Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Doctor Who and the Circle of Life Aboard the Tsuranga

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Team TARDIS is all onboard now and ready for adventures. That means waking up on a hospital ship in space and having to stop its destruction while also helping the other passengers and each other. Life, death, birth, and business as usual in “The Tsuranga Conundrum.”

Back in space, back again

Episode 5 takes place away from Earth once again. Not just that but it’s almost entirely set inside Tsuranga, a hospital ship heading towards Recess One. The Doctor and friends are essentially trapped on a spaceship in the 67th century, and although the claustrophobia aspect is not highlighted, it’s very much there. There’s just something about the one spaceship and its endless corridors setting that every Doctor has to encounter.

And speaking of the Doctor, her initial reaction was the best part of the Tsuranga setting. Injured and confused, the Thirteenth Doctor’s first thought is to try and find the TARDIS and take command of the ship if necessary. She’s desperate not to be separated from her time machine and willfully ignorant of what Tsuranga turning back would mean for the other passengers—patients, actually. Astos calls her out and the Doctor realizes relatively quickly that there are more important things than getting to back the TARDIS.

It’s a good scene because it shows another side of the Thirteenth Doctor, who’s been nothing but jokes and hugs so far, excluding her encounters with antagonists. Her fear of losing the TARDIS might come from the regeneration or just her old age, but either way, I hope we see more of this Thirteen. Overall she’s a refreshing change from the much grumpier Twelve, especially in his first season. But this is still the Doctor, the Oncoming Storm and all that, and there’s only so long the Doctor can avoid that part of herself.

Other than that, the plot of “The Tsuranga Conundrum” is pretty straight-forward: creature enters the ship and the Doctor and team have to stop it from destroying everything and everyone. The Pting itself was actually kind of cute and intriguing in its near invincibility. I also appreciated the fact that once again the monster of the week wasn’t pure evil, just a creature craving energy. Recess One also posing a threat to the crew by wanting to eliminate the potentially dangerous ship makes an even better antagonist, though this wasn’t properly explored. At least the resolution was better paced now than in any other of Chibnall’s episodes so maybe we didn’t need a rushed confrontation with Recess One after all.

Not the best CGI but at least it’s cuter than last week’s spiders.

This voyage and the next

The supporting cast of “The Tsuranga Conundrum” had the most potential and it only somewhat lived up to that. Between the six of them, we had two medics, two siblings, an android, and a pregnant man. Astos was killed off fairly quickly but at least he had the contribution of calling the Doctor out, and Mabli’s conversation with her was similarly significant. The dynamic between Eve and Durkas Cicero added more to the story but neither of them were fleshed out enough to make me really care. Ronan, the android, was even less of a character. Eve’s death contributes to the theme of the cycle of life and new growth in place of the old, but again, as a character, she wasn’t all that interesting. Believe it or not, the most note-worthy guest character was actually the pregnant man, Yoss.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: 67th century or not, Gifftan or not, this was still basically an Mpreg joke. And it was, at least initially, just like that one time Jack Harkness mentioned not wanting to be pregnant in Torchwood. But once it was clear that the team would stay on the Tsuranga and they get to know Yoss, his storyline developed like no other character’s, and he ended up being the most thematically interesting and emotional character. Somehow, his story manages to be relevant to the characters and the story, despite having intentional jokes surrounding it, like the baby’s eventual name, Avocado.

Yoss’s storyline balances the ridiculous and the genuine, making us question what we think is possible and offering the companions a unique situation to react to. What’s the real point of a sci-fi show like Doctor Who if not that? Once we get over the fact that Yoss’s situation is surreal, his scenes are emotional and explore what fatherhood could mean in such a limited amount of time. It’s only a 50-minute episode and Yoss and his baby were hardly the main or even secondary focus, and yet I feel like this is the most developed and well-done part of the episode. His journey from not wanting the baby to taking responsibility for it is as accelerated as his pregnancy, yes, but that doesn’t make it any less heartfelt.

I am keeping score for all of ya

Let’s talk about the real reason why I just said that the best part of the episode was a man giving birth on a spaceship, and that’s his interactions with the TARDIS crew. It’s mainly Graham and Ryan who get to be part of the story as Yoss’s doulas, and for Graham that means providing the lighter side with Call the Midwife. For Ryan it’s more serious and it’s part of him coming to terms with his own relationship with his father. The birth scene and Ryan encouraging Yoss not to give up on the baby ties into his earlier conversation with Yaz about his parents, as well as last episode’s letter. Yoss giving birth would have been the strongest part of the episode on its own but tying it to Ryan’s emotional journey made it even better.

Graham got to mention Grace and continue grieving for her as well as help Yoss. Still, his place right now was beside Ryan, and who knows, one day he might get that fist bump. Yaz got paired up with Ronan and then the Doctor, which, hey. After Naija’s comment last week, I really don’t mind seeing more of the two of them. I wish Graham and Yaz would have scenes together too, but so far the links between them are Ryan and the Doctor. Any and all scenes and heartfelt conversations between Ryan and Yaz are appreciated, though, especially this one about his parents.

As for the Doctor, she was her dynamic self after Astos. Her speeches about hope and the beauty of anti-matter further showcase just how perfect Jodie Whittaker is for the role. She made the one-liners work and got more out of the script than what was already there. It’s not that Chibnall’s scripts are bad as such, they are fine. But so far the best episode has been the one co-written by Malorie Blackman and that makes me look forward to the second half of the series, where there will be more writers coming in.

“The Tsuranga Conundrum” is fine, just like all the other Chibnall scripts. It’s an enjoyable episode with themes of the cycle of life, birth, death, and ultimately hope. The setting made me hope it would end up being something more like “Midnight,” but the way it turned out was still a good Doctor Who episode. The strongest aspect of the series is still its main cast, though in Yoss we had a unique minor character storyline. As far as typical “outer space” and “sci-fi” episodes go, “The Tsuranga Conundrum” was a definite improvement to “The Ghost Monument” and the crew’s first on-screen trip to the future.

Next week it’s back to the past on Earth in the “Demons of the Punjab.” Things get personal for Yaz, and it seems like she might find out why it can be a dangerous game to travel in time.

Images courtesy of the BBC

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