Doctor Who Series 11, Episode 5
“The Tsuranga Conundrum”
Posted by Kim
We are now halfway through Series 11, so I thought it would be a nice time to take stock of Chris Chibnall’s Doctor Who versus previous years. (Indulge a nerd, will you?) When I looked back at the flows of all the previous seasons of Modern Who the thing that stood out the most to me was that episode 5 has historically been one half of a two parter, be it the conclusion, or the opening. The only seasons that it hasn’t? Well, you have to put Series 7’s “The Angels Take Manhattan” as an obvious event episode, given it saw the departure of the Ponds. Series 8 is a bit of an anomaly, with “Time Heist” being episode 5 (and no two-parter in the series until the finale). You COULD call series 10’s “Oxygen” as part of a major arc, since it kicked off the Doctor being blind.
What I’m trying to get at here is usually by this point in the season Doctor Who has attempted to tell a big story, a story that demands you make an appointment for the next week so you can see how it all turns out. (Other than cliffhanger at the end of the premiere, which even that was resolved quickly.) Usually by this point, we’ve had at least some hint of a bigger arc, some thread that’s going to tie it all together. That hasn’t happened yet with Series 11. There’s been a great discussion amongst my circle of friends about Chibnall’s Doctor Who shifting towards being more of a procedural, a show where everything is wrapped up in a neat little bow by the end of 50 minutes and we move on to the next story the following week. While I do agree with that, as a bit of a procedural hoe, shows like Bones and Law and Order and the ten billion CSI shows DID all have your case of the week stories, but most of them ALSO had some sort of overarching theme or villain of the season, some sort of big quest that our heroes go on. That really hasn’t been the case with this season of Doctor Who yet, and that gives me pause.
Listen. I’m not saying this series has been BAD. Jodie is a joy and everything I could have wanted in a Doctor. I find myself completely endeared by Graham, which is a complete surprise to me. Tosin Cole is knocking it out of the park every week as Ryan. Mandip Gill is charming, despite the fact that Yaz feels constantly like the odd person out, only there to react and be a sounding board for other characters. While enjoyable, all the episodes thus far have felt a bit like carbs: satisfying in the moment, but I’m hungry like two hours later. Give me a steak! I’m dying for something hearty, something I can ruminate on for days. Maybe that’s not how Chibnall is going to approach the show, maybe I need to recalibrate my expectations. But it’s hard. I want more, because GOD KNOWS it feels like this TARDIS team is capable of it.
On paper, “The Tsuranga Conundum” SHOULD work. It could be a bit of a bottle episode, trapping all our characters in a confined space and giving them a problem to solve. Instead, I feel like the episode got overburdened with too many plots; there was too much going on and not enough time to fully flesh out everything, making it all feel JUST a bit underdone. Basically, “The Tsuranga Conundrum” is a full on Monet. From a distance, it looks good, but when you look at it more closely, it’s just a big old mess. I can’t help but think that if they had cut ONE of the plot lines, the episode would have flowed better. Did we really need like a 3 minute monologue explaining anti-matter? I love seeing the Doctor show wonder, but that just felt excessive, didn’t it? Especially when there was SO MUCH going on. (Plus, anyone who’s read Angels and Demons, which is like, most people, already knows what that is.)
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. The premise is simple: Team TARDIS is on an expedition on a junk planet, using metal detectors to search for who knows what, cause they never actually say. Graham finds a sonic mine, and it goes off. The Doctor and her companions come to on a hospital ship, sans TARDIS. (Stop separating the Doctor from her ship 2K18!!) Through their wanderings trying to search for an exit, the team stumbles upon a legendary female general, her droid consort, and her brother, as well as a heavily pregnant man. The ship falls under attack from a creature called a Pting, which basically looks like the product of a drunken night between a Slitheen and an Adipose. The Pting eats everything in its path, resulting in the ship losing both of its escape pods and the senior officer of the two man crew, Astos. (Pour one out for him, he was the best foil for the Doctor, completely unafraid of putting her in her place, but also finding her trustworthy. Plus he was super hot.) Not only is the ship in danger from the Pting, but it’s in the middle of an asteroid field, and if the destination port detects more than three incidents on the ship, they won’t be permitted to land.
Cue everything that could go wrong, going wrong, down to our pregnant man Yoss going into labor. The team gets splintered into four different storylines and all of the sudden the episode is overburdened with way too much plot and not enough time to have it all make sense.
Those two gifs? That’s the episode.
Let me first get to the plot that I felt needed the most development, and COULD have been amazing had it been given time to breathe, but it came down to way too easy explanations for a WAY TOO COMPLEX matter.
Yep, I’m talking about Yoss and his baby.
