Director: Jennifer Perrott
Screenplay: Chris Chibnall
Starring: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Brett Goldstein, Lois Chimimba, Suzanne Packer, Ben Bailey-Smith
Runtime: 50 Minutes
Series 11 - Episode 5
From the streets of Sheffield to scavenging on an alien junkyard planet, this week sees our heroes brought aboard a medical ship equivalent of the Red Cross following an incident with a sonic mine, so soon after the Doctor had warned that she couldn’t promise them their safety, too. Only to find themselves dealing with a dangerous alien creature that threatens to bring the ship under remote detonation unless it can be dealt with.
The P'Ting is the most unassuming but most dangerous new alien of the series so far, even with the enjoyably silly name that just sounds fun to say it’s a formidable threat that elicits fond memories of Critters and Gremlins – although many on Twitter were quite quick to make a comparison to the devilish little blue fuzzball from Lilo & Stitch.
But the creature becomes less the focus as the story goes on, once again giving the episode over to the characters, their conversations and evolving backstories and relationships. In particular the reveal of the more responsible antagonist being the faceless conglomerate running the operation, who are all too happy to destroy the ship rather than to have it risk bringing hell down on their base of operations.
This is a trick that Chibnall has already pulled a few times this series, but as great as emblematic villains with human faces are in the landscape of alien worlds it would be nice to see it break from this into something baser and more recognisable in villainy.
As for the characters, while Yaz gets less to do this week she gets some decent moments, including a kick of the alien that feels like it was written in at the height of football fever earlier this year. Graham is as endearingly down to earth as ever, with a highlight being his handling of a pregnant alien passenger Yoss (Jack Shalloo) being influenced by the “life skills” he learned watching Call the Midwife, and the moments of mending between himself and Ryan are good, even if he won’t just fist bump his grandad already (Come on, Ryan).
Ryan gets some more exploration as he too deals with the male pregnancy he’s presented with, and Yoss’s concern about not being a fit enough parent to look after the child. The resolution is heartening but it mostly exists to support the perspective of Ryan as he goes further into discussing his messy relationship with his absent father, who we will no doubt be introduced to in some form before the series’ end.
The new cast this week stem from Suzanne Packer as decorated General Eve Cicero, who is facing her own crisis with a heart condition coming at the expense of her extensive piloting and hiding it from her brother Durkas (Ben Bailey-Smith). They share a decent arc together, accompanied by David Shields’ Spock-like synth android Ronan, whose archness and haircut is so designed to elicit distrust that it’s actually more of a surprise that he doesn’t turn out bad at all.
There’s not so much direct commentary this week, although the allusions to the troubles of the universe and fear of raising a child in a time of such uncertainty certainly rings true to present day concerns
As said, it's more about just testing the boundaries of the new companions and throwing this doctor into new challenges. Which is almost a downside to the series thus far, neglecting the more wildly imaginative alien invasion and threat narratives in favour of more intimate, small-scale adventures. The sweep of the series is yet to be seen in full, although there are lines near the start in an unresolved plot point that seems to allude to the fact that all might not be well with the Doctor’s biology.
Jodie is in full manic mode here, channelling even more of the exasperation, joy and panic of Tennant’s Doctor, even if it does resort to mostly having her clutch her abdomen (‘ectospleen’) in pain every now and then to just remind us that she’s vulnerable.
Although, she does get a rather magical moment to herself as she describes her adoration for the ship’s antimatter drive, with lingering shots on her expressive hands and wondering description as lovingly fawned over by director Jennifer Perrott’s gaze as the doctors toward the device. As well as more cosmic wisdom offering (“Whole worlds pivot on acts of imagination”).
The direction of Australian filmmaker Perrott does suit the mood of the new series and look well, with the bright glossy interiors of the ships design curving with channelling tunnels of vast length, and a cooling pallet that feels sharp and crisp.
The Tsuranga Conundrum is a breezier episode than last week’s, and the lightest weight so far coming in at the dead centre of this series’ run. Even if it might not hold up entirely, how many series can be named that end with the characters joining their hands together in cosmic prayer? That’s more encouraging a prospect than it needs to justify itself.