A pilot with a weak heart. A cute but dangerous alien dead set on draining a medical ship of its energy. Male pregnancy and the hardships of being a parent. All these obstacles and more make up the bulk of “The Tsuranga Conundrum.”
The episode starts simply enough, with the Doctor and her companions surveying for parts on a junk planet. When a sonic mine is detonated, the Doctor and crew find themselves on the medical ship Tsuranga, being attended by medics Astos and Mabli. When the injured Doctor realizes the TARDIS has been left behind yet again, she’s chomping at the bit to get back. But Astos puts her in her place, reminding her of how similar their roles are: to protect all the travelers and get them to their destination safely.
There are a host of new characters on Tsuranga who need protecting. Eve Cicero is a renowned general and neuro-pilot who is traveling with her engineer brother Durkas and her andriod partner Ronan. There’s also Yoss, a Gifftan man who got pregnant on holiday and is in the late stages of his week-long pregnancy.
As the ship continues toward its docking destination, it collides with what Astos thinks is an asteroid, but the Doctor knows better. The pair split up to investigate the areas where the two escape pods are held. The one on the Doctor’s end of the ship is missing and Astos ends up trapped in the escape pod on his side only to have it self destruct—but not before he can contact Mabli over the comm system and assure her that she can do this.
It’s Mabli who identifies what they’re up against: the P’Ting, a fresh-faced alien who thrives on eating non-organic matter. The P’Ting consumes mostly ship parts and, in this case, the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver (although the P’Ting spits it back out after draining it of its energy). And thus, the conundrum presents itself: they cannot land the ship with the P’Ting on board, but they also have no way of escaping because both escape pods are gone. They’ll need to find a way get rid of the P’Ting so the ship can dock safely.
With no plan in sight, the Doctor gathers everyone aboard to explain the current issue and talk strategy. The Doctor and Eve agree that using an anti-matter drive will help keep the ship afloat but the drive will need to be protected. Eve also agrees that they need to find a way to pilot the ship. Yoss’s water breaks and that means it’s time to deliver his son. So the crew breaks up to attend to each problem separately. Yaz and Ronan protect the anti-matter drives; the Doctor, Eve, and Durkas get to work on piloting the ship; and Graham and Ryan act as stand-in doulas while Mabli delivers Yoss’s child.
Earlier in the episode, Yoss’s pregnancy hit Ryan hard because it reminded him that his own father was his age when he had him. Still working through the feelings of both his Nan’s death and his father’s absence, he realizes that parents don’t have to be perfect; they just have to be there. He passes this advice on to Yoss, who had been considering giving the child up.
Durkas is able to bypass the ship’s system and Eve insists she pilot the ship herself. Both the Doctor and Durkas protest upon finding out that Eve has pilot’s heart and has been self-medicating with adrenaline blockers.
Sure enough, the P’Ting tries to come for the anti-matter drive but Yaz and Ronan fight it off. Yaz knots it up in a medical blanket and kicks it far across the spacecraft. The Doctor realizes there’s a bomb on the ship—planted by the docking station in case of dire emergencies that demand mid-space quarantine—and that the P’Ting feeds off of energy. The Doctor decides to detonate it so the P’Ting will consume it before she pushes the P’Ting out of the ship. All goes to plan: the P’Ting absorbs all the energy and floats off into space, full and happy.
The Doctor and Yaz return to the control room to find that Eve’s heart finally gave out and she passed control of the ship to Durkas. He pulls them in for an emergency landing and everyone gathers to say a prayer to honor Eve’s sacrifice. Together they chant:
“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 on all the journeys still to come, for now and evermore.”
As an audience, we’ve hit the halfway mark of the season. Jodie Whittaker has solidified her portrayal of the Doctor as a hopeful, helpful, yet slightly socially awkward alien with a penchant for losing her TARDIS. (She also revealed her love of Poirot and the musical Hamilton in this episode.) Her companions have been allowed to shine in their own ways and break up the perspective of the episodes without slowing down the pace.
Thus far, the Doctor has been focused on nurturing and guiding those around her and being an example to others. Where other Doctors have spent time showing off how brilliant they are to their companions, it feels like 13 has made a point to include her companions in the equation. Before disembarking, Mabli tells the Doctor that her and her companions were “light in dark times,” to which the Doctor responds: “People prevail. Hope prevails.” I truly believe that is the point that Chris Chibnall continues to drive home: that it shouldn’t all be on one person’s shoulders. We all have a responsibility to do better—and we can, together.
Rachel Stewart has written fandom commentary for sites such as FangirlConfessions.com, Nerdy Minds Magazine, and ESO Network, among others. She has published work in the anthology “Children of Time: The Companions of Doctor Who.”