Doctor Who: The Tsuranga Conundrum

Doctor Who: The Tsuranga Conundrum November 5, 2018

The episode The Tsuranga Conundrum finds the Doctor and team scavenging for something she needs, when they encounter a sonic mine. They end up in a hospital. As they look for the exit, they find General Eve Cicero. The Doctor knows her – she is mentioned in the Book of Celebrants. The Doctor has a volume rather than a chapter about her. It turns out they are on a ship called the Tsuranga, and so they are on their way having left the TARDIS behind, heading to Rhesus 1. The ship is automated, and so there is no crew that the Doctor can reason with. One of the two medical crewmembers on the ship, named Astos, helps her to realize that she is being selfish trying to take charge of the ship and turn it around. It is striking that we automatically sided with the Doctor as viewers – we should recognize that the Doctor is fallible, and that when injured might not be thinking straight. But nonetheless she does take charge to the extent she can, as the ship is breached. As they each investigate separately, Astos is tricked into entering a lifepod, which is then jettisoned and blown up with him inside.

The creature that has infiltrated the ship is a pting. It isn’t known whether they occur naturally or were created, but they eat all inorganic matter and are thus lethal, despite not eating organic material. They are also lethal to touch.

As Yaz and Ryan talk to a member of another species – a male that is carrying a baby, with a very fast gestation period. Ryan realizes that person is the same age he is now, and the age his father was when he had him, which helps him to understand his father’s distance from him in a new light.

At one point the Doctor lists the things that she is a doctor of, which includes philosophy, people, and hope. She asks what the pting wants, something no one else asks. The general says that she encountered a pting once – it massacred her fleet.

The Doctor learns they are in the 67th century. She explains to Yaz that the ship’s antimatter drive is like the iPhone version of CERN. The Doctor talks about how much she loves it, and what it represents: using antimatter to transport matter – including people – across vast distances.

It turns out that Eve Cicero has a condition known as “pilot’s heart.” As Eve’s brother, an engineer, rigs an improvised bypass so that Eve can take control of the ship, the Doctor realizes that the pting is after energy, that that is what drew it to the ship, and what explains its behavior since boarding. The Doctor also figures out how the ship would be detonated if it is detected as deviating from its course. She uses the bomb to attract the pting – which is able to absorb the blast after eating it. The Doctor then ejects it into space, well fed. In the midst of the banter, there are pop culture references to Hamilton – all 900 casts – and Call the Midwife.

Ronan decides to name his baby in honor of Ryan and Graham. Since they are from Earth, he chooses the name of a famous Earth hero he learned about in school. But it is possible that the Giftan history books may have some details wrong, in which case Avocado Pear was perhaps not a great hero.

Eve dies in her effort to pilot the ship to Rhesus 1. Her android consort leads the others in a commemoration of her life, “incanting” being the term they use for this (I initially thought they said “encamping,” as you can see from the comments below, which puzzled me greatly). The words they utter are: “May the saints of all the stars and constellations bring you hope as they guide you out of the dark and into the light, on this voyage and the next, and all the journeys still to come, for now and evermore.”

The episode provided potential engagement with religion in the Doctor’s determination to make sense of the pting’s behavior as something other than senseless destruction and murder. But at the end, it offered something even more direct than that, in the form of a prayer, shared by beings from multiple planets, and led by an android. What did you think of that ending, laden as it was with such religious significance? And what did you think of the episode as a whole?

As an aside, I didn’t make it to Doctoberfest at WhoNA this year, and so I was glad to see this video…

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  • TrevorN

    I couldn’t get past the doctor/nurse partnership being repeated from Trust Me.

  • Iain Lovejoy

    I strongly suspect “encamping” is “incanting” – that’s how I heard it, and it has the advantage of making sense.

    • That would make more sense – wish that had been what I heard! I’ll change the post, since I think you must be right.

      “Pting” also caused me no end of trouble as I tried to figure out how to spell what I was hearing… 🙂

  • That incantation certainly sounded more like a prayer. I guess the Doctor of hope could be one of its saints.

  • My favorite exchange was between the Android and Yaz – “Are you also experiencing comprehension deficiency?” “Every bloody day, mate.”

    I struggled with the Doctors explanation of how the drive worked. If it really was a particle accelerator creating positrons, then it is a net consumer of energy that must come from somewhere.

    And why would anybody build a booby trap into an easily removed tray?

    And the thing about the 67th century – does that mean every space faring civilization has synchronized their calendars? Is there an official (possibly Gallifreyan) calendar that people use for such discourse, but use a local calendar for normal life?

    • Yes, the calendar reference was particularly noteworthy – but no more so than the fact that the Doctor mentions Ed Sheeran and Hamilton…

      • I guess I was concentrating more on what must be true about the surrounding culture in order for that question to even have an answer that would be of any use. The Jewish calendar and the US secular calendar have different answers to the question. A Mayan would just be confused since you first would have to explain the concept of a century.

        And how often do we ask the “wrong” questions of the biblical texts that they can’t answer because of similar cultural differences?

  • Tom

    I could never get into, “Dr. Who”. Perhaps I didn’t try properly. As a kid the robots always creeped me out. I am a geek in all other respects but perhaps the Dr. Who hole was too deep a leap.

    • One nice thing about this season is that the writers (so far) haven’t really used much of the mythos. And seem to be concentrating a bit more on characters – as characters.

      Some of the plot holes make me want to bang my head, but, really, its no worse than some from e.g. the Baker era.

  • I don’t like it when people die while working with the Doctor. Especially people as nice as Astos.

  • I just finished reading through a transcript of the episode and took a few notes. Both Yoss and Malbi say ” Oh my saints!”. The book of Celebrants, in which the Doctor has a chapter/volume kinda sounds like a Bible. The Doctor says she is mostly the Doctor of hope – hope doesn’t offer itself up – use your imagination (visualization skills / belief) and work to make it a reality – light in dark times – hope prevails. And then the incantation/prayer at the end that mentions the saints. The only thing missing is the Amen at the end.

    • Thanks for sharing this! Two episodes in a row with the Doctor participating in a religious ritual, now. So much to think and talk about – and write about!