Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 5 Review: The Tsuranga ConundrumDiana Keng at . Updated at .
I suspect the T.A.R.D.I.S. is probably pretty annoyed with the Doctor on Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 5 although we don't get to see it.
After being blown-up and left phasing in and out of existence for centuries, it only gets two adventures in before it gets abandoned on a junk planet when Team T.A.R.D.I.S. accidentally uncovers a sonic mine, gets blown up, and then scooped up by a rescue medic spaceship.
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And then the episode ends with no reunion with the T.A.R.D.I.S. so that weirdly lacked closure.
T.A.R.D.I.S. issues aside, there are some fascinating tweaks to the formula here.
The Doctor, upon awakening aboard the Tsuranga ship, is so completely out of sorts that she not only completely misses the fact that she's even on a ship, she becomes so fixated on returning to the junk planet that the senior medic, Astos, has to remind her what doctors actually do.
Astos: I don't know your name.
The Doctor: I'm the Doctor.
Astos: Are you kidding?
The Doctor: Sometimes. But not right now.
Once she's got her priorities realigned, we get thrown into the meat of the plot, the arrival of the Pting.
It's always fun to get an antagonist with a truly alien presence. Up until now, we've had reasonably verbal, passing-for-humanoid, desperate for attention baddies.
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The Pting is basically what you'd expect if Disney's Stitch and a rabid Pokémon hatched a baby together -- impervious to any weapon, destructive, single-mindedly ravenous, and unexplainably adorable.
The fact that it is either incapable or uninterested in communicating with anyone means that it's pretty difficult to empathize or humanize it much.
So when The Doctor's plan to get it out of the way turns out to be a high-tech, highly-explosive mousetrap, it's pretty easy to slot the Pting into the category of "vermin" although air-locking it was more of a "catch and release" solution than extermination.
The Doctor: Think of the Pting as a mouse and the bomb as a piece of cheese.
Yaz: A very large piece of cheese about to explode and take us all with it!
The Doctor: It's not a perfect analogy, I'll admit.
They seem to be building Yaz's role on the team into that of The Doctor's Girl Friday.
The Doctor brings only her along when she directs the Ciceros to the navigation chamber.
Yaz gets to stand guard with android-consort Ronan, protecting the particle accelerator, and even manages to swaddle and punt-kick the Pting down the corridor (which was, honestly, pretty anti-climactic and kind of ludicrous).
The Doctor even asks her to come along when she removes the ship's auto-destruct bomb and uses it to bait the air-lock. What was the point of having her there? It's not like she was needed to transport the bomb. Maybe she was still on guard in case they ran into the Pting on the way to the air-lock.
In a neat little reversal of gender roles, while she's toting weaponry and acting as The Doctor's enforcer, Graham and Ryan get conscripted into the role of doulas for new friend and expectant dad, Yoss.
Graham gets the point for most meaningless skills training when he points out that he's seen every episode of "Call the Midwife" as evidence he's comfortable with childbirth. Of course, when they have to deliver the baby surgically, he 'fesses up that he looked away for all the "squeamish" bits.
It's clear that Yoss' role in this motley crew was to evoke some emotions from Ryan about fatherhood and his father.
When Yaz and Ryan have their heart-to-heart (right on schedule) about how his dad disappeared from his life after his mother died suddenly, we dive a little deeper into Ryan's issues.
Yoss, you don't have to be perfect. You just have to be there.Ryan
That self-reflection is key to him being good support for Yoss although encouraging unprepared parents to "give it a go" with a baby isn't necessarily the best message they could send here.
Meanwhile, the Ciceros present a sibling relationship full of contrariness and unresolved bitterness. The family theme is being trumpeted pretty long and loud throughout the season, at pretty much every opportunity.
The dynamic between Durkus and Ronan was strange, and I wondered at one point if Ronan's programming had been corrupted somehow and he was responsible for the ship being routed into disputed territory and attracting a Pting.
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Considering he's the only entity onboard safe from the Pting's toxic skin and, being an android, he presumably would survive if the ship fell apart or lost life-support, it niggled at the back of my mind throughout the episode, especially after he threatened poor Mabli.
I'm a little curious as to what "shut down" entails for android-consorts. Does his program get retired and the body gets repurposed? Is he interred with Eve like the Pharoah's servants in ancient Egypt? Is there some sort of storage facility for androids which have served their purpose?
(And while I'm asking questions, will Yoss nurse his baby? How do Gifftan males sustain newborns? Are all GIfftan babies born as big as Avocado?)
Whole worlds pivot on acts of imagination.Doctor
The idea that imagining a solution is the first step in solving a problem is simple but brilliant especially when paired with The Doctor's explanation of the particle accelerator's role in the ship's propulsion, an idea that had to have started in someone's imagination at some point.
Mind you, she does get awfully poetical explaining her love for the anti-matter core. It seems somewhat at odds with the urgency of the moment.
The facelessness of the Tsuranga organization itself also bothered me here. Maybe it was meant to bother viewers. The protocols for auto-destruct make pragmatic sense but for an organization out to save lives it seems like blowing their ships up would be counter-intuitive.
Also, if their scanners can detect the Pting, how do they not notice that all the escape pods have been jettisoned and that the senior medic is no longer on board?
Don't get me wrong; this was a riveting bit of adventuring. I enjoyed how the collection of strangers got to know each other. I found myself invested in Eve and Durkus' relationship developments. Avocado's birthing was laced with solid visual comedy, anchored by Graham and Ryan's facial expressions.
It's just that I was left with SO many questions. This would be the time to watch Doctor Who online and come at me with your answers or theories.
As has become the norm, there's an on-ramp here for us to come across another Pting or even the same one again. It only served as an introduction. (I'd like to discover they are somehow distant cousins to the Adipose species.)
Also, the Tsuranga organization could have far-reaching implications, even before the 67th century (and probably afterward too) so we could reencounter them as allies or antagonists. That's the thing with faceless organizations, they're not on anyone's side but their own, kind of like a Pting.
What were your burning questions?
Where's the next deep dive going to go with these Companions?
Will the T.A.R.D.I.S. be scavenged before The Doctor can get back to it?
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She is a lifelong fan of smart sci-fi and fantasy media, an upstanding citizen of the United Federation of Planets, and a supporter of AFC Richmond 'til she dies. Her guilty pleasures include female-led procedurals, old-school sitcoms, and Bluey. She teaches, knits, and dreams big. Follow her on Twitter.