WARNING: MILD SPOILERS AHEAD
As you might be able to guess from the lateness of this review, I was a little preoccupied this weekend to write this review. Despite an exciting and overall pleasant weekend, though, I still found the time to watch Doctor Who (with some excellent company too) and after a good week or so of churning over the ideas, mainly because I haven’t had the time to sit down and write this, I’m ready to talk about last week’s episode and my thoughts on it.
The Tsuranga Conundrum is an episode that is very entrenched in basic Doctor Who formula. It starts with the Doctor and her crew exploring a junk planet only to be attacked by a sonic mine. The group awaken aboard the Tsuranga, an automated medical ship run by a skeleton crew with a small collection of patients, on route back a medical space-station. Whilst the Doctor’s immediate concern is returning to the Tardis as soon as possible, things soon take a turn for the worse, with a strange creature endangering everyone on board, forcing the Doctor into, as the name suggests, quite the conundrum.
The Tsuranaga Conundrum is enjoyable, though it is far from a perfect episode. To start with the episode’s strengths, the characterisation and development within the episode are really compelling, especially for Ryan and, surprisingly enough, the Doctor. For the first five minutes, the Doctor, still recovering from the sonic mine injury, is desperate to reunite with her TARDIS, so much so that a physician on board the ship has to stop her and explain how selfish it is for her to ignore the other patients on board the ship. It’s a really good moment and it’s nice to see the Doctor is shown to have flaws. Ryan, meanwhile, is confronted with feelings on parenthood when he meets a young man, Yoss, who is pregnant and waiting for his labour to be induced.
Alright, I’ve read weirder fan-fics than this…
Despite initial weirdness, the pregnancy is actually a really decent side-plot, focusing on Ryan’s troubled past with his father and forcing him to confront his feelings on the concept of fatherhood through Yoss’ struggle. Jack Shalloo gives us a solid performance as the father to be and Chibnall firmly shows skill in this episode with his range of characters.
The supporting cast of this episode are stellar, if you excuse the pun, and all of them have really interesting side-plots and great acting to go along with them. True highlights of the episode include Brett Goldstein as Astos (for the small part he’s in) and Suzanne Packer’s portrayal of Eve Cicero, the badass war-hero with the coolest sounding deadly condition in the world, ‘Pilot’s Heart’, trying to uphold her reputation, despite the concern of her brother, Durkas, played by Ben Bailey Smith.
Chibnall has done a good job crafting these great characters and they come off so strong because the setting for the episode is so strong. Generic, yes, but strong. Trapped in a location away from help with an unstoppable monster is a good pitch for any series. The closed space means that people are forced to interact and the threat of the monster keeps the action high.
It’s disappointing then that the ‘threat’ the Doctor and her companions are fighting is, literally, the cutest thing to have ever existed. The P-Ting is an alien race the Doctor has never heard of, somehow, but also have destroyed entire star-fleets by eating through their ships and are, as expected, hyped up as the deadliest thing in the world, only to appear as a discount Stitch, who never truly manages to be threatening.
It’s the start of a few missteps the episode takes: whilst the episode is enjoyable, the villain is very lack-lustre, though everyone is right: the Pting does need to be a plushie at some point: you don’t even have to like Doctor Who to know that it is absolutely adorable. The Pting’s adorable appearance makes the numerous boasts of its power seem a little oversold and ultimately disappoints, especially considering how easily it is removed from the equation. It leaves a kind of hollow feeling to the whole episode, something that echoes out and affects the whole episode.
Ryan has an emotional scene with Yaz about parenthood, but it ultimately falls flat due to some wooden acting, with Yaz, once again, not getting a chance for character. As well as being undercut by a lack of a good villain, the plot also suffers from an over reliance on cliches: a standard ‘base under siege’ story, complete with a terribly timed dramatic ‘the baby’s coming’ moment.
The episode’s main sin, in hindsight, is that the episode has a good setup and the trimmings are very nice, but the plot is seriously lacking. The entire experience has a hollow centre, focusing on a situation rather than a story, and ending not with a bang, but with a whimper. With half of this series done, the biggest flaw with Chibnall’s writing has been his lack of ambition. Plotlines, whilst well-executed, have been relatively generic in execution. As much as I despised Moffat’s writing, I at least admit he came up with some original ideas and unique twists on already established ideas. For the second half of the series, I’m really hoping for more original ideas like this coupled with Chibnall’s, so far, solid writing.
Despite the flaws, however, The Tsuranga Conundrum and, for that matter, the first part of the series, has at least been an enjoyable ride. Elements of mediocrity are hard to review, especially if a series is still engaging despite its less ambitious elements. For now, Doctor who has reclaimed its spark, and though The Tsuranga Conundrum is simple, it’s still a decent ride from start to finish. If you’ve been enjoying this season of Doctor Who, like me, episode five will give you more of the same good quality. If not, then sadly, this episode will not be one to win you over.
Hopefully, next week’s episode shows a little more originality, given its interesting cultural setting.
The Tsuranga Conundrum: 3/5