“I was the first woman married in Pakistan. Now, look at me, in a wheelchair. Being fed shop-bought cake.” Nani Umbreen
We’re at Yasmin Khan’s (Mandip Gill) grandmother’s birthday party. Nani Umbreen (Leena Dhingra) is a feisty grandma who says what is on her mind. Nani Umbreen gives her favorite granddaughter Yaz a broken watch. Her daughter Najia (Shobna Gulati) tells her not to call Yaz her favorite out loud, but Nani Umbreen ignores her. Hakim (Ravin J. Ganatra) offers to get it fixed, but she declines the offer. Nani Umbreen won’t tell her family the story behind it. After the party, Yaz asks the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) to take her back to Pakistan to see her Nani when she was a young woman in the 50’s. Against her better judgement, the Doctor agrees to take her.
Using the watch to guide them to Umbreen, Yaz is surprised that instead of materializing in Lahore Pakistan, they are in India in 1947. As they are walking down a road, the Doctor runs into static and sees some disturbing images (aliens) that shake her up. The Doctor keeps it to herself. Prem (Shane Zaza) rides by in an ox pulled cart. The Doctor tells him they are family friends of Umbreen so he offers them a lift. An elderly holy man walks by, Prem also offers him a lift but he decides to keep walking. The aliens are watching him from a distance.
“What’s the point of having a mate with a time machine if you can’t nip back and see your gran when she was younger?” Yasmin Khan
They arrive at a house and an attractive young woman walks out, it is Umbreen (Amita Suman). Yaz runs up and hugs her, but Umbreen looks uncomfortable having this total stranger hug her. To Yaz’s surprise, Prem and Umbreen are getting married tomorrow. It surprises her because Prem isn’t her grandfather. They meet Prem’s brother Manish (Hamza Jeetooa). He has information on the announcement that is going to be made on the radio. Umbreen’s mother Hasna (Shaheen Khan) gathers them all around the radio. It is August 1947, Lord Mountbatten is announcing the Partition of India. Manish has some stakes and sets where the boundaries of India and Pakistan will be. Manish and Prem are Hindu, while Umbreen and her family are Muslim. Prem is wearing the watch Nani Umbreen will give Yaz in the future. They all see the aliens that the Doctor saw in her disturbing vision standing over the body of the holy man Prem offered a ride to. Prem has seen these ‘Demons’ before. The Doctor, with Prem and Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole) will track down the aliens while Yaz and Graham O’Brien (Bradley Walsh) will go back to Umbreen’s house.
The Doctor notices devices on the trees. They are transmat locks. It leads them to the alien spacecraft. The Doctor discovers the aliens are from the Thijarian hive. They are an assassin race. Prem saw these ‘Demons’ standing over his older brother’s dead body in Singapore during World War II. The aliens appear after the Doctor takes an information device off its stand. When the aliens talk it penetrates into the Doctor, Ryan, and Prem’s heads. She asks why they killed the holy man. They don’t answer her question. She orders them off the planet. The Doctor tells Prem she’ll try to protect him and his family. Using her sonic screwdriver they transport off the ship back into the forest. Prem and Ryan disappear, the Doctor finds some more transmat locks on the trees, she removes them and Prem and Ryan reappear.
Graham and Yaz return to the house and inform Umbreen that the holy man is dead, but they don’t go into any details. It turns out he was going to marry Prem and Umbreen, and because the couple is Hindu and Muslim, he was the only one willing to officiate their ceremony. Umbreen makes it clear that she won’t give up on marrying Prem.
“I honestly don’t know whether any of us know the real truth of our own lives. Cause we’re too busy living them from the inside.” Graham O’Brien
Outside on the porch, Yaz tells Graham she doesn’t know her Nani’s story. Prem and Ryan come running up to the house screaming “Red Alert!” They inform everyone that they lost the Doctor. She comes running up behind them with the transmat locks and device. The aliens show up but the Doctor uses the transmat locks to create a temporary barrier to keep them away from the farm for up to 18 hours. Umbreen decides to go ahead with the wedding in the morning. The Doctor tries to use her sonic screwdriver to get a reading on the device she took off the ship. The sonic is locked out. The Doctor decides to go analog and tells her companions to gather, “Oil, water, tree bark, a saucepan, nine containers, an old newspaper, a touch of ox spit, a chicken poo and a biscuit.” [The biscuit is for herself.] While they wait for the results, Umbreen invites the Doctor and Yaz to her house while Ryan and Graham to go to Prem’s home. At Umbreen’s house the ladies do henna tattoos. The Doctor makes some remarks about her gender and the ladies laugh it off. Umbreen’s mother is against the wedding, not because of Prem but because of the trouble developing in the land. Umbreen doesn’t care, she loves him, they grew up together, and she waited for him to get back from the war. Hasna reminds her that they don’t have anyone to marry the couple. Umbreen asks the Doctor to officiate the wedding, the Doctor gladly accepts.
“Our past is no more. We are no longer assassins. Now we are witnesses…. We honor the lost as we cannot honor our own.” Thijarians
The Doctor’s analog solution works, she is able to open the Thijarian device. She examines the dense dust in it, the dust has the DNA of millions in it. The aliens show up and take the Doctor and the device. It turns out they aren’t assassins anymore. While they were out in the universe assassinating, their world ended. The dust is the remains of their planet. They have found a new mission in life, to bear witness to those who die alone. They didn’t kill the holy man, they were only bearing witness. They are here because of all of the millions who will die alone from the Partition. They inform the Doctor that Prem will die, and it is fixed in time. They let the Doctor leave and she reappears to her companions. She informs them that Prem will die, she wants to leave now. Yaz wants to stay to protect Umbreen, Ryan and Graham agree. The Doctor consents, but they can’t tell anyone what is going to happen.
