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...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Day 6517: DOCTOR WHO: How Many Family Dramas can you pack into one spaceship? And then eat it?

Sunday:

Mr Chibbers is continuing his high concept drama of “let’s prove we can do trad Doctor Who using Russell’s model.”

Russell set the standard for his revived series with present, future, past and back to the present stories. And didn’t much vary from that for four years.

So after three weeks of cracking Dr Who episodes…

the “look what effects we can do now” one,
the “moving historical” one
and the “Holy Freekin’ Giant Spiders scary” one

…the model says we should be on to the “this year’s Dalek one” one.

Oh. We’ve skipped to “The Long Game” instead.

I guess I picked the wrong week to give up not reviewing Doctor Woo...

No relation...


Actually I liked this. The design, the direction, the acting were all really good. The regulars gave us more reasons to love them. I love that the Doctor got taken down a peg for acting selfishly and took it like a woman. There was more of the Ryan/Ryan’s father backstory, nicely used, and more bonding with Graham. Yas uses a staser, drop-kicks a Pting and still somehow hasn’t had the scenes that I think she deserves.

This wasn’t outstanding.

But Doctor Who can’t always be outstanding. And already this year we’ve had the beautiful direction in “The Ghost Monument”, and the scariest scary spiders ever, in “Arachnids” and all of “Rosa”. And spellbinding writing – if not always plotting – every week. I think we can cut “average” a decent break this episode.

So, Millennium is being a bit harsh comparing “the Tsuranga Conundrum” to 2005’s under-loved “The Long Game”.

But it probably is fair to say that this is Chris Chibnall trying to show he can do Russell Davies-style “relationships” writing, in a space setting, only with a plot that actually resolves itself properly rather than pulling a deus ex machina out of its hat.

(In as much as the two perils established are the monstrous cute Pting and the remote explosion of the ship, and each turns out to be the solution to the other.)

We have:

The brother and sister who cannot tell each other they love each other because their pride is getting in the way. Complicated by the weird alien android/clone consort.

The young man having to face up to fatherhood when he thinks he’s not ready. Complicated by weird alien – and to a certain value of “hilarious” – “hilarious” biology.

The junior medic thrust into being in charge by the death of her superior, the only person who trusted her.

What we have linking them here is people doubting each other, underlined by the severe lack of trust shown by Tsuranga’s Rhesus Station who would rather kill everyone on board than risk an uncontrolled danger reaching them, and by the mentions of “dark times” in the tricky middle of the sixty-seventh century.

We also see everyone falling into worrying about their own troubles even in the face of the Pting, which is pretty much the definition of an environmental catastrophe, particularly in the confined space of the ship.

It’s a subtler metaphor for our times than last week’s Trump-lite.


As usual in Doctor Who, hard science is first to be blown out of the airlock.

You could use anti-matter for a power source, because matter + anti-matter makes a lot of boom.

But you certainly wouldn’t make it on board. Not even in a miniature CERN. In fact especially not in a miniature CERN.

Because whatever you are using to power your atom smasher must be putting at least as much power in as you’d get out from the anti-matter it creates – that’s just what E=mc2 means! – so why not just plug that directly into the drive and cut out the middle positron?

(Or, Mr Writer, you say that the anti-matter is being created from a portable rift into an anti-matter universe – and incredibly dangerous way of doing it, but one that gets you your anti-matter “for free” to fuel the matter/anti-matter reaction for the drive.)

Of course, it’s very trad Doctor Who, going right back to the years of Ian and Barbara for us to take a moment to say “so, Ian, we’re in the future, so what is this week’s science spot?”. Not to mention all those black holes, and the pop-science-inspired stories of the Seventies, from artificial intelligence to body language, and that’s just Leela’s first two adventures.

Meanwhile, the Pting appears to be able to fly through space, overtake a ship travelling (we presume from the maps) faster than the speed of light, penetrate the shields and hull, without any visible means of propulsion.

Yes, it looks a bit “Slitheen” – do not go there.

(It also appears to be bigger on the inside, from the way it swallows objects its own body size. Which suggests some seriously fan-baiting possibilities for its origins.)

But we better hope that it’s seriously blissed out from the bomb it swallowed, because booting it out an airlock (and not very far outside the Rhesus station) is not going to stop it if it can do all that.

What we do see is another example of season 37’s “villain walks away” syndrome – getting so obvious even the RadioTimes has commented on it.

Much speculation abounds that we are going to see someone from this list return as “big bad” for the season (or all of them in an Alliance of B-List Monsters to rival Moffat’s “Big Bang”!). Maybe we will.

But I’d like to suggest an alternative reading.

The Doctor’s faced adventures this year that are, more than even is usual, stamped with great big metaphors: if we skip “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”, we get “Selfishness”, “Racism”, “Corruption”, and this week “Doubt” or you might prefer “the System”.

Most often in Doctor Who, the Doctor will deal with a baddie (monsters or villain) who will get their comeuppance.

But dealing with the “big issue” problems, that can be the trite answer.

By leaving our villains this year to walk away, we could be saying that look the big problem remains whether we have some false closure with this little bad guy or not. So, let’s not pretend we’ve solved something as difficult as “racism” by making sure that Rosa Parks is remembered for where she was sitting when she rode the bus.

Overall, a moderate Doctor Who episode is actually nice. It’s nice to see a TARDIS crew who are happy being there, doing what they’re doing. And a Doctor who’s enjoying being the Doctor. “That chapter in the book of celebrants. More of a volume, really.”

It’s like a return to the days of Tom Baker, when the Doctor bestrode the universe, dealing with diabolical masterminds for breakfast and just having fun with best-friend Sarah, Leela and the tin dog, or Romana. It’s like the joy is back.

Next time: we’ve seen segregation in America. Let’s try partition in India. And with more of Yas’s family, will she finally get to shine?

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