Doctor Who: Revisiting THE TSURANGA CONUNDRUM - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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What the hell is that P’Ting, asks Tony.

Doctor Who is of course a science fantasy show. You expect a fair bit of imagination and made-up stuff, it’s a fundamental part of the territory. That said, there’s a nagging thread in fandom that demands that it should at least make some kind of consistent internal sense. Even if it’s a most outrageous bit of technobabble hokum, if it’s there, fans will frequently take it as gospel and weave it into their headcanon, to make otherwise entirely senseless things work. An example of that might be 42, where having much of the episode devoted to answering pub quiz-style questions in order to open doors is explained away by some technobabble about the crew all throwing in questions and some of them being drunk when they did so. Bingo – it’s not great, but it makes sense of why Martha spends much of the episode stuck behind locked doors.

Then… there’s The Tsuranga Conundrum.

When we start The Tsuranga Conundrum, there’s such hope. The Doctor and her friends are having a good old banter while combing a garbage-asteroid for particular bits of kit she needs, for reasons never explained. The banter’s wonderful – it has a real old-school feel about it, while also showing the uncommon reasonableness of Thirteen, acquiescing to Graham’s point about them looking for needles in a haystack-roid.

Then they uncover a sonic mine, and wallop. Now…why they’re not immediately all dead, we don’t know, and it’s certainly the second time so far in Series 11 that they’ve had a rescuing ship appear with the kind of remarkable, life-saving rapidity that defies any realistic logic, but they wake up some four days later, having been treated for sonic mine wounds and internal organ displacement – a process that seems to affect the Doctor significantly more than her human pals throughout the rest of the episode (more organs to settle, presumably, though it’s anyone’s guess what an ecto-spleen is).

That’s about the point where The Tsuranga Conundrum scrunches up the very notion of sense, lobs it into a recycle bin and says ‘Bugger it, let’s just see what happens.’

What happens is a very pretty ship, a little pat family drama between siblings, a convenient pregnant bloke to help Ryan find some peace with his absent father, and a cutesy alien that eats anything and everything…except the thing the Doctor happens to need in Act 3.

Seriously, if you even approach The Tsuranga Conundrum with a feather of logic, it curls up into a ball and begs you not to hurt it. They’re in a junk galaxy – not a star system, a galaxy, but avoiding a bunch of asteroids makes an emergency medical ship with no crew control divert just far enough to pick them up. Oh and while we’re at it, who builds an emergency medical vehicle with a) no crew control, and b) no direct communication channels to base? The Tsuranga is the outer space version of the Docklands Light Railway, only it’s packing less communications technology. And Pregno-Guy has only been on the ship three more days than the Doctor and her team, but he was off on his holidays, getting knocked up. Where was he holidaying within three days’ Tsuranga-travel of a junk galaxy, and how did he get on board? Did the emergency medical ship uncontrolled by the crew of two medics just happen to swing past his holiday destination? Come to that, if the crew have no control over the movement of the ship, and no routine comms channels back to base, how did they pick anyone up en route, the Doctor and her friends included? The story ends with them arranging for Team Tardis to be teleported back to the junk-roid, from the base, rather than from the ship, so…and I appreciate this is picky, but a), why not just teleport them immediately from the junk-roid to the base, rather than spend days on board the ship of the damned, and b) why is there no teleport capability on the ship of the damned?

Seriously, no logic whatsoever has been used in the making of this episode. The P’Ting (Oh we’re coming to that, believe me) is always hungry for energy, but when it comes on board, rather than heading straight to any of the big energy spots – the bridge, the engine – it stops off, Pac Man style for a quick chomp around the escape pods? It eats the Doctor’s sonic, but, having done this with nothing else, spits up the energy-depleted remnants of it. The energy-depleted remnants…that magically recharge just in time to be useful, with not a single line of technobabble to explain where that energy recharge has come from, or why it should be such a surprise to the Doctor who built the sonic…

Now, let’s stop whinging for a minute, because there is some good stuff in The Tsuranga Conundrum. While the continuing illness of the Doctor is distracting, which spawned internet-theories that already, four stories in, she was beginning her regeneration and was holding it off, Peter Davison style (nothing more was evvvver mentioned about her illness, so this seems incredibly unlikely with hindsight). Jodie Whittaker seems more at home in this spacefaring environment than she’s been to date. Her Doctor’s incredulity at the sheer ungovernable madness of the Tsuranga set-up invites viewers to go with it, and while they’re signposted whole days in advance, the sibling lovefest and the Pregno-Bloke lessons on fatherhood are at least reasonable from Ryan’s perspective (though it’s interesting that while everyone saw Kill The Moon as the thinly-veiled anti-abortion tale it was, no-one seems to have batted an eye at the ‘keep your child, even though you know you’ll be staggeringly unprepared for parenthood’ undertone here). The P’Ting is ludicrously cute-looking, but plays into the Star Trek/Galaxy Quest rule that things that look cute might well be lethal. Nevertheless, you have to reeeeally switch your brain off and engage with the premises being thrown at you to see it as some devastatingly lethal monster on a par with the other aliens in the Tsuranga’s database of interplanetary gittishness, like the Sontarans, the Weeping Angels and the Zygons – with the result that you’ll probably fail, and once you fail, it makes the whole of the story’s jeopardy non-existent.

Overall in terms of the division of labour (pun actually not intended, but hey, let’s run with it), while Graham and Ryan are giving us their rendition of duelling doulas, and the Doctor is mostly busy Being Very Careful Not To Drop A MacGuffin, Yaz is left babysitting the dullest android in the cosmos and then, comically but to absolutely no purpose, drop-kicking an alien down a corridor in a bag.

Perhaps the most telling thing about The Tsuranga Conundrum is that there’s little about it that requires the Doctor to be any kind of brilliant. You could – and probably should – entirely remove the siblings from the equation, and have a much better Doctor Who story. If it was the Doctor who had to a) rig up the equipment to fly the ship home, and b) then fly it, having thrown away its engine, it would feel much more like a Doctor Who story, with the Doctor saving the day, than it does, and all you’d lose is some family drama that never really engages as a central issue anyway.

If you don’t engage your brain, there’s still fun to be had in The Tsuranga Conundrum, and it certainly gives us one of Jodie Whittaker’s most ‘Doctorish’ performances to date, in spite of her having little that’s actually Doctorish to do. But The Tsuranga Conundrum has a tendency to irritate that’s rooted in how easy it would have been to make the mental switch-off unnecessary, and how correspondingly little care was taken to even attempt to plaster over the cracks in its storytelling. The result is like watching an outer space version of a drawing-room farce, with lots of running around, pointing and panic, to very little lasting effect.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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