The Tsuranga Conundrum represents the end of the first half of the this season of Doctor Who.
Up to now, I’d say there have been two good episodes and without being awful, two less memorable ones. That’s not so bad, but what about episode five?
Doctor Who – The Tsuranga Conundrum: What’s This One About?
This week’s is a knock-off of Alien buy a sort of cuddly looking monster.
Thoughts: Three Companions Is At Least One Too Many
Right, we’re half way through, so I think I can say this now…
Three companions is at least one too many for modern Doctor Who. Like I’ve said before, it worked well in 1963/4 because of the different pace stories were told at, but it simply doesn’t work now. The running
There goes the ‘threat’, let outside after being fed. Like a fucking cat.
time and style of modern episodes means there is not enough for everyone to get equal share of the plot and the result is that nobody really has much of a character to speak of. In tonight’s episode, Graham and Ryan were relegated to a comedy side plot, while once again Yasmine just stood around in the background.
If you compare them to Ian, Barbara and Susan/Vicki, or even Tegan, Adric and Nyssa you see that each character provides very little.
In those early stories, the cast would be split off into two or three groups and they would have their own plot lines to follow. So to give a good example, in the Romans there were individual storylines for The Doctor & Vicki, Ian on his own and Barbara on her own. It was the same in The Web Planet, The Crusade and The Space Museum. Everyone had something to do and everything they did do had a point to it.
Meanwhile in the early 1980s when they admitted that three companions was too many, at least those characters all had something distinguishable about them. Tegan was a brassy Australian airline pilot, Nyssa was a quiet alien from Traken who would often help the Doctor with sciency things and Adric was…well…a prick who would usually side with the villains but at least his character synopsis – a mathematical whizz-kid – was used in stories.
But Graham, Yasmine and Ryan are all from 2018 Sheffield and really, the only thing that differentiates between them is their age. In any given episode, who they are and what they add is unclear. There’s more said about Ryan’s dad than Ryan for example and after five weeks Yas has done *nothing* other than travel with the Doctor.
It doesn’t work, and I’m baffled that Chris Chibnall thought that it would.
And what’s more baffling is that in The Tsuranga Conundrum, the guest characters all added something to the plot and time was spent not just giving each of them a well-defined personality, but also a significant role within the episode, while the companions literally stood around looking bewildered.
At least the Doctor got some level of characterisation this week. We now know that she doesn’t like being told what to do, and perhaps unlike recent previous Doctors, there’s an air of vulnerability about her. She’s not just a Superhero who can single-handedly save the day on her own. And hey, that’s something at least.
They Say It’s Political Correctness Gone Mad
If you look at internet forums, social media or right-wing newspaper reviews, you’ll see that Doctor Who has come under fire a lot by certain types of people.
Take last week for example; plenty of men north of the age of 40 said Arachnids in the UK was a load of garbage. Terms like “Worst episode ever” were bandied about.
Now of course, some of this is down to prejudice. There are people who are determined to hate the show because The Doctor is played by a woman. Let’s ignore the fact that the plot of the episode was a mashup of two stories – The Green Death and Planet of the Spiders – that that particular demographic will love. Although when confronted over it they’d disagree, I think it’s clear that they dislike it not because of the quality of the script, but because the Doctor is played by a woman, and in some cases, because the villain of the piece was an obvious shot at Donald Trump, who they might adore.
That’s letting their own politics and prejudices get in the way of their enjoyment of a show they are supposed to love.
Now I’ve always maintained that I find that a bit sad, and I’m entitled to say that.
But if I’m being balanced, I think there’s an argument to say that certain elements of this season of Doctor Who are aimed at alienating these viewers even further.
I feel a little uncomfortable writing this because it feels like something you can’t say any without being branded a Daily Mail reading dinosaur, but there’s an argument to suggest that Doctor Who this season has maybe swung a little bit too much to being politically correct and right on.
So far in every episode we’ve seen, it’s women who are the heroic ones while the men are portrayed by-and-large as being awful and/or subservient. There is absolutely no problem with doing that on a story by story basis – and obviously and justifiably there’s zero issue doing that in Rosa because…well…duh – but surely there’s a balance to be struck? Surely at some stage in the great vastness of time and space, the Doctor will travel to a time where high-ranking officials or heroes are honourable men? They have existed in the past, just as they do in the present and will do in the future.
