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Recap / Doctor Who S37 E5 "The Tsuranga Conundrum"

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"May the saints of all the stars and constellations bring you hope, as they guide you out of the dark and into the light. On this voyage and the next, and all the journeys still to come. For now, and ever more."

The One With… the pregnant man.

This episode aired on November 4, 2018. Written by Chris Chibnall.

The Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz are searching a Landfill Beyond the Stars for something with metal detectors, when Graham uncovers a sonic mine that's about to go off. Unfortunately, it can't be defused in time, and they all wake up in a hospital. Well, actually, it's a Tsuranga space ambulance, which picked them up after being alerted to their medical emergency via remote drones. It's bringing the Doctor, her companions, and two other patients to a hospital called Rhesus 1. The Doctor initially attempts to turn the ship around so she can get back to the TARDIS, but after the chief medic, Astos, points out that she's being selfish, she realizes he's right and stops. The ship is, however, having to take a new route on the edge of disputed territory to get to the hospital.

Just then, the ship is breached by something from space that moves incredibly quickly and targets the ship's two life pods. Astos dies when the life pod he enters is jettisoned, leaving them with no escape pods, since the other one was already gone by the time the Doctor got to it. The other medic, Mabli, is nervous about handling the situation on her own, and the Doctor calls the other patients together to tell them of the situation: a Pting, an extremely dangerous and mysterious creature which feeds on inorganic material, is onboard the ship, and they are all in danger if they can't get it off.

As the Doctor works to figure out what the Pting wants and get everyone safely to Rhesus 1, the other patients have their own problems: Yoss is about to have a baby he's not sure he wants to keep, and celebrated war hero General Eve Cicero is trying to hide the truth about her medical condition from her brother and everyone else. The Doctor eventually deduces that the Pting feeds on energy, so as Yaz and android Ronan defend the ship's antimatter core, and Graham and Ryan are roped into serving as Yoss's doulas (a real-world term for a non-medical assistant for a birth) while Mabli delivers his baby. The General sacrifices herself to fly the ship to safety through a quicker but more difficult and dangerous route, which her heart can't take. The Doctor feeds the ship's self-destruct bomb to the Pting, giving it a very good meal that should keep it from endangering anyone else for a long time, and the General's brother takes the ship home for the final stretch. At the end, as the ship is being decontaminated before everyone can be admitted to the hospital, they gather round to say a few words for General Cicero.