Listen, I get that Ryan is coming from a place of trying to understand his relationship with his father and trying to see where it went wrong and trying to put himself in his shoes. I also see that it is clear from the beginning that Yoss is conflicted about giving his baby up. He’s clearly formed an attachment to his baby from the way he proudly shows the scans to Yaz and Ryan and from the way he reacts to his baby kicking. He’s scared, yes, but what expectant parent isn’t? And even if he is pondering giving the baby up for adoption, it’s HIS choice, and who is to say it isn’t the right one? We don’t learn about whether or not Yoss is able to provide, we KNOW he’s alone, and honestly, giving his baby up to a family that CAN provide for him (since we know it’s a boy cause only boys have boys) is quite possibly the most loving thing that Yoss can do. So to have Ryan project his own issues with his absentee father on this expectant father tread REAL CLOSE to the line of YIKES.
It’s just such a dangerous message to send out to a viewing audience that “all you need is to love them” when it comes to being a parent. First of all, as a friend expressed, it plays into the trope of biological parents not loving the children that they give up for adoption, which is not a great outlook. It over-simplifies the whole struggle a parent must go through when faced with such a choice. (And again, I personally fall in the belief that giving up for adoption is one of the most loving things that CAN be done.) Being a parent is more than just showing up and it’s an incredibly naive thing for Ryan to believe and impart to an expecting parent. I realize that all Ryan really wants is for his dad to be present, and he’s been doing his best to come to terms with why he hasn’t been. (The scene with Yaz was really quite lovely, and once again, Mandip proves herself to be a brilliant active listener.) But as a whole, the whole thing set off my YIKES alarms, especially when Yoss had a change of heart by the end of the episode. And while I appreciated the gender flip of Ryan and Graham serving as Yoss’ doulas (“I just need some men around”) while Yaz got to be an action hero, sometimes the whole thing hewed a little too close to having it all be a joke, you know?
One thing this series HAS been great about has been showcasing women (and more specifically, women of color) in positions of power. What it HASN’T been great about is subsequently disposing of them. (If you’re counting, we’re now at two dead women of color in five episodes.) The story with Eve and Durkas was perhaps the most underserved of the episode, and is probably the story that could have lifted right out, to be honest. And that makes me sad, because they had such an interesting dynamic. It felt like quite a bit of sibling rivalry, a hint of misplaced resentment for Eve having gotten all the glory, even though she put all the work in and deserved it. I would have loved to have known more about her meteoric rise as a neuro-pilot, the pain at knowing her entire career was a breath away from ending, and the sense of grief at her illness, and the extent she went to hide it. Instead, it all ended up feeling surfacey, and her end COULD have been a powerful one, if we had the time to invest in it. But, by all mean, give us the monologue about anti-matter. (SORRY, I WON’T LET IT GO.)
One thing I can’t quibble about is who Jodie Whittaker delivers, even when the writing doesn’t rise to the level of her performance. What I loved about her in this episode is that we got to see all the shades of the Doctor, from her singleminded selfishness when she was so determined to override everything on the ship to get back to her TARDIS to her science nerdiness with that dammed antimatter speech to her calming and compassionate presence as she talked Mabli through all of her freak-outs to her zero tolerance for the Pting. She is the Doctor, through and through, and I think what I love about Thirteen most of all so far is that she has utter faith in the goodness of people, and that goodness will win. It’s why, even when the episode is a mess, that I am still on board with this season and (so far) Chibnall’s version of the Doctor. Because these are dark times. And we all need someone who believes that the darkness will pass.
Doctor: I’ll be sure to tell them how brilliant you were.
Mabli: You all were. Light in dark times.
Doctor: People prevail. Hope prevails.
Wibbly-Wobbly Timey-Wimey Observations
- Quoth Sage: “Well, mPreg certainly wasn’t the fanfic trope I was expecting.”
- I liked the concept of the Doctor not being at her full faculties as her organs adjusted, and wished it had carried ALL the way through the episode. But then again, that would have just been ONE MORE THING.
- It’s very good to know that Hamilton runs long enough to have at least 900 casts.
- Have I mentioned I love Graham and he should be protected at all costs?
- Sorry, I hate hate hate hate the whole “Boys have boys and Girls have girls” bit, it wasn’t funny.
- LIKE I SAID: PROTECT GRAHAM AT ALL COSTS.
- Again, Astos had the best dynamic with the Doctor and I was so sad we didn’t get more of him.
- “Ten points for Yasmin Khan, and, yes, I am keeping score, for all of you.
Ronan, up your game.” I LOVE HER?
- At first, I was gonna be like “DOCTOR HOW DARE YOU DOWNPLAY WHO YOU ARE” but then my girl did this.
What did you think of “The Tsuranga Conundrum”? Let us know in the comments.