More miss than hit for me, the latest Chris Chibnall Thirteenth Doctor story The Tsuranga Conundrum vexed me a lot when I watched it. I’ve calmed down a bit, but this won’t be the most positive of reviews.
I’ll try and keep perspective though…
The Conundrum of the Tsuranga
First off let’s just say it looked marvellous, and I can’t be the only person looking at the anti-matter unit who thought Wow, what a great TARDIS console that would make. Maybe it’s because I remember back to the Troughton days and still long for the elegant simplicity of the ’60s styling.
As ever well-directed, great cast… in fact we are spoiled in a lot of ways. Yet we want more. Well I do. What I want is balance, character, plot and credibility. Maybe a slice of creativity as well.
I’ve seen several comments as to how this story is Lilo & Stitch meets Casualty meets Call the Midwife meets Alien meets Star Trek. All valid points, and many deliberately so. There are only a certain number of settings and plots. The pregnant man is old news (1994 Arnie movie Junior for example), and for me helped cement a large piece of the episode together, even if it contributed nothing except to keep two of the companions busy.
As to he companions. Once again I’m finding Bradley Walsh pitch perfect as Graham, and perhaps a lot of that is his age being closest to mine. I still want more from Yaz whose character seems stuck in second gear. Ryan I like though his backstory seemed almost shoehorned. Then we got the latest alien but not monster in the form of the Pting. It couldn’t be killed (either by the Doctor or just anyhow), and kept some of the characters busy and allowed the under-presented Cicero grouping something to do.
The science part
In all the episodes of Star Trek I’ve watched, I don’t remember explaining how anti-matter gets created being a big deal. I liked the design of the prop and the discussion about it’s like CERN but smaller, better and forty centuries more advanced. I’ve seen people praise the exposition about positron collisions. Did we need it?
I often complain about bad science (I’ve a Masters in Theoretical Physics somewhere), but was this useful? Telling the audience (or Yaz) that anti-matter creation involves positrons left me feeling she (and most of the audience) would be none the wiser.
My real moan is this: if you’ve a device capable of creating anti-matter, why bother? Use the device to power the ship, don’t waste time (and upset entropy) by making some fuel to then consume elsewhere.
The structure of the story
My latest thought is the single 50 minute episode structure is the problem. By the time you move forward the core team, add some new characters, add a plot and add a resolution (of sorts), there’s not much time left. I think back to Buffy, a large influence on RTD’s revival of Doctor Who, and a much large cast of characters could breath by all having homes / jobs / study and didn’t need to all have large slices of time in each episodes. Villains appeared, vampires got killed and while being formulaic at times, managed to pack the story in quite well (from memory). I think the single episode format is making Chris Chibnall fit too much into the time available.
I actually think the Midwife thread was great, but didn’t drive any dynamic tension. What if the ship had been damaged and the team separated? Imagine Graham and the medic Mabli (Lois Chimimba) trying to relay instructions via intercom as Ryan helps Jack Shalloo’s wonderful Yoss Inkl give birth? What if Mabli also had to help get the ship on the new course, meaning she had conflicting drives?
There’s a good story lurking in here somewhere.
Why injure the Doctor just to (yet again) display her as vulnerable? What did the spleen damage add to most of the story apart from the odd wince? When is Jodie Whittaker going to be allowed to take control of the character?
Final moan. Brett Goldstein’s Astos stole the first section of the story onboard the Tsuranga, and had to die to allow the Doctor to progress at her own pace. Dramatic, maybe, but Astos was well-drawn, had gravitas and presence, all things I want the Doctor to demonstrate more than she’s been allowed.
Oh well, I’ll live and not every episode can please everyone. Roll on the Punjab!