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Doctor Who S11E5: The Tsuranga Conundrum Review

A mishap with a sonic mine leads to a major setback in the Thirteenth Doctor's journey. Once again, she's not feeling well, and she's lost her TARDIS. It's The Woman Who Fell to Earth all over again.

Well, not really, because we're a long way away from Earth now. Team TARDIS is aboard a hospital ship hurtling toward a medical base. Not so bad, except that there's something onboard with them that really doesn't belong there.

How does this unusual story premise pan out?

The Quick and Spoiler-Free Verdict

While this episode's monster is sorely lacking in scares, the story is still captivating, and is bolstered by strong performances from both the main and guest casts. Jodie Whittaker in particular gets a chance to shine here, giving every scene her all. Another winner for Series 11.

Content and Themes

One of the patients on board the ship is a pregnant male alien. While this sounds like a recipe for gender politics galore, that's actually not the case. In fact, the character's storyline dovetails nicely with pro-life ideology, and provides some beautiful and uplifting messages about fatherhood and family. I realize that many viewers considered it to be a social-justice moment, but given that it involved an alien species, and transgender issues are never addressed, I didn’t see it that way.

On the other hand, that bit about Giftan males only giving birth to boys and females only giving birth to girls….GASP. How shockingly binary and heteronormative. I need a safe space.

What I Didn't Like

For pity's sake, who designed the Pting? And why did it look like that? It didn't have to be adorable. There was literally no point in it being adorable. To make matters worse, nobody even commented on the fact that it was surprisingly cute, which made no sense at all. Surely the writers and/or the visual effects team could have come up with something genuinely frightening. That would have elevated the episode from “good” to “classic” status, in my opinion.

Also, there may have been a few too many supporting characters…but given how good they all were, it's hard to complain about that.

What I Liked

The Thirteenth Doctor had some particularly excellent scenes this week. For one thing, her fallibility (something which many feared would be lost due to the gender switch) is on full display when another character calls her out for her selfishness. Also, while the Twelfth Doctor became famous for his fiery and impassioned speeches, Thirteen brings a different set of emotions to her podium. Her speeches have more warmth and optimism, but are no less profound.

The companions are all at their best in this epsiode. Each one has the opportunity to display his or her unique talents and personality. And Graham's dry wit, as always, is hilarious.

Doctor Who tends to be hit-or-miss with regard to its supporting characters, but in this story, each minor player had a distinctive and well-established personality. There wasn't a single one whom I didn't care about.

This marks the second week in a row when the final plot resolution isn't ridiculously obvious. It's simple and makes sense, but it's not a complete no-brainer. It's nice to watch a Doctor Who episode that doesn't hold the viewer's hand.

Finally, while I had mixed feelings about the educational bent of “Rosa”, the Doctor's brief dissertation on antimatter drives here was well done and quite captivating. Instead of burying everything under meaningless techno-babble, this scene actually gave viewers a worthwhile peek at the science behind the science fiction—a lost art in the genre.

In Conclusion

“The Tsuranga Conundrum”, though let down a bit by its monster design, was still a very solid hour of Who. Great world-building and character development combined here to give us a fun story in the time-honored tradition of the show's base-under-siege classics.

Next Time: Demons in the Punjab

The Doctor and her friends travel to 1940's India, a first for the show. While this does seem to be mimicking Rosa in its historical-education approach, and Rosa has been my least favorite episode of the season so far, I'm still quite looking forward to this one. The period sounds interesting, and it's not one I'm familiar with. Plus, there are appear to be actual alien monsters of some sort involved instead of stock racists from the future. Here's hoping it will be another success.

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