A Metal Eating Frog On Board A Hospital Ship – What Could Go Wrong?
After last week’s poorly written episode Arachnids In The UK, Doctor Who returns for The Tsuranga Conundrum, an episode that rights the wobbling ship but fails to really inspire beyond it’s formulaic but enjoyable plot. Ryan manages to get some good character growth in and Graham nails his limited but comedic presence, but with The Doctor flitting between different emotional states and an unintentional cliffhanger at the end (so…where is the Tardis? Was it where they left it?), there seems to be a growing trend that Doctor Who is missing the wonder and charm previous seasons had. It’s something that’s proving to be a really disconcerting point in a season of highs and lows.
We open this week’s episode with The Doctor and her companions on a planet covered in scrap. After accidentally setting off a sonic mine, the four awaken four days later on board The Tsuranga, a hospital ship flying through space, miles away from The Tardis. To make matters worse, the ship is on a collision course with a dangerous metal-eating creature called the P’Ting. What follows is a fight for survival as The Doctor and her companions scramble for a way to save the ship and safely jettison the P’Ting, all without the help of The Tardis and a not-working-until-it’s-convenient-for-the-plot Sonic Screwdriver. For the most part the episode progresses well, with a dual focus on the companions and The Doctor who predominantly remains with a silent Yaz for much of the episode’s run time.
While separating the companions and The Doctor is a good move, its also one that highlights numerous questions around just who this iteration of The Doctor really is. After giving the benefit of the doubt for the first half of the season, it’s about time Jodie stamps her own unique mark on the role. So far her acting has been okay but the character logic and motivations seem to be completely skewed on different sides of the morality spectrum. The child-like wonder comes and goes, with little interest in discovering just who or what this creature is this week, cowering in fear in a very un-Doctor like way upon first discovering this metal-eating frog on board. To be fair, the rest of the episode does see The Doctor attempting to enthusiastically stop the creature, digesting the information fed by the ship’s computer to come up with a plan but it’s unclear what this is until quite a way into the episode. There’s glimmers of other Doctors that come and go in the dialogue exchanges but the only pattern seems to be stumbling unconventionally through plot points while presenting the story in as cinematic a way as possible.
Despite the chaotic, tension-filled plot revolving around them, the general set-up and dialogue exchanges feel flat and void of life. A lot of this is accentuated by many exchanges greeted by revolving camera movements showing most of the cast standing lifelessly waiting for their turn to speak. It also doesn’t help that the P’Ting itself happens to be a cute little CGI frog, failing to instil any sort of horror in a story in desperate need of tension and danger. Still, despite the problems that seem to be racking up in a season of tumultuous highs and lows, it’s the tight character bonds and supporting cast that save the day. Graham and Ryan really come into their own here with their separate storyline with a pregnant male on board helping to elevate both of their characters. Yaz still seems to be the weakest link but she at least manages to express her enthusiasm toward science in the only meaningful bit of dialogue for her but the promise of next week’s episode focusing solely on her character will hopefully propel her into the limelight.
The Tsuranga Conundrum is certainly a better episode than last week but it also highlights one of the biggest problems with this season of Doctor Who. The child-like wonder and excitement of the universe seems to be lost, replaced by this version of The Doctor who can’t quite decide who she wants to be and where her place in the universe is. Her lack of confidence is something that seems to be contagious too, with Yaz reduced to background noise and the episodes suffering from a lack of in-depth sci-fi elements or thematic consistency. Perhaps it’s a curse for being such a huge Doctor Who fan but this season just isn’t instilling the same enthusiasm previous seasons have. For the second half of the season it’ll be nice to see Jodie come into her own and nail the role, but as yet, it just doesn’t seem to be happening for her. Still, there’s plenty of time left to knock this out the park and with a different writer next week, it’ll be interesting to see how that shapes up.