“The Tsuranga Conundrum” is the first episode of this season of Doctor Who that felt to me like it hit all the marks. Complete story arc, a few gut-punches and HOPE.
We pick up with The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and company after they’ve had at least a few adventures together. While they search a junk planet for a part we can assume is for the TARDIS, they reminisce about some of the things they’ve done that were more fun. When Graham (Bradley Walsh) thinks he’s found the elusive part, they all come close to see it and are surprised by it being a sonic mine instead.
The mine goes off, and four days later our friends wake up on a hospital ship that has saved their lives while speeding them towards further medical assistance… and taken them a long way away from their TARDIS.
When The Doctor comes to, she is frantic about having been separated from her ship. She dodges the medic treating her, Astos (Brett Goldstein), and runs amok searching for an exit. Yas (Mandip Gill), Graham and Ryan (Tosin Cole) follow her as she barges into other patients’ rooms in her quest.
They meet Eve Cicero (Suzanne Packer), a famous general and pilot; her brother, Durkas (Doc Brown) and Eve’s android servant, Ronan (David Shields). The Doctor and Eve recognize each other’s names from The Book of Celebrants. Eve is on board to be treated for what she claims is a fever, but her brother suspects she’s lying.
Next they meet Yoss (Jack Shalloo), a Gifftan man who is about to give birth to a son at the end of a week-long pregnancy. Gifftan men have male babies, and the women have female babies.
Finally, The Doctor makes her way into the control room, where Astos catches up with her and explains that the ship is fully automated and can’t be rerouted back to her TARDIS. Furthermore, he warns that her hostile behavior and any attempts she might make to take control of the ship could result in it being protectively detonated by HQ.
The Doctor takes a step back, acknowledges that she is being hostile and acquiesces to being cared for at about the same moment something hits the ship. Astos observes that they’re just slightly off their regular course, which has taken them into an asteroid field. He hopes they’ve just hit an asteroid, but it becomes clear pretty quickly that something has gotten into the ship.
Crisis makes quick allies of The Doctor and Astos, and they split up to search the life pods on the ship for the intruder. The Doctor’s life pod is gone when she gets there, and Astos enters the remaining one in pursuit of the creature, only to realize too late that he’s been tricked. The invader launches Astos into space and to his death in the asteroid field.
Mabli (Lois Chimimba), Astos’s protégé and lone crewmate, gets a last message from her mentor by com, telling her that he believes in her. Then he’s gone.
The Doctor’s gang and Mabli go into the control room, where Mabli downloads the feed from her optic recorder so the ship’s computer can identify the alien on board, which they’ve now caught a glimpse of. The computer tells them it’s a Pting, a lethal creature that can survive in the vacuum of space, eats any non-organic thing and has toxic skin. It won’t eat them, but it can and will eat the ship they’re on.
The Doctor calls all of the people on board together for a debrief. She fills them in on what has happened and what is happening, and she invites them to pool their brilliance towards a solution. The plan that emerges leaves Yas and Ronan guarding the ship’s energy source, an antimatter drive, Ryan and Graham accompanying Joss and Mabli to the delivery room because Joss is about to give birth, and The Doctor, Eve and Durkas overriding the ship’s automations so Eve can pilot them to the hospital base.
Yas and Ronan are armed with an insulated blanket and some stun guns. Their mission is to do everything they can to keep the Pting away from the antimatter drive. The Doctor nearly swoons over the beauty of the drive, and she and Yas both name-check CERN in a bit of dialogue that screams: “LITTLE GIRLS! S.T.E.M. IS COOL!” (Which seems fine to me.)
The Doctor figures out two things: that the Pting is after energy, and that the way HQ can remotely destroy the ship must be through some kind of bomb attached to the antimatter drive. She also comes up with a plan that will do more good than harm.
While Eve struggles to push through her real condition, “pilot’s heart,” which means that piloting the ship will probably kill her, The Doctor finds the bomb and removes it from the antimatter drive. She and Yas plant it in an airlock, and The Doctor sets it to go off in 51 seconds. She believes that the increased energy signature of the bomb as it revs up to explode will attract the Pting.
Of course, The Doctor is right. The little demon seeks out the bomb and consumes it just before it explodes. When the bomb detonates inside him, the Pting absorbs all of its energy. The Doctor ejects the Pting into space, where it will survive a long time on the good eats it just had.
The Doctor returns to the control room to find Eve dead and Durkas piloting the ship. The siblings had a sweet moment of mutual expressions of love and respect before the decorated general succumbed to her heart condition while doing what she loved. Her brother took over and got everyone else safely to the hospital base.
As the ship docks, Joss’s baby enters the world. Thanks to Ryan’s encouragement, Joss decides to give fatherhood a shot and keep his baby. Ryan and Graham reflect on how Grace would laugh at their having assisted in this birth. Joss decides to honor his doulas by naming his baby after the famous Earth hero, Avocado Pear.
When the danger is behind them, Mabli tells The Doctor that they’ll all be quarantined briefly and then questioned, and then a ship will take her and her companions back to the TARDIS. Durkas asks Ronan what will become of him now that Eve is dead, and Ronan answers simply that his service is over and he’ll be shut down. They acknowledge how well each served Eve, and Durkas asks Ronan to incant for her. Ronan is honored and leads those who know the words in the following prayer:
May the saints of all the stars and constellations
bring you hope
as they guide you out of the dark and into the light
on this voyage and the next
and all of the journeys still to come
for now and evermore.
- Should we be surprised that there’s a female director (Jennifer Perrott) for an episode that features a pregnant man?
- This episode happens entirely in space and mostly on a ship that’s shaking a lot, yet Ryan’s equilibrium disorder is never mentioned. Why make such a big deal about it in the first episode if it isn’t going to factor consistently?
- Am I the only one who thinks the Pting’s cuteness is a direct callback to the Blue Demons in Galaxy Quest?
After Ryan finds out that Joss doesn’t plan to keep his baby because he isn’t ready to be a dad, Ryan realizes that his own dad must have been about his age when he was born. He’d never considered anything from his dad’s point of view before, and he confides in Yas that it must have been hard for his father to become a dad so young and a widower 13 years later. He shares that his mother died of a massive heart attack while she was doing the dishes, and that Ryan was the one who found her.
Very good quote from when The Doctor is adoring the antimatter drive:
The particle accelerator smashes the atoms together, like a little antimatter factory, to produce positrons, which are then stored very carefully inside electric and magnetic fields. The positrons interact with the fuel materials to produce heat, which produces thrust… It’s beautiful. Antimatter powering the movement of matter, bringing positrons into existence to move other forms of life across space. I love it! Conceptually… and actually.
Hopefully we’ll get to touch all of these bases in tomorrow’s AnyWho conversation!