Doctor Who season 11, episode 6 recap: Demons of the Punjab


Doctor Who gives us a gripping, emotional journey into 1947 India that transcends love, religion, and humanity.

Doctor Who was amazing this week–just simply amazing. In fact, this entire season has something about it that speaks to fans in a way it hasn’t before. And it’s not just because of the first female Doctor, but in addition to that, we are exploring secondary characters in a way we never have before.

I’m so invested in not just the Doctor anymore, but her companions and their families, and that love further solidified after heading back in time to 1947 India, where Yaz wanted to visit her young grandmother and learn more about her life. This week’s episode is such a simple story that makes you feel empowered by the time it’s over, and let’s discuss why.

The episode opens to Yaz sitting with her Nani (grandmother) whose name is Umbreen. In their conversation, Umbreen begins talking a little bit about her past but not enough to satisfy Yaz’s curiosity, and the little she has access to is limited to a broken watch Umbreen gives her.

The curiosity gets the best of Yaz and she yearns to learn as much as she can, so much so, that she asks the Doctor if they can travel back in time to circa 1950 India. And while she initially hesitates, she agrees to take Yaz there.

Credit: BBC

When they arrive, they soon realize that they’ve landed right in the middle of the Partition between India and Pakistan, which was an extremely tumultuous time of riots, death, and fear. Not exactly the best time to be visiting, but hey, if anyone can do this, it’s an episode of Doctor Who.

To the sound of traditional music as the score, the Doctor and the companions sought out a young man’s help to find Yaz’s grandmother. After arriving at Umbreen’s house, they realize the young man was the one that Umbreen was getting married to, but it’s not the man Yaz remembers from the picture of her grandmother and grandfather.

The young man’s named is Prem and he is Hindu, while Umbreen is a Muslim. Given the climate of the time, this would be a controversial marriage and not everyone in their family was on board with it. But Umbreen and Prem’s love story began from a young age and stayed strong through their entire lives, and they only had eyes for one another. How cute is that, right?

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The Doctor Who angle comes into play here when a local priest when the man that agreed to officiate Prem and Umbreen’s controversial wedding dies and is conveniently surrounded by aliens. Yes, aliens in Punjab!

Things are working against Prem and Umbreen at every corner, and the death of the priest only adds to it. In fact, even Prem’s brother is against the wedding and has changed significantly while his two brothers were away at war.

The Doctor figures out that the aliens they saw are from a race known as the Vajarians, a group that is known to be assassins.

Naturally, she assumes they are the ones that killed the priest but this is not the case at all. In fact, after their world was destroyed, the Vajarians decided to stop killing people and decided they would honor the dead instead–and that’s why they were in Punjab.

So who is the killer? Manish–Prem’s younger brother. It is revealed that he is the one that killed the priest simply because he agreed to officiate the wedding. And with the new border in place, Manish is quick to place a divide between the two countries and by the association between Prem and Umbreen.

Remember when Yaz said the man in the picture with her grandmother wasn’t Prem? Well, now we know why. The Vajarians are there to honor the dead, and it seems Prem is the one that is going to die. And as much Yaz wants her grandmother to have a happy ending, saving Prem would mean she would erase her very existence, so they had to let the events take place as they were meant to.

Prem dies at the hands of Manish’s decision to bring in the extremists, and it’s an extremely heartbreaking scene to hear. But before this happens, the Doctor stands in as the officiant and marries Prem and Umbreen. To honor Hindu and Muslim traditions, Umbreen and Prem both take part in each other’s religious practices, and this is when you see the watch that Yaz’s grandmother shows her in the present.

It’s a watch that Prem gifted her, and it becomes clear to Yaz why her grandmother was so hesitant to talk about her past and that watch. Moments before Prem’s death, Umbreen and her mother run as far away as they can, eventually making their way to Pakistan, while the Doctor and the companions walk away from the moment Prem is shot dead.

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Seeing the pain on the Doctor’s face is tough to watch, and it’s all so heartbreaking to learn Umbreen’s true story, which makes Yaz appreciate her grandmother in a new light when she returns. What an episode–truly.

Wow, Doctor Who, you have outdone yourself in the most emotional way possible and given us the season’s best episode yet.

Doctor Who airs every Sunday on BBC America at 8 PM EST!