Epzode 06: DEMONS OF THE PUNJAB

The sixth epzode of Who Cares covered the first episode of Doctor Who set in India; DEMONS OF THE PUNJAB.
In a blissful change of pace,the cast fall over themselves to heap carefully considered praise onto the writing of the episode. Irony is dropped and earnestness abounds as unreserved approval bubbles up. Even the theme changes tune for once.
Extended post on the episode by Neo inside.

CREDITS:
Neo
Ingiga
Storm
Edited by Neo

Doctor Who cinegrid s11e06 DEMONS OF THE PUNJAB
Neo’s cinegrid for DEMONS OF THE PUNJAB
Doctor Who barcode s11e06 DEMONS OF THE PUNJAB
Neo’s barcode for DEMONS OF THE PUNJAB. Barcodes are every frame of a video compressed into a line, typically to compare colour palette patterns. The bottom version is further compressed to just indicate the dominant colour of a frame.

INGIGA’S EXTENDED TAKE

SHOW NOTES:

  • Everyone liked the episode! (1:06)
  • Neo angrily resists the idea that the episode would have been better as a pure, no-science-fiction-elements-included, historical (3:03)
  • Neo suggests the episode thematically revolved around people projecting their incomplete narratives onto others (a take expanded on below). (4:31)
  • Ingiga suggests that episodes that don’t try to “be Doctor Who” end up the most Doctor Who of all. (5:54)
  • Ingiga points out the episode had a rare occasion of the series 11 companions pushing back against the Doctor and firmly disagreeing with her. (7:25)
  • Storm suggests there may be a “hope” quota; that the word “hope” may need to be in every series 11 episode. (15:00)
  • The understated approach of the episode is praised. (16:03)
  • How did none of the characters investigating the holy man’s body notice the bullet holes in it? (17:32)
  • Ingiga is pleased that the Doctor didn’t overtly moralise in the episode, particularly about guns. (18:25)
  • Neo points out some of the layered writing in the script. (20:37)
  • Storm and Neo admire the Indian version of the Doctor Who theme, something Ingiga didn’t realise was a thing. (22:54)
  • In a repeat of the ROSA next time trailer for ARACHNIDS FOR THE UK, the episode had some inappropriately-toned music playing under the teaser for KERBLAM! (24:20)
  • Ingiga finds a connection between the episode and DIMENSIONS IN TIME. (24:40)
  • Storm asks for thoughts on the alien/demon/Thijarian design, which turn out to be quite positive. (25:43)
  • The cast wonder whether the Thijarians will be present at the Thirteenth Doctor’s eventual regeneration. (26:51)
  • The cast compare and contrast the Thijarians, Testimony from TWICE UPON A TIME, the Teselecta from LET’S KILL HITLER, and the Shansheeth from THE DEATH OF THE DOCTOR. Ingiga also disagrees with an Andrew Ellard take for the first, and quite possibly the last, time. (29:33)
  • The timing of the specific episodes, like ARACHNIDS IN THE UK on Halloween week, and this episode on Remembrance Day, is considered. (32:42)
  • The title of the finale – THE BATTLE OF RANSKOOR AV KOLOS – was revealed this week, and the cast find it most bewildering. (37:37)
  • The cast admire the non-celebrity approach to history. (39:42)
  • Ingiga admires how the climax doesn’t centre around the Doctor, or Graham. (42:23)
  • The cast question the direction of the episode. (47:00)
  • Neo stands alone with Jack Graham’s take that Shana Zaza performed very well in the episode. (50:10)
  • Neo posits that Manish’s politics were very reflective of certain modern ideologies and sexual pathologies. (56:05)
  • Issue is taken with the Doctor’s line about Mountbatten. (1:01:03)
  • Tinelime. Tardith. (1:02:01)
  • Neo asks Ingiga and Storm to rank the episode along other first-time-Doctor-Who-writer scripts like MUMMY ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS and FACE THE RAVEN. (1:05:55)
  • Storm and Neo are very excited for episode 9. Neo has an issue with the writer of episode 7, who had – in his terms – “profaned the Moff”, but overall he is excited for the episode, as are the others. (1:08:30)
  • Ingiga knows the Thijarians’ individual names. Storm knows their genders. (1:11:43)
  • The cast pine for the days Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat came up with memorable alien and place names. (1:12:32)
  • Neo brings up the Nightshade TARDIS, to an extended silence. (1:17:42)

NEO’S EXTENDED TAKE:

Good storytelling tends to be fractal; parts representing the whole, and the whole representing any part. Stories that can be expanded or contracted as far as one wants and still have this hold true tend to be strong ones. The self-destruction of unchecked ambition occurs at marital, psychological, geopolitical levels in Macbeth. Unmindfulness functions as the doorway into horror across multiple families, screens, and Kyle MacLachlans in Twin Peaks: The Return. And, returning to Doctor Who, series 8 is littered with cyborgs, soldiers, and rejected companions across a set of episodes processing the concept of the Ship of Theseus. This isn’t some revelatory or even unusual way for storytellers to layer their stories, but the commitment with which Moffat started imbuing his run of Doctor Who with Peter Capaldi with this kind of more literary approach reflections a maturation of the show, as well as a recognition of series as cohesive units of storytelling in their own right.

2018 saw us quite a ways away from that kind of thematic unity series-wide, but DEMONS OF THE PUNJAB wasn’t just an implicit repudiation of its preceding five episodes (and one special…) in their Doctor-centric wankery, wasn’t just a reassertion of the expansive-rather-than-constrictive storytelling potential of Doctor Who, it was also a return to that fractal form. It was a script where every minor element reflected the major, and the major could be shrunk down to harmonise with any minor.

