11 burning questions we have after watching Doctor Who: Demons of the Punjab

Vinay Patel’s historical drama was full of touching moments – and a few mysteries we NEED solved

Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor in Doctor Who (BBC, HF)

Doctor Who series 11’s sixth episode Demons of the Punjab told a moving family story, as Yaz (Mandip Gill) persuaded the Doctor to visit the mysterious past of her grandmother Umbreen.

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Arriving in 1947 India at the height of partition, Yaz found her grandmother ready to marry a man she’d never heard of while demons roamed the countryside, leaving her with more questions than answers – and by the end of the story we found ourselves in the same position, with all sorts of lingering mysteries looming over us after the episode aired.

Below, we try to answer just a few of the dangling plot threads – as well as some larger mysteries that the series seems to be forgetting…


What is the Death-eyed turtle army?

Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill in Doctor Who (BBC)
Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill in Doctor Who (BBC)

Near the beginning of this week’s episode it’s suggested that more offscreen adventures have taken place for the Doctor and her gang, with Graham (Bradley Walsh) noting that one of their trips led them into some serious danger.

“I have apologised for the death-eyed turtle army!” the Doctor snaps back – but who were these deadly foes?

Well, they’ve not been mentioned in the series before and we doubt this is much more than a throwaway joke – but the reference definitely gives fan-fiction writers, spin-off novel authors and comic-book writers something to work with…


Will we see Yaz’s family again?

Bhavnisha Parmar, Ravin J Ganatr, Mandip Gill and Shobna Gulati in Doctor Who (BBC)
Bhavnisha Parmar, Ravin J Ganatr, Mandip Gill and Shobna Gulati in Doctor Who (BBC)

Yaz’s family the Khans make a little cameo at the start of the episode for her Nani Umbreen’s birthday party – but does this mean we could be seeing them again in a future episode?

Well, considering the end of Demons of the Punjab sees Yaz pop back to Sheffield after her latest Tardis trip (the henna on her hands would last a while, but it suggests she went home fairly soon afterwards) we’re betting that this won’t be the last time our heroes take a journey back to Earth – it seems like a fairly easy trip for them to make.

And if that IS the case (perhaps occurring in the series’ ninth episode or the series finale, both of which have remained under wraps), we’re betting the Khans will be a part of that storyline.


What really happened during the partition of India?

Indian Leaders Gandi and Nehru (Getty)
Indian Leaders Gandi and Nehru (Getty)

The 1947 partition of India was a momentous, tragic and complicated sequence of events that still reverberates to this day, and as such it’s not surprising that a 50-minute episode of Doctor Who only touches on some parts of the history.

But while Demons of the Punjab mainly focuses on the effects of partition on one family, the real history is well worth reading up, and we’ve assembled a guide to the key points here.


Why did everyone think they were speaking Punjabi?

Doctor Who Series 11

While recent episodes have only touched on this idea, it’s been established in the past that the Tardis telepathically translates non-native languages for passengers once they’ve been inside, allowing for easier interstellar and time travel.

And that’s why Demons of the Punjab sees Prem congratulate the Doctor and co for their decent Punjabi – because to him, that’s what they’re speaking, while from their perspective (and that of the audience) it’s him that’s speaking English.

This is also presumably why the younger Umbreen doesn’t have the same accent as her older self, which is slightly mind-bending but SORT OF makes sense if you think about it.

Anyway, for more information on the Tardis translation matrix you can check out this more in-depth article on the topic, which the series has dealt with on many occasions.


Do the Tardis team know the Doctor used to be a man?

Peter Capaldi plays the guitar in Doctor Who (BBC, HF)

When having henna applied to her hands the Doctor comments brightly that she “never did this when I was a man!” before Yaz suggests she might have freaked out some of the 1947 humans she was hanging out with.

“Oh Doctor – you and your jokes!” Yaz says.

“That’s right – my references to body and gender regeneration are all in jest,” the Doctor replies.

“I’m such a comedian.”

Which raises a question we’ve been wondering here at RadioTimes.com for a while – how much do the Tardis team know about the Doctor’s background? Obviously they know she’s an alien and she’s mentioned her regeneration (and even referred to once being a white-haired Scotsman), but how seriously would they have taken all that, especially given how manic she was in her first episode?

Do they know about the Time Lord society that the Doctor left behind, or has she kept them in the dark?

Basically, what we’re asking is this: was Yaz interrupting the Doctor because she thought she was going on a weird riff, or because the Doctor actually explained her previous male incarnations to her offscreen?

If it’s the former, this might be the longest time the Doctor has kept the Time Lords secret since the series returned in 2005. If it’s the latter, well, we missed some handy explanation scenes.


Why have we never seen the Demons before?

Doctor Who series 11 ep 6
 

The alien “Demons” in this week’s episode (Vajarians if you’re fancy) are revealed to have turned their back on their assassin culture towards the end of the episode, now travelling through time and space to watch and honour the dead of the universe when no-one else was doing so.

And this had us thinking – if they’re going all over the place throughout time, why hasn’t the Doctor run into them before? After all, this is hardly the first time the Doctor has found herself in close proximity to death and destruction – by contrast, her propensity for flying into trouble might attract her to the same places as these Vajarians – but while 1947’s Prem (Shane Zaza) has seen them before, the millennia-old Time Lord hasn’t.

