It’s unfortunate that only 5 episodes into a 10 episode season, the term ‘filler episode’ comes to mind so easily regarding “The Tsuranga Conundrum”, but that’s exactly what it is. And while not every episode of Doctor Who needs to revolutionise television, it’s a shame that clear patterns are emerging regarding the Chibnall era; there’s character work that’s completely detached from the plot – an inconsequential plot at that – and a needless ‘timer’ or stressor running across the narrative. There’s some fun to be had here but this episode is destined to be skipped on rewatches.
I like that Chibnall is making it clear that 13 and her companions are having off-screen adventures – Russell T Davis didn’t do a great job of this and it led to there being little ‘empty space’ in 9 and 10’s eras for spin-off media to explore. 13 having off-screen adventures with these companions is a nice bit of universe building and lays the logical groundwork for books/audio dramas to be dropped into.
A lot of the strengths of this episode were in minor character moments and observations – it’s interesting to see the Doctor be so impacted by the internal healing process when it’s something she’s done – through regeneration – many times before. It felt like that internal restructuring might be akin to her to what surgery is for us. There was also the great ego moment of the Doctor’s initial downplay of her presence in a historical account, only to then turn around and stress that she’d had an entire chapter dedicated to her. It’s the egoism of 10 that some fans hate, but it’s called into question when 13 later tries to take control of the medical ship. As she tries to take over the ship’s navigation, it’s refreshing to have someone call the Doctor out and point out that she’s being selfish. We so rarely see people criticise the Doctor’s character directly and have them admit that they’re in the wrong, it’s an interesting developing trait in 13 – she can be selfish and self-absorbed.
But for every bad trait there’s a positive, and 13’s best moment this week was in her adoration of the anti-matter engine. It’s great to see Doctor Who lean into some hard science and seeing 13 geek out about positrons and anti-matter being harnessed for energy was a delight and a reminder of how important the show can be in conveying the inherent beauty of science and knowledge to impressionable young viewers.
Graham remains the best companion with some hilarious lines, a personal favourite being “sync the old ocular recorders, obvious”. It’s fun seeing someone actually respond to the alien and bizarre situations they’re in, as both Yaz and Ryan seem to take it all remarkably in-step for people who’ve just been blown up by mines and are now under threat from a ship-eating alien. Ryan has an interesting revelation regarding the ongoing mystery and buildup of his father, namely that his father was roughly the age he currently is when he was born. It’s a striking moment as Ryan admits he couldn’t raise a child and it’ll be interesting to see how that plays into his feelings towards his father going forward. There’s also a great scene when he discusses the death of his mother – namely that he was the one that found her. It’s also important that she died of a boring, mundane cause. No drama like Pete Tyler, no universe-defining leaf on the wind like Clara’s parents, she just died on the kitchen floor at home. There’s a grounded normality to it that strikes hard.
This week’s alien, Stitch light, is of little note. The Pting was cute in its own way, and it was fun that it wasn’t malicious or out to get the Doctor and co., simply an animal that eats inorganic matter, but it didn’t really pose any threat, and it’s simply shot back into space at the end. The side characters this week are equally ineffective, and it’s a shame to see these great guest actors so under-utilised. There’s an obviously foreshadowed death that…happens offscreen. There’s an android who…will be turned off at the end? The best side character is the pregnant male alien, with some funny and harmless little jokes about pregnancy and gender roles back on Earth. It’s good-natured silliness and Graham loving Call the Midwife makes perfect sense.
There are some funny Doctor moments and it’s not ‘bad’, but this episode will leave your memory not long after you’ve finished watching.