The Tsuranga Conundrum – Doctor Who and Empathy

The Tsuranga Conundrum marks the middle of this year’s series of Doctor Who. Now we’re half way through it is becoming clearer what the thematic trajectory of the show is becoming. The show is asking the audience to be curious about people, rather than just monsters.

At its heart, The Tsuranga Conundrum is about empathy. This has been a major theme of Doctor Who, and the character of the Doctor, for a long time. It is sometimes hidden behind the Doctor’s occasionally abrasive nature, but deep down, the Doctor is drowning in empathy.

Finding Flaws

We get to see the Doctor in their element. Wandering around like she owns the place, barging into rooms, marching into the control centre without a second thought. Only after it is pointed out that she is being selfish and inconsiderate does she change.

The Doctor marching around like they own the place is something we’ve seen time and time again. But here, the key difference is that not only are they called out on it, they actually change their behaviour. The Doctor sees the harm potentially being caused, and adapts, accepting her own wrongdoing.

This is quite a big thing for the show, which has historically glorified the Doctor’s uncaring attitude. While the Doctor may be rude and obnoxious, they do save lives, so that makes it okay. Here, the Doctor has to admit that just saving the day isn’t enough. Sometimes, you have to also be kind.

Another theme that has emerged is the Doctor sticking around after the adventure. This episode sees the Doctor attending another funeral. We’ve gotten so used to the Doctor swanning off back to the TARDIS when all is said and done, not staying to pick up the pieces. But now, she not only stays, this time she joins in, helping with the funeral. It’s subtle character development, but it’s really important.

Of course, she’s still got that same of Doctor-y ego we all know and love. I doubt that will ever really go away.

Mirrors of Self

Perhaps the key scene on which the episode hinges its thematic crux is Ryan discussing his father. Seeing another man about to become a father, at roughly the same age as him, the same age his father was, is a powerful experience. The divide between Ryan and his father is seemingly vast, but we are seeing links being formed.

Ryan is able to form an empathetic link between himself and Yoss, and as a result, between himself and his father. Putting himself in his Yoss’ shoes, he realises that being a parent is a heavy responsibility, one that few can shoulder. He admits that he himself doesn’t feel equipt. This realisation forges an emotive connection and he is able to see things through another person’s eyes.

The character growth for Ryan is feeling like it will be a main focus for this series and I think that here, in the middle of the series, we are starting to see the fruits.

Solutions in People

From the P’Ting, to the flight through an asteroid field, and beyond, the Doctor finds her solutions in the people around her. It’s an interesting dynamic shift that we’ve seen a couple of times this year. Rather than the Doctor simply having all the information in their head, and keeping it until the pivotal moment, the whole team does research.

Perhaps this is one of the most modern aspects of the show at the moment. The characters encounter an unknown thing, and what do they do first? Look it up on Space Wikipedia. This way, everyone has the same information, and everyone can contribute to the solution.

So much of this episode is about people growing to understand, not just the threat, but the people around them, and themselves. Eve, an ace pilot and a legend in her own right learns to trust her brother, Durkas, who she has mocked for his more working class career. He, in turn, puts aside his bitterness and finds strength enough to finish her work, in spite of self doubt.

Mabil, one of the ship’s trainee medical staff, takes comfort in the words Astos gives. She finds the ability to believe in herself after his affirmations, and through her work with the Doctor and company. There is a moment when she is intimidated into breaking the rules by Eve’s android companion Ronan. But by the end of the episode, she seems to have grown beyond that.

One more P’ting

The monster of the week, the P’ting, is perhaps one of the weaker parts. I feel the episode would have been more atmospheric and impactful if we never saw what it looked like. But then BBC Worldwide wouldn’t have a cute toy to sell.

That being said, the P’ting serves an interesting point. The Doctor spends time thinking about the creature, trying to get into its head. Working out what it wants, what it needs, and what it’s trying to do. The Doctor, again, finds the solution through empathy.

Oh, and Graham had a few funny lines this week, too. Good old Graham.