S11E05 – The Tsuranga Conundrum

Reading Time Approx: 5 minutes

With this episode we’re already halfway through and ‘s first season and this will be the fourth writing credit for Chibnall, which does raise the obvious question “did he take on too much this season”? There have been some signs already of stories that maybe needed a few tweaks or one more go over, is Tsuranga another of them, I guess we’ll see.

I really like the name The Tsuranga Conundrum, it’s one of those names which really triggers my imagination and makes me wonder what it will all be about. often goes for the obvious title so it’s fun when we get something different.

It’s an interesting choice to open the story with everyone getting blown up, but I think it works well here both to set up the real story and also just reinforce that travelling with the Doctor can be dangerous without harping on about it too much.

We’re On A Ship But in a Universe

Why is Roy Kent not swearing? I think I’ve only seen Brett Goldstein in one other show so the reaction is inevitable I guess. This episode does a good job of weaving a futuristic society out of relatively few people, there are a lot of references dropped in that suggest a much larger world than this spaceship. It’s also fairly clear that this is or has been a hostile universe based on first the sonic mine and then the protective procedures in place on the ship itself.

The Doctor’s urgency to return to the TARDIS confused me a little but then I noticed that she seemed to be in worse shape than everyone else so perhaps I’m supposed to think that she took the brunt of the blast and is still disoriented? If so that didn’t come over clearly to me. I did like how Astos so efficiently talked her down though it established him as someone extremely competent at his job and able to manage stressful situations. Which of course made it that much more significant when we lose him.

The other thing having the Doctor try to leave did was give us a quick tour of the ship and introduction to the supporting cast for the episode, an introduction that’s speeded up by this Doctor’s now established character trait of blurting out facts in excitement about people she meets.

The Doctor Takes Charge

From the moment she wakes up the Doctor takes control of the situation and her companions follow her, then as soon as the danger starts on the ship she extends that to effectively take command of the whole ship. I mention this because one of the recurring criticisms of the 13th Doctor I see is that she is too passive and has no agency, and yet here we are half way through the first season and she has clearly been taking charge and solving things in each episode.

At first I was looking at this episode as a base under siege, but after thinking about it for a while I realize it’s actually a mini disaster movie. The Pting, as we eventually establish, isn’t a villain or even exactly a monster. It’s just a creature doing what is natural to it and eating everyone else just has to survive it. There’s even someone giving birth, which is pure disaster movie material.

And speaking of the Pting, I think it’s just ridiculous enough to work for me. It’s absurdly overpower of course but then they make it tiny and cute look and that just puts it over the top and into fun territory.

What doesn’t work for me is Astos speech to Mabli. The problem for me is we really hadn’t seen them interact so the whole believe in yourself thing, which she then essentially repeated later in the episode, feels particularly on the nose. Also, for the most part we don’t see her doubting herself, so it’s just odd to me.

Let’s Talk About Why Ryan Is So Great

Throughout this episode we get to see the progress of Ryan’s relationship with Graham, and it’s developing at a very natural pace even if he still won’t fist bump! We also get further movement on his relationship with his natural father, courtesy of the episodes comedy element. The two plot elements were dovetailed together nicely and I thought the way he reacted when Yoss talked about giving up his child fit perfectly with Ryan’s experiences. Where I think they did miss an opportunity was that they could have had one of the other characters be more supportive of the idea of adoption. This is the sort of thing that is’ much easier to spot after the fact or with a fresh pair of eyes.

For all that at times Chibnall leans to hard on expository dialogue there are multiple great conversations in this episode like the one between Yaz and Ryan which ended so naturally with Ryan’s shrug and dismissal of his own feelings or the way the Doctor and Eve Cicero were both so obviously capable and used to being in charge, the two of them just instinctively commandeering the room and solving the problems they had identified.

We don’t get too much insight into Yaz’s feelings in this story but there is a clear impression that she’s looks up to the Doctor and is always the one who wants to be there to help her. Given that it really seems like part of the remit for this season was to make each episode easy to approach without prior knowledge I think they’ve done really well building these character arcs in the background.

Resolutely Average

One thing I’m massively enjoying in this rewatch is just how happy the Doctor is most of the time, the energy and optimism is infectious. This is not the world weary time war survivor or the masks his darkness with jokes Doctor, the 13th Doctor is a much lighter person and I think much more aligned with what we saw in Classic Who than what we’ve seen to this point in NuWho. This is not a Doctor who make worlds tremble just by uttering her name. She’s smart, she’s extremely capable, but she’s not some sort of ominous superhuman force.

Shout out again to the sound track which I find I’m noticing more this time round than on first watch. It’s low key enough to not distract but it builds into a throbbing beat when things get tense. Also, I’ve mentioned before how the show looks different this season, notice the heavy use of teal and orange in the coloring of this episode, that’s a very cinematic look that they’re using.

When it comes down to it I think this is just a very average story. For the most part its… fine. It hits most of the right notes for a Doctor Who story, the secondary characters for the most part get some resolution on their arcs and I enjoyed it enough while watching it, but there’s nothing here that makes me itch to watch it again.


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