I love this episode. Demons of the Punjab was the episode I really wanted at the exact point in the series that I wanted it. First of all, it's a historical adventure set in a country that's never been used as a setting before. After a week back on modern day Earth and a week running around some white sci-fi corridors, it's refreshing to see such a strong contrast in scenery. Second of all, this is an episode focusing on Yaz, which Series 11 desperately needed. Unfortunately, I don't think this episode fully delivered on that. It filled in a lot of details about her family history, but in terms of Yasmin Khan's own personality, goals, and ambitions, the show is still far more interested in Ryan and Graham.
Still, I thought this was a really strong script from Vinay Patel. A subtle thing this episode establishes is that the TARDIS team are taking breaks to go back home between trips. I've said before how much I feel leaving Big Finish gaps deepens a series because it allows the events of episodes of settle in with the characters rather than just wash over them in an endless conveyor belt taking them from one life-and-death situation to the next. What I like so much about this particular gap though is that it means we avoid the tedious, borderline 'secret identity' stuff set up at the end of Arachnids of the UK where Yaz has to explain to her family who the Doctor is. That all gets wrapped up off screen and we don't have to deal with a concerned family nagging at her to stop travelling. Instead what we get is a warm and supporting family for Yaz (although whatever's going on between her and her sister has Series 12 potential. It's a slightly harsher than usual sibling rivalry backed up by Yaz literally being the family favourite).
The aliens in this episode, the Thijarians, have a really cool and memorable design, as well as an interesting backstory and motive. I could imagine this species returning at some point, maybe to watch over the Thirteenth Doctor's regeneration like the Ood in The End of Time. I liked the explanation of what they were doing here but I'll admit the explanation scene was also a big disappointment for me; it was the exact moment I gave up on Series 11 having any storyline connecting the episodes. For a hot minute, I thought the Timeless Child, something that still needs an explanation, would be brought up again during the scene in the Thijarian ship, and it had something to do with why they were there. But nope, the Timeless Child is never mentioned again this series. Shame. What's worse is I have zero faith in this new era to explain it well. Still, this single episode as a self-contained thing is still amazing.
If we must have only 11 episodes every two years, at least those 11 episodes look stunning. The location work here is brilliant and there are some strong moments of visual storytelling, like the ghostly heads of people who died alone at the end. Really striking images that stay with you long after the episode is over.
Demons of the Punjab is a contender for my favourite Series 11 episode (although It Takes You Away just beats it). There are early rumblings that Vinay Patel is back for Series 12, and I really hope that's true.