The Tsuranga Conundrum.

TV There's an oddity in the credits to tonight's Doctor Who. In between the cast and the 1st assistant AD we find, "PTING [tab space] CREATED BY TIM PRICE". This sort of credit is usually reserved for a returning monster, "DALEKS [tab space] CREATED BY TERRY NATION" or "UXARUEANS [tab space] CREATED BY MALCOLME HULKE", that sort of thing. My original thought was that a spin-off monster had been elevated to the big leagues, but a glance at the Googles indicates that this is some new beastie which shares its name with a pop band and slang for teaching potty training. Tim Price was co-writer on Switch and Secret Diary of a Call Girl and is currently teaching on the MA Screen Writing at Manchester University. Did he submit a script which was heavily rewritten by Chibbers that included the Pting or was he part of the writers room, offering ideas without ultimately producing his own screenplay?

As ready made a merchandising opportunity as the Adipose, the Pting is the first monster of this series which feels like it could have returning potential.  The genetic refuse of a cross between Beep The Meep, an Alien from Alien and one of Dr. Jumba Jookiba's experiments, if anything, probably due to the budget there wasn't enough of him (or her) on screen, forever in the background as an invisible menace.  Clearly if this had been a movie, there would have been a Gremlins like scene of it munching its way through loads of random objects, gobbling anything it could get inside its apparently tiny body with its dimensionally transcendental stomach.  But its best moment is its blissed out, orgasmic little face after the bomb explodes.  There's probably a fair few similar faces tonight amongst the fans who noticed an old school 70s Silurian on the shipboard Wikipedia, in amongst the Slitheen, the Weeping Angels and whatever that thing with the giant skull head and pin stripe suit is.

The rest of the episode was a fine example of an old school base under siege adventure and another demonstration of how this version of the show is happy to simply offer us decent, base-line Doctor Who with a few laughs, some poignancy and an educational undercurrent, a show the whole family can enjoy.  Grumble about that all you want, but as I've said before, one of the problems with recent seasons is the apparent need to offer structurally challenging stories every week, which is fine when it works but can otherwise end up looking like a sphincter exploration.  Admittedly with just ten episodes this season, presenting an adventure like this can seem wasteful to some, but I bet kids loved it and that's really the point, isn't it?  We might well applaud this show for maturing these past few years, but having a Doctor in a permanent state of existential crisis can become a bit tiring.  She has to turn up at a place and inspire everyone to be the best version of themselves every now and again.

Which isn't to say the episode doesn't bat least attempt to subvert some genre and gender expectations.  Imperiled in Pregnancy has a massive entry on the TV Tropes website and in a disaster context its almost always about a woman at the end of term giving birth in difficult circumstances perhaps doubting her potential abilities as a mother, usually with male hero goofily helping her to give birth.  Here we have a man giving birth, aided by a super competent midwife, with Graham and Ryan offering their support.  This side story has already been dismissed as a pointless bit of comedy, but it's thematically essential within the context of this series which among other things is fighting against how men and women are presented in genre television, challenging us to face our own prejudices.  Although Graham and Ryan's reactions are played for laughs, it also leads to the scene in which Ryan explains his own mixed feels about his relationship with his father.

Meanwhile, its the Doctor, Yaz and the General Cicero saving the ship when in other shows the roles would most certainly be the other way around.  It's a significant moment when the police officer is left to defend the engine of the ship with Plastic Pal Ronan without any sense that she might be out of her depth or not have a plan and then be able to use her wits to capture and drop kick the Pting, referencing Siobhan Chamberlain along the way.  Similarly, it's General Cicero who's the expert pilot risking her life to save the rest of the passengers.  Perhaps some of us have become accustomed to this kind of casting and storytelling but it really is glaringly different to so much else happening in this genre were Smurfette Syndrome continues to infest the thinking of writers and directors and such moments are reserved for male protagonists.  This iteration of the show is beating the Bechtel Test without really trying.

There's been a bit of chatter already on the Twitters (which has been pretty lukewarm about opinion wise) discussing the perfunctory nature of the supporting characters and how robot Ronan in particular lacks depth and doesn't contribute to the story.  I'd argue that in Doctor Who not every character has be a functionally important part of the plot.  Sometimes they're just cannon fodder.  Sometimes they're simply local colour, there to help communicate a sense of place.  Not every character in drama has to be three dimensional.  Is that true of most of the characters in The Caves of Androzani or Midnight?  With just fifty minutes to play with, the most you can hope for is some general elements and fragments of backstory, just enough to keep us interested or cause us to empathise.  Wind down your bizarrely high expectations.

Jodie Whittaker continues to be a wonder.  In recent years the show has been a bit reticent of really presenting the extent of the Doctor's knowledge outside of that week's fiction.  Now she's in full on BBC Four presenter led documentary mode, expounding on antimatter and the miniaturizing of technology.  She's inspired and awe-struck by this reimagined warp drive and I can imagine a teenage version of me with his massive crush on the Doctor redoubling his efforts in STEM rather than coasting as I did to an E in Physics at GCSE ("So, physics. Physics, eh? Physics. Physics. Physics! Physics. Physics, physics, physics, physics, physics, physics, physics.")  But it's equally important to see the Doctor apologizing earlier for blithely attempting to put the safety of the ship's crew in danger in order to return to the TARDIS.  It's not quite braining a caveman with a rock, but it shows her to be an emotionally fallible being which causes her to be even more complex.

So yes, another meme worthy, rather joyful adventure which wouldn't be out of place as a narrated AudioGo exclusive, the very definition of the Gallifrey Base poll option "Well above average, but no masterpiece (very good/7)".  Which sounds like damning it with faint praise, but it really isn't.  It's comfort television with a lonely God, a beacon of hope at the centre, just the sort of thing you need in these times.  Watching The Last Starfighter the other night, I was struck by just how, like so much eighties adventure cinema, it lacks cynicism and ironic detachment from its subject matter, unembarrassed about what it is.  That's exactly the vibe which is shining out of Doctor Who right now and good god it's refreshing.

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