Each week the Blogtor Who team give their first thoughts on the latest episode of Doctor Who. Here’s what we thought of series 11 episode 5, The Tsuranga Conundrum.
Needless to say, this article contains massive spoilers, so only read on if you’ve already watched The Tsuranga Conundrum.
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We’ve already reached the mid-point of Series 11, and it’s marked rather aptly by this somewhat middling episode. The Tsuranga Conundrum is a story just as puzzling as its name, with a lot of promise and a lot of missed potential. It gets off to an absolutely rip-roaring start: the Doctor and friends blown up by a sonic mine! Trapped and injured on an auto-moving spacecraft! The tension is high as they need to survive long enough to reach their destination. It’s this season’s first venture into base-under-siege format, and for the most part, it works well. This is hands down Jodie Whittaker’s best performance as the Doctor, strong-willed and desperate in the face of impending danger. (Speaking of which, the Pting is easily the series’ most threatening villain – even if it is controversially cute!). Unfortunately, everything else seems to suffer in comparison. The guest cast are fine, but forgettable. The companions are mostly in the background, playing second fiddle. And there was way too much time spent on the pregnant man sub-plot: a joke stretched too thin, and an analogy too on-the-nose. Make no mistake, this was definitely the most “Doctor Who” episode of Series 11 so far. When the action was fast and the emphasis on the Doctor, it was a joyous thrill to watch. But when the camera lurked elsewhere… well, it could have been so much more. Looking forward to hearing the general consensus on this one!
The Pting hits that sweet spot of being simultaneously adorable and disgusting perfectly. It’s also part of a definite theme in Chibnall’s first season – jettisoning ‘evil’ in favour of puzzles to be solved. The Tsuranga Conundrum disappoints slightly simply by lacking the intense weirdness of visits to the future under RTD and Steven Moffat. Yes, we get a dash of male pregnancy but after The Ghost Monument this is yet another collection of aliens that actually look, and act, completely human. It feels like Neill Gorton and Kate Walshe at Millennium FX should be getting a few more opportunities to flex their muscles and show off their gift for alien and prosthetic design. For the TARDIS Team themselves, this feels like a story where they’ve settled down to the extent this is almost ‘another day at the office’ for them. It feels telling that the Doctor is the only one genuinely concerned about what might happen – Graham, Ryan and Yaz seem pretty confident the Doctor will sort it out somehow and are almost relaxed about the whole thing. Hopefully this is just the kind of pause before they’re put through the wringer again.
It’d be hard to argue that most of the good stuff of that episode came in the second half. The first had good moments but the bits in-between involved a lot of anonymous corridors and filler. But regardless I think this episode will be considered one of the defining moments for Jodie Whittaker’s incarnation of the Doctor. Having to be talked down from her instinctive jumping to save the day was a nice way to calm down a character who’s been a bit manic since episode one. Your mileage on how effective the Pting will be as a monster-of-the-week will vary but at least we managed to nix the idea that it was some marauding man-eating threat early on. That gave it a unique spin even if the monster ultimately becomes more of a nuisance than a threat.
It’s hard to know where to begin with this week’s episode! I feel as though I’ve thought this about every episode so far this series, but The Tsuranga Conundrum was completely different to everything we’ve seen thus far in Series 11. This has certainly been the most thoroughly science-fiction episode so far, and it certainly falls under the ‘outer-space-base-under-siege’ category of Doctor Who episodes. It was fast-paced, confusing at times, and looked absolutely stunning throughout. Despite the stark contrast in genre, it continues the pattern of previous episodes by being thoroughly character-driven. Once again, the villain or threat was not the main focus, although its presence was very strongly felt. I have to say, I’m unsure how I feel about the Pting after this first viewing. I felt myself wishing the ship was under siege from something that felt more genuinely threatening as opposed to strangely cute and mischievous. Brother and sister Eve and Durkas Cicero and their relationship definitely stood out to me, and even pregnant Yoss grew on me over the course of the episode. As for the companions, I felt that once again Yaz was slightly sidelined in favour of developing Ryan and his relationship with Graham – not that I didn’t appreciate them getting the chance to grow closer in the midst of all the action. The Thirteenth Doctor also continues to grow on me more and more with every episode – she’s absolutely brilliant. The main takeaway from this episode for me was it’s overarching message of hope and optimism, and how important it is to cling to these qualities and our relationships with others in times of crisis.
