S11, E5: The Tsuranga Conundrum

Greetings, friends, from deepest, darkest space, where a ragtag crew onboard an intergalactic spaceship encounter a supercute yet ravenous alien and also deal with a male alien giving birth, an egotistical general and a robot.

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Oh wait, it’s not Futurama, it’s Doctor Who, and it’s probably the Space Oddity-iest of the series so far.

However it has made me realise once again how much Futurama really is the definitive space comedy of the modern era, and one of the best sitcoms of all time. Honestly, go back and give the original series (before the movies and rebooted season) another watch. There are so many jokes built into jokes, that I find something new every time. And I’m not a physicist, and I know there are so many more jokes waiting for me if I ever pull my finger out and learn more than E=MC2 or “Marie Curie was Polish, not French”.

“Je’mapelle Skłodowska, bitches.”

“Je’mapelle Skłodowska, bitches.”

Yes, this episode is essentially The Doctor Vs Nibbler, except if Leela’s pet ate non-breathing stuff instead of breathing stuff; her crew helped support Kif giving birth while Zapp Brannigan actually carried out a mission competently, and Bender was actually interested in the emotions of humans.

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Given this whole episode was essentially a locked room mystery (the Doctor even references Poirot as a joke) with a ravenous alien twist, I don’t really know how useful a full traditional recap would be.

It may be that I am deep in the Love/Hate Actually mindset (performances in Ipswich and Brisbane this month!), and therefore deep into asking probing questions (or probing deeply if you prefer, fnar), but I rather just want to pose a series of questions and statements about the episode, and see whether I’m raving do-lally, or if any of you, precious readers, had similar reactions or feelings.

E11, S5: The Tsuranga Conundrum

First up - why “Conundrum”?

I mean, given the “solve the puzzle” nature of being stuck on a spaceship with a creature that will eat said spaceship, but unable to contact base for help because they will immediately destroy said spaceship, is enough of a “conundrum” to justify the title, it still felt a bit… out of place. It felt like “Oh, The Tsuranga Conundrum SOUNDS like a Doctor Who episode” rather than actually suited it. Also I feel like perhaps the “Menace” or the “Threat” or even the “Problem” or “Encounter” might have worked better. But “Conundrum” does sound smarter and more syllable-y.

What were Team TARDIS looking for on the junk planet?

The quartet have obviously been having some other adventures, as the Doctor mentions she took them “rain-bathing” somewhere, which sounds interesting and exotic and I’d like a pamphlet. But the episode opens with them all standing on a huge trash planet with metal detectors like so many creepy weird old guys on a beach in a full tracksuit despite it being sunny and 35 degrees. Perhaps I missed something, but it seems like they just crawled around filth for two minutes before being hit by the “sonic mine”, which is never really explained.

What was with the Doctor’s injury?

It looked to me like the “sonic mine” teleported them somewhere, but apparently not, as later they’re referred to as being picked up by a local crew. Ryan, Yas and Graham all seemed to recover much faster from the “sonic mine” than the Doctor, who limped around for half the episode clutching her side like so many cast members in an amateur production of Arsenic and Old Lace.

Astos the nurse said it re-arranged your internal organs, and given the Doctor has two hearts and apparently an “ecto-spleen”, maybe it just took longer to settle down. But still, I thought that was going to play a significant part later in the plot - like the Doctor trying to do something but being physically unable to, but instead it just seemed to disappear once she realised she was being a bit of a twat demanding an immediate return to the TARDIS.

Why did the Doctor get all fan-girly over the general?

Now I’m no Doctor Who expert, but as far as I know the only senior soldier the Doctor ever seemed to have respect for was the Brigadier, and yet she seems to geek out over General Eve Cicero, who seemed to be cosplaying as a character from Tron. “You’re in the Book of Celebrants!” she said. Or is that “Book of Celebrance”? Is that a new word? What other meaning does the word “celebrant” have besides “Part-time Radio Host Who Will Charge You Money to Officiate Your Wedding”? Is it because General Cicero is a woman? Surely if we’re embracing equality, the Doctor should be as equally wary of female warriors than of male? Although I suppose there’s that whole Leela thing during the Tom Baker era, which I’ve never actually seen but have been told I would appreciate as a Xena: Warrior Princess afficionado, and of course, a Turanga Leela afficionado, which brings us right back around to Futurama again.

