Doctor Who: Tumultuous and Random, Direction is Suspect

by thethreepennyguignol

Well, I mean, uh…

This season of Doctor Who, Chris Chibnall’s first as showrunner, has often felt much like a panicked attempt to fit in every single little idea that Chibnall has ever had for his tenure on the show. And this episode, The Tsuranga Conundrum, is perhaps the primest example of that to date, in an outing that doesn’t offer the cohesive direction for the show that I’ve been craving.

So, the story: the Doctor and company wind up stuck on a medical ship after being blown up by a sonic bomb, seperated from the Tardis, when a mysterious being known as the P’Ting (I’m guessing with the spelling, we’re going with it, get on board), which consumes inorganic matter to an insatiable degree, manages to sneak aboard. Meanwhile, a man is pregnant and on the brink of giving birth, meanwhile meanwhile, a decorated space captain faces a deadly illness that she is attempting to conceal from her concerned brother, and meanwhile meanwhile meanwhile squared, the head of the ship dies and his second-in-command is forced to step up and take the reigns.

It’s a lot of plot – more plot than this episode can handle, if we’re being honest with ourselves. Here, the three assistants feel like a weight on the story, as Chibnall grapples to find something to do with all of them – Yas, especially, winds up with sweet next-to-fuck-all, while Ryan is limited to a few touching but scattered moments about his relationship with both his parents (which are genuinely affecting, thanks in no small part to Toisin Cole having a strong grasp on making small moments land). Graham still feels the most grounded – from talking a man through the birth of his kid to sweetly reminiscing about his late wife, Bradley Walsh brings a centred sureity to the performance that comes from his years as a pro. But these guys, on top of a handful of one-shot characters, are just clogging up an already overcomplicated plot, no matter what sweet moments they deliver in between times.

And that’s not to say that I didn’t like this episode, because there was certainly something here: Jodie Whittaker is still nailing it as the Doctor for me, wide-eyed and glorious in the face of everything the universe has to offer, even if the jokes are occasionally on the clunk side of landing. And this episode looked wonderful, too: from meticulous costuming to gorgeous set design, this feels like the crisp, cinematic Who that this season has been reaching for the last five episodes. It’s nice to see some hard sci-fi in a show that sometimes shies from it, even if it might be a bit too technobabble for a few viewers.

And hey, honestly, I’d much rather an episode that was a little overfull with ideas than felt empty by comparison, I really would. Even if Chibnall does seem to be throwing a little too much at the wall here, he managed to bring an unwieldy plot in to land, even managing a few moments of genuine emotion amongst it all – the scenes between the sister and brother as they shared their love for each other before her noble but inevitable sacrifice worked for me, and Ryan’s interactions with the new father after the birth of his son were sweet enough.

But I suppose, this far into the season, I’m just beginning to wonder what this is all in aid of. Is there going to be an arc here? Is this just a season full of one-episode wonders? I’m averse to neither, but there’s a looseness to season eleven that both benefits and undermines it at points. It allows for the show to take on silly little adventures like this week (and certainly the one before), but it’s also leaving a lot of the show feeling curiously weightless in the absence of something heavier to ground it down. With all these ideas thrown at the wall, what sticks?

Maybe it’s the hangover from Moffat, but I’m craving something with a little more weight than what we’re getting right now: from the thin characterisation of the assistants to the throwaway stories, there isn’t a huge amount to get your teeth in to with season eleven (Rosa aside). Perhaps this is by design – giving both Whittaker and Chibnall a chance to get stuck in to their new roles before settling into anything too meaty – but personally, I’m starting to hunger for something a little denser.

What did you think of this incredibly odd episode? How are you enjoying the season so far? Let me know in the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter or Tumblr! If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to check out the rest of my Doctor Who recaps right here, and also check in with my other recapping projects – I’m currently covering the first Harry Potter book as well as the current seasons of Riverdale and American Horror Story. If you want to read some of my fiction, please check out the ALPHA FEMALE erotica series (eighteen-plus, obviously), available on Amazon now. As ever, if you want to see more stuff like this, please consider supporting me on Patreon!

(header image courtesy of Digital Spy)

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