So, episode 5 of the series is ‘The Tsuranga Conundrum’. The Doctor and her companions accidentally set off a sonic mine on a junkyard planet and wake up on a medical ship. The ship is promptly boarded by a ‘Pting’ (a cutesy monster that looks like nothing more than an angry Pikachu), which proceeds to devour all the ship’s vital components and systems. To make things worse, it destroys the ships life pods, meaning the crew cannot escape in any way. Nor can they ‘fight’ the Pting, cos its skin is poisonous and it can devour all materials in existence. It even gobbles up the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver.
The big ‘conundrum’, then, is how the Doctor can save them all, while still telling jokes. At the same time, there is a male passenger who’s heavily pregnant. A comedy birth scene will need to take place. And there’s a sick space general (Eve Cicero) who’s dying. So, we’ll need to engineer a meaningful, self-sacrificing death scene for her. And the Doctor has injuries from the sonic mine, so she has to wince her way through many a scene. In fact, things feel so contrived throughout, that the viewer can’t help wincing a fair bit either.
This episode is a curious one. There’s a lot going on, but for most of the episode all the Doctor’s companions feel like spare parts. They simply follow the Doctor around and serve as foils for exposition. The character of Yaz barely has any lines throughout. Bradley Walsh gets plenty of droll lines, but he’s commenting on the action as a bystander really, and Ryan provides an emotional but entirely random/irrelevant narrative about how his father ran out on him when he was young. Ryan hasn’t yet forgiven his missing father, and that’s why he’s never really got on with the ‘stand-in father figure’ of Graham (Bradley Walsh). At one point Ryan says, ‘Why am I even talking about this?’, and the viewer has to wonder the same.
All that said, the hectic and pell-mell nature of things means that there is just enough entertainment to see us through. Yet, without the considerable acting chops of Jodie Whittaker, the series and the BBC would probably have ended up embarrassing themselves. Jodie even does the ‘educational’ bit about the anti-matter engine (‘like an iPhone version of the particle accelerator of CERN’) with a certain panache (so the BBC can tick it’s box of supplying edutainment for the world). To quote the Doctor at the end of the episode: ‘Hope prevails!’ But episode only scores 7 out of 10 from me.