steals a canister of the mysterious powder the holy man was covered in, arousing their ire, and gets it back to the farm to analyze it. The Doctor is persuaded to officiate the wedding, and discovers that the dust is an unusual, dense concentration of organic materials. She's then grabbed by the Thijarians, who take her back to their ship and explain themselves. They're not assassins anymore. After the destruction of their homeworld, they decided to stand witness at the deaths of those who died alone and unmourned, and the dust is what's left of the rest of their people. And Prem is destined to die tomorrow. The Doctor tells her companions this, and swears them to secrecy. Yaz, who's gotten to like Prem, is sad, but the Doctor reminds her that, without Prem's death, she won't exist.

The wedding ceremony itself goes fine, but it turns out that Manish is the architect of their troubles. He has become so radicalized that he murdered the holy man to try and stop the wedding, and, when that didn't work, he arranged for a band of armed rioters to come to the farm. Umbreen and her mother are forced to flee, while Prem tries to talk some sense into his little brother. The Doctor and her companions watch the beginning of the confrontation, but the Thijarians arrive and tell them to leave, as they will stand witness for the rest. As the time travellers walk away, a gunshot is heard, marking the end of Prem's life. Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor reassures Yaz that her grandmother made it safely to Lahore. In Sheffield, Yaz talks to her grandmother again. Umbreen, seeing the faded henna Yaz was given before the wedding, remarks that the design is terrible, but asks if the wedding was nice. Yaz says it was, and tells her grandmother she doesn't need to know the story of the watch until she's ready to tell it.

It's interesting to note that, although there's an incident with the Thijarians at the beginning of the adventure, they otherwise don't factor into the plot at all, revealing they are merely there to observe and mourn. This makes "Demons of the Punjab" the first historical story since "Black Orchid", where the threat is entirely non-extra-terrestrial and probably the closest the revival series has gotten to doing a "pure historical" where there are no fantasy elements apart from the TARDIS itself and the story is entirely concerned on the actions of humans in a historical period of Earth, as was common throughout the William Hartnell era in particular, and last done traditionally with "Black Orchid".


  • Always Chaotic Evil: A strange logical extension - the entire species of Always Chaotic Evil Thijarians apparently become Atoners at once. Guess that's what happens when the entire species shares one moral code.
  • Ambiguous Situation: It's not clear whether or not Umbreen remembers Yaz as the woman from her youth. Giving her the watch and stating she's her favourite granddaughter, as well as noting the faded henna on Yaz's hands, would seem to say yes, but nothing is confirmed.
  • An Aesop: Religious tensions always existed in India, but the Partition inflamed them beyond bearing.
  • The Atoner: The Thijarians were once the universe's finest assassins. Then they lost their home planet and, being unable to grieve for their own kind, became witnesses to the final moments of those who would otherwise die alone.
  • Bat People: The Thijarians have faces that make them look like bat/spider hybrids, with multiple small eyes, giant fangs that protrude from their mouths and enormous pointed ears. They were once feared as the universe's deadliest assassins, but when their planet was destroyed and most of their species wiped out, the survivors found new purpose as priests, acting as witnesses to the final moments of those who would otherwise have died alone.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Yaz clearly had an eager need to find out the life her grandmother lived before getting into the UK. She discovers how much pain and tragedy Umbreen lived through in Partition-era India before turning over a new leaf. That said, while she is clearly unsettled by what she discovered, she develops a newfound appreciation of Umbreen.
  • Benevolent Monsters: The Thijarians. Although their kind used to be assassins, they have since taken on a more noble purpose.
  • Big Bad: Prem's brother, Manish.
  • Book Ends: The episode begins and ends with Yaz and her grandmother. In the first scene, Yaz asks about the watch, and Umbreen tells her she'll tell her the story when she's older. In the last scene, Yaz, now knowing the story, tells her grandmother that she's fine waiting to hear the story for now.
  • Brick Joke: When the Doctor and Yaz get henna the night before the wedding, Umbreen considers the design her mother is painting on to be terrible, which her mother retorts is because she had to prepare a body earlier. In the last scene, when Umbreen sees the faded henna on Yaz's hands in 2018, she says that the design is terrible.
  • Captain Obvious: Graham, who seems to have been expecting to land in Lahore because Yaz said her grandmother lived there in the '50s, sees the Punjabi countryside and says it doesn't appear to be Lahore.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Umbreen and Prem grew up together as neighbours before starting their romance.
  • Continuity Nod: Unsurprisingly, the Doctor is wary of taking a companion back into her own past after what happened with Rose and her dad.
  • Creepy Good: The Thijarians look like creepy, bat-faced dark priests, but it turns out that their clerical appearance is supposed to indicate their benign mission to witness and remember those who died alone.
  • Dark Is Evil: The gang doing the ethnic cleansing are all riding black horses.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The Thijarians, a race of pteropine aliens in jagged, threatening black armour... who have turned over a new leaf.