  • Accidental Murder: The Pting was only interested in eating the energy from the life pods. Astos was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time when it was jettisoned.
  • Ace Pilot: The General used to be one of the best pilots in her military — and although it has been a while, it seems she still is.
  • Ascetic Aesthetic: The hospital ship Tsuranga is all straight lines and antiseptic white surfaces. Justified as it is supposed to be a sterile environment not intended for long-term human occupation.
  • Asleep for Days: The Doctor and company were knocked out for four days by the sonic mine before they wake up on the ship.
  • Asteroid Thicket: The ship flies through one early on, and its original route would have rerouted it around another, which they are forced to fly through during the situation with the Pting.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: The General and her brother have a moment of this as he sets her up to pilot the ship, with him admitting that he regrets not telling her he loves her more and how proud he is of her.
  • Bad Liar: Astos is one of these, in the Doctor's opinion. He fires back that he is a terrific liar.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: The Doctor mentions that her "ecto-spleen" was injured by the sonic mine.
  • Bizarre Alien Reproduction: Among Gifftans, men give birth to boys and women give birth to girls. We don't see how the women give birth, but males are pregnant for only a week, have a "birthing sac" that must be painlessly cut open to extract the baby, and are born with two umbilical cords. For his part, Yoss's reaction to finding out that human reproduction doesn’t work like Gifftans' is a weirded out "Ew".
  • Celebrity Paradox: Graham mentions Call the Midwife, a show that shares several actors with Doctor Who, including former lead actress Jessica Raine, who doubles down on the paradox as she played Verity Lambert, Doctor Who's original producer, in the docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time, about the making of Doctor Who. The paradox also triples down that Raine had also guest-starred in Doctor Who four seasons earlier, just before the docudrama.
    • On the flip side, not too long after this episode aired, Call the Midwife had Jack Shalloo, who played Yoss in this episode, appear in its Christmas special. Following this, Call the Midwife would also occassionally reference to Doctor Who by showing some of the characters watching episodes that did air during the time period.
  • Continuity Nod:
  • Could Say It, But...: In a downplayed example, Mabli says that she can't tell the Doctor about General Cicero's medical condition because of patient confidentiality, but suggests that she examine her so the Doctor will find out what Cicero's really suffering from.
  • Cute Creature, Creepy Mouth: The Pting is a cute, somewhat babylike creature with a mouth full of sharp teeth.
  • Cute Monster: The Pting only attacked the ship because it's hungry, and it looks surprisingly adorable for something so dangerous.
  • Delivery Guy: When Yoss goes into labour, he asks Ryan and Graham to be his doulas because he feels he needs some men around. Graham insists that he can handle this as he's seen every episode of Call the Midwife, but panics in the moment itself as he always looked away at the squickyinvoked bits.
  • Due to the Dead: At the end, everyone gathers around General Cicero's body to recite a prayer for her.
  • Eat the Bomb: The Doctor feeds the Pting the ship's self-destruct device, hoping to defuse it safely while giving the Pting a meal energising enough that it won't get hungry and endanger anyone else for a while.
  • Escape Pod: The ship has two, which quickly get jettisoned when the Pting goes after their power sources.
  • Expospeak Gag: Ronan at one point asks Yaz if she is also "experiencing comprehension deficiency".
  • Extreme Omnivore: The Pting can consume any inorganic matter or energy source, which is bad news on a spaceship.
  • Extremophile Lifeforms: The Pting lives in space, is essentially impossible to destroy, and foregoes conventional food, subsisting instead on energy drained from technology.
  • Failed a Spot Check: The Doctor berates herself for this after wandering around the "hospital" looking for an exit and failing to notice the telltale engine vibrations signifying that she was on a spaceship.
  • Famed in Story: General Cicero is a well-known war hero, and the Doctor mentions she's listed in the Book of Celebrants. Cicero has in turn heard of the Doctor, who has a whole volume in the book.
  • Foreshadowing: Ryan discusses his mum's death from a heart attack, and the strain this put on his relationship with his dad. This foreshadows General Cicero's death from pilot's heart, and Yoss's reluctance to raise a child.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: When the Doctor and Mabli research the Pting in the ship's database, images of a Cyberman, an Ood, a Weeping Angel, a Slitheen, a Sontaran, a Silent, a classic-series Silurian, and a Zygon are briefly seen.
  • Future Imperfect: For some reason, "Avocado Pear" has gone down in history as the name of one of Earth's greatest heroes, at least in Gifftan records. Graham and Ryan correct Yoss that those are foods. Of course, between the 21st and 67th Centuries there’s definitely some time for an Earth hero of that name to appear — with the popularity of avocados and strange names at the time of the episode airing, it wouldn’t even really be surprising if there was a baby with the name Avocado in the present.
  • Heel Realisation: The Doctor when Astos points out how selfish she's being by trying to turn the ship around to get back to the TARDIS when it's taking others to a hospital.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The General has "Pilot's Heart", which is apparently some inability to regulate adrenaline. She dies when a big surge of it causes her a heart attack while she's attempting to manually pilot the ship to safety through an asteroid field.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: Subverted when the Doctor initially denies being the one with a chapter in the Book of Celebrants, then can't resist adding that it was actually an entire volumne.
  • Hiding the Handicap: General Cicero is not keen for anyone to know about her pilot's heart, partly because she doesn't want to worry her brother and partly because she doesn't think it the sort of condition a war hero should suffer from.
  • Human Alien: Gifftans can't be told apart from humans, apart from the fact that both sexes can get pregnant and the pregnancies only last for a week for men.
  • Idiot Ball: Astos, knowing that there is something dangerous lurking near the lifepod, steps inside when he sees that it seems to be malfunctioning. He gets locked in, ejected, and dies when the pod explodes. He lampshades it as a "rookie mistake".
  • I Know Mortal Kombat: Graham mentions that he knows how to properly assist with childbirth thanks to watching Call the Midwife. Later subverted when he mentions to Ryan that he actually looked away during the gross bits.
  • Innocuously Important Episode: Maybe not plotwise, but the Doctor's outburst at Astos foreshadows her pricklier personality in Season 12.
  • The Juggernaut: The Pting can eat through anything that would attempt to restrain them or block their path, and cannot be harmed by any known weapon. The computer advises simply staying far away from them.
  • Killer Rabbit: The Pting looks adorable but is Nigh-Invulnerable, has a lethal toxic touch, and endangers an entire starship by eating it.
