Review by Paul Mount
Written by: Vinay Patel & Chris Chibnall
Directed by: Nida Manzoor
First Broadcast: 26th January 2020 – BBC One
Ko Sho Blo! Trigger-happy space police the Judoon are targeting 21st-century Gloucester. The Doctor, Yaz, Ryan and Graham race back to Earth in order to prevent them doing too much damage to the cathedral city. But who are they looking for, and what did they do to incur the wrath of the Judoon?
Still mourning the destruction of her home planet Gallifrey by her bitterest enemy the Master, the Doctor is quietly searching for answers when her companions aren’t around. Her gloomy state of mind is lifted when the TARDIS picks up the familiar stentorian cry of a Judoon platoon (currently near the Moon) setting off on a mission in, of all prosaic places, the sunny cathedral city of Gloucester. We’ve already been introduced to the cheery Ruth Clayton (Jo Martin), a tour guide enjoying the sights and sounds of the city as her partner Lee (Neil Stuke) prepares to help her celebrate her birthday.
Troops of leather-clad Judoon materialise all over the city and begin meting out their own very ruthless form of justice to anyone who stands in the way. They’re looking for some unidentified fugitive lurking somewhere in the city; but who or what are they looking for…and why?
Once again this impressive latest season of Doctor Who completely and utterly wrong-foots its audience. An episode that promised little more than an enjoyable, disposable romp highlighting the return of some popular library monsters turned completely and utterly upside down and delivered two of the biggest narrative jolts in the series’ long history.
Seriously, no-one saw Fugitive of the Judoon coming, despite the BBC withholding the episode from preview and warnings, a few days prior to transmission, that there were surprises in store. As a result the actual core story itself doesn’t really matter – there’s not really a lot of it to get stuck into anyway – because what matters here isn’t the story itself. It’s what it might mean in the longer term, not only for the show moving forward but also – a bit like the Master’s “everything you think you know is a lie” reveal from Spyfall – for what we know about the history of the Doctor herself.
In his second season as showrunner Chris Chibnall has blown open Doctor Who history forcing the audience to question fifty-odd years of accepted canon in his determination to give the show the biggest punt up the posterior in its long run. In itself, this is a remarkable turnaround from the “back to basics” approach of his previous season and in some ways it might be too sharp a swerve in the other direction for a casual audience that doesn’t live and breathe the history of Doctor Who.
There’s so much here to reward long-term fans and, pointedly, fans who remember some of the glory days of Russell T Davies. Chibnall’s big reveals in this season riff off ideas put forward in Davies’s era; the whole issue of the destruction or otherwise of Gallifrey and the return, here, of elements introduced in season three’s Human Nature/Family of Blood two-parter – and the same season’s penultimate episode, Utopia, superficially suggest a little creative inertia and a blatant attempt to revisit the glories of the show’s modern imperial phase or, alternatively, a new dramatic dynamic taking its cues from the past and sending the series off at entirely unexpected tangents.
In the end, we’ll most likely only know for sure whether this bold new direction for the show, based largely on huge chunks of its recent past and a potential rewiring of its very origins, has worked when we know exactly where it’s all heading…
The episode’s first big surprise – and in all honesty it probably would have been enough on its own – sees the return of long-time new series favourite Captain Jack Harness (played with the usual colourful glee and exuberance by the larger-than-life John Barrowman) who teleports Graham (Bradley Walsh) aboard a spaceship he has requisitioned in the mistaken belief that Graham is the Doctor.
Barrowman’s return has been a fan rumour for some time but no-one expected this thrilling little extended mid-season cameo and his appearance – following spine-tingling off-stage voiceovers which must have had the whole audience straining towards the TV muttering “That sounds like… is it?… it can’t be?” – zapping onto the set with a cheeky grin and a cry of “You missed me, right?” (aimed as much at us as at the bewildered Graham) is utterly joyful. It reminds us not only what an inspired and charismatic creation we have in Jack but also of the glory days when Doctor Who (and its Jack-centric spin-off Torchwood) was at the height of its popularity and powers.
Jack’s return here is brief but pertinent; he doesn’t get a chance to meet up with the new Doctor, but he’s got a portentous message to deliver to her via Graham and, when they’re also brought aboard his ship, Ryan and Yaz – and it’s a message that suggests that the future of the Universe is at stake.
Then he’s gone, abandoning the ship and promising that when she needs him, he’ll be back. I think it’s a fair bet to suggest that he will be back, too, possibly sooner than we might expect…
Meanwhile, the Judoon are still stamping around Gloucester in each of their fugitive. Is it shifty, agitated Lee they are seeking (nope – he gets zapped) or is it quiet, unassuming Ruth? The truth may well be hiding in plain sight but when it’s finally revealed in the last couple of acts it’s a genuine showstopper, a moment of bold and audacious storytelling that challenges the very nature of the series and the Doctor herself.
