This episode started out like a tribute to The Detectorists, with the Doctor and companions rummaging around a giant rubbish tip of a planet, before turning into Casualty-in-space plus a Gremlins-style cute alien monster running amok, and a sub-plot about a pregnant dude about to give birth.
The setting was a space ship ferrying emergency medical cases, hampered somewhat by the presence of the little monster called P’Ting (not to be confused with 80s rock band T’Pau), who was eating the ship’s hardware piece by piece, thus threatening the Doctor and gang, as well as the vessel’s staff and patients.
Despite a race-against-time structure, the tone was oddly meandering. The action frequently stopped so we could learn more about the new supporting characters’ back-stories, or to teach us about the physics of anti-matter. And the one character we were rooting for right from the start – onboard ship operative Astos, played by the deeply-likeable Brett Goldstein, Jodie Whittaker’s co-star from the excellent 2016 indie film Adult Life Skills – was cruelly killed off after about 15 minutes. We’re all in favour of shock early character deaths but this one felt like an unnecessary self-inflicted blow to a story which was already less than gripping. Even the Doctor’s big problem-solving moments were underwhelming, and she seemed slow to pick up on obvious details like the fact they were stranded on a space ship and not in a hospital on the ground.
The first lacklustre episode of the series.
At least the pregnant man storyline gave Ryan another chance to air his daddy issues, and Tosin Cole nailed those reflective moments as he has throughout the series so far. By this point we’re thoroughly invested in Ryan, whereas Yaz has yet to come into full focus. (We have high hopes of next week’s Yaz-centred story set in 1940s India.)
Despite some fun moments involving the P’Ting – notably its ill-advised attempt to eat the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver – the Alien-style narrative of a monster eating its way through the spaceship never really gained traction. This creature was simply too cute to be much of a threat. Still, we’re now half-way through Chris Chibnall’s first series as Who showrunner, and this is the first lacklustre episode. Apart from anything else, we’re still wondering – just what was the Tsurunga Conundrum?
Read the review of Episode 1, The Woman Who Fell To Earth
Read the review of Episode 2, The Ghost Monument
Read the review of Episode 3, Rosa
Read the review of Episode 4, Arachnids In The UK