Doctor Who: 11.05 The Tsuranga Conundrum
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Doctor Who headed into the future this week as the Doctor and her companions found themselves trapped in a spaceship with possibly the cutest killing machine of all time. There was plenty of wonderful character moments this week both in the main and guest case, something that is already synonymous with Chris Chibnall's new era for the show. But while The Tsuranga Conundrum looked gorgeous and had some great drama I also couldn't help but feel a little underwhelmed.
It's frustrating to feel the need to criticise aspects of the show; it's doing tremendously well ratings wise and the change of tone and style is refreshing; Jodie Whittaker and the rest of the cast are all wonderful too, even if having four main characters means that there are some difficulties in giving each person screen time on a weekly basis. But there are also some flaws too, most notably in Chris Chibnall's dialogue.
Watching five weeks of Chibnall's writing, I'm both torn between being tremendously enamoured with his ability to develop well rounded characters and a script that feels like it needs to slashed for pace and brevity. There is far too much dialogue, particularly with Whittaker's Doctor. I love her energy but she says ten things when she could say two. This week it was the speech about antimatter. It was lovely but unnecessary, particularly as the characters were faced with an alien that could rip the ship apart and kill them all if they weren't destroyed by the authorities controlling the ship. It's been noticeable in a couple of episodes but was starting to get really jarring here. It's a shame as he writes lovely moments, like Graham and his enthusiasm for Call The Midwife. But that is let down by clunky exposition and overwrought dialogue that forces you out of the enjoyment for what is happening on screen.
My other criticism is the look of the show. It all feels a little too grounded and human, even when the Doctor and her team are on an alien planet or futuristic spaceship. Aside from Tim Shaw in episode one and the Pting, everyone is human-looking even when they're not. There's no reason Jack Shalloo's pregnant male alien Yoss couldn't have looked alien, just like Angstrom and Epzo in The Ghost Monument. I'm not talking tentacles or third eyes; the show's managed very well in the past on creating aliens with blue skin that feel believable. Star Trek managed to make convincing humanoid aliens for decades.
I fully support Chibnall's focus on making the audience emotionally invest in the guest characters believable first, but by keeping it so very human in appearance it takes away from some of the more fantastical elements of the show. Again, I have no issues with taking a slightly more grounded approach to the more epic moments of Moffat's era, but it sometimes feels like I'm watching a very low budget show on a high budget scale. It says something when you couldn't imagine the Daleks or the Silence or even the Cybermen in this version of the show.
But perhaps that's just me. The good news is that there was still a lot of good stuff to enjoy this week. The Pting was adorable but still felt like a threat (and yes I'm aware that it was a very non-human looking alien so it might negate some of my earlier comments). I can imagine little stuffed toy version of it at Christmas and certainly felt like something that would hook the younger members of the audience. I also loved the design of the Tsuranga; it genuinely feelt like a futuristic medical ship with it's white and blue hues and nautical feel to the interior. Whether there were one or ten corridor sets during filming, the end result felt like a huge vessel.
And yes, the characterisation was superb. Tosin Cole got his teeth into some real emotional moments, as Ryan was confronted with a man who didn't want to keep his child and bringing up his own feelings of loss. The scene where Ryan told Yaz about his mother's death was heartfelt and engaging; on the other end of the spectrum, I also enjoyed his continued banter with Graham. Yaz was perhaps a little out of the spotlight this week after a stronger turn last week, but Graham had plenty of wit and heartfelt humour yet again, Bradley Walsh delivering a nicely nuanced comic turn, sharing his love for Call The Midwife and then squirming as he assisted with the birth of Yoss's child.
And the guest characters were well rounded too. I was invested in the plight of Suzanne Packer's General Eve Cicero, battling a condition that prevented her from continuing to be the hero she had become famous for. There was some lovely moments between her and concerned brother Durkas (Doc Brown) and while her death was inevitable, I loved her last hurrah, navigating the ship through the asteroid field before Durkas took her place. Even in just a few scenes, I liked the connection between the Doctor and Brett Goldstein's Astos and was genuinely gutted by his death.
The Tsuranga Conundrum delivered everything that is great and frustrating about series 11 so far. There was plenty to invest in the characters, main or otherwise but some of the tension and drama was brought down by clunky dialogue. This was another solid episode, but moments of Rosa aside, I'm still waiting for the series to deliver something to a real classic.