Two episodes in a row in which team TARDIS are trapped in a confined space trying to avoid a threat seems like an odd choice. Both this episode and ‘Arachnids’ had the team trapped with a collection of other diverse characters, some who survived, some who didn’t. This episode did a better job of it though. It had a much better paced ending for one thing and the guest characters were better. The Pting creature was an interesting concept and I actually thought the ‘cute’ look of it kind of worked (and was amazingly rendered by the special effects team) there is something extra menacing about creatures that start by looking cute and can suddenly bear their teeth and be menacing. All the guest stars in this episode felt comfortable and natural in their roles. And there were some nice moments between Yaz and Ryan when they were talking about his dad and even more so, his mums death. Overall an enjoyable episode. I just hope they are not trapped somewhere again next week.
Oh dear. It was all going so well. Four solid episodes and then The Tsuranga Conundrum. My old mum always taught me that old lesson of “if you haven’t got anything nice to say…” so I’m going to focus on the parts of this episode that didn’t leave me flat. The horrible little git of an alien (the PTING according to the credits) was fun and reminded me of the G’Gugvuntts and Vl’hurgs from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (races that were deadly, but so small the entire battlefleet was eaten by small dog). I enjoyed the pregnant bloke story and its use in furthering the Graham/Ryan dynamic. There was a lovely moment where the Doctor’s love of the on-board particle accelerator brought a little bit of magic to the screen. All in all, though, let’s move on to next week, please. This week’s comedy highlights – “Breathe deep, cockle”, “He’s descended from an old Earth nurse” and baby Avocado. Oh, and the Doctor says she’s a fan of Hamilton then says “Wait for it”. Brilliant.
This week Doctor Who went into the future with some fantastic design work. Clean and sterile, appropriate for a hospital. However, beneath the stylish façade was a frightfully poor episode. Far, far, far too many scenes were dialogue heavy, filled with exposition that rattled through at an alarming pace leaving many a viewer surely bemused. The alien creature of the week was ridiculous as a threat. In the meantime, a man gave birth to a child. A pregnant male was a blatant attempt to convince that this was the future. But in the crucial moment, as the drama is trying desperately to build peril, his waters break. How? And from where? Nonsensical. I felt for Jodie Whittaker with the amount of explanatory dialogue she had to deal with. However, her speech about anti-matter was superbly delivered. Meanwhile Yaz’s only meaningful contribution was to kick the Pting. Next week however she should shine.
Whilst ‘Rosa’ demonstrated the very best that Doctor Who is capable of being, The Tsuranga Conundrum fell into every conceivable trap the show has to offer.
At the halfway point of the series we’ve had Chibnall’s careful calibration of character set up mixed with light stories. Slowly over these episodes the stories have become more prominent, but as this episode shows they remain very heavy on expositional dialogue. This episode especially feels like a fast paced barrage of plot being told to its audience. There are some visual treats, the rendering of the Pting is great, and it’s a fun and inventive little monster. But the main problem the Doctor is facing is the space to fit everything in as character development and plot fight in an ungainly fashion against each other. Surprisingly though, this isn’t stopping the series being good fun to watch, and it’ll be interesting to see what some new writers do with it in the second half of series 11’s run.
You can watch The Tsuranga Conundrum now on BBC iPlayer.
The next episode of Doctor Who – Demons of the Punjab – on BBC at 19:00pm on Sunday 11th November.