The Tsuranga Conundrum provokes answers and questions from Victoria Walker
If I had to describe The Tsuranga Conundrum with a single phrase, I would definitely call it a warm blanket, comforting and familiar. Readers of my Arachnids in the UK review may have picked up that I had wished for a more traditional episode, and that expectation had biased me against it somewhat. This week was the exact opposite. I expected a traditional episode, and that is what we got. The cuteness of the monster was maintained, but everything else just worked.
I’m going to begin by praising something that has been a constant gripe of mine for every episode this series thus far: The pacing. It has been too fast, but it worked for this episode. Chris Chibnall did an excellent job setting out high stakes, and the pace brilliantly met the level of urgency. That said, the pace has been maintained from the rest of the series and does reflect a lack of flexibility in that department. The plot setup was cohesive if very much front-loaded onto the episode, and absolutely watertight. It seems that there is a tendency to provide exposition in blocks. It made sense from an in-universe perspective as, of course, the computer would act as an encyclopedia, and there is no reason why there would be any lack of information there. I’m always wary of information dumps, however, as they can (not always) come across as entirely forced. Durkas telling Graham literally everything when he is caught trying to access General Cicero’s medical records is a mild example of this. There is no reason why he would tell Graham everything, especially considering they’ve literally just met. That is but a small flaw, and I think explainable when Durkas’s character is considered.
There was a great balance struck between serious plot and the slightly entertaining side plot of Yoss’s pregnancy. The idea of male pregnancy is no new one, as any fan of Red Dwarf can tell you. What I do question, however, is how did the Gifftan develop such a reproductive cycle? As always it seems that these sorts of things are greatly aided by technology, but one supposes they have to have evolved from somewhere. I’m sure there is a good discussion to be had there, and it is outside the scope of this review to make any sort of assertion. This side plot of a slightly kooky bit of world-building, and it went very smoothly. We also, again, got to see great development from Ryan. I do have a gripe with his development insofar as it lacks subtlety. Every time he realises something or grows emotionally, we get a miniature soliloquy about how it has given him insight into himself or his father. The conversation with Yaz would, again, be much better if it was further spread, or just cut back like an overbearing rosebush.
I would be remiss if I did not talk about Mabli and General Cicero. Lois Chimimba did such an excellent job with Mabli and was able to put such a powerful range of emotion into her character. Of all the episodic supporting cast we’ve seen so far, I would say she produced the single best character, of whom I would love to see more. Eve Cicero was another strong, compelling character who’s only flaw is the fact we did not to get to see more of her. She is reminiscent of Jyl Stoker in Trevor Baxendale’s Fifth Doctor novel Fear of the Dark (2003), and Suzanne Packer was the perfect person for the role. The dynamic with her brother was simply heartwarming.
It is no secret that Chris Chibnall and his team have been trying out a more educational aspect to this series and, by and large, I am actually really liking it. It has been unintrusive if not unnoticeable for the vast majority of the series, and this episode was no different. That was why the section on the anti-matter engine was somewhat jarring. Not for the fact it was badly placed or awkward, quite the opposite! It was science fiction presented as scientific fact. Sure, the mention of CERN and positrons was not out of place, but the idea that it was so simple to create propulsion from something like this? Well, that’s a peculiar assertion. All considered however, I like how this series has been moving Doctor Who away from science opera and towards science fiction.
Just a final note on the contemporary references in this series, such as Stormzy, Hamilton or Call the Midwife. One of the reasons Old Who is so watchable is that it is somewhat timeless. Sure it draws upon the technology of the time (“Bubble Memory” in Logopolis springs to mind), and the costuming is dated but, on the whole, you do not need to have much (if any) knowledge of the context of each piece of dialogue. There is the concern that such contemporary references will badly date this series, and while they are fun for our audience, they may not hold up over time.