It is Wedding Day. There is a radio transmission about the violence in the land. Prem talks about the hate in the land, “Ordinary people whipped into a frenzy to be part of the mob. There’s nothing worse than when normal people lose their minds. We’ve lived together for decades – Hindu, Muslim, Sikh – and now we’re being told that our difference are more important than what unites us. It’s like we learned nothing in the war. I don’t know how we protect people when hatred’s coming from all sides.” Graham tells him it is important for them to be good men. Knowing what’s in store for Prem, Graham gets emotional and gives him a hug. The Doctor officiates the ceremony by the riverbank and says, “I know there aren’t many certainties in any of our lives, but 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 because love is a form of hope, and like hope, love abides in the face of everything. You both found love with each other. You believed in it, you fought for it, and you waited for it. And now, you’re committing to it, which makes you two right now the strongest people on this planet. Maybe in this universe.” Umbreen does a Hindu ritual of binding her and Prem together with a rope.
Back at the house after the ceremony, Manish show up. Umbreen thanks him for working so hard during the drought, it kept them all alive. She is glad to call him her brother. He coldly tells her he didn’t do it for her and her family, he did it to keep the land for his two brothers who were off to war. He angrily leaves. The Doctor follows him. He’s back at his house picking up the rifle he used to kill the holy man. He killed him so that he wouldn’t marry Prem and Umbreen. Meanwhile Prem tries to give Umbreen his watch but it slips from his hand and breaks. Hasna says this is all cursed. Umbreen takes the watch and says the broken watch shows this moment of time for them. The Doctor finds out from Manish that armed thugs are riding on horseback to the farm. The Doctor leaves to warn Prem and Umbreen. Hasna wants to fight for their land. The Doctor tells them they will die. Prem tells the ladies to get their things. Manish meets his friends.
“Sheffield – such an exotic word. It’s in England, do you know it?” Umbreen
While the woman pack, Yaz sees a map with Sheffield marked on it. Umbreen thinks it sounds exotic. Prem joins them and tells them to go through the forest. He’ll hold off Manish and the armed thugs and join them. The Doctor offers to go with him but he tells her he has to do this alone. His brother arrives with the armed horsemen. The one who has him in his sights, served with him during the war. Manish tells him this is what he fought for, Prem tells him it wasn’t. He is shot. The Doctor and her friends can hear the gunshot on their way back to the TARDIS. The aliens later show up to bear witness to Prem’s death, while on their ship, we see a photo of Prem rise up with the others lost during this conflict.
“We can’t have a universe with no Yaz.” The Doctor
Yaz is back home with her Nani. She sees the henna tattoos on her granddaughter but doesn’t know they are from her wedding. Yaz tells her she can’t imagine all she went through. She asks about her granddad. Nani Umbreen loved him and that coming to Sheffield allowed them to raise their family. Nani offers to tell Yaz the story about the watch but she tells her grandmother that she can tell her another time. Nani Umbreen tells her that she loves her.
Here is a closer look at the episode.
Here is the case file on the Thijarians
After her grandmother’s birthday party, Yaz asks the Doctor to take them back to her Nani Umbreen’s youth. Instead of landing in Pakistan in the 1950’s they end up in India during the Partition of India, back in August of 1947. The Partition of India divided India from Pakistan, with India being predominately Hindu while Pakistan would be predominately Muslim. This divide left millions homeless and caused wide spread violence in both countries. Umbreen lived on what would soon be the border between the two countries, with her Muslim family being on the wrong side of the border. Prem’s brother Manish is Hindu, and even though he’s known Umbreen and her family all his life, and his brother loves her, he wants them off their land and ran off to Pakistan. He sees his brother as a traitor and is willing to see him die. The aliens they encounter aren’t the Demons. The Thijarian are there to witness all who die alone. They show up at major events like wars to do this. Millions will die and go missing during the Partition. The only Demons in this are the Manish’s on all sides of this conflict. Yaz finds out that her Nani’s life was more complicated than she could have ever imagined.
This is the second historical episode of the season, and is also one of its best. It is a great script from first time Doctor Who writer Vinay Patel. It is a beautiful love story set in a land beset by strife. The guest stars really carry this episode. Special mention has to go to Amita Suman as Umbreen and Shane Zaza as Prem. In this hour of programming, they are able to convey Umbreen and Prem’s pure love, and have the audience completely invested in them. It hurt when Prem died. The Thijarians were a great costume design. From their look to their vocal design it all worked. I wouldn’t mind seeing them again, especially when they were still assassins. The setting was beautiful. They filmed this episode in the Granada province of Spain. I don’t know how much it looks like India, but it was beautiful. The wedding ceremony by the river was beautiful as well, with the Doctor giving a lovely meditation on love. I have to admit, I didn’t know anything about the Partition of India, and I just knew that the two countries are still hostile to each other. It gave me some insight and the desire to learn more. A wonderful love story that educates, that’s Doctor Who at its best.