Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill

by Amit Roy

SOME mean-spirited commentators are still carping about the current series of Doctor Who, mainly on the grounds that the Time Lady’s assistants, Yasmin (Yaz) Khan (Mandip Gill) and Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole), are not Caucasian.

They say they do not like the story lines, but I suspect what they are really objecting to is the diversity in the casting. Maybe the solution is to have a little more diversity among
the commentators.

The latest episode of Doctor Who – Demons of the Punjab – was written by Vinay Patel, who was also responsible for the searing Murdered By My Father.

The real demons in the Punjab, though, are not the scary-looking aliens but ordinary Hindus and Muslims. They had lived harmoniously for 1,000 years, but became enemies overnight after the Radcliffe Line partitioned India from the newly created Pakistan.

Yaz, given an old broken wrist watch by her grandmother (Leena Dhingra) at a birthday party in Sheffield, goes back in time in search of nana as a young woman (Amita
Suman). It is 1947 and she is a Muslim about to marry a Hindu, Prem (Shane Zaza), much to the fury of his younger brother Manish (Hamza Jeetooa), who kills a holy man
(Bikramjit Singh Gurm) to stop him conducting the wedding ceremony.

In the end, Manish leads a gang of Hindus on horseback against his own brother but not before Dr Who marries the couple, with some stirring words: “Umbreen, Prem, what
I see in you is the certainty you have in each other. Something I believe in my faith: love in all its forms is the most powerful weapon we have….And now you are committing to it which make you right now the two strongest people on this planet – maybe in this universe.”

But Dr Who does not use her powers to forestall the partition of India. Prem is Umbreen’s first husband but is not to be Yaz’s grandfather. That will be her second husband
sometime in the future.

“Prem dies today,” Dr Who tells Yaz, whose instinct is to tamper with time and save the doomed man.

“For Umbreen to become your nani, for you to exist, Prem has to die.”

The aliens are not assassins, as Dr Who had initially feared, but witnesses to the slaughter of a million people during the partition of India.

This larger story is told through the rift that develops between two brothers and the Romeo and Juliet story of Prem and Umbreen. The gift which Prem gives Umbreen is a wristwatch which shatters as its falls to the ground. Back in Sheffield, Nani Umbreen passes the heirloom to Yaz, with firm instructions that “it must never be fixed”.

Since the young Umbreen is a village belle, I would perhaps have given her less of a Roedean accent and also stretched the budget to shoot on location in Punjab rather than in Spain. But all said and done, this was an excellent, thought-provoking episode of Dr Who which delves into the painful history of India and Pakistan.

Prem makes a political point on first encountering Dr Who: “You are the enemy now for the mess that have made of my country, carving it up slapdash in six weeks.”

Vinay has got this wrong. Dr Who is not really British but she responds: “I will make a note of your thoughts and pass them on to Mountbatten if I bump into him again.”