The Tsuranga Conundrum

Posted in Episode by - November 05, 2018
The Tsuranga Conundrum

Aired 04 November 2018

In what seems to be a wholly standalone affair from any arc that may have been set in motion early on, the Doctor and her companions are separated from the TARDIS after accidentally unleashing a sonic mine attack as well-intentioned medics take them aboard their remotely programmed ship heading for a distant world days away in Chris Chibnall’s ‘The Tsuranga Conundrum.’ Alongside plenty of nods to staples of classic Doctor Who and horror alike, an injured Doctor soon finds herself leading the charge as the crew and occupants quickly find themselves under siege with destruction of the ship an increasingly likely outcome.

While there is a tremendous amount of inherent variability for episodes within this format, the success of any single one will inevitably come down to the uniqueness and danger of the supposed aggressor. Here a singular Pteen breaches the ship and begins wreaking havoc by haphazardly eating through anything in its path, proving to be invulnerable to any attack and capable of moving at extreme speed while able to absorb any amount of energy regardless of its destructive capability. Yet while the character design is quite stunning in its own right, bringing this threat to life in the form of a cute and diminutive creature who is only seen trundling through the ship and who at one point is able to be wrapped in a blanket and carried around does undermine the threat quite substantially. The story in so many aspects comes close to treading into horror territory, but several design and narrative choices keep it firmly in family-friendly territory, and the ominous suggestion that the Pteen is guiding the ship toward an asteroid field is sadly never developed to amount to anything.

This seems to be a recurring element with the early episodes of this series, but ‘The Tsuranga Conundrum’ fares much better with its heart and emotions than with its threat despite all of the ship’s occupants facing imminent death and an undoubtedly nice bit of symmetry with the disposal of the Pteen. That’s not to say that each of the character beats lands perfectly, as the story of the pregnant Yoss who seems himself as an unsuitable parent proves to be emotional but otherwsie completely superfluous to the main action and instead serves more as another conduit to develop the relationship between Graham and Ryan, a relationship that has come into focus in far weightier situations previously. Much more successful is the tale of pilot Eve and brother Durkas as two siblings with a tense relationship and secrets between them who are able to come together for the common good in the end despite the known inevitability facing them, small looks and nuances saying as much as overt words and actions throughout.

Of course, it’s the incessant threat of self-destruction that fuels the episode’s tension, but the pacing strangely slows to a halt with that threat all but forgotten in a couple of moments to allow the leads to shine. Thus, while the talk between Ryan and Yaz about Ryan’s father is well-performed and fittingly emotional, it seems out of place in context of the greater danger, and the Doctor’s long speech about antimatter fueling the ship assuredly sets up the plot but doesn’t truly help to meaningfully develop it despite her wide-eyed wonder and appreciation of the system. ‘The Tsuranga Conundrum’ is another beautiful episode featuring truly charismatic performances with a nice bookending of the Pteen threat, but the unwillingness to fully embrace the intrinsic horror and failure to capitalise on its hospital setting make this a wholly serviceable but ultimately average affair that again showcases the heart at the core of this new vision.

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