This week on Doctor Who (BBC America, 8/7C), The Doctor and her friends find themselves on a hospital ship following the exploding of a sonic mine – but the hospital ship is no sanctuary.
The Tsuranga Conundrum opens with Team TARDIS on a junkyard planet seeking a replacement part for the TARDIS when a camouflaged sonic mine explodes.
They awaken on a hospital ship whose patients include a young man about to have a baby, and a legendary leader who won a crucial battle to end a war – and the two medical officers who are the ship’s entire complement.
Unfortunately, when the ship picked up The Doctor and her friends, it also seems to have picked up a menace that is deadly beyond description.
Like the fourth Doctor’s Ark in Space, The Tsuranga Conundrum is a bottle episode – shot mainly in the corridors of the hospital ship and a circular set that is redressed as a control center and various medical bays.
Written by Chris Chibnall, The Tsuranga Conundrum will be a challenge on some levels for more conservative viewers – father-to-be Yoss (Jack Shalloo, Dickensian, London Kills) notes that, on his world, boys give birth to boys and girls give birth to girls (and he finds our system disgusting).
General Eve Cicero (Suzanne Packer, Casualty, Keeping Faith) is a mind pilot who has kept some important news from her brother, Durkas (Ben Bailey-Smith, Brief Encounters, Bounty Hunters) – who feels like she never really thinks about him in any kind of light, let alone favorable.
General Cicero’s attaché is an android called Ronan (David Shields, The Crown), who serves the General even when it might not be in her best interest.
The ship’s medical officers – Astos (Brett Goldstein, Drifters, Undercover), a veteran and Mabli (Lois Chimimba, Holby City, Trust Me), in only her second tour – are light and dark. Astos is pretty forthright and aggressive in handling his patients; Mabli is tentative and not exactly filled with self-confidence.
As director Jennifer Perrott (Doctors, Home and Away) finds different angles and camera moves to keep the ship’s corridors looking at least slightly different – and never settling for too long on any of the ship’s medical bays and control center to maximize set dressing and character movement, we discover the threat that has come aboard.
It’s called a Pting – and its deadliness is 180 degrees from its appearance (watch for Pting Plushies if Auntie Beeb is on the ball).
As with the best bottle episodes, the success of the piece depends even more on the characters than usual – and the guest cast has a lot to work with. Chibnall has always been known for his character work.
The special effects – practical and CG are mostly excellent (the design and application of the various screens and scientific bits are very cool). The design of the Pting seems a bit overstated – but it does look harmless until we see it in action.
The Doctor’s solution to the problems presented in this ep are exactly the kind of solutions we’d expect to come from The Doctor – which is to say that they’re unexpected, on-the-fly moments of inspiration followed by feverish bursts of action to make them work.
The Tsuranga Conundrum is about hope and love – two key aspects of Doctor Thirteen – and gets a bit sweet at the end – without ever quite getting too precious.
Final Grade: A-