For the first four episodes, Series 11 has really focused on setting up ‘Team TARDIS’ with the new Doctor and her companions, which the series has still yet to use that term in it ongoing mission to be “New Who”, finding their feet on board the TARDIS. We have had all the traditional first time in space, first time time travelling and first watching from behind the sofa episodes with the stand out episode by far being Rosa. Now we have ‘The Tsuranga Conundrum’ which once again has been written by new show runner Chris Chibnall and for me, this story really has to take the training wheels off finally now all the setting up has been done for his new characters.
*Spoiler Warning – This review will go into the story of the episode so will contain minor story spoilers*
This episode for me has been the most disappointing one yet for this series, it just felt so very by the numbers that it never really grabbed me into it and it is slightly worrying for an episode I had hoped would kick up the series to the next gear. Team TARDIS whilst on a junk world accidentally trigger a Sonic Mine which renders them all unconscious. They wake up on board a medical ship called Tsuranga, with the Doctor the most injured. Finding themselves stuck on the automated ship unable to change its course as well as yet again, finding themselves without the TARDIS which has been left behind on the junk world.
So far this all sounds like fairly typical Doctor Who story telling, and it is as the Doctor and team find random characters on-board from a pregnant man expecting his first child to a famous General receiving treatment along with her android assistant and her brother. It even follows the standard “something happens to threaten the ship” with the newest monster of the week, the Pting who looks like it will quickly become the next must have Doctor Who Plushie and looking more like an angry baby Shrek than evil looking monster.
My initial fears that Team TARDIS was far too large a group for story telling in Doctor Who is only made worse when a group of side characters are introduced and it all just gets a little bit overcrowded. In fact it feels as though many of the side characters are simply introduced to give the different members of Team TARDIS something to do which leaves the story telling very messy outside of what the Doctor is doing. For example, the pregnant man suddenly becomes yet another reason to focus on Ryan, returning to his issues with his dad who we understand left home following the death of his mother. It feel really forced now to see each companion pushed to have a few moments of life changing lessons each episode.
The acting for this episode has to be the most wooden so far with only Jodie Whittaker yet again knocking it out the park as the Doctor but its getting to the point where I do wish that she was almost travelling with Yasmin alone as they keep getting paired together when the story permits it and probably would work far better to not have the noise of Graham and Ryan slowing everything down. Every new character they meet just feels throwaway and forgettable with the performances being god awful cringe to say the least.
Having this series completely focus on introducing new monsters and places to travel is starting to come apart for me as a fan, though I do get the need to refresh so much of Doctor Who after 13 years since it returned to TV, it just feels like filler most of the time like the Pting monster, a small and almost cute creature but is ultra dangerous in that it cant be captured or killed, has the ability to eat anything and even survive in the vacuum of space. Even the design looks as though it was just inspired or at worst, just copied Stitch from the Disney film Lilo and Stitch. More troubling is how the Doctor is constantly saying how she almost remembers names and people that she has just met, but as everything is supposed to be new that means the previous Doctor’s must have encountered these people and creatures somehow.
I really feel that this is all feeling very filler like how the story separates the Doctor from the TARDIS which just feels like a writers way of removing the ‘Magic Blue Box’ to stop the Doctor having an easy way out of the problem but then fails to end the story with a real way of them getting back to the TARDIS other than using something far worse in “oh the planet has a teleportation system back to the original planet you left the TARDIS’. The monster will quickly become a toy just as the Adipose did with the 11th Doctor.
Sadly I really just did not like this episode at all, but at least Jodie Whittaker is still the best thing about this series but I am already bored with Team TARDIS and the annoying way they have to have to be given something to do when all I want to do as the audience is just watch Jodie’s Doctor at work. The lack of a series arc hinting that the Doctor is on the way to meet some big bad is grating on me now, and I do miss it as there does not seem to be any end destination for the new Doctor. Ryan constantly re-evaluating his life as a result of his TARDIS adventures is all well and good but now its just becoming tedious and Bradley Walsh presence feels redundant now with Ryan working things out for himself and Yas becoming the companion that the Doctor appears to be the most impressed with and relies on the most.
This was not a great week for Series 11 and was the least enjoyable for me to watch so far. I wanted this episode to kick off the training wheels but it only showed all the current issues with the new setup which I have been worried about. Not to mention that UK press has been reporting that for the first time in 13 years that there will be no Doctor Who Christmas special episode and instead just having an episode on New Years Eve which may not even have any seasonal content at all leaves me with a concern as to the direction of this series.
It is a shame that after so much promise with this new series and Jodie’s 13th Doctor that the first bump in the road has been the real conundrum here, it could be a result of Chris Chibnall writing so many of the early episodes, which again is not something Doctor Who tends to do but I really want to see the Doctor sink her teeth into more than just a random story of the week which has no real purpose long term.