Halfway through the season, and we have what is the most divisive episode so far amongst fans, with many decrying it as absolute rubbish and the worst episode since the return of Doctor Who in 2005. While there's certainly no argument that "The Tsuranga Conundrum" is ever going to be counted among the series' classics, it's hardly the stinker that some are making it out to be. It's solidly a filler episode, and one that's a damned sight better than last week's effort. It doesn't set out to do anything more than provide fifty minutes entertaining diversion on a Sunday night, and on that count it's a great success.
There's the case for ambition, of course, and aside from "Rosa," we've had nothing so far this year that's really tried to push the envelope. But come on, this is episode five; at this stage in the golden year of Christopher Eccleston, we'd just had two episodes of farting green monsters. Of course, that was then followed up by "Dalek," a stone-cold classic, and I guess the question is whether we'd prefer a decently entertaining and consistent season or a wildly inconsistent one with huge ups and downs.
Those who didn't like this episode probably just didn't appreciate the scatty, less-than-serious tone. If "Arachnids in the UK" looked very much like what Doctor Who would have looked like as an outsourced 90s production, clumsy eco-message and all, then this is a live action version of the Doctor Who Weekly comic strip. Fans of said strip are comparing the oddly-named P'ting to the comics villain Beep the Meep, but the voracious omnivore is a clear steal of Nibbler from Futurama (only without the ability to poo dark matter, so far as we know). That's an entirely consistent set of inspirations, since both DWW and Futurama were light-hearted sci-fi romps with the occasional bit of more serious material thrown in to up the stakes and make us care about the characters. Complaining that the Pting is too cute to take seriously as a threat is missing the joke and the jeopardy, and Doctor Who is hardly the first sci-fi production to use a cutesie alien as a surprise threat.
Then there's the B-plot, with musical actor Jack Shalloo playing Yoss, a pregnant man almost ready to pop. Half the overly vocal internet are taking this as transphobic, the other half as pushing trans issues on viewers. I sincerely doubt that Chibnall had any message at all that he wanted to convey here (and if I'm wrong and he did, given his commitment to diversity so far this year I'd favour him being pro-trans); it's another well-worn sci-fi joke that primarily exists to give Ryan and Graham something to do while the ladies save the day. There's something appealing about having female soldiers and doctors saving the ship while the men fret about childbirth, but really, the pregnant man trope is a sci-fi staple joke that's appeared in everything from Enterprise to Red Dwarf to the Schwarzenegger favourite Junior (certainly, to my mind, his third best film).
There's some oddities in the Doctor's character here. It's deeply strange to see her hero-worshipping General Cicero; the Doctor is generally anti-military until he gets to know soldiers on a personal level, although the boasting about also being in the Big Book of Heroes (or whatever it was called) is completely true to form. Having her join in on the prayer at the end is a surprising move as well, since the Doctor has generally shunned such things. It's also interesting to have her more physically damaged by the sonic mine at the beginning of the episode; all those extra organs clearly being a weakness in some cases. (The fact that the Doctor sets off the mine and has no way to disarm it or get her companions to safety is another example, after her initial accidental deep space diving session with them, that she's worryingly careless about very, very dangerous situations.)
There are some elements that seemed to have been dropped halfway through: Ronan the android, in particularly, seems to be set up to either stop the Pting or die nobly battling it (being the only character at risk from a creature that only east inorganic material), but his redemption moment never comes and he just sort of becomes surplus to requirements. Ryan and Yaz almost seem to be so as well, memorably stopping for the clumsiest character moment ever and having a long chat right in the middle of a crisis, the episode crashing to a halt as a consequence.
Still, this is an episode where a couple of "Chibnall, FFS" moments don't detract from the overall fun. A perfectly enjoyable middle episode, before what promises to be something more serious next week.
Weird Science: Why hide a bomb under the antimatter engine as a failsafe? You've got an antimatter generator, that is a bomb! Just turn off the containment field or whatever and the ship will be blown to kingdom come.
Title Tattle: We probably should have expected a Futurama riff when we saw the episode was seemingly named after Turanga Leela.
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