  • Deceptive Legacy: Played with, as Yaz discovers slews of her grandmother's past she never knew of, such as her first husband, who wasn't Yaz's grandfather. By the end of it all, she understands why her grandmother didn't tell her about it.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The Thijarians, menacing-looking aliens roaming the countryside, are called demons by the locals who see them. By the end, it's revealed that the true demons of the Punjab are the sectarian violence and hatred that have sprung up in part because of the Partition.
  • Downer Ending: The episode ends with the Doctor and her companions forced to let Prem's death happen because, if they interfere, Yaz and family will get wiped out of existence. As if the emphasis the point, the episode does not play out with the series closing theme, but a mournful Indian chant.
  • The Dreaded: The Doctor has never encountered the Thijarians before, but she has heard tales describing them as the universe's most deadly assassins, and has an Oh, Crap! moment when she figures out what they are.
  • Due to the Dead: The Thijarians act as witnesses to the final moments of those who would otherwise die alone. Their ship contains a memorial to these dearly departed in the form of holographic heads.
  • Dying Alone: The Thijarians act as witnesses to prevent this.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: The Thijarians show the Doctor a recording of the destruction of their homeworld.
  • Evil Plan: Team TARDIS assumes the Thijarians are here to assassinate someone else and the Doctor does her usual "under my protection" thing. Except, the Thijarians' aren't here to kill anyone. That would be Manish and his fellow radicals, seeking to push Muslims out of India.
  • Evil Wears Black: Manish is wearing a black shirt on the day he betrays Prem.
  • Exact Words: Umbreen told her family she was the first woman married in Pakistan. She never said to whom.
  • Extra Eyes: It's hard to count exactly how many eyes Thijarians have.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Though the Doctor makes an examination of the holy man's body, she doesn't notice the bullet wound that killed him.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Yaz knows Prem isn't her grandfather, so she knows something is going to happen to him. Later on, the Thijarians explicitly tell the Doctor that Prem will die on the day of the wedding to the violence of the Partition.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Prem's brother, Manish, is shown from the start as being something of a Hindu fanatic, supporting the Partition and opposing Prem and Umbreen's marriage. It's not surprising when he turns out to have a hand in ending it.
    • The Doctor, scanning the holy man's body, notes that the mystery powder the Thijarians put on him wasn't a poison, indicating they didn't actually kill him.
    • The Thijarians claim that the Doctor has profaned a holy place when she steals their canister of dust. That dust contains the reason why they are no longer assassins, and hints at their mission.
    • The Thijarians' method for protecting their base is to teleport intruders away without causing any harm, and, after the Doctor tells them that their full-strength telepathic signals hurt her, they don't use them again, indicating that they're not malicious.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Manish, who is bigoted against Muslims and arranges his own brother's murder for marrying one, wears glasses.
  • Grandfather Paradox: The Doctor warns Yaz about the dangers of "treading on your own history" a few times throughout the episode. Just one word in the wrong place and she could retgone herself.
  • Grandparent Favouritism: Umbreen describes Yaz as her favourite grandchild in front of the rest of the family, prompting annoyance from Sonya and a warning from Najia not to say things like that.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Though the British colonial government doesn't appear in the episode, except as voices on a radio, the episode doesn't gloss over their responsibility for the chaos caused by the Partition. Even the kind-hearted Prem, who proudly fought alongside British troops in Burma during World War II, expresses anger at them for what they've done.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Prem buys time for Umbreen and her mother to flee, trying to talk sense into his brother. He pays for this with his life.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Blaming the British government for Partition is simplifying a rather complex historical moment, since the real driving force behind it was the separatist All-Indian Muslim League led by Muhammed bin Jinnah, and the Indian Congress had agreed to it due to his intransigence. Lord Mountbatten, the British official overseeing the transition to Indian independence, was actually reluctant to agree to Partition and only did so because Jinnah insisted on it regardless of any other argument, and later said he would have refused if he'd know that Jinnah was secretly sick and dying; the Muslim League, for their part, had concerns about being a religious minority in a country dominated by Hindus, and the violence that erupted had as much to do with ethnic and religious tensions going back centuries as anything else, and possibly might still have occurred in some form even if the British had refused to go along with Partition, and many members of the Congress and the League didn't think the British, a departing colonial power, should have even had a say in this issue in the first place.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: The Thijarians look menacing and have a bad reputation, but they're on Earth to fulfil a peaceful mission. It's fanatical humans like Manish who cause all the deaths and grief in the episode.
  • Karma Houdini: Manish and his murderous pals never pay for their crimes, although the last we see of Manish just before Prem's death seems to imply he's going to be haunted by what he's done for the rest of his life.
  • Last of Their Kind: The Thijarians' homeworld was destroyed in a war, and all that remains of their species are the few assassins who weren't there at the time, and a vial of dust made from their species' corpses.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Prem and Umbreen, due to him being Hindu, her being Muslim, and tensions being high with the India/Pakistan partition being imminent.
