The last time I watched Dr Who my friend Fiona screamed and hid behind our orange fake leather sofa when the daleks appeared on screen. I was about 10 years old. It must’ve been traumatic for her to be sandwiched between faux leather, daleks, floral embossed wallpaper and a floral carpet.
When Series 11 aired last year I had no idea that it had been filmed in Sheffield. Though I did know that we finally got a female Dr Who! Messages from friends started flying in…Dr Who’s been filmed in Sheffield…there’s an episode about Rosa Parks…and an episode about the partition between India and Pakistan. The energy was sizzling. I didn’t quite believe any of them until I watched it myself last night.
I was thrilled to discover a thoroughly Northern Dr Who with Northern characters who speak Northern and maybe looked like me…25 years ago! I jumped straight to the Rosa Parks episode and found myself in tears by the end. I could feel my critic at work, 'are they going to get this right?’ and yes, I feel they did with writer, Malorie Blackman at the helm, it was poignant, powerful and centred Rosa, not holding back on the realities of being young, brown or black, in the UK.
Watching the ‘Demons of the Punjab’ episode awoke my ancestral DNA. Like Yaz’s Nani, my father had left post-partition India in 1954 to seek a different life in the UK, eventually settling in Sheffield in 1959. He too loved Sheffield, it was his home. Much of his heart and soul remained in the Punjab but he always said if he died in India he wanted his body bringing back to Sheffield for cremation. And then his ashes returned to the River Sutlej in the Punjab. Ok Dad, bit demanding like! Forever the international traveller.
Like Nani, my father rarely talked of the Partition. Few elders do. It was HORRIFIC. He was born in Indian Punjab in a village that was home to Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims, living mostly in peace. Until Partition. My father occasionaly dropped hints of what he had witnessed to me and out of respect I shall not repeat them. He would’ve been a teenager, maybe 14 or 15 years old. I’ve often wondered whether the experience of partition made him run away to the Indian Army at 16 years old, pretending that he was 18 years old to get in? Or whether that’s why he left Punjab, to get away from the memories? I’ll never know, so many questions un-asked. It was always my intention to gather more history from my father, to record or film him but you know how it goes, other less important things happen, I didn’t prioritise HIM and then BAM! He had his stroke and I missed a moment and missed a history.
This episode of Dr Who shows us that even though we may collect our elders stories there are still the hidden stories, the secret stories that will never be shared but instead passed on through our DNA by our ancestors, lingering like quiet whispers in our blood or in broken watches. Stories we KNOW and maybe unconsciously live but unable to articulate. I don’t begrudge the secrets, it is absolutely the right of our elders to keep them. I even began wondering if my Mother had been married before, or had loved someone else, a muslim man even? My Mother doesn’t talk about her past at all. I know little of her pre-Sheffield life. I wonder about this too but then, it really is none of my business. I have to accept the quiet whispers inside and her right to not tell.
More tears flowed after this episode and I flipped back from 1947 to 2018 to watch episode 1, which was mostly filmed in Sheffield. My cells bounced when I saw Yaz dealing with a parking dispute on a steep Sheffield street. She was stood right outside my Dad’s old house. Somehow, the BBC had chosen that very house to film outside of. My Dad was always quietly mystical. Maybe it’s not such a surprise after all! He would’ve loved that Dr Who, a sci-fantasy programme, was filmed outside his house.
Now I’m wondering, maybe my Dad actually arrived in 1959 Sheffield by tardis?
* Photographs of Dr Who and Tardis sourced via Google Images.