I did mention last week that Series 11 as a whole is being a bit preachy – and having an episode focussed on the partition of India, and the accompanying issue of religious division, certainly doesn’t deviate from that theme. I can’t see this sort of historical setting ever being used for an episode in the Davies or Moffat eras, or at least not handled in this way. Are these attempts to be relevant to present-day issues going to make these episodes dated? I suppose only time will really answer that question. But then, the adventures from the classic era weren’t exactly timeless, and they’re still very watchable – and as with Rosa, maybe these really are lessons we could stand to bear in mind right now. Yes, the preaching can be a bit distracting, but so long as it’s not all-consuming and the stories themselves remain interesting, I won’t have a serious problem with it.
Plus the historical setting is an interesting one to examine anyway, in the same fashion as the historical adventures from William Hartnell’s day. Unlike most of those stories, there are technically aliens present; but they are less important than the human characters, who are the ones that generate the real conflict. The issues involved are handled respectfully and effectively, with the pro-division antagonists being handled better than in Rosa; we may not agree with Manish, but we can understand why he feels the way he does better than Krasko. Having most of the violence be far away gives the episode a more low-key feel, and provides an appreciation of the impact on ordinary people.
This episode was written by Vinay Patel, making it the first this season not to be written or co-written by Chris Chibnall. But I have to confess, the dialogue felt a bit stilted on occasion. Still, the direction is good, along with the music and scenery. Admittedly, the filming took place in Spain, not India; maybe that’s why the characters could go running through fields without any concern for getting bitten by snakes!
The overall tone feels bleak and grim, the atmosphere more reminiscent of Torchwood than the average episode of Doctor Who (minus the sex and swearing, obviously). It’s certainly not an episode that one can call ‘fun’. But it is at least very compelling.
- The Doctor is presumably thinking of Father’s Day from Season 1 when she expresses concern about mixing family history with time travel – and some aspects of the third act do feel very reminscent of that episode.
- Plenty of opportunity for Thirteen to express both her unique and typical-Doctor qualities here: saying she’s being too nice for letting Yasmin see her grandma but following her into the house anyway; babbling to hide her worry when she materialises in the Thijarian ship; and showing off her practical scientist side again. Previous Doctors obviously cared deeply about their companions, yet Thirteen’s line “We can’t have a universe with no Yaz!” still feels more personal and empathetic than most of them. Maybe the speech about love at the wedding was going a bit over-the-top, though.
- The Thijarians have a classic monster design: sort of a cross between bats, spiders and hogs. You’d think that the (former) deadliest assassins in the universe would appear a bit more athletic, though. The twist about them changing their mission was a very good one; their explanation about watching over those who die alone gave me goosebumps.
- I liked the scene between Graham and Yasmin, a pair we haven’t seen alone together much, if at all.
- The ending is certainly emotional, but I felt it dragged out too long given that we’d already been told what was going to happen.
While this episode had some minor flaws that prevented me from giving it a higher rating, I’d say it narrowly beats Rosa as the strongest episode of the season so far. And they’re both episodes focussed on real-life history – how about that? Rating: 4/5.