Of course, there is an answer to all this, which is that time and space are infinite, the Doctor can’t know everything and it might be that the Vajarians had only recently decided to spend some time exploring the victims of the partition of India (a period the Doctor had also not visited before).

And the other answer is, as usual, that’s it’s a TV show and it’s arguably unfair to suggest that previous writers of the series should have guessed future storylines years or decades before they happened.


Why didn’t the Doctor still try to save Prem’s life?

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Shane Zaza as Prem in Doctor Who (BBC)

Here’s a point – when informed of the imminent death of Prem the Doctor begs the Vajarians for a stay of execution, before they gently inform her that his death is pre-ordained, nothing to do with them, and that they only know when it happens.

In the end, Prem is shot dead offscreen – but what was there to stop the Doctor from saving him? We often hear about “fixed points in time” that can’t be changed, but it’s not suggested to us by the Doctor that this is one of those moments. The Vajarians say his death is pre-ordained, but how many historical deaths (say, at Pompeii) has the Doctor saved in the past? If it is a fixed point in time, why wouldn’t she say?

One answer could be one mentioned in the show – that in order for Yaz (Mandip Gill) to exist, her nani Umbreen has to marry her grandfather, ergo Prem has to die. It’s like the ethical “trolley problem” – choosing who should die – with a timey-wimey twist.

But letting Prem die for this reason feels like a peculiarly ruthless position for the Doctor to take without much internal struggle, and it’s technically not even true! Surely she could have just let Umbreen think he’d died, before taking him somewhere else? Wouldn’t that have kept the timelines intact?

Just think of the Tesseract robots from Matt Smith’s second series, who extracted nasty people from time shortly before their deaths and then replaced them with lifelike duplicates. The Doctor doesn’t have to do that exactly, and it’s not like she’d be able to do it in every adventure, but when an unnecessary death is coming couldn’t she show a little compassion, and just make someone disappear?

Maybe we’re overthinking this, who knows – but it’s hard to feel like the Doctor did everything she could in this episode, and that’s a shame.


Why didn’t Umbreen recognise Yaz when she got older?

Mandip Gill (Richard Grassie)
Mandip Gill (Richard Grassie)

Again, this is us nitpicking – but considering how momentous the couple of days the Tardis team spent in India/Pakistan were, isn’t it possible that Umbreen would notice the resemblance between the strange woman who turned up to her wedding unannounced and her granddaughter when the latter grew up?

In fairness, it was a very long time ago and there’s some precedent for this in time travel stories – in Back to the Future, one wonders why George McFly never wondered when his son Marty grew up to look EXACTLY like his wife’s old boyfriend “Calvin Klein” – so we’ll probably give them this one.

And who knows? Maybe in her desire to suppress the trauma of Prem’s death, Umbreen barely remembers the extra people who were with her anyway.


Wait, what happened to the Timeless Child and the Stenza?

 

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In the series’ second episode a couple of intriguing plot threads were dangled in front of the audience, with the evil Remnants teasing a mystery around the so-called “Timeless Child” that in some way involved the Doctor and the threat of the Stenza race (the blue icy tooth-faced aliens from the series premiere) was repeated as we learned about their warlike qualities.

Clearly, we thought, some intriguing series arcs were being set up – but a month later, four more episodes along, and we’ve not heard a peep about either of these storylines, even once. So what gives? Is showrunner Chris Chibnall saving them for the end of the series? Were they not supposed to be things we wondered about anyway? Or is he saving the reveals for future series?

The second option doesn’t seem possible – why have someone mysteriously cackle while talking about a mystery figure then have the series shrug and go “oh well, let’s never deal with this ever again”? – so maybe we just need to be patient, and all will be revealed. If anyone even remembers about the Timeless Child or the Stenza at this stage…


Who created the new Doctor Who theme cover for the closing credits?

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(BBC)

If you enjoyed the unusual Punjab-themed cover of the Doctor Who theme that played over the closing credits this week, then you have Segun Akinola to thank – the series composer managed to find time to arrange the rethink of the iconic music amongst his other musical duties for Demons of the Punjab.

And after the episode aired, Akinola shared photos of the musicians who helped him bring the new theme arrangement to life, and you can check them out below.


Was there an intentional Remembrance Day nod in the episode?

(BBC)
(BBC)

Eagle-eyed fans (and a few reviewers) might have noticed that at one point in the episode a field of poppies can be spotted – but RadioTimes.com understands this was not an intentional nod to the episode’s airdate coinciding with Remembrance Sunday in the UK, the annual day of commemoration for those who died in the two world wars and later conflicts (held on the anniversary of the First World War Armistice) and which includes the poppy as its symbol.

The episode was written and filmed (in Andalucía, Spain, fact fans) quite a long time before BBC autumn scheduling had been planned, after all, so apparently this was a fortuitous coincidence, as was the inclusion of scenes that saw Prem fighting in the Second World War.


For now, those are all the major questions we had after Demons of the Punjab – but did you have any others? Let us know, as we all gear up for next week’s intriguing space-set adventure

Doctor Who continues on BBC1 on Sundays

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This article was originally published on 11 November 2018