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Recap / Doctor Who S37E6 "Demons of the Punjab"

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"We honour the lost, as we cannot honour our own".
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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 gave 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 gang 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 the next day, to Umbreen, Yaz's future grandmother. Yaz is thrown off by this, since he's not her grandfather: he doesn't look like the pictures, and her late grandfather was Muslim, anyway. And it's 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, demons, apparently, 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...

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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.

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The wedding ceremony itself goes fine, but it turns out that Prem's brother 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 killers to come to the farm. Umbreen and her mother are forced to flee, while Prem tries to talk some sense into his 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. 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. She tells her grandmother she doesn't need to know the story of the watch right now, but maybe another time.


Tropes:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 she 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 her nan.
  • Benevolent Monsters: The Thijarians. Although their kind used to be assassins, they have since taken on a more noble purpose.
  • Book-Ends: The episode begins and ends with Yaz and elderly Umbreen. 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 of the watch 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 old Umbreen sees the faded henna on Yaz's hands, 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 this doesn't appear to be Lahore.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Umbreen and Prem grew up together, as neighbours.
  • Continuity Nod: The Thijarians' backstory (dreaded race eventually reduced to a fraction of its former population) seems awfully similar to the Russell T. Davies-era backstory of the Doctor, prior to the Cosmic Retcon — what with him/her being the so-called "Last of the Time Lords" (together with the Master/Missy, of course).
  • 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.
  • 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 totally understands why her grandmother didn't tell her about it.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The Thijarians, a race of pteropine aliens in jagged, threatening black armour... who have turned over a new leaf.
  • 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 sad knowledge that Prem is gone despite having all the best intentions, the Doctor and her companions are forced to let Prem’s death happen because if they interfere Yaz and her family get wiped out of existance, and 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 this episode, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: The Thijarians look menacing and have a bad reputation, but they're on Earth to fulfill a peaceful mission. It's fanatical humans who cause all the deaths and grief in the episode.
  • Karma Houdini: Manish and his murderous pals never pay for their crimes.
  • 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.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Defied. An underlying current of the story is that everything that could have gone wrong for Umbreen and Prem during their wedding day (as feared by her superstitious mother) happened. Yet as the entire story unfolds, it is clear everything that could be construed as a bad omen went wrong due to sheer coincidence and — importantly and tragically — the malice of people surrounding them.
  • 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 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. No, they were merely marking his death.
  • Oh, Crap!: The reaction of the Doctor and the gang 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.
  • Parental Favoritism: 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.
  • 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: The Doctor and her companions are forced to allow Prem’s unjust death to happen because if they prevent it, Yaz, Sonya, and their parents will be wiped out of existance.
  • 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 favorite granddaughter in front of Sonya and later remarks that the henna Yaz got looks terrible.
  • 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: This is the best thing ever. Never did this when I was a man.
    [Umbreen and her mother look disturbed]
    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 soon, 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.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Leena Dhingra and Amita Suman as old and young Umbreen.
  • Time Skip: There seems to have been another one since the last episode, as the team have found the TARDIS, and bring up a past adventure.
  • Tragic Keepsake:
    • Prem's broken watch, given to Yaz by Umbreen, was a gift from Prem maybe an hour before he died.
    • 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.
  • 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 their families could eat. However, that friendship ended when Manish became radicalized against Muslims.
    • Prem actually recognises one of the men in the anti-Muslim mob as a soldier he fought alongside 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 Prem 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.


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