By far the most memorable thing about The Tsuranga Conundrum, last Sunday’s Doctor Who episode, was the Pting: a mysterious, deadly and adorably cute spaceship-munching critter that’s half Stitch from Lilo and Stitch and half Nibbler from Futurama.
But letting a blob of CGI with only a few minutes' screen time so thoroughly steal the show isn’t exactly to the rest of the episode’s credit.
It should have been nail-bitingly tense. After barely surviving a landmine explosion, Team Tardis were stuck on a space ambulance that was being slowly eaten around them by an unstoppable monster—with only the injured, the sick and one surviving medic for company.
But the sense of urgency never really materialised, with the larger-than-usual cast constantly finding too much time for leisurely exposition on a spaceship that never looked like it was falling apart.
After an unsettling early scene of the still-injured Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) lurching in woozy agony down corridors, most characters spent most of the episode in implausibly rude health.
A number of subplots competed for time, but none were developed enough to justify it. We heard a lot about how medic Mabli (Lois Chimimba) needed to trust herself to rise to the challenge, only for her to basically leave it to the Doctor. Still, apparently she learned something about hope in dark times.
It was strange to see the vocally pacifist Doctor starstruck by General Eve Cicero (Suzanne Packer). Eve’s story of sacrifice and sibling rivalry almost worked, except for a distracting and unexplained beef between her brother Durkas (Ben Bailey-Smith) and Ronan (David Shield), her robot servant and (eww!) “consort”.
When Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) had to help pregnant man Yoss (Jack Shalloo) give birth it put a newish spin on their ongoing family drama. But it’s bad news when even the characters that showrunner Chris Chibnall is clearly most comfortable writing are treading water. As for Yaz (Mandip Gil), for all Chibnall’s apparent commitment to diversity he still doesn’t have much for the show’s one non-white female regular to do.
The Tsuranga Conundrum had a lot of ideas, and who knows—perhaps it was only a rewrite away from greatness. If it turns out to be the low-point of the season, it could have been a lot lower. But it’s a warning that for Doctor Who there’s a fine line between playing it safe and drifting dangerously.
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