11 questions we have after Doctor Who: The Tsuranga Conundrum

What were all those alien species? What's the deal with Ryan's dad? And where did the Doctor get that stethoscope?

Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who: The Tsuranga Conundrum (BBC)

Forget Holby City or Casualty – the hot new hospital drama on the block is Doctor Who, which in series 11 episode five saw our intrepid heroes checked in to a futuristic medical facility under attack from a deadly creature.

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As usual, the adventure was full of high-tech chicanery, extra-terrestrial derring-do and a whole heap of sci-fi bamboozlement.

By the end of the story we were left with many questions about everything we’d seen.

But to start off with, let’s talk about some things we HAVEN’T seen…


How many adventures have the team been on at this stage?

Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill, Jodie Whittaker and Tosin Cole in Doctor Who (BBC)
Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill, Jodie Whittaker and Tosin Cole in Doctor Who (BBC)

After opting to travel with the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) permanently in episode four, we’re given the impression that Graham, Yaz and Ryan (Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill and Tosin Cole) have been on a few adventures together, with the Doctor namechecking their time rain-bathing in the upward tropics of Constano (are we spelling that right?) as just one of their more recent trips.

So just how many other times and places have the gang visited at this stage? Well, given that episode three’s Rosa Parks adventure established that particular visit was their 14th attempt at arriving on Earth, we could calculate that there have been nearly 20 other adventures for the Tardis team off screen.

Still, if you’re sad to have missed the trips, never fear: thanks to the reams of spin-off comics and books coming out based on the new series, we’re sure these adventures will be filled in soon enough.


Will Ryan’s Dad soon make an appearance?

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Tosin Cole and Jack Shalloo in Doctor Who: The Tsuranga Conundrum

Ever since series 11’s first episode we’ve been hearing stories of Ryan’s feckless father, who missed his own mother’s funeral before sending a letter to his son suggesting they bury the hatchet.

In The Tsuranga Conundrum we finally get a sense of why Ryan’s dad abandoned him in the first place, with Tosin Cole’s wannabe mechanic sharing the story of how he found his mother dead after a heart attack.

“He ducked out when I needed him. He’s like a gap in my life,” Ryan says.

“I get it – he loved her too. People always said I looked like her. He must have found it hard.”

Surely at this point we have to see Ryan’s dad in a future episode, right? After all this discussion, Doctor Who must be building up to a weighty encounter between father and son – probably involving aliens in some way – to cap off Ryan’s storyline.

Rumour has it that Ryan’s dad may even be cropping up in this year’s Christmas special; that could be the perfect introduction. What better time to be forced together with estranged relatives than Christmas?


Have any of these aliens, cultures or technology appeared in Doctor Who before?

Ben Bailey Smith as Durkas Cicero and Suzanne Packer as Eve Cicero in Doctor Who (BBC)
Ben Bailey Smith as Durkas Cicero and Suzanne Packer as Eve Cicero in Doctor Who (BBC)

As far as we can tell, nope. All the alien species, races and technology (bar any tech based on real science) seem to have been invented specially for this episode, as part of Chris Chibnall’s desire to tell new stories in the Doctor Who universe.

That means we get to experience fresh the deadly Pting, the Tsuranga organisation operating hospitals around the galaxy, the ‘Keban’ pilot society (is that right?) or the ‘Gifdan’ species, where males can also give birth.

It means there are a lot of interesting new ideas thrown at us – though on the downside, as you may have noticed all the new words make spelling a little tricky.


What is the Book of Celebrants?

Doctor Who Series 11

When the Doctor notes General Eve Cicero’s (Suzanne Packer) status in the Book of Celebrants, Cicero in turn remembers spotting the Doctor’s name in there. Though, as the Doctor immodestly points out, she actually has her own spin-off volume.

But what is the Book of Celebrants? Well, we’ve never heard it mentioned in the show before, but it seems to suggest it’s a collection of significant figures in the universe, a sort of Who’s Who of the Whoniverse.

Given that the Doctor previously removed a lot of records noting her existence during her Eleventh incarnation (when she was played by Matt Smith), that “volume” of the Doctor’s achievements may only be things she’s done recently, barely scratching the surface. Maybe she has the right to be a little full of herself?


Is the Doctor really a doctor?

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We know from previous episodes of Doctor Who that ‘The Doctor’ isn’t actually the Doctor’s name – it’s one she chose, as all Time Lords apparently choose their name, and signifies her promise to always try and help others.

But is she actually a qualified doctor as well? In The Tsuranga Conundrum she claims to be a doctor of “medicine, science, engineering, candyfloss, Lego, philosophy, music, problems, hope. Mostly hope,” but it’s unclear whether she actually earned qualifications in all of those fields (earning a Lego doctorate is famously difficult, after all).

