A Real Conundrum?
♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer and Brit in Los Angeles, Robert Cave, takes a look at the fifth episode of the new Doctor Who season…
Episode 5 The Tsurunga Conundrum
Director: Jennifer Perrott
Writer: Chris Chibnall
Stars: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole
You know, it isn’t just the TARDIS that is bigger on the inside. Sometimes whole episodes of Doctor Who are too: they might be the same standard length, but they end up packing a lot more in than you might at first appreciate.
Take this week’s episode for example. At first glance The Tsuranga Conundrum looks like a pretty average episode where the TARDIS gang and the crew of a spaceship are trapped on a small spacecraft to contend with the damage caused by the arrival of some alien/monster. It is a premise that has served the show well time and again over the years, and even formed the basis of Chris Chibnall’s first Doctor Who Script, 42, all the way back in 2007. But while typically such episodes focus largely on this main plot, The Tsuranga Conundrum actually packs a lot more in.
Team TARDIS don’t start out landing on someone else’s ship – they are on a junk planet, scavenging for spare parts when they accidentally set off a sonic mine. They are then picked up by a pretty spacious ambulance, staffed by two medics, that is already carrying a critically ill war hero Eve Cicer, (Suzanne Packer) her brother Durkas (Ben Bailey-Smith), Eve’s synth robot partner Ronan (David Shields) and a heavily pregnant male humanoid named Yoss (Jack Shalloo).
The monster of the week is the Pting, a hungry little beast that feasts on the inorganic and is also nigh impossible to capture. It Is also incredibly cute. This cuddly-but-dangerous combo is strongly reminiscent of the Beep the Meep, the malevolent furball from the classic Doctor Who Magazine comic strip Star Beast. The task of successfully removing it from the ship while avoiding pretty deadly decontamination protocols provide the conundrum of the episode, but there is a lot of other interesting stuff happing around the edges of this central plot, particularly with Eve, her family and with father-to-be Yoss.
Ahead of the series there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth at the casting of Jodie Whittaker the first female Doctor, but it is the decisions to make the war hero a woman and the pregnant character a man who conceived as the result of not taking precautions on a holiday romance that produce the most interesting character moments here. Eve’s self-sacrifice is played as heroic, but it is arguably her unwillingness to admit the true nature of her life-threatening medical issue and fully acknowledging the importance of her brother’s own skills that are the true cause of her death.
Meanwhile, Yoss’s childbirth and uncertainty at his fitness to be a parent prompts thoughts of fatherhood in both Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Ryan (Tosin Cole).
Graham has long been a surrogate parental figure in Ryan’s life, and his quiet determination to be there for his step-grandson has helped make his character the emotional centre for the current TARDIS crew. For his own part, Ryan grows beyond his anger to his absentee father here with the dawning realization that his dad was around the age Ryan is now when he became a parent.
This newfound empathy towards his father shows how much Ryan has grown as a character over the course of the five episodes we’ve had so far this season. Ultimately, it’s Ryan’s identification of the importance of fathers and fatherhood that is every bit as important to the episode as the Doctor’s successful ploy to get the Pting to eat the decontamination bomb that would otherwise have been used to blow up the space ambulance for hosting such a dangerous organism.
We are now at the halfway point of series 11, and while shorter seasons have historically been a sign that the show is in some danger, here it seems more a result of a choice to concentrate the budget on fewer episodes. Since the show’s resurrection in 2005, its various production crews have worked hard to ensure it never looked as cheap as it sometimes did on its original run, but it was still sometimes possible to see where locations had been reused and necessary savings achieved. By contrast, the effects in every episode so far have been nothing short of dazzling, and while the Tzim-Sha’s make up might have left something to be desired, everything else has looked spectacular.
While there hasn’t been any standout excellent stories so far, they have all been entertaining and none has been a disappointment. All this is down to Chris Chibnall, who has received a writing credit on every story so far and his script team.
Next episode will see the first script for the new series that is solely credited to another writer, a historical episode set in the partition of India, and I am really looking forward to it.