[This review contains some minor SPOILERS!]
Yasmin is her grandmother’s favorite granddaughter – a fact that she makes no secret. Yet her Nan is surprisingly reluctant to talk about her past, particularly in regards to the broken watch that she gave Yasmin as a present along with instructions that it must never be fixed.
Luckily, Yasmin has a friend with a time machine who doesn’t require much prodding to take her on a quick one-hour trip to see her grandmother from a distance and try and learn something about her life and the significance of the watch. Unfortunately, rather than the Pakistani city they expected to arrive in, The TARDIS takes Yasmin, The Doctor, Graham and Ryan to a small farm in the region of Punjab on the day of the Partition of India.
The tragedy of that event is forced into the background, however, when Yasmin discovers that her grandmother is about to marry a Hindu man that is not her grandfather, over the objections of both their families. And then there’s the matter of the “demons” whose presence gives The Doctor a headache, whom seem determined to stop the wedding for some reason…
I’m reluctant to say too much about the plot of Demons of the Punjab. Vinay Patel’s script (the first this season not written in part by Chris Chibnall) does a tremendous job of balancing multiple plot-lines and character threads. Like “Rosa” it takes a look at a point in recent history that looks far harsher from a modern perspective and how what is seen as an act of kindness can create a far worse crisis than the evil that was meant to be addressed. Just as England’s efforts to create new homelands for the Muslims and Hindus in what was India sparked a conflict that killed millions, so to did the United States’ efforts to force peace by creating “separate but equal” cohabitation only serve to empower white racists. Thankfully, the episode does not become preachy on this point, though it does ultimately come back to that most quintessential of Doctor Who themes – sometimes humans are more demonic than demons.
The character focus here is on Yasmin, who has been in need of an episode to develop her character for some time. The story deals with the classic theme of learning more about yourself as you try to learn more about your family and Yasmin discovers a kindred spirit of sorts in her grandmother, who was also the sort of woman who defies convention and her family for what she thinks is right. Small wonder Yasmin is her Nan’s favorite, given Yasmin’s similar spirit and her efforts to become a police officer in England despite all the people who say that women, Muslims or people of Pakistani ancestry shouldn’t be peace officers.
Beyond that, this is one of the strongest Doctor Who stories in recent memory and another true classic.