RECAP & REVIEW: Doctor Who – ‘The Tsuranga Conundrum’ (Series 11, Episode 5)

So What Happened?…

In the middle of looking for parts on an alien junkyard planet, Thirteen and her friends accidentally get caught up in the blast from a sonic mine’s detonation. When they awaken, they find themselves travelling on the hospital space ship, Tsuranga, which is on an automated journey back to a medical space station. Whilst exploring the ship, The Doctor acquaints herself with the medics and the other patients on the ship; Eve Cicero and her brother, Durkas, a renowned war general and engineer respectively; her synth robot partner, Ronan, and Yoss, a heavily pregnant man. Looking after them all are head nurse, Astos, and trainee, Mabli. In an attempt to get back to her TARDIS on the junkyard planet, Thirteen gains access to the ship’s systems, but her and Astos soon notice that something unidentified is heading towards them. Surmising that it must be an alien, they decide to investigate after one of the ship’s escape pods is damaged by the unknown creature. After being lured into the other pod, the head nurse is killed after the alien jettisons the craft and it explodes.

Mabli Astos DW ep 5
Mabli (Lois Chimimba) and Astos (Brett Goldstein) monitoring their patients.

With Mabli’s help, The Doctor establishes that the creature is highly dangerous and a member of the P’Ting species, a type of alien that eats all non-organic material to replenish its energy supplies. As a result, the Pting is eating its way through the Tsuranga. To complicate matters, Thirteen soon realises that the ship will be remotely detonated if the alien is detected on board by the station they’re travelling to, and Yoss goes into labour. Graham and Ryan are tasked with being birthing partners for the expectant father, whilst Yaz and Ronan guard the anti-matter power source, and The Doctor tasks herself with taking manual control of the ship. Ultimately, because of her experience, Eve takes on the task of interfacing with and piloting the ship to safety, in spite of the heart condition that means she’ll almost certainly die. When she finally does succumb to her illness, it falls to her brother to take on the task of getting them back.

Yaz Thirteen DW ep 5
Yasmin (Mandip Gill) and Thirteen (Jodie Whittaker) trying to lure the Pting with the bomb.

Deducing that the space ship must have a fail safe bomb on-board, Thirteen takes the risk of setting it to go off to lure the Pting towards it. After a tense few moments, the creature takes the bait and swallows the device, easily absorbing the energy of the blast before being jettisoned out to space with a full stomach. As Durkas pulls them safely towards the original, automated route, Ryan and Graham help Yoss deliver a healthy baby boy. Afterwards, The Doctor and her companions stand with the other patients, and help to honour Eve’s courage and bravery in giving her life for theirs, before leaving to recover the TARDIS.

Monster of the Week

Danielle: Acting like a cross between Stitch, from Lilo and Stitch, and the Tasmanian Devil, a Pting found its way on-board the ‘Tsuranga’, and ate its way through its favourite snack: inorganic material. Nom! Nom!

Pting DW ep 5
A ‘hangry’ Pting.

Marieke: It’s like an Adipose fell into a cauldron of speed at birth, and its parents are Gremlins. Yet the Pting looks kind of cute and does not feel dangerous. To be sure, no one can touch it. Well, the clone drone can, so why isn’t he put to better use? The Pting eats energy, but they still could have made it more dangerous. It was another monster/baddie just disappearing, and I wonder if all of them are having a great party somewhere.

 

Creep Factor

Danielle: Not creepy at all. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the Pting was actually pretty cute. All it needed was a Snickers.

Marieke: Nothing creepy here. Figures, as this series ate up a lot of creep points with those spiders…

 

Mystery

Danielle: The big mystery was how they were going to get back to the space station without the ship being eaten from around them by the Pting, and/or the station blowing them up remotely when they detected the highly dangerous creature on-board. I’m also quite curious about who placed the sonic mine on the junkyard planet as a ‘practical joke’. I’m not sure if we’re ever meant to find that out, but I’m intrigued nevertheless. I’m also quite baffled about why Ronan was going to decommission himself after Eve’s death. I know he was just a robot, but still…

Marieke: There wasn’t a huge mystery, but The Doctor looked a little out of her depth, making it all seem like a bigger problem than it really was. I think the biggest mystery is where The Doctor’s injury, clearly causing trouble at first, suddenly went to.