  • The Knights Who Say "Squee!": The Doctor has a moment of squeeing over General Cicero, who returns the gesture upon learning that she is talking to the Doctor.
  • Landfill Beyond the Stars: At the beginning of the episode, the Doctor and company are wandering around a junkyard planet, which is apparently in an entire junk galaxy. Fortunately, such galaxies are rare.
  • Mad Lib Thriller Title: Robert Ludlum would be proud.
  • Mister Seahorse: Yoss. In his species both genders can get pregnant, and can only give birth to their own gender.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • The design of the ship's bridge, with a central console hanging from the ceiling, is reminiscent of a proposed console room for the Seventh Doctor's TARDIS.
    • Another one, that really shows the Pting's invulnerability if you get it: A weapon called a "staser" is used, and can only stun it briefly. Stasers, introduced in "The Deadly Assassin", are Time Lord weapons which prevent regeneration, and can leave the victim an unrecognizable burnt husk. A weapon created by the most advanced civilization in the universe at the height of their power that is designed to kill the unkillable can only give this thing a nice refreshing nap.
  • Nigh-Invulnerability: The Pting are said to be immune to all known weaponry.
  • No New Fashions in the Future: In stark contrast to the other locals of the 67th century, Durkas Cicero is wearing a T-shirt with ripped jeans and a zippered jacket that wouldn't be out of place in the 21st century.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: Despite the huge danger it poses to the ship and its inhabitants, the Pting isn't actively trying to harm or kill anyone, it's just really hungry and sees the ship as food.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • Team TARDIS' trip rain-bathing in the upper tropics of Costano.
    • Upon learning she's in the 67th century, the Doctor remarks that it's a rather tumultuous period of history in the middle, but works out in the end. Amusingly, but almost certainly coincidentally, it is the period of Big Finish's Dalek Empire III, which is certainly tumultuous.
  • The Patient Has Left the Building: The Doctor tries to do this after waking up, despite Astos and Mabli's protests, before learning that she's actually on a spaceship.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: The Pting is about the size of a baby, but its speed, invulnerability, poisonous skin and ability to eat any inorganic material make it very dangerous. General Cicero mentions that she once encountered one that devastated an entire fleet.
  • Poisonous Person: The Pting's skin secretes a toxin that is lethal to all other lifeforms.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Ronan appears to be a preternaturally calm human who drops occasional bits of Robo Speak.
  • Robosexual: General Cicero is human, and her consort Ronan is an android.
  • Rule of Three: The people on board the ship can only send a signal to Rhesus 1 denying the presence of hostile lifeforms onboard three times before it will stop working.
  • Saw It in a Movie Once: Graham cites having seen every episode of Call the Midwife as his experience when asked to be one of Yoss's birth partners. Unfortunately, he always had to look away at the squishy bits...
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: The ship has one in case of hijacking in the form of a bomb just below the antimatter drive. The Doctor eventually feeds the bomb to the Pting.
  • Self-Healing Phlebotinum: The sonic screwdriver gets damaged when the Pting tries to eat it, but reboots itself in time for the Doctor to use it to recover the self-destruct.
  • Shout-Out:
    • When everyone gathers in the diagnostics room, the Doctor enters while saying they must be wondering why she's gathered them all here, and then wonders if the statement is too Poirot.
    • The Doctor mentions having seen all 900 casts of Hamilton.
    • Graham is a big fan of Call the Midwife.
  • Shown Their Work: The Doctor's description of how particle accelerators generate antimatter is fairly scientifically accurate.
    • While I'm not looking to a show about a magic box that flies through time and space to be correct, they didnt even get close. Particle accelerators cannot accelerate atoms. You need ions. Also, you can't create energy by creating antimatter. You waste a lot of energy producing it, as most of it goes off into other particles that are not useful. Only a very small fraction of the initial energy you put in comes out as positrons. You get that energy out again when you get them to annihilate with electrons, but it is still only a minuscule amount of the energy you put in in the first place. That is not because we can't yet build good enough particle accelerators, that is a fundamental law of physics. You just can't get energy from nothing.
  • Single-Episode Handicap: The Doctor seems to have taken the brunt of the sonic mine blast, and at several points during the episode stops to clutch her side and note that she still hurts. It doesn't slow her down much.
  • The Summation: Riffed when the Doctor gathers everyone in one room to discuss how they're going to handle the crisis.
    Doctor: You're probably wondering why I called you all here. Sorry, bit Poirot.
  • Space People: The Pting is able to cross the vacuum of space without suffering any obvious ill effects.
  • Space Station: Rhesus 1, the hospital that is the ship's ultimate destination, is drifting in space.
  • Squee: As well as the Doctor's Fangirl moment with the General (described above), there's also her glee when she shows Yaz the anti-matter generator powering the ship's engines.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: The Doctor ejects the Pting from the ship after it eats the bomb this way. Unlike other examples of this trope, this doesn't kill it.
  • Time Skip: There's clearly been a few adventures since Team TARDIS was last in Sheffield, with the Doctor mentioning that she took the group rain-bathing.
  • Too Spicy for Yog-Sothoth: The Pting cheerfully devours any inorganic material it can get its hands on... except for the sonic screwdriver, which it spits out moments after swallowing.
  • Trapped-with-Monster Plot: Downplayed as the Monster of the Week is not actively hunting them; it's just going to eat the spaceship around them and kill them as an unfortunate consequence.
  • Useless Spleen: The Doctor mentions at one point that her "ecto-spleen" is still hurting from the sonic mine blast.
  • Waking Up Elsewhere: The Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz wake up on a medical ship after being caught in the blast of a sonic mine.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Astos is quickly killed in the first act.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Astos gives the Doctor one of these when she insists on trying to hijack the hospital ship in order to get back to the TARDIS, completely ignoring the fact that there are other patients on this ship who need to get medical care.
    The Doctor: I'm not being hostile!
    Astos: Yes, you are! You're being hostile and selfish. There are patients on board who need to get to Resus One as a matter of urgency. My job is to keep all of you safe. You're stopping me from doing that.
  • What Year Is This?: The Doctor, examining the antimatter drive, asks Ronan what century she's in, explaining that she and her friends are time travellers. (It's the 67th, for the record.)
  • Whole-Plot Reference:
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Astos's last words to Mabli are encouragement for her to face this crisis because she is capable of it.