The Peter Davison story The Awakening is neither good nor bad. It exists as a story of Doctor Who. The same can be said for this week’s episode, The Tsuranga Conundrum. For the first time since I don’t even know, we have an episode that really gives me no real emotion either way. Was it an exemplary piece of television? No. Was it a disaster? No. It simply was. It’s Schrodinger’s episode.
What’s the plot? An accident involving a sonic mine results in the Doctor, Graham, Yaz and Ryan being treated in a space hospital that ends up being under attack. This is an awesome premise and the opening ten minutes are great, with some interesting world building and well done tension that reminded me of Midnight, with an unknown force that is attacking the ship. The production values are once again superb and this is one of the finest showings for the Thirteenth Doctor so far, as she instantly takes control of the situation and I love how she is vulnerable throughout. I love stories where the Doctor isn’t in the know and this was a great example of it, and the scene where she realises that she is hijacking the ship and apologises is great- this is a very humble and remorseful incarnation.
The episode can be divided into two halves- before the Pting turns up and after the Pting turns up. Before the Pting turns up the episode is great. After the Pting turns up it gets so confused as to what it wants to be. It maintains a serious tone and a sense of tension and dread… and the villain is called the Pting and acts like Nibbler from Futurama. The reason last week worked so well was because it knew it was a stupid b-movie and played along with it. Here, Chibnall is writing 42 except instead of a sentient sun it’s a walking Christmas plushy (although yes, a Pting Christmas plushy would be awesome and a fantastic merchandising opportunity) that feels like it belongs in a completely different story. The Pting is the villain in a self aware parody episode, the villain of the Tsuranga Conumdrum should have been a dangerous, all-powerful threat. Every time this villain was on screen I couldn’t help but think that it was a distraction for the real threat or perhaps just the baby version of the actual monster but no, it was the actual monster. Again, if this had the tone of Arachnids in the UK or The Crimson Horror then it would have been fine but this is taking itself way too seriously. I kept waiting for the punchline to the Pting but there wasn’t one. The Adipose in Partners in Crime weren’t the main threat so they could get away with being really silly but the Pting was such a weird monster to use in an episode trying to be serious.
Another issue with the episode is the lack of focus. Plot points are mentioned at a rapid fire pace- anti-matter, a space war, the Pting… all at a really fast and jumbled way. The Ghost Monument took time building its world up but here Chibnall wants to cut straight to the chase. None of the supporting characters get any chance to breath. I liked the android Ronan but he’s only memorable because he’s an android. The rest are just blurs- who was that General and why was she important? The episode treats her death as a big thing but we barely spent any time with her. As for the companions… oh dear, it looks like Yaz has been infected with Nyssa Syndrome. Did she do anything other than kick the Pting? I’m so glad we’re getting an episode focused on her next. Ryan had an arc about his father and getting over his mother’s death which was all done very well but what did any of that have to do with the energy eating monster and the space hospital? Even Graham seemed in the background this week which is a shame as he’s been the highlight of the series so far. The last two episodes did an outstanding job handling large ensembles but this week was the first time I felt like three companions was too much. Let’s hope the guest writers have a better handling of the regulars otherwise we may have to grab Joss Whedon to give some emergency ensemble writing lectures to the writers.
Speaking of plot points that don’t add anything- what was the point of the pregnant man? Seriously, did he add anything? It seemed like he was only there so Ryan and Graham had stuff to do but again, none of that matters.
Despite criticising this story a lot, the reason I say it merely exists and is not bad is because there simply isn’t enough bad stuff here. No character derailments, no universe destroying plot holes, no space eggs and nothing that results in it being one of the worst stories of all time. If I was to gather up a list of the worst revival stories I would probably go through about 20 before reaching this story and in terms of all time we would have to get through a lot before getting here. This episode doesn’t do anything inherently wrong or right- it’s just there. All the issues are internal issues and all positives are positives shared with the rest of the series. I enjoyed watching it and didn’t find myself being bored but considering this episode was being hyped up immensely by the production team I did expect more. It is definitely the weakest episode so far but it’s weak in a Victory of the Daleks or Aliens of London way in that it just doesn’t compare to what we’ve had before or hopefully what we’ll have next rather than being a total disaster through and through. If this harmless but messy adventure is the worst we’re getting then it’ll be a great series. It’s four weeks of guest writers next so I’m excited for what they’ll bring to the table.
Anyway, onto the traditional references section-
- A space hospital is the setting for the Peter Davison story Terminus. And like Terminus this story isn’t bad just very bland. In true Terminus fashion two companions are shunted off for a pointless and padding subplot.
- I missed it when watching, but the computer processing information on the Pting briefly show Cybermen, Sontarans, Weeping Angels, The Silence and more.
- Anti-matter is an important plot point in Planet of Evil, the Omega stories and Earthshock.
- My prediction last week about this episode being where the Season 19 parallels end turned out to be incorrect, as like Black Orchid this episode elicits no strong emotion in me one way or the other.
This episode seems to have divided the fandom and whilst I see both sides I don’t particularly agree with either. To be honest I’m far happier with this being the worst episode of the series- at least the “not amazing” slot went to a filler rather than the finale or something monumentally important to the series and like I said it’s not a particularly bad story, just a bit average. From what I’ve read this script was supposed to be written by Tim Price, who was credited for creating the Pting, but due to other commitments Chibnall had to step in and do an emergency rewrite. As a result I think the finale will be fine as that will be Chibnall in full control. It seems like Demons of the Punjab is going to try and capture the same vibe Rosa did and I for one can’t wait to dive into history again. Unlike the civil rights movement I know next to nothing about the Partition of India so I’m beyond excited.