  • Mundane Utility: While officiating the wedding, the Doctor uses her sonic screwdriver to untie a knot.
  • Noodle Implements: The Doctor asks for a number of these while assembling an impromptu chemistry set to study the Thijarian dust, including ox spit, chicken poo and a biscuit.
    Graham: Why a biscuit?
    The Doctor: I like biscuits.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • The Death Eye Turtle Army, for which the Doctor has already apologised profusely.
    • The Doctor apparently officiated at Albert Einstein's wedding.
    • The Doctor claims to have met Lord Mountbatten once before.
  • Not What It Looks Like: The Doctor, her companions, and Prem come across the Thijarians around the body of the holy man, and naturally assume they killed him. In actuality, they were merely marking his death.
  • Oh, Crap!: The reaction of Team TARDIS when they realize that this is the day India and Pakistan are officially divided and the conflict is going to shake up the land they're on.
  • Pinball Protagonist: Team TARDIS can't affect the course of history in case it negates Yaz's existence, so all they can do is watch as events unfold.
  • Retgone: Team TARDIS are forced to allow Prem's unjust death to happen because if they do prevent it, Yaz, Sonya, and their mother will be wiped out of existence.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The new border leaves Umbreen's house in Pakistan and Prem's in India. Then they get married across the border.
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Umbreen calls Yaz her favourite granddaughter in front of Sonya, and refuses to stop when their mother asks her to.
  • Shout-Out: The effect used for the painful telepathy the Thijarians use is very similar to that of the aliens in Knowing.
  • Sibling Murder: Manish doesn't pull the trigger himself, but he does almost everything else to arrange Prem's death.
  • Spikes of Villainy: Subverted; the Thijarians have a very spiky appearance, but their intention is a lot less sinister than it first appears.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Concerning the Doctor's Gender Bender:
    The Doctor: (sitting with the women before the wedding, getting henna painted on her hands) This is the best thing ever. Never did this when I was a man.
    [Umbreen and her mother look confused]
    Yaz: Doctor, you and your jokes.
    The Doctor: Yeah, that's right. My references to body and gender regeneration are all in jest. I'm such a comedian.
  • Tears of Joy: When she starts crying at the wedding because she knows Prem is going to die in a few hours, Yaz tells Umbreen's mother that she always cries at weddings, passing her tears off as this.
  • Technobabble: The Doctor's explanation of how the TARDIS will track down the watch in its past, complete with a prior warning that the explanation will be complicated, is something about spatial particles that are kinda-sorta telepathic.
  • Teleportation: The Thijarians have access to transmat technology, which they use to teleport themselves and Team TARDIS several times throughout the episode. They also use it as a security measure with markers defining a border that automatically teleports intruders away. The Doctor steals them and turns it against them to buy time. Not that she actually needed to.
  • This Is Something He's Got to Do Himself: Prem refuses the Doctor's offer to accompany him when he makes one last effort to talk sense into his brother.
    Prem: These are demons I have to face alone.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Leena Dhingra plays Umbreen in the 2018 setting, while Amita Suman plays Umbreen in 1947.
  • Tragic Keepsake:
    • Prem's broken watch, given to Yaz by Umbreen, was a wedding gift from Prem.
    • Prem's amulet, taken from the body of his older brother, Kunal, who died in Singapore.
  • Translation Convention: Upon meeting Prem for the first time ,he mentions that the group speaks good Punjabi for foreigners.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Prem insists Manish isn't the boy he was when Prem left for the war.
  • Variations on a Theme Song: The closing credits have an Indian-style rendition of the theme.
  • Villains Out Shopping: When the Doctor, Ryan and Prem wind up on the Thijarians' ship while they're out, she suggests that they could be shopping, catching a movie or bowling.
  • We Used to Be Friends:
    • Umbreen and Manish's families were neighbours all their lives, and Manish would often go hungry so that both their families could eat. However, that friendship ended when Manish became radicalized against Muslims.
    • Prem actually recognises one of the men in Prem's mob as a soldier he fought alongside with in Burma against the Japanese, and he tries to appeal to their past camaraderie, saying they were a good team. It doesn't work.
  • What Year Is This?: Graham asks the question soon after the time travellers' arrival and also asks for forgiveness for such an obvious question.
  • Widowed at the Wedding: Prem is killed the same day he married Umbreen.
  • The X of Y: "Demons of the Punjab".
  • You Are What You Hate: Manish was poisoned by war into becoming a bigot who would rather kill his own brother than live with the knowledge that Kunal, the brother he cared more for, was lost in a fight with a race of people he didn't want any involvement with in the first place.
  • You Should Have Died Instead: Manish's opinion is that Prem should have died instead of Kunal, because Manish believes Kunal would have sympathized with forcing the Muslims out of India. Prem claims he wouldn't have, and, since Kunal is dead, it's impossible to know how he really would have felt.