After two very disappointing episodes of Doctor Who, we really needed a good one. Kudos then to guest writer Vinay Patel who was able to deliver the goods this week. I don’t really like writing negative reviews which is why I came into this episode with some trepidation. After my initial optimism, I had developed a nagging sense that things weren’t quite working over the last couple of weeks. I was unable to deliver a review for episode 5 last week due to other commitments (call it the reading week of my review series) but, in short, I wasn’t terribly impressed. Demons of the Punjab was a much better episode, but a strange trend is becoming evident this series. I think Rosa and this week’s episode have been the two best episodes of the series, and neither of them have been solely written by head writer Chris Chibnall. In previous years, I generally found that the head writer’s episodes were the standout episodes of the series. It does theoretically make sense to have your best writer in charge of the show and, for all their individual weaknesses, I think previous showrunners Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat were the two best writers modern Doctor Who has ever had, bar none. As a Doctor Who writer I simply don’t think Chris Chibnall is on their level but, and perhaps this is just because I prefer an optimistic outlook over a negative one, that does not necessarily mean he is a write-off as showrunner.
After all, I stand by the positive comments I have made about the series. The main cast is great, I approve of the attempt to re-focus Doctor Who as a show for the whole family, and the educational aspect is good for children (and, indeed, adults!). Perhaps Chris Chibnall is at his best when he is making creative decisions like these about where he wants the show to go and then delegating the writing of individual episodes to other writers. Apparently Chibnall knew he wanted an episode about the partition of India this series, and out of sheer coincidence that was also the episode Vinay Patel wanted to write. In previous years Doctor Who’s historical episodes have focused almost entirely on Britain. This year it is obvious the show is taking a broader scope. Whilst prior historical episodes have often celebrated British history, with the Doctor rubbing shoulders with great British icons such as Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare, this episode interestingly does not shy away from showing the British in a less positive light. Don’t get me wrong, I love Britain and my love for Doctor Who is just one aspect of that, but you can love your country whilst also being aware of the less gratifying aspects of its past. This is not an essay on to what extent the British were responsible for the problems that came with the partition – I have enough history essays to write this term thank you very much – but it is fair to say that the imposition of the new border exacerbated racial tensions and led to the fragmentation of families, as is so powerfully depicted in this episode.
Of course, this being Doctor Who, you’ve got to have the token alien and this week it’s the turn of the Thijarians (on a side note, you can’t write about Who without driving your spell checker into meltdown). You could easily have had the episode without them but I did like the twist that these ‘demons’ did not turn out to be a threat at all but instead their role in the story was to honour the dead. It is always nice to see benevolent aliens in Doctor Who, and their presence reminded me slightly of the Ood from days gone by. Also, I don’t normally touch upon music in my reviews but I really must say how much I enjoyed the re-
interpretation of the Who theme that played over the end credits. It goes to show sometimes tweaking the formula can make the story more immersive.
All in all, this episode left me more positive about the rest of the series. Chibnall has yet to truly impress me with one of his own scripts, but he’s impressed me with some of his creative decisions and he’s clearly good at picking guest writers to support him. I’m excited to see what the rest of the series holds, especially with three brand new writers to come.
Just don’t mention the Christmas special. Seriously, don’t get me started on that.