Why was the Doctor so coy about her own entry in the Book?

The Doctor brags. He/she has often said how smart he/she is. So why was she all “shucks, no, not me” when the General quizzed her on her entry, only to pop back in the room and say “Actually, it was a volume, yes, it’s me, I am very famous”? It just seemed weird and non-Doctory. Was it a comment on women not spruiking their achievements enough? Because I sure as hell get told that all the time, but also, I’m typing this in my pyjamas eating unripe mango so I don’t really feel like I’m that much of a high flyer.

Was her clone drone like, you know, for other…. reasons… than security and health?

Sexbot, I’m asking if he was a sexbot. I got a sexbot vibe, don’t @ me.

Erotic.

Erotic.

Was I the only one who felt like the arrival of the mysterious space creature felt a little bit like repeating that episode “Midnight”?

You know, the one with the Doctor sans Donna and the mimic-spirit-demon-thingy? That one had menace as whatever that thing was inhabited people on the transport vehicle, changing their voices. Of course, the big revelation here was a cranky but cute, non-verbal, wide-eyed, eternally hungry beast. So basically every cat ever. Only the “don’t touch, they’re poisonous” bit made them any different to a cat. I expect the toys to be very popular at Christmas.

Perting? Pating? Pa-ten? Pa-tern? Patin? Patyn? Pahtene? Pateen? Pantene? Penang?

All of these accents and I could not for the life of me work out what was the real name of lil’ chubby monster dude.

Really? Pting? WTF?

Really? Pting? WTF?

Why was Astos so intense in his final message to Mabli?

“I believe in you, I always have!” We hadn’t seen enough of their relationship for that to be particularly meaningful - while it was sad to see Astos killed because he was a sensible caring chap with a fair dose of courage, it also wasn’t unexpected, because people DIE around the Doctor. And so therefore it was just Mabli rising to the occasion; at least her shock and panic her friend and superior officer’s death felt genuine.

Does this Doctor worry as much about people dying as previous ones?

It’s just a feeling I’m getting from this series, but maybe it’s always been this way and I don’t remember. Or I’m internalising patriarchal messaging that a woman should be more caring and upset in the face of death - basically Lindy Chamberlain-shaming the Doctor. After all, she’s got shit to take care of. Nobody berates men for putting aside their grief to be practical.

To be honest, this guy could have used a bit more time to reflect on his grief rather than acting rashly (but sexily).

To be honest, this guy could have used a bit more time to reflect on his grief rather than acting rashly (but sexily).

Is Yas’ sole purpose as a character to encourage kids to stay in school?

She seems to be the one who always recalls things from her classes but with mixed results. She was great on Rosa Parks’ life and work and seemed to recall a few things about spiders, but here she’s able to recall learning about anti-matter but not really keeping up. She’s like a cut-rate Hermione Granger. At least she gets to zap the lil’ chubby monster in this episode - but then she just drop kicks it somewhere, it’s not actually contained, and it all got very confusing.

Is Jodie Whittaker struggling with those excitable exposition monologues?

We get it, she has to explain scientific and time travel concepts to her travelling companions - ie, us, the broader and stupider watching audience. But this week’s one about anti-matter hadron colliders becoming like iPhones and being able to power spaceships and how brilliant 67th century technology is seemed a little overplayed and clunky. Also - what’s with having the engineer brother, aptly named Durkus, undermine all of her enthusiasm by saying “Yeah, this one’s a pile of old shit really”. Talk about creating unCERNtainty (hey, look, that pun was no more laboured than anything else on board this ship).

