Doctor Who Season 11, Episode 5 recap: Emergency in space

Photo credit: Doctor Who/BBC -- Acquired via AMC Press Site
Photo credit: Doctor Who/BBC -- Acquired via AMC Press Site /

A new episode of Doctor Who saw the TARDIS team struggle to stay alive while trapped with an oddly monster in rapidly decaying hospital spaceship.

Although new Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall has refrained from including some of the series most iconic species and villains so far, he has indulged in a number of the series’ classic storylines. “The Ghost Monument” was an enjoyable secretly dangerous planet installment. “Rosa” was a better than average historical figure episode. Last week’s “Arachnids in the UK” was a fun monster of the week romp. And this week’s “The Tsuranga Conundrum” was a classic base under siege thriller.

It was with this episode that I realized what Chibnall is trying to do by revisiting Doctor Who’s greatest hits; showing how the Thirteen Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) is different from her predecessors. “The Ghost Monument” is about her lack of confidence in her new persona. “Rosa” was about her commitment to preserving fixed points in time. “Arachnids in the UK” and its Trump proxy showed that Thirteen the least vengeful Doctor of the revived series. And “Tsuranga” was about how differently this Doctor feels about fatalities in the guest cast.

“On the plus side, I now feel very well informed”

While scavenging for parts on a planet-sized junkyard, the Doctor and the TARDIS team accidentally triggered a sonic mine. Sometime later, the group woke up in a 67th-century hospital ship. A doctor named Astos (Brett Goldstein) explained that the ship was on an unalterable course away from the TARDIS. Later, an alien creature boarded the ship and killed Astos. The ship’s data banks revealed that the creature was called P’Ting that had a ravenous hunger for inorganic material. And that the species controlling the ship, the Tsuranga, would detonate it to stop a P’Ting from reaching an inhabited medical station.

Photo credit: Doctor Who/BBC — Acquired via AMC Press Site
Photo credit: Doctor Who/BBC — Acquired via AMC Press Site /

With more interesting aspects of the Doctor Who Season 11 has been watching the Doctor’s personality come into focus. In the revived series, the newly regenerated Doctor’s persona has always taken different lengths of time to coalesce. The Tenth Doctor and Eleventh Doctors were more or less themselves by the end of their introductory episodes. But the Twelfth Doctor didn’t establish a firm persona until the end of his first Christmas Special. Thirteen seems to be a combination of the two approaches. “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” painted a clear portrait of the character, but her nuanced have been teased out of the course of the season.

On balance, I’ve enjoyed how that creative choice has played out. It’s allowed the Thirteen Doctor’s personality to emerge in a naturalistic fashion. As such, I suspect it won’t need the kind of bold retooling the last Doctor’s did. It’s also allowed the show’s new companions to become fully sketched out characters. Well, except for Yaz (Mandip Gill). All we learned about her this episode was that she likes English football. It’s odd that Chibnall has handled the rest of the show’s recurring cast so well but has dropped the ball so badly with Yaz.

“Are you also experiencing comprehension deficiency?”

The Doctor explained the situation to the ship’s patients and explained her plan. Breaking into segments, the group worked together to manual redirect the ship on a faster course, deliver a pregnant patient named Yoss’s (Jack Shalloo) baby and protect the ship’s antimatter drive. Eve (Suzanne Packer), a decorated general confessed that she had a fatal adrenal condition but agreed to pilot the ship regardless. Her younger brother Durkas (Ben Bailey-Smith) rigged up a system to allow her to do so.

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While Yaz once again got the short shrift, we did get some quality development for Graham and Ryan. In Yoss, a young man unprepared for the responsibilities of fatherhood, Ryan saw something of his own absentee dad. For the first time, Ryan could see why his father bailed and how, if he were in a similar situation, might do the same thing. I suspect that by the end of the season, Ryan will reunite with his dad and afterward will finale embrace Graham as his grandfather. If it does, it’ll be a really refreshing change of pace for Doctor Who. In the last few seasons, the only big lesson the companions have learned is the Doctor is a flawed god.

On an unrelated note, the P’Ting is the cutest monster Doctor Who has produced in years. In terms of look and function, the creature was very similar to Lilo & Stitch’s Stitch. Like last week’s giant spiders, P’Ting wasn’t malevolent in the least, it was just incredibly hungry and undiscerning about what it ate. Though not as visually distinct or unnerving as some of the show’s monsters of the week, the P’Ting felt very much like something that could only come from this show. And it’s adorable but destructive design felt like another indication that the series is now aiming for a younger audience.

 “You’ve been mucking around on YouTube, I been learning useful life skills”

The Doctor removed the ship’s self-destruct system, which she tricked the P’Ting into eating before ejecting it. Yoss gave birth to healthy baby thanks to Ryan (Tosin Cole), Graham (Bradley Walsh) and a medic named Mabil (Lois Chimimba). The stress of piloting the ship killed Eve, but Durkas managed to bring the ship to a medical space station safely. Mabil told the Doctor that the Tsuranga would teleport her to her ship. Together, the group said a prayer in honor of Eve and her sacrifice.

While this episode was largely plot focused, it did confirm something interesting about the Doctor; how she feels about the people she loses along the way. As with Grace’s death in the season premiere, the Doctor was neither torn up by Eve’s passing nor was she indifferent to it. She lacks the guilt that drove the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, but she’s also not callous as the Twelfth. She’s seemingly just good at processing grief and she understands the futility of torturing herself about the things she can’t change. That serenity is a significant and welcome change to the Doctor’s character.

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Since that’s how Chibnall has chosen to portray the Doctor, it’ll be interesting to see how the season resolves. Though it went unelaborated upon, the reason the hospital ship was taking an extra-long route to its destination was that war had broken out across the galaxy. Since they’ve been the only reoccurring antagonist this season, I think one of the belligerents in the conflict might be the Stenza. We know that they are a serious intergalactic threat and they could still be in the far future. Since this Doctor’s personality seems rooted in kindness and mercy, it’ll be interesting to see how she copes with a group that doesn’t value either trait.

Did you like this episode of Doctor Who? Leave your answer in the comments below.

Doctor Who airs on BBC America Sunday at 8 pm.