Maybe she just thinks she’s expert enough to count as a doctor for all of those fields, or maybe the Doctor actually used some of her 2000-plus years alive in actually cracking the books. We’re hoping it’s the latter.


Wait, haven’t I seen that stethoscope before?

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Good spot! Over the years the Doctor has used a stethoscope for non-medical means (as she does in this episode to listen to the medical spacecraft) many times, beginning with Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor and continuing for Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor.

David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, however, is probably the incarnation who most frequently used a stethoscope in his adventures. His successor (Matt Smith) only used it once on screen, while Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor seemed to eschew it entirely.

Whether it’s the same stethoscope is a different matter, as is whether it’s actually a stethoscope at all. Just like when the Tenth Doctor’s 3D glasses were actually used for viewing radiation, it could be that this stethoscope is actually some more advanced technology only modelled to look like primitive Earth designs.


Who is Siobhan Chamberlain?

When Yaz briefly subdues the Pting and punts it away from the anti-matter drive, she likens herself to Siobhan Chamberlain. If you’re wondering who that is, she’s a football player for Manchester United, formerly of Liverpool Ladies, and part of the England national team.

Specifically, Chamberlain’s a goalkeeper, so Yaz’s act of carrying the Pting before kicking it away is quite appropriate.


Could we really have antimatter drives?

During the episode the Doctor takes a moment to express her admiration for the ship’s antimatter drive, which includes a mini particle accelerator and powers the ship’s flight.

“The particle accelerator smashes the atoms together, like a little antimatter factory, to produce positrons, which are stored very carefully inside electric and magnetic fields,” she explains.
“The positrons interact with the fuel materials to produce heat, which produces thrust.”
Antimatter could indeed be used for fuel, as has been explored in previous Doctor Who episodes – but how accurate is the episode’s science? Check out our brief guide to Doctor Who antimatter here to find out.

Why do Doctor Who villains keep escaping this year?

Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell to Earth (BBC, HF)
Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell to Earth (BBC)

Here’s a bit of a funny trend: this year almost every foe the Doctor and her friends have faced haven’t been entirely vanquished, instead just leaving or being transported to another location.

Stenza baddie Tim Shaw? Teleported away. Nasty race organiser Illin (Art Malik)? Still off on another planet. Time-travelling racist Krasko (Josh Bowman)? Zapped to the past. Spider-mutating wannabe politician Robertson (Chris Noth)? He just walked right off to enjoy his life.

Now, the incredibly dangerous Pting just floats off into space with a bellyful of energy, and this has us wondering – why do all of these villains keep getting to walk away?

Sure, the Remnants and the giant spiders bit the dust, and Krasko may not have lasted long at the beginning of time. And yes, the Pting seemed like it was pretty well dealt with for the time being.

But so far, in every episode an antagonist has lived to fight another day – and that has us wondering if we’ll be seeing some of them again…


What is the “darkness” everyone keeps hinting at?

Doctor Who series 11 ep 5

An odd note in this episode is that so many of the guest characters keep referring to the “dark times” they’re living in during the 67th century, without ever really going into what they’re so worried about.

“Dark times right now – turbulent world. I’m not sure I’m his best option,” pregnant alien Yoss Inkl (Jack Shalloo) says early in the episode, while later on harried medic Mabli (Lois Chimimba) mentions something similar.

“Light in dark times,” she says to the Doctor, to which she replies, “People prevail. Hope always prevails.”

Could all these references be related to the war General Eve Cicero fought in, or the “tricky in the middle” part of the 67th century that the Doctor mentions at one point during the story?

Is episode writer Chris Chibnall trying to draw parallels with our own unstable times? Or is something more insidious going on in the galaxy, perhaps related to the scourge of the Stenza hinted at in this series’ second episode?

Whatever the truth, we hope this isn’t just a passing reference – we need to know.


What was the prayer they all said at the end?

David Shields as Ronan in Doctor Who: The Tsuranga Conundrum (BBC)
David Shields as Ronan in Doctor Who: The Tsuranga Conundrum (BBC)

At the end of the episode all the surviving characters join hands to say a traditional prayer, which like the rest of the episode is a new addition to Who canon. Here’s what was said:

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 in the next. And all the journeys still to come. For now and evermore.

An appropriate prayer for the Doctor and her friends to share in, and a nice way to end the episode.


That’s pretty much all the questions we had after the Tsuranga Conundrum – but was there anything else you noticed? Let us know.

Doctor Who continues on BBC1 on Sundays

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This article was originally published on 4 November 2018