RogerBW's Blog

Doctor Who 2/11.05: The Tsuranga Conundrum 08 November 2018

Chibnall writes one more time. And he writes an awfully generic "something nasty on the spaceship" story, which I suppose is another way of saving your creative energy for something you find more interesting while still getting paid for the job you're half-arsing.

But the core problem here is the extraordinarily silly-looking monster. It simply fails to menace. I don't mind duff effects where you can see what common household items went into the monster design; but I do mind yet another blobby non-entity with shiny skin, modelled loosely on a human infant. Giving it physics-ignoring superpowers doesn't help.

It's a particularly unfortunate contrast with the rather fine sets for the ship itself, well designed and as profoundly anti-ergonomic as these things usually are. Background music helps here too, and the direction is visually impressive. There's an excellent team working on this episode, with the glaring exception of the scriptwriter.

The whole business with the antimatter drive and an Educational Moment is fundamentally broken – Chibnall evidently got the idea that antimatter can be a propulsion source and cobbled together some stuff about how it's produced and used, but doesn't seem to have noticed that conservation of energy is a thing, so you still need power to make the antimatter. That sort of ignorance might have worked back in the day or with science as simply magic under another name (see The Three Doctors), but really doesn't any more. It's a shame that Chibnall didn't have anyone on staff with the dizzying academic heights of a GCSE in Physics to tell him he was being stupid. (They could have ignored the whole silly subplot about the bomb and simply used the ship's antimatter store as bait.)

As for the General (since when did the Doctor regard any generals as highly admirable?), her character arc is entirely too obvious; yes, of course she's doing that, and of course she'll have to do that, and when the inevitable happens someone else steps in who could have done it earlier and saved all the dying, only then it wouldn't be a Big Dramatic Moment. And the Bloke with the Baby is probably meant to be comic relief, but ends up as pure tedium (gosh we reversed gender roles, isn't that amazing, let's harp on it some more), and serves to remove the junior medic from any part of the story where she might have done something interesting.

Looking on the bright side, Whitaker is back on form, finding a medium between the clowning of Arachnids and the deadly-seriousness of Rosa. Mandip Gill is excellent, and Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole are at least non-hateful as comic relief. Most of the guests are decent too, particularly Lois Chimimba and Suzanne Packer. I could watch these actors and these characters for a long time; I just wish they could be given something more interesting to do and say.

The show's format is working against it: it's hard to fit enough stuff into a 50-minute episode to give the Doctor and each of the three companions something to do, whereas when the standard story was twice or three times as long there was room for them all to breathe. By splitting them up, this outing makes it very obvious that there's simply not much happening in each plot thread, because they all have to be resolved by the end of the episode. (And in this case they aren't; Blobby Thing is still out there to eat the next spaceship that happens by.)

Next week, a different scriptwriter thank goodness. Maybe they'll be better. Or at least less tired.

  1. Posted by Dr Bob at 10:50am on 08 November 2018

    Similar feeling here. The ship looked fabulous. The actors were great. But a medical ship with a BOMB on it was a WTF moment from False Jeopardy Productions.

    "I might have galloping space lurgy. What are your quarantine procedures?" "Oh we don't have any - we just blow everyone up." "Riiiiight. I think I will decline your offer of an ambulance and get a taxi to the hospital."

    The energy eating alien as the threat - okay as a concept, but no, no, no to it looking like a human. My guess is that an earlier draft of the script had it referred to as a 'gremlin' so they wanted it to look like a goblin.

    I don't understand why the life pod blew up when the first medic was ejected. Surely that's a big design flaw in life pods???

    The male pregnancy... I was okay with that until it became clear we were getting a species where they had to have invented sterile surgical techniques before they discovered fire or learned how to bang the rocks together.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 12:43pm on 08 November 2018

    "…would you like me to put you through to Highly Explosive Cabs Inc.?"

    The pod blowing up was explained as having had its energy drained and so the systems weren't working. Which, I suppose, ish, but not very. When I think about designs of emergency systems like airlocks and escape pods I think nice simple mechanical interlocks, but to be grudgingly fair having no backup for the computerised controls is in-genre.

  3. Posted by Dr Bob at 03:30pm on 09 November 2018

    Um, so in this corner of the Whoniverse, if something runs out of power it blows up?!?

    [Rushes off to recharge the electric toothbrush and change the batteries on the smoke alarm...]

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 03:33pm on 09 November 2018

    The computer-controlled valves for the hypergolic propellants?

    Yeah, it's not much of an explanation.

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