WHY THE HELL DOES THE MAN GET TO HAVE A SHORT GESTATION AND PAIN-FREE LABOUR?

I get that Yoss or Voss or Toss or whatever was an alien (I heard “Giftan”, but am unsure if this was right), and so for their species the males fall pregnant then splurt out a kid a week later, but all I ask is WHY? They’re still humanoid. Why not let him suffer the kind of physical birth that I read about in horrific detail on Mama Mia or some other narcissistic, writer-exploiting website when it’s late at night and I should be asleep but somebody tweets out another memoir story of a traumatic birth and I get suckered in because apparently YOUR VAGINA TEARS WHEN YOU HAVE A BABY PEOPLE. YOUR WHOLE VAGINA.

The miracle of life.

The miracle of life.

And while I will give writer Chris Chibnall the benefit of the doubt and say it was for a) alien reasons and b) to subtly show that women are stronger and deal better with pain than men and c) that it’s OK for men to be sensitive and need other men at a great point of stress (Voss/Yoss/Moss asking Ryan and Graham to be his birthing buddies)....STILL. I haven’t been pregnant or given birth but as a woman I was sitting there watching it going “a nerve-free baby sac? What the f***? Why does that bastard get off so lightly?”

I feel for any women who’ve had any kind of baby - whether surfing the birth canal or whipped out through the sunroof - and had to watch some irresponsibly-knocked-up bloke not only have a seven-day pregnancy and a pain-free birth, but also have the lovely Ryan undergo a sort of personal development moment about his Dad, and get the sense that perhaps his Dad’s abandonment tendencies stemmed from being overwhelmed by being a parent at a young age, and that he could therefore offer Yoss/Voss/Floss some comfort in stressing the most important thing about parenting is being there.

As an aside, how does that “out through the sunroof” metaphor translate to a vaginal birth? If the stomach is the car, then does that mean the vagina is the bonnet? Or the windscreen? Is the transposition that a vaginal birth is essentially shooting a baby out of a car windscreen? Because that’s highly disreputable driving behaviour and should probably be fined by the traffic police.

Why is the engineer brother on the ship?

Durkus, hur hur, is frustrated that his sister is keeping her health problems from him, but I didn’t understand how he happened to be on the ship in the first place. Was he the official engineer for that craft? Or had he just boarded because his sister was on there? And if neural-piloting takes 10 years to learn, but the Doctor couldn’t do it, how was he going to?

Also - did anybody get a slightly odd Ghost-pottery-wheel vibe when he was helping General Cicero with the controls and balance? I know it was supposed to be all loving and family-forgiveness-oriented, but I couldn’t help hearing Unchained Melody in my head.

This is Doctor Who, sure, but is it actually feasibly possible for a creature made out of matter to absorb a massive f***ing anti-matter bomb?

I mean, I’m no physicist, but I read Angels & Demons and that bomb the Caramello, no wait, the Carmen Miranda, no wait… the Camerlengo, put in St Peter’s Basilica would have taken out the whole bally Vatican. And I very much doubt Dan Brown, DAN BROWN, would exaggerate things for airport-friendly-novel-effect. It’s DAN BROWN, people.

So. They blast lil’ chubby monster - happy after his upsized McAntiMatter Meal - into space, deliver the baby, navigate the asteroid field and finally then reach the main hospital base. The Doctor organises a teleport back to the junk planet, and Yoss/Boss/LaCrosse gets enough confidence to try parenting. Ryan, Yas and Graham seem to be very calm about everything that’s happenend, and all seems well.

To sum up, I didn’t mind this episode, but it just felt like there were lots of little things that didn’t add up, or questions that weren’t answered, or stakes and positions that were undermined ('Lil Monster Dude only ate non-organic matter, how convenient. And then they put the clone drone/sex bot on duty to guard the hadron collider bomb, but yet the ‘Lil Monster Dude didn’t seem to be interested at all).

But yeah, if anybody has any answers to my questions, I’m very happy to hear what you made of it!

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