The second historical story this year and now the pattern seems certain to me anyway as to where the strength of Chris Chibnall’s first series will lie. These journeys into the past are the stories which are going to give heart to the series. Whether that is enough for those fans who prefer strong sci-fi concepts as part of their consumption of Doctor Who I’m not sure. However, these stories are fulfilling the original remit of the classic series to be educational which saw the first Doctor taking Barbara and Ian to the Aztecs and Steven to the Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve. Chris Chibnall has furrowed series inspiration from the historical burrow where the Tardis crew arrive at important events in history and learn something along the way.
“Whats the point in having a mate with a time machine if you cant nick back and see your gran when she were younger “ Yasmin Khan
It is an evocative unfortunate page of history that the partition of India was such a controversial arrangement which created tension which lasts to this day between India and Pakistan. The British had ruled parts of India since the 1750s but the British Raj where India was under the British crown was between 1858 and 1947. Lord Mountbatten, Viceroy of India, was charged with the task of creating two states in 1947 and due to lack of agreement between the various political leaders and impending civil war India was separated along religious lines. Having the Tardis go back to August 1947 and the partition of India could have been a complicated story but Vinay Patel uses the story of one family to explore in an effective way the emotional impact of that political decision. Umbreen, Yaz’s grandmother is feeling her age, I am guessing she is meant to be 88 or 89 ( looking good by the way) and is giving mementoes of the past away to her family before “it’s too late”, a broken watch, a dried flower and old letters from her husband. Yaz wants more information, as I would, to see someone she loves when they were younger. I understand that urge because I’ve always wondered what my mum was like when she was 17 or 18. Stories from her are one thing, seeing a person as they were in the flesh is another. What I enjoy about the story is it unravels the assumptions made as we go along. Yaz has only ever had one view of her grandmother, as a loving wife to her grandfather, never imagining her as a young spirited woman in love with someone else. We all have a past but do we ever reveal everything to our family or loved ones? Other characters such as Prem also have had assumptions of his younger brother Manish that the innocent young boy he knew before he went to war would somehow still have maintained his innocence.
Its no coincidence I think that the story was broadcast on Remembrance Sunday. Over 87, 000 Indian soldiers died in World War Two and it is acknowledged that Great Britain wouldn’t have come through two world wars without the Indian army. Of course, the political cost in a broader sense was Great Britain lost India, the great mother country unable to afford her crown jewel after the ravages of the Second World War. Vinay Patel gives us a very interesting script with a story resonating with themes of remembering, loss and what it is to honour. It made me think is there really honour in fighting? Prem, as a soldier in WW2, comments at one point that he is fed up of the fighting he did, feeling the personal cost in the loss of his older brother. But the greater emphasis is of course on the damage in that small community of neighbour fighting neighbour, brother fighting brother and the contrast of Prem’s moderate attitude versus Manish’s radicalised attitude emphasises it wasn’t partitioning that started the alienation, as it was there before then but the physical act of putting a border through one country exacerbated their differences. He berates his younger Manish, who has joined the militants favouring division “it wasn’t what they fought for “I would have liked a little more expansion in the dialogue between them to show the subtlety to their relationship to be honest but it’s a small thing as I felt as if the script had to be quite efficient and keep moving to fit 50 minutes.
I think the Tardis team all bring something different to this story. Within the context of her family at last Yaz gets her moment to shine coming across as quite inquisitive due to the love she has for her nani. Ryan has a smaller part this week but he pairs well with the Doctor in the ship. Bradley Walsh by all accounts is a real-life joker he is continuing to hit his performances almost perfectly undertaking drama and comedy equally well each week that I look forward to seeing him in a scene. The moment with Prem at his stag night is touching. Graham has become the wise old man of the team and there is a part of me that thinks with the conversation he had with Yaz, about what her grandmother would become, in the hands of Steven Moffat and RTD that talk would have normally come from the Doctor. It does seem appropriate in one way that Graham point out the privilege it is to travel with the Doctor as he is older and wiser but from a more critical perspective, it takes away the power of the Doctor as a character to really show the wisdom of a Timelord that she should. I don’t know why it is but so far Jodie’s Doctor has rarely had the chance to talk one on one properly with her companions. I can only think of the conversation she had with Graham in “The Woman who fell to Earth” about his cancer and with Ryan in “The Ghost Monument” when he hesitated to climb the ladder. Perhaps it is because there are so many companions in the Tardis now.
Saying that I enjoyed Jodie’s performance as the Doctor more this week as she thrived with some good action scenes confronting the Thijarians. I loved their look. We finally witnessed her confronting the aliens following some pretty weak villains since the Stenza in Episode 1 at the beginning of the season. She handled it so well that I wanted more. I talked about assumptions earlier and it would have been so easy for Vinay Patel to show the Doctor always being right to presume that the Thijarians killed the holy man. I liked the switch that they were there to witness over and tribute people who die alone because it adds an element of hope at a bleak point of history. I like the deliberate red herring of intent where they ask the Doctor to leave their ship or they “will stand over your corpses” being it is as they were assassins once but now no longer. Also as a scatty questioning Doctor, I’m trying to think if any other Doctor would have given such a sweet wedding speech as the 13th doctor did here. From the classic era maybe the 7th Doctor.
“I don’t think any of us know the real truth of our lives because we’re too busy living them from the inside”
Visually and musically we were spoiled with this story. The traditional music from Segun Akinola is atmospheric transporting us to the location, really fantastic. Love how the Doctor Who theme is matched into the music It was also beautifully directed by Jamie Childs. The scene as Jodie comes out of the Tardis initially into the valley is done to take our breath away and certainly is stunning and I can only imagine how some of the producers of early historical done in the 1960s would envy the current budget and what can be done these days. Jamie Childs does manage with the location work in Spain to give sometimes a dreamy feel to the outside scenes, the team riding the cart, running through the forest, the wedding scene. Then there are the action sequences of the transmat which add some pace. The brief shot of a poppy field and the killing of Prem as the sun glints through the revolver are highlights too for me.
I really wanted to see straight historical stories this series, and this is a bit more involved with the sci-fi element than Rosa but it does work. I’ve watched this story twice and enjoyed it tremendously but I really can’t watch an intense story like this too often. It is a shame that Steven Moffat did his story about the role of Testimony harvesting memories from people at the point of death to avatars so recently in Twice Upon a Twice as I like the idea of the Thijarians honouring the dying who are alone as they die, prefer it actually but there does seem to be thematically some similarity. I hope Chris Chibnall isn’t planning to emotionally wallop us every time with the historical events stories. We do need a funny adventure set in the past. I got a lump in my throat as the inevitability of Prem’s death approached and the Tardis crew had to walk away. There isn’t a River Song here to mess up the timeline and just this one time I wish there could be.
Moving universal story of the casualties of war 9/10