Dental hunting for sport, listless youthful ennui, abrupt family tragedy. A galactic race, forgotten sentient rags, a reclaimed ship. Century-defying white supremacist movements, temporal determinism, the intricacies of bus scheduling. Spiders, egomaniac politicians, abandoning home. Space cancer, a vegetarian gremlin, male pregnancy. “Just make it really.” Andrew Ellard calls it “thematic dyslexia”. Ideas, characters, and events smashed together in not-quite-an-hour to be half-watched, narrated all the while.

Then comes…countries being split apart, a family being split apart, the attempted union of a new family through marriage. Religious prejudice and narrative prejudgement. Misconfiguration of narrative, and nonprescriptive acknowledgement. One story being told on multiple levels, through multiple characters and events big and small. What story is being told? As far as I see it, one that seems almost as if it belongs in the self-aware latter Moffat era, one about stories themselves.

Shots of a watch from Doctor Who S11E06, DEMONS OF THE PUNJAB
Series 11 as a broken clock

What is being said? That we are not entitled the stories we expect, let alone want, and owe it to both ourselves and storytellers to listen and acknowledge where we all too easily judge and narrativise.

People project their own pet narratives onto other’s stories, and try to coax stories out of others to add fuel to the fire of their own narratives. Assumptions become the baseline of interaction and supposed exchange, rather than actually listening.

  • Yaz tries to coax out Umbreen’s story about the watch through making it part of her own; “Your life’s OUR heritage.”
  • The Doctor immediately miscontextualises the “demons” as Doctor Who villains, her heeding of not interfering in history less actual passivity than it is part of her attempts to assert the sort of Doctor Who episode narrative she is comfortable with over the proceedings (see also her misunderstanding of the dust).
  • The Partition itself a product of a land subjected to staggering miscategorisation.
  • Umbreen tries to fit Manish’s own self-actualised actions as part of the narrative leading to her wedding.
  • Yaz immediately objecting to the clearly evident reality of Umbreen’s life; “But I thought…” in response to her living circumstances and “You can’t be” with Umbreen marrying a man not her grandfather.
  • ”I thought I knew my nan’s story. She inspired me. But if this is her story, if this is her life, she lied to me.”
  • ”So what, you’re a flower merchant?”
  • ”I said no fuss” / “You have to celebrate your birthday.”
  • Immediately trying to change/fix the watch.
  • ”We’ve lived together for decades, Muslims, Hindu, and Sikh, and now we’re being told our differences are more important than what unites us.”
  • ”What are we going to tell the others back there?” / “They don’t have to know.”
  • “You killed the demons.” / “No, just exiled them.”
  • Prem conceptualising his brother’s marriage as symbolic rather than familial, fitting it into the patterns he came to heed through “listening to angry men on the radio” – note his constant awareness and insistence on the magnitude of the Partition, identifying the episode’s conflict as symptomatic of that larger event while also missing its integrity unto itself.
  • ”We are your people, Prem. India is your country. You and Kunal fought for this.” / “This is not what I fought for.”

When we instead just listen to stories, letting them play out without trying to commentate, frame, reposition, subjugate, and contort them into scenes and sources for our own stories, mindfulness can be achieved and much can be learned.

  • Graham stresses mindfulness as the key to both enjoying and actualising the constant lived “story” of one’s own life as well as the key to understanding and empathising with others in what is of course his first conversation with Yaz.
  • Graham also emphasises the importance of self-actualisation and morality over moralising when he encourages Prem to recognise the value in sustaining his own goodness, honing his own morality and taking strength from that, rather than applying that morality to others in the way that leads to the cycles sustaining the sort of hatred Prem identifies as besetting him and his people.
  • The episode itself frees itself of Doctor Who narrative structure after its twist, sidelining both the science-fiction elements and narrative control of the Doctor and her companions after the second act, liberating the third act to let the guest character’s story play out on its own terms, which inevitably becomes the most compelling part of the entire series.
  • Yaz finally respecting Umbreen’s agency.
  • 13 apologising to the Demons and recognising her ignorance and prejudice.
  • The “demons” becoming witnesses rather than agents of change, honouring and acknowledging the fallen where Testimony extract and duplicate them – where Testimony is transactional, the “demons” are purely selfless
  • The episode’s placement implicitly endorses an idealised version of Remembrance Day as just that, about purely acknowledging and honouring the fallen instead of inevitably using them as fuel for whatever narrative they’re useful for in a given year – note the story’s condemnation of the way powers manipulate Manish and many like him, on a day representative of how powers whip up nationalistic militaristic war fervour for their own gain.
  • Contrast Rosa’s usage of pop music, morals from the future (Krasko) and constant contextualisation from companions, to here where most discussion of Partition comes from the episode’s guest characters and it amounts to a small-scale story of forgotten hardship where even the score is shifted to accommodate the episode’s unique original story instead of the other way around.
Doctor Who cinegrid s11e06 DEMONS OF THE PUNJAB alternate - bonds
Ties that bind

What’s more is, apart from a few odd lines of the Doctor’s, Vinay – a first-time writer! – pulls all this off effortlessly and without comment. The rope Manish uses to mark the invisible, arbitrary line that is the border is recontextualised as the officiating symbol of Prem and Umbreen’s marriage, and not a single character comments on the inherent poetry of that. It’s an incredibly well put-together, self-assured first Doctor Who script. I can’t wait to see what Vinay writes next.

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