There aren't a lot of laughs to be had in Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 6 when The Doctor gives in to Yaz's request to visit the India of her Nani Umbreen's youth so that she can suss out some of the things that Nani doesn't want to share.
And that's okay, really. The Doctor may claim to be a comedian (facetiously), but some matters need to be handled with a strong sense of gravitas.
India's Partition, a conflict that displaced tens of millions of people and caused the deaths of over a million people, is one of those things.
The intro to this is all masked as a journey of curiosity on Yaz's part. Her Nani is a bright spark, outspoken and proud of her place in history.
I was the first woman married in Pakistan. Now, look at me, in a wheelchair. Being fed shop-bought cake.Nani Umbreen
I kind of love her a lot and it would be brilliant if she made another appearance or three.
When we meet her younger self, that feeling is reinforced as she demonstrates a strength of character and sense of self that gives some indication of what Yaz may be capable of down the road.
It's a purposely uncomfortable episode throughout. There's a terrible dynamic between Prem and Manish, echoing the conflict of the nation. It's brother-against-brother in the most literal sense of the phrase.
Manish's transformation between the first meeting and the discovery of Bakti's body is marked. I noticed (actually wondered if they'd switched actors) but didn't really cotton onto the significance of that until the Thijarians do their big reveal bit about not being assassins anymore.
His turn as the bitter, intolerant, and entitled villain isn't as simple as donning a pair of glasses. There's obviously a lot of factors at play, but they are only hinted at in exposition, so the overall effect is that either Prem was blinded by brotherly love or he never took Manish's interest in Indian nationalism seriously.
Manish: Do you love me, Prem?
Prem: Of course, I love you. Even if sometimes I don't recognize the brother I left behind.
Similar to Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 3, the team is put in a terrible situation having to let history play out. Their walk away from Prem's murder is a hard moment, not the sort of scene I can ever remember seeing on Doctor Who before.
And then there's the "doomed love story" aspect in the Umbreen-Prem plot. It doesn't help that Hasna keeps commenting on how cursed they are, even bringing it up during Umbreen's bachelorette-of-sorts.
It was interesting to watch Yaz's reaction to seeing history contradict her understanding of her Nani. Initially, she can't process it. She even tries to convince Umbreen that the wedding is a bad idea despite The Doctor's warnings.
Tread softly. You're treading on your own history.The Doctor
But then -- and I'm not completely certain if it's an inconsistency in the character writing or if she just gets swept up in the love between Umbreen and Prem -- she's fully on-board with ensuring the wedding goes through.
She not only bears witness but she takes an active part in it when Umbreen asks her and Hasna to tie her hand to Prem's with the rope Manish had used to delineate the divide between India and Pakistan. Oh, the symbolism is HEAVY here,
The most uncomfortable bit was some of the actions taken by The Doctor herself. Her assumption that the Thijarians are aggressors based on a reputation as assassins spurs her to impulsive behavior that equates to stealing and then desecrating the only remains left of a civilization.
This is all that remains of our home. Our people. Every ancestor. All one dust.... They died unwitnessed, unsaved. We were too late to grieve or honor them. But we, who returned, gave up 100 generations to sift, to remember the lost dead, the unmourned. In time, it was all we knew. And now we travel beyond, seeking the unacknowledged dead. Across all of time and space. This is now the Thijarian mission -- to bear witness to those alone. To see. To bear pain, honor life as it passes.Thijarians
I mean, she tested the capsule dust with cow spit and chicken poo! And it wasn't like it was dust from one individual's cremation. It was the essence of their ENTIRE planet.
As a rule, this regeneration of The Doctor seems to apologize a lot more than her predecessors, and I'm not sure that all those apologies have been warranted.
The Doctor: It's a risk.
Graham: Oh, like none of our other trips have ever been risky.
The Doctor: I have apologized for the Death Eye Turtle Army! Profusely.
However, in this case, yeah, she needed to make some serious amends.
And in their reversal from baddies to neutral/altruistic witnesses, the Thijarians are the end-weight on a heavy-handed tribute to the American Veterans Day (Armistice Day in the UK and Remembrance Day in Canada) air-date, November 11.
Their species' entire raison d'être is to honor the fallen, to acknowledge the lonely deaths. They carry their infinitely growing memorial through time and space. It's a stunning endeavor.
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
Reminiscent of the Silence in a way, the idea of an entire species united in one purpose is truly an alien one, and it played in perfect, sobering counter-point to the context of India's Partition with its violence, hatred, and expulsions.
I'm not sure whether I liked how Yaz and Umbreen's story was left. I know I expected Umbreen to tell her favorite granddaughter about her first, tragically short, marriage.
I didn't expect Yaz to decline it though. I guess my dilemma is on WHY Yaz declined to hear the story of the watch.
Was it because she was still too close to the narrative she had lived through personally?
Was it because she thought her Nani should be allowed to have her secrets, as Graham intimated?
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
Was it because she didn't want to know what Umbreen had to do to survive the loss of Prem? Didn't want to learn that maybe she'd diminished their love in her memory to carry on and move forward?
Again, I really like Nani Umbreen, and I wish we could've heard at least the start of how she would pass on the story of her first wedding.
So when you watch Doctor Who online don't expect a jolly romp through Yaz's matrilineal history. This is a story with clear purpose and, although it isn't subtle, it is effective.
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.