Doctor Who: “The Tsuranga Conundrum”

I’m at a loss to understand why Chibnall felt this story was worth telling. The setting, while featuring lovely set design of almost Tron-level sterility, was just a ship; the individual stories (a decorated pilot with a career-limiting ailment, a pregnant man from a race with male and female pregnancies) underwritten; the threat a sort of neutered cross between a Xenomorph and a Gremlin. At best it’s a quick abstract sketch of a couple of alien cultures, barely removed from our own; at worst, the first full-on snoozefest of the series.

As in “Arachnids,” there’s quite a bit of running about urgently to disguise the fact that almost nothing is happening. A voracious toxic-skinned creature that feeds on inorganic material (and/or energy) boards the ship and is presumably poised to chew through the hull or a crucial system at any moment, but this isn’t enough of a threat, so there’s also some sort of merciless pest-control system that’s ready to blow up the ship rather than allow this thing to make planetfall. Neither of these is enough to create any kind of suspense; just as with the spiders, once these things are established they do very little to seem dangerous at all, much less create an atmosphere of rising stakes. The Doctor even has time to wax philosophical about antimatter, of all things.

I thought the monster would be dispatched by the pretty but superfluous android jumping out into space with it (he can’t be hurt by its toxins and is slated to be shut down if its human dies, yet he mostly stands around and does nothing) or even the Doctor feeding it that wonderful antimatter drive. Instead they find a convenient expendable source of energy, and the pilot pulls off one last flight. It’s hard to tell if this is an intentional misdirect or an accidental anticlimax, but either way it all falls strangely flat. It’s pleasant not to have people dying and reviving and the universe exploding or turning inside out every week, as one gets numb to these things very quickly, but surely there’s a middle ground where one can get the sense that something happened in the last hour or so.

This is once again Doctor Who operating as a different show, in this case Star Trek, probably Next Generation or Voyager. There’s no reason for it to be the Doctor who figures out how to solve the problems on board, and her companions are likewise mostly left to wander around engaging in some of the most forced character “development” thus far. I hear the next few episodes may have new writers; given that the only truly remarkable story so far has had a new writer’s name on it, this must surely be cause for hope.