 

Familiar Face
Suzanne Packer DW ep 5
Suzanne Packer as Eve.

Best known for her long-term role on Casualty, here Suzanne Packer played Eve, a much celebrated war general.

 

Scene of the Week

Danielle: It had to be the episode’s loose homage to Three Men and a Baby, as Ryan and Graham stumbled their way through getting Yoss through his labour. That was genuinely funny. I thought everybody paying their respects to Eve, after she sacrificed herself, was surprisingly moving too.

Marieke: I have to agree with Danielle, Graham and Ryan as doulas was fun and touching at the same time. I’m sure it was Graham’s wife who made him watch Call the Midwife with her and most likely made fun of him when he looked away during the birthing scenes. Now that I also want to see!

 

The Verdict?

Danielle: An adventure that showcased a ‘hangry’ alien, and which seemed to straddle the divide between the Crystal Maze and a rather patronising segment on Blue Peter about anti-matter, was never going to be everybody’s cup of tea. The real conundrum at the heart of ‘The Tsuranga Conundrum’ was that its reach often exceeded its grasp, at the same time as managing to almost talk down to its viewers. Overambition, weirdly enough, went hand in glove with oversimplification. In the past, much was made about Moffat’s complicated plots and with good reason. However, Chibnall’s attempt here to make Who more accessible, and reach out to younger audiences, only served to pull viewers out of the drama, and in doing so, broke one of the cardinal rules of writing: show, don’t tell.

That said, I didn’t hate it. Indeed, I really enjoyed the fact that when the proverbial hit the fan, it was down to the women to save the day as the men were almost exclusively left holding the baby, very literally. Ryan and Graham becoming Yoss’ impromptu birthing partners was a very funny touch, and provided some much needed comic relief in the episode. You’ve got to wonder about other baby names in the future if ‘Avocado’ is perfectly acceptable! I also applaud the concept behind the threat that the Pting posed, in that it wasn’t out to simply eat or murder those on the ship, but rather that they’d be collateral damage as it munched its way through the vessel they were travelling on. I was practically chuffed for the little thing when it was jettisoned into space with that ‘full tummy glow’ after the bomb exploded inside it. There were some fresh ideas here, but all in all, there were more misses than hits.

Graham Ryan Yoss DW ep 5
Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) helping Yoss (Jack Shalloo) through his labour provided some much needed light relief.

Marieke: This felt like the midway, mediocre filler episode to me. The set design was simple, but also had a generic spaceship aesthetic. The aliens, apart from the Pting, just looked human. Could they not have added something in make up? The biggest problem maybe even wasn’t that it could have been so much more, but the inconsistencies were so striking it really felt like they filmed the first draft. The Doctor seemed a little too lost, her injury disappeared, and there wasn’t even a ‘two hearts’ comment from the ship’s medic??

Also, whilst I enjoyed the male pregnancy, it felt like another stepping stone for the grandfather/grandson relationship, which is still developing. I never felt that Yoss ever was in danger. The Pting was too cute to be dangerous and his skin problem felt very tacked on. Ronan should have abandoned his protocol and been on Pting duty full time since he was the only one able to touch him, which would have cost us Yaz’s footballers joke. Speaking of Yaz, she was back to being underused again. Either she’s doing emotional labour for Ryan, or she’s on exposition duty. Why is that? There were plenty of clichés (don’t go into that cabin! Oh nevermind… ) accompanied by the trademark Who running. Funnily enough, a short clip of Chibnall went round on Twitter in which he harshly critiques an old episode, which has the exact same feel as this one. Oops!

Our Fezzy Score: rsz_fuzzy_fezrsz_fuzzy_fezrsz_tiny_fez

What did you think of ‘The Tsuranga Conundrum’? Let us know in the comments…

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