Doctor Who review : The Tsuranga Conundrum

Casualty in space? Gremlins?

Last night’s episode was another very confident story from Chibnall. Not to everyone’s cup of tea, to judge by reactions on Twitter, but it ran smoothly and had all the elements we’re beginning to expect from this season.

Once again, the key strength of the story was the character work and the development of relationships. Ryan and Graham’s bonding sessions continue. Still keeping fairly subtle there (I thought the heart to heart in Ghost Monument was a little overdone and am thankful that hasn’t been repeated). I wonder if Chibnall’s going to do the obvious and have Ryan share a fist-bump with him in the final episode, or whether Graham is going to recognise that the relationship can work without those signifiers and that Ryan should have a chance to choose his own ways of marking their bond. I think the general complaint that Yaz really does not get anything like the same focus as the other two companions remains. She’s a solid, competent companion, but the actor’s never given much to work with, which is a pity. 

So what about the story itself and the threat? For the second week in a row, we have a circumstantial threat. The thing in danger of killing them all wasn’t doing it through malice, but incidentally, because of its nature. This is a welcome relief from the, perfectly reasonable, but overused “misunderstood alien” trope. Here we have a genuine threat. The fact that it was cute and made hundreds of fans want to take it home is besides the point. And why not? Okay, so this wasn’t going to scare people. Last week’s story had big scary spiders. By all accounts, many people did find them pretty traumatic. So why not tone it down? The Pting was less scary but more dangerous than the spiders. It’s a family show and it’s got something for everyone. On this note in particular, a lot of families have commented (and it’s true of my own) that kids are genuinely enjoying this series in a way they haven’t before. Sure, I miss the nights of freaking out on the way to bed after managing to scare myself after seeing the Silence, but the show isn’t just about scares. And this episode was genuinely fun!

One of things I’ve loved about this series is this sci-fi “why the hell not” insertions. It’s a hospital ship, great background for a crisis, shall we have a pregnancy – nice, down to earth, doesn’t raise the stakes too far but has enough baggage to give the viewer a sense of urgency and what could go wrong. It’s a bit cliched though. How about we gender flip? Why the hell not? It’s sci-fi! I know the anti-PC parade got pissed off with that, but it was fun: their loss. On the downside, it was still a bit of a cliched birth scene. It fitted the boxes of what you expect from a TV birth and, as I’ve been told in many previous instances of the same, was clearly not written by someone who’s actually experienced giving birth for himself. Minor complaint.

So there we have it. It was a remarkably confident, fun episode. Didn’t stand out, but was genuinely fun to watch. Fairly similar to 42 in many ways, although far more confident. One thing I really felt was that it reminded me a lot of Deep Space 9. And there is perhaps my only fear. Chibnall has been writing some really solid episodes. Quiet, parred back stories focusing on the small things, the characters, etc. There’s clearly a strength here, and it’s a marked change from the high stakes, big drama of the previous 12 years….. and it would work really well in an American style 20 episode long season where TV shows are given the space to take it slow. We certainly don’t need a Stolen Earth/Journey’s End every season (or possibly any season), but I hope, as we reach the mid way point of this year’s Doctor Who, we see some evidence of a little more ambition to the stories. That said, I’d be a very happy fanboy if we had half a year of stories on the same level as this one. 

Here’s hoping….