Surely the solution to equality is not to simply tip inequality in the other direction?
For what it’s worth, I was discussing it with my girlfriend, and she’s noticed it too. And she agrees with me.
As someone with an objective view (or maybe an old-fashioned view; maybe I haven’t seen that up until this year Doctor Who was sexist?), it just feels a little bit like as a reaction to the backlash from certain sections of fandom, a conscious decision has been made to tell them “We think you’re out of touch and so we’re going to make sure there’s nothing for you here”.
And as we all know, two wrongs don’t make a right, as is evidenced by some of the fans on the other side of the debate who relish tweeting about how Doctor Who is ‘theirs’ now.
It’s all very tiresome.
Another One…Doesn’t Bite The Dust
Last week I said that I thought the resolution to the spider problem was fine, despite other reviewers finding it a bit tame.
There’s Yas being useful again, getting involved in the plot and being a big character
This week I’m now very much on board with being a little perplexed by this trend of having the Doctor and her companions once again come up against a non-threatening monster/enemy. It’s quite ironic because I’ve often complained about the necessity of having a monster in just about every story of the RTD/Moffat era. Now I’d like one back. For balance.
After no threat at all in week 2, a time meddler who was unable to harm anyone in week 3, and a spider who was only trying to get on with its life in week 4, in week 5 we have a ‘really dangerous’ cuddly space bear who has no interest in harming humans, and only killed poor old Astos by mistake.
And once again, the resolution was very sanitized. In week 2, everybody won, in week 3 the meddling bloke was sent back further in time, in week 4 the spider died of natural causes (fucking hell) and in week 5, the Pting was given a nice meal and sent on its way.
I’m not asking for the Doctor to be Charles Bronson in Death Wish, but if there is no threat then there often isn’t drama. You can get away with using a different form of drama in an episode like Rosa, but in a base under siege storyline, it doesn’t really hit the spot.
The Incidental Music
The incidental music is now, to put it bluntly, pissing me right off.
The constant synthesiser (I think) twang on repeat is as grating as the worst of Roger Limb or Keff McCulloch.
Any form of incidental music that is repeated so often that you become completely aware of it goes against what incidental music is supposed to be.
And that same bit has been in every episode so far; it’s just that in The Tsuranga Conundrum there’s almost nothing else.
- I spent the episode wondering where I’d seen Ben Bailey Smith (Durkas Cicero in the episode) before. I didn’t recognise the name. Turns out he was on Taskmaster under the name Doc Brown.
- In the Doctor Who universe, if Graham can watch Call The Midwife, I wonder what’s on BBC1 on a Sunday night at 7pm?
- Nothing came of the Doctor being told not to run while she recovered from the sonic mine.
- I’ve read some suggestions that all the villains who have got away will return in the finale. I’d like to see how that could be even remotely feasible (famous last words).
- One of the most damning things about The Tsuranga Conundrum is that for many people, a brief glimpse of a Pertwee-era Silurian on a screen was the highlight.
Did I Actually Like The Tsuranga Conundrum?
This review has focused more on the over-all problems I’ve found with the show, now that we are five weeks in.
At this point you might be wondering whether or not I enjoyed the episode that the review is supposed to be about?
Well if you take away the issues with the companions, the casting of the characters and the continued lack of a serious threat, what are you left with?
The answer is a story that just felt a bit shallow and too wordy. The big crutch of a Pting that had no interest in coming after the characters meant there wasn’t really much to it, and so time had to be filled by that daft subplot about the pregnant bloke.
The thing is though that all of these realisations came after the fact. When I was actually watching the episode, it didn’t feel like a chore, and I certainly didn’t dislike it.
But I think that’s because when you first watch it, you perhaps don’t realise the problems. You don’t see that there’s poor writing yet because you don’t know what’s to come.
Take the aforementioned sonic mine; when it happened I thought “Ok, this is a good start, let’s see how it blossoms throughout the episode”, but as I’ve written above, nothing came of it. It was a convoluted way to get them aboard the ship and once the Pting came aboard, no more was said about it. In a good script, nothing would be wasted. Alas things here were picked up and put down without a second thought.
So I think the next time I watch it, I will go into it knowing that as a whole, it’s a poorly written episode.
It won’t be fondly remembered by me, and by the looks of things, by many.
If this is the best that Chris Chibnall can do then it’s a worrying sign for the longer term.