Ruth is, indeed, the fugitive – her sudden burst of combat with a troop of Judoon clearly suggests that she’s not what she seems – but when she and the Doctor return to her family home at a cliffside lighthouse, the truth begins to emerge. As the Doctor toils to uncover the secrets of a grave marked by a blank tombstone, Ruth is drawn to a device attached to a wall in the lighthouse (a device which, eagle eyes will have spotted, is embossed with Gallifreyan script along the side), which suddenly bursts into life and bathes her in a familiar bright orange glow.
We’ve seen this before, of course…
The Doctor is aghast and baffled when her diggings at the grave reveal the familiar shape of the TARDIS Police Box. Ruth appears, now elaborately garbed in an extravagant new costume, and introduces herself as “The Doctor… a traveller in Time and Space.”
The Doctor – our Doctor – is flabbergasted when they are both transported aboard this new Doctor’s TARDIS, its unfussy interior dominated by the central column we recognise from the William Hartnell era, its walls studded with the glowing roundels which characterized the craft’s interior for decades. Ruth is the Doctor, and yet the Whittaker Doctor has no memory of ever having been her and the Ruth Doctor has no idea who the Whittaker Doctor is.
Transported to the Judoon ship via a tractor beam, the Doctor(s) confront Time Lord agent Gat (Ritu Arya) who reveals that she has been sent to retrieve the hidden Ruth. Gat is killed when she uses a sabotaged Judoon weapon earlier confiscated by Ruth.
Deposited back on Earth, the stunned and utterly baffled Whittaker Doctor is reunited with her “fam” and allows herself to be distracted from this new mystery by an alarm warning of some new threat on Earth. But the Doctor is all too aware now that something is out there and it’s coming for her…
This is all seismic, of course. Rumours have abounded for some time that Chibnall was going to tamper with the very foundations of the character (some hysterical fans claiming that a whole new timeline of female Doctors pre-Hartnell was going to be established which seems at best unlikely) and since the episode’s screening he has told the press that Jo Martin’s Doctor is absolutely canon (she even gets her own “introducing Jo Martin as the Doctor” caption in the end credits) and a ‘Parallel Universe’ Doctor would be a bit lame, even if episodes such as Orphan 55 have recently reminded us of alternative timelines and infinite futures.
So is this some Doctor we’ve never previously been aware of? How is she tied in the ‘the Timeless Child’ and the past, present and future of Gallifrey and the Time Lord society? Where does Jack’s warning of “the lone Cyberman” fit into it all? There are clues that all isn’t quite as it seems.
“The Doctor never uses weapons,” Whittaker admonishes her when she brandishes a Judoon gun at Gat. “I know, shut up,” hisses the Ruth Doctor in reply. Is this a blatant clue or just the Ruth Doctor trying to strengthen her position in confrontation with Gat?
Fugitive of the Judoon leaves us with far more questions than answers and, excitingly, these are questions we’ve never had to consider before in the history of the series. Naturally, the more disturbed (and disturbing) corners of Doctor Who fandom have gone into utter meltdown which in itself is a result as they scream and wail about betrayed childhoods, the final end of Doctor Who, declaring “Doctor Who died tonight!” And, as usual, call for the immediate extermination of Chris Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker for daring to even think about challenging received wisdom about the show’s past.
Those more open-minded may be a little apprehensive about what’s to come but there’s no denying that in this twelfth series, Chris Chibnall is once again finding new narrative avenues to explore and new surprises to spring in his attempt to put Doctor Who back into the public consciousness it’s slowly slipped from over the last few years.
Ratings for the series remain a little disappointing (with even the traditionally high seven-day catch-up figures falling and failing to make up the slack from the raw overnights) but there’s been more buzz about Fugitive of the Judoon than any episode this season (even the explosive Spyfall two-part season opener). We can only hope that the reverberations from its extraordinary and game-changing revelations will have a knock-on effect on the show’s reception as the series wends its way towards its finale.
For now, Fugitive of the Judoon will enter Whostory purely on the basis of its explosive double-whammy of surprises as it sends the series and the Doctor herself into strange, uncharted waters. Whatever the resolution and wherever we’re heading, Doctor Who is now more essential and dynamic and challenging than it’s been in well over a decade and that alone is a turnaround no-one could have realistically expected in this era of the show.
Doctor Who © BBC Studios
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