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Writer Vinay Patel discusses the real and difficult history of Partition that underlies his episode, Demons of the Punjab.

Vinay Patel

Shane Zaza as Prem in Vinay Patel’s Demons of the Punjab (2018).
Kiran Sonia Sawar as Salma in Vinay’s BBC One drama Murdered By My Father (2016).

In early 2016, writer Vinay Patel had his first meeting with Doctor Who executive producer Chris Chibnall about writing for the series. This was a month before BBC One broadcast Murdered By My Father, Vinay’s original drama about the honour killing of a British Muslim girl – a drama The Daily Telegraph would call “brave” television, “nuanced and unbearably heartbreaking.” Had Chibnall wanted something on similar lines?

“We were asked to consider stories we might want to pitch,” says Vinay. “I asked myself, ‘If I only had one shot to tell a story through Doctor Who, what would it be?’ I’ve looked at my notebook from that first meeting, and something set during the Partition of India was at the very top of my list. As I understand it, it was also a period Chris wanted to look at, so that was a happy coincidence!” Why is it good for a series like Doctor Who to tackle a subject like this? “Aside from the ability of a mainstream show to bring lesser-known subjects to a wider audience, one of Doctor Who’s great strengths is finding the vein of compassion that runs through what can often feel like a hard and uncompromising universe. Partition is a difficult subject but this series can approach it in an accessible way while seeking out the humanity in a bleak time. “There was no brief as such in terms of the story,” Vinay continues. “I’d come in with my own suggestions of how to approach it. However, it was clear to me from the start that Chris was interested in direct, character-led storytelling and that helped me to adjust my approach. I was also particularly taken by what felt like Chris’ desire to inject hope into this incarnation of Who. How you find that in such a difficult subject was a whole other matter.”

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About Doctor Who Magazine

THE DOCTOR WHO MAGAZINE YEARBOOK 2019 Jodie Whittaker’s debut as the Doctor was one of the television events of 2018 and a landmark in Doctor Who’s long history. The latest Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition explores the making of Series 11 in unprecedented detail. Highlights among the exclusive interviews include: Percelle Ascott (The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos), Jonny Dixon (The Woman Who Fell to Earth), Shobna Gulati (Arachnids in the UK, Demons of the Punjab), Julie Hesmondhalgh (Kerblam!), Ed Hime (writer, It Takes You Away), Phyllis Logan (The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos), Susan Lynch (The Ghost Monument), Pete McTighe (writer, Kerblam!), Vinette Robinson (Rosa), Ellie Wallwork (It Takes You Away), Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Joy Wilkinson